Tonawanda News

February 4, 2013

Wheatfield family stresses importance of special needs adoptions

By Danielle Haynes
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Four-year-old Andres Andrews love chocolate milk, chasing his family’s small dog, Millie, around and playing with the new piano he got for Christmas. He loves playing with his three older sisters, clapping as they play their trumpets and saxophones, and listening as they teach him the English equivalents of the relatively small Spanish vocabulary he has for his age.

Andres has lived most of his life in an orphanage in Bogota, Colombia, and was only just adopted by the Andrews family, of Wheatfield, in early December. 

He’s slowly learning to communicate with his new family, mother, Brandy said, but for now she’s happy she has a Google translator app on her smart phone.

“Chocolate,” he requests in Spanish as Brandy asks him if he wants milk or juice for an afternoon snack.

“He has a big sweet tooth,” Brandy said with a laugh, so she asks big sister, Gabriella, 6, to give him a chocolate graham cracker to go with his juice.

Andres’ older sisters, Madelyn, 10; Amelia, 9; and Gabriella, have been teaching him English, and he’s picking up on some words quickly, Brandy said.

She said they’re lucky he had a pretty small vocabulary for his age .... or else they’d have an even harder time understanding him. Andres’ cerebral palsy had limited his vocabulary and it was only this past summer that his speech started the flourish.

It shouldn’t be long before he starts speaking more English than he does Spanish.

“Hello, how are you?” he asked at the beginning of the family’s interview with the News, which earned some “oohs” and “aahs,” and general encouragement from the group assembled.

Brandy and David Andrews first started considering adoption last spring. Before they began heavy research, though, they consulted with their daughters, which also include three older siblings from David’s first marriage — Kaitlin, 24; Molly, 23; and Bridget, 19. The older girls live away from home.

“We definitely wanted to make sure they were OK with it,” Brandy said. 

Once the girls were on board, the Andrews started looking at adoption agencies, and researching requirements and costs of adoptions in a variety of different countries. They didn’t set out knowing exactly that they’d want to adopt an older child from Colombia who has special needs.

The family ended up working with Baker Victory Services in Lackawanna, an organization that serves as an adoption agency among its other roles. 

Brandy said they settled on adopting an older child because she and David had already experienced having babies in their family and “older children, they sometimes don’t get placed.” With older children, there’s also not as long of a wait.

They narrowed their search down even further when they realized David’s age — 48 — limited the age of the child they were able to adopt in some countries.

In the end, everything seemed to be pointing the Andrews family toward Colombia, and at some point a friend of Brandy’s suggested adopting a child with special needs.

My friend “was telling me about how kids with special needs are treated and that kind of got me looking into it,” Brandy said.

Baker Victory found Andres at Foundation for the Assistance of Abandoned Children, a private orphanage in Bogota. He had been living there since birth, going to school and got around mostly in a wheelchair or by crawling.

“Where he was from, he was treated wonderfully. I think they just didn’t have the resources and the people to give him the intensive therapy he needs,” Brandy said.

Now that’s he’s home with his family, “he’s just going to thrive having all this attention from his sisters,” she added.

Already she said she’s noticed his strength is improving. Andres is moderately effected in his lower extremities, but has good use of his upper body. 

“Just in the time that he’s been home, he’s getting so strong with being able to pull himself to stand,” Brandy said.

Judy O’Mara, the director of adoption at Baker Victory, said she’s seen a rise in families adopting children with special needs in recent years and attributes that to a greater understanding of a variety of illnesses and disorders, in addition to better access to medical care. Most of Andres’ therapy — physical, speech and occupational — will come through the Niagara-Wheatfield school district, though Baker Victory provides resources and services as well.

“We certainly will assist and provide support and ongoing counseling that the family needs, including medical care,” O’Mara said. “We have a theraputic preschool so if there was a child in need of that service, that comes complete with early-intervention speech assessment.”

The family’s pediatrician said that possibly with braces or a walker, and some therapy there’s a good chance Andres will be able to walk someday. Because of that, they were told not to make their home wheelchair accessible just yet, in case he winds up being able to walk. Andres prefers crawling about on the floor to his wheelchair anyway so he has better access to his toys and Millie.

For now Andres’ sisters help pull him up onto the couch to watch television, play or practice his English.

Gabriella, the youngest, is quiet, but said she enjoys having a little brother.

“It’s been great for her because she now has someone watching her and looking up to her, and it’s helping her to have a little bit more responsibility,” Brandy said.

Madelyn thinks it’s great to finally have a boy in the house.

“All my friends are like, ‘No you don’t want (a brother),’ “ she said. “Little sisters get on your nerves sometimes because they want your stuff, but little brothers don’t want your stuff because they’re boys.”

Brandy said she, David and the girls feel blessed to be able to bring Andres into their home.

“We just thought there are so many kids who need homes and not everyone is able to do it. Emotionally and financially we were able to do it,” she said.

The idea of adoption has “been in the back of my head the last couple of years and it just came up more frequently. It’s one of those things where you’re called to it ... . If it’s in your heart even just a little bit, pursue it,” she added. 

Baker Victory has direct connections with a variety of orphanages and adoption services throughout the world, and can provide home studies for those countries they don’t have direct access to. For more information, visit www.bakervictoryservices.org. 

Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116.