All Children Need Love

By Jason Gehlert Photography by Andy Cox Photography

One phone call changed everything. Our seven year chase of adopting a child had finally reached its lengthy conclusion. This was it. It was a Friday and we decided that the following Monday we were done. My wife and I were seeking a boy to add to our family and found that to be a complicated process to achieve unless we were willing to adopt a special needs child.

Fostering several times led to heartbreak and madness that pushed us to the breaking point. One phone call from Massachusetts may have been the answer. A small baby girl born in Boston with Down Syndrome. Her family declined to keep her and we decided to move ahead and meet her. That weekend as new parents of a Down Syndrome baby, we studied literature, scoured the Internet, and reached out to playgroups and other forms of connections in our community to assist in our assimilation to this new way of life.

That October, in a mall in Boston, we met our baby girl. The wave of emotions exploded as joy swept over my wife, our daughters, and myself. We decided to name her Cara after my mother, and soon after another visit, we brought her home the day before Thanksgiving 2011. Our adoption of Cara would come with some challenges that all families endure. As we would find out, some members of our family were still entrenched in old-school thought when it came to Down Syndrome. Other members of our family embraced Cara and added a new layer of support.

We were lucky. Once Cara interacted with the entire family, those previous thoughts and concerns were soon set adrift, and we were able to move forward. Even with Cara’s development at the higher end of the chart, we still faced a challenging road ahead. As new parents we decided to combine our strengths.

My wife’s occupation as a teacher would bring education and stability for Cara’s development. My strength interacting with special needs throughout the community and my patience would allow us to build a solid foundation for Cara. Our blended family of older children ranging from twenty-five to fourteen also brought their own unique blend of engagement. Cara would always have someone with her which was critical in her development. As I shifted my work schedule to nights, I was able to stay home with Cara and start building a bond that three years later would be the centerpiece of our relationship. Quite simply, Cara had successfully won me over and gave me the anchor I sorely needed in life. She would become my best friend, my light, my sunshine on the darkest of days. I would later join the Down Syndrome playgroup and even a Mother’s playgroup to gain further knowledge about Down Syndrome and add socializing to Cara’s already busy daily routine.

This lifestyle change was necessary in her development. Our communication and interaction with Early Intervention and her therapists became challenging at times and required flexibility in our schedules when it came to organizing appointments. Cara’s health would also involve a series of early visits to the heart doctor, audiologist and nutritionist. Down Syndrome children are susceptible to heart problems and hearing delays due to their small ear canals. As the stay home dad, we scheduled her physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech, and play therapy during the mornings or midafternoon. My wife’s experiences in education also brought the knowledge of aqua therapy to Cara’s hectic schedule. Aqua cemented Cara’s growth as her core muscles would become stronger allowing her to achieve other goals set by the other therapists.

These goals ranged from crawling, climbing, walking, and later jumping. Aqua became the key that unlocked Cara’s development. Nutrition became another piece to the puzzle in our evolving lifestyle. In our research we found out that many Down Syndrome children are sensitive to gluten and lactose. A stricter diet and monitoring would alter our own eating habits as we wanted to make a seamless transition for our daughter. The change in diet, as well as adding coconut milk and coconut oil, and the nutritional benefits of the Morjinga plant in a powder form stabilized Cara’s development mentally and physically.

Throughout this process our understanding of Down Syndrome increased and although there were several negative articles on the Internet, we maintained our focus and love for Cara and how she changed our life. As Cara became older certain delays would become noticeable, increasing the stress of raising a special needs child. Our therapists told us that Down Syndrome children and adults can do anything we can do, it just may take them a different road to get there. That piece of advice soothed my mind and helped me focus on paving that road for Cara. My family and I learned a new language: sign language.

My degree in Communication allowed me to practice the theories of non-verbal and verbal communication and their benefits. We slowly adapted and increased our own base knowledge of signs and as a result Cara expressed herself with various sign language and as she would enter pre-school, this base would prove critical in her leap in vocalizing, imitation and mimicking. After the finalization of the adoption the judge made a point to congratulate us and commended our dedication and love for Cara. She was impressed with our ability to change our lifestyle through the regiment of therapies and learning a new language to provide Cara with the tools needed to succeed in life.

A year ago, I decided to join the Down Syndrome Association of the Hudson Valley, a local chapter in Upstate New York that covers multiple counties in our area. As one of the board members I brought my background in communication/media/publishing industries to broadening the scope of our cause. Many new parents were full of questions and our association provided the information and tools needed for these new families to succeed.

My goal was to share our experiences with Cara and help build a bridge that would connect all of our families together in a seamless support group. The different spectrum of children brought diversity to our group. These children and young adults show incredible passion and commitment to learning and excelling in life. As my family assisted in the annual Buddy Walk, local events, and other Down Syndrome functions we came to realize that with the advancements in medicine, education and understanding, lengthier lives were enjoyed and more smiles were shared across the world. Many of these fine young men and women are living productive lives.

Some own their own businesses, others artists, actors, authors, mentors and advocates. Many work jobs in the community and play sports earning titles in swimming, baseball, and track and field. Down Syndrome can be challenging and the road may be longer than one may have hoped for. Yet, the love and laughter that these precious children share eases that journey.

Editor’s note: Jason Wolfgang Gehlert is the author of a number of books in a genre that can only be described as “Hair Raising.” To see his published works, go to: