Parents Louise* and Ryan* are a family of six. They adopted their youngest child, Noah*, two years ago through PACT. Noah is now four years old and the couple have three older birth children aged 12, 11 and 9. Louise describes her family life as “full and very active!”
Noah has foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), caused by his birth mother consuming alcohol while she was pregnant with him. Louise and Ryan said they went into the adoption process with a very open mind about the kind of child they could welcome into their family. They went through the first two stages of the process and were approved to adopt a single child aged 0-4 years old, with no other restrictions. As a result of keeping their criteria so open, a very wide range of profiles were available to them at the linking and matching stage.
After going through the many profiles, they narrowed it down and began to reach out to the social workers of some of the children. They were particularly looking for a child who would be a good fit with their family, and Noah stood out to them. “When we saw the photos of our son we just felt immediately that he was full of life. He was sparkly-eyed, looking straight at the camera, reaching out towards the camera and full of smiles and we just thought he looks absolutely beautiful.”
Louise and her husband are both medical doctors so they knew about FASD before they adopted. Louise said she had certainly been aware of some of the possible negatives, such as developmental difficulties, lower educational attainment and a higher risk of anti-social behaviour and alcohol misuse later in life. However, she reflected that much of the reading and research she had done on FASD focused on children who grow up in chaotic households where the birth mother had a problem with alcohol, and it wasn’t clear to Louise and Ryan how much this affected the development and outcomes for children with FASD compared to adopted children in more stable environments. They decided to proceed with the matching process for Noah, and looked past his diagnosis to focus on the unique and wonderful child he was: “We just thought regardless of what’s happened to this child in the womb, they still need a home.”
After being matched with Noah and meeting him for the first time, the couple knew it was the right decision and that his diagnosis was not a barrier for them: “When we met Noah we just felt like that was not an obstacle, we felt able to love him and to bring him into our family.” There were so many things about Noah’s personality that drew them to him and made it feel like he would be an excellent fit for their family. “He loves the outdoors, he loves music, he loves other children, he’s a sociable person. Those are the key things for us – he just immediately felt like he’s a person who’s full of energy. I think we were quite mindful of having a very busy household already… so we were really looking for that in terms of an outgoing personality which he 100% had.”
Following introductions, Noah moved in with them and has been a part of their family for two years now. When asked about how FASD presents in her son, Louise said it can sometimes be hard to tell. “You don’t know how much of it is just genes. So for example, he’s very very emotional—everything in life is either the most wonderful experience or devastating and he can go between the two in a matter of seconds, so he’s very emotionally labile.”
“He really struggles to learn new things… things like learning his numbers or learning his letters or learning to write or to draw, you can see that he’s going to struggle with those things. So it takes quite a lot of patience dealing with him on those two fronts because he’s not such a quick learner but also he can get quite upset quite easily.” As a result of his additional needs, Ryan and Louise have adapted their parenting style to make sure Noah has the support he needs to reach his full potential.
Louise shares some advice she uses to support her son:
I read something about FASD that said you need to be the bigger person, you need to be the stable ship that rides the waves because there’ll be big waves of course, and your little one might be really rocked by something or really struggle to take very minor changes in circumstances in his stride, but as the parent, rather than becoming emotionally involved yourself, you just need to be that bigger body and just say ‘It’s okay, I’ll hold on to you and we’ll do it together’.”
*Names changed in line with confidentiality
In other ways, Louise notices how Noah has his own skills and talents which make him an amazing and unique child: “He’s incredibly musical, he loves a rhythm or a beat, so any sort of putting music on or dancing to the music will change his mood immediately, he responds really well to that. The other thing is he’s amazing with his hand-eye-foot coordination, in terms of kicking a ball, riding a scooter, running and jumping – I’ve not seen a child like it… And so we can just see how he’s going to have strengths that others don’t have and he’s also going to struggle in ways that not everybody would struggle, so it’s just two sides of the same coin.”
Louise said Noah loves to be sociable and engage with people: “He just brings so much joy out of everybody he meets. He’ll light up a room. And maybe it’s partly because he has additional needs or maybe it’s partly because he’s adopted, but if we take him to church, the minute that we walk in, everybody’s like ‘Hello Noah, how are you today?’, they’ll shake him by the hand and he’ll always do it, he’ll always engage with that and it’s absolutely lovely how he doesn’t seem to suffer from particular shyness, he’s just really confident and just loves being around people.”
Louise and Ryan found out about PACT through Home for Good, a charity working with churches across the country to help find homes for children in care. They said they have felt very supported by their church family all the way through the adoption process. “We told the church family at quite an early stage that we were exploring adoption and we really asked for prayer, for wisdom and for guidance around that. And they have prayed for us all the way through, they’ve supported us practically, especially in the early days and the introductions, providing meals, supporting us with looking after the other three children and lots of other things like passing on old puzzles, clothes or things that are no longer needed. [They’ve been] incredibly open and accepting of our little one and his particular needs and that’s just been absolutely beautiful and really lovely to bring him into the church.”
The family have also felt fully supported by PACT on their adoption journey. Louise said: “There is a huge amount of support through PACT. When it comes to school and education, I am possibly going to reach out to PACT. He’s just about to start reception, he does have an EHCP, the school are really kind to him but I don’t think they particularly realise the best ways to support him and his needs. So there’s certainly lots to be mindful of in terms of support going forward.”
Speaking about the many ways her son brings joy to their lives, Louise says:
I hope that it inspires other people to think that this is something that isn’t absolutely terrifying, and that other people might be able to manage. It’s definitely been a real blessing to us as a family.”
Louise found the training they received from PACT to be very useful, and it helped prepare them for the differences in parenting an adopted child compared to their birth children: “When we did our adoption training, I remember [our trainer] saying that for children who are adopted, and particularly for children with additional needs, any little progress marker or step they take forward is just an amazing achievement and you celebrate it in a totally different way. So for him recently, he’s just started saying his ‘s’ sounds and his ‘sh’ sounds, and we’re literally rejoicing and having a party about it! And it just comes back to me about what we were taught before, that these little achievements will be of real significance, and that’s what we’re experiencing. It’s just really beautiful.”
To anyone thinking of adopting, Louise says she would encourage prospective parents to be open to a child with additional need.
I think you need to have a good degree of resilience and the ability to ride those waves of life, but I would 100% recommend it for those that feel able because the richness of character and personality that we’re experiencing with our little one is absolutely beautiful.”