My career before International Adoption was in disability services. Through that work, I came to know many children and adults who had Down syndrome and I worked with their families to find the right supports. As I began managing the China Program at Wide Horizons For Children, I was shocked to find so many children waiting because of their extra chromosome. I wondered if we would ever be able to find families for them. Much to my delight, I discovered that there is a large and growing number of families who have a heart for raising children with Down syndrome.
While I celebrate the arrival of each child we place with their forever family, I am even more jubilant when it is a child who has Down syndrome. And if it’s a boy, I can barely contain myself! In general, more families request girls when adopting so it is no surprise that in most countries where we work, there are more boys than girls waiting for a family to fall in love with them. This is no different for children who have Down syndrome. There is no significant difference in the number of boys born with Down syndrome versus the number of girls born with Down syndrome. So, it is troubling to see that nearly 70 % of the children who have Down syndrome waiting on China’s database are boys. Of the children who have Down syndrome that Wide Horizons has placed, roughly 90% of them have been girls.
I suspect there are a number of reasons for this imbalance. First, while families adopt from many countries internationally, China is the most common choice for families to adopt a child with a special need. At one time, the children adopted from China were nearly all girls. While this has changed dramatically over the years, many families still think of China as a country where more girls are in need of a family. In reality, China needs families for all the children with special needs – girls AND boys!
Additionally, the stereotypes of raising girls vs boys abound. Girls are “sweet,” “affectionate,” “quiet, and “easy”. While boys are “boisterous,” “messy,” and “tough.” But of course, every child is different, regardless of gender. Some families may be expecting their sweet little girl to love tea parties and princesses, only to discover that T-ball and exploring bugs are more her thing. They may be expecting their adorable little boy to be all about playing outside and going fishing, only to find a gentle heart who wants to cuddle and do crafts. This is no different whether the little one is a neurotypical child or one with a special need such as Down syndrome.
It’s heart-breaking to think that in addition to Down syndrome being a challenge for these kids, simply being a boy might mean they don’t get the chance for a family. Especially when I think of the change that is possible for children who have Down syndrome. When they suddenly have additional resources and a family to advocate for them, their potential comes shining through. Life for an individual with Down syndrome in many countries is grim. Although there are still challenges in the United States, in the past few decades we have made huge strides towards improving opportunities. The creation of our Special Education system, state and federal programs, supported work opportunities, and supported living opportunities have all made a big difference. Now a child who has Down syndrome has access to education (including specialized university programs), work and living more independently.
If you are a family that is excited to parent a child who has Down syndrome, there are many children waiting for you. Wide Horizons is ready and delighted to help! And if you happen to be a family that is open to a boy who has Down syndrome, you will love what one of our “Boy Moms” shared with us:
“The blessings my son continues to give me reveal wonders of love I never knew existed.”
Jennifer Doane, Assistant Director of International Adoption & China Program Manager, Wide Horizons For Children