The prospective parents were told that the baby boy had lived with his birth parents for 10 months in which he had been abused and neglected. When the toddler came to her, Ruth was aware that the baby had come from a family of much alcohol and substance abuse in which family members had received minimal education, had often been incarcerated, and suffered from bipolar disorder. But the mother admits now that she was unsure what these details could ultimately mean for her son's future.
The little boy's first foster family suspected that he might be autistic before he went to live with a family member for six weeks. He then went into another foster home.
"The foster parents all knew something was wrong," Ruth points out, "but did not get it diagnosed."
At 20 months, Ruth and her husband promptly had the baby's language skills tested where it was revealed that his capabilities were at an 11-month-old level. Later, when the child started to exhibit difficulties in preschool at age three, Ruth scoured the internet for clues as to what was plaguing her son based on a few behavioral observations. The child exhibited abnormal speech patterns a long with other learning lags and compulsive lying tendencies. He suffered poor relationships with children his own age and often destroyed his toys with a lack of cause and effect thinking.
" [It was] really evident from the start but we did not put them together until later," says the mother when describing his ultimate diagnosis. "None of them seem big until you put the whole picture together."
Her son was formally diagnosed with ADHD at age four and put on ADHD medication by age five. The family soon started bringing him to a psychiatrist who diagnosed the child with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Reactive Attachment Disorder with bipolar and sociopathic tendencies.
Now at age nine, Ruth's son continues therapy and drug therapy with his psychiatrist and also regularly visits a Reactive Attachment Disorder therapist.
Although Ruth and her husband were aware of her son's history upon adopting, she says the real consequences of his abuse did not surface until later. She describes her way of thinking upon going into this specific adoption after reviewing his history as "naive."
"The natural thinking is that with love, caring and being very well educated people ourselves we would be able to overcome these things," she observes. "We naively thought we could parent him the way we had lovingly parented our birth daughter and we could change his path and give him everything he needed not realizing how deep and permanent the subconscious damage was."
Their son's unique needs quickly revealed that the little boy could not be cared for in the exact same manner as their biological daughter, a realization that has been difficult for the family but has not deterred them in their dedication to their son.
"It has been very hard," says Ruth when articulating the strain on her marriage and her family. "We are exhausted most of the time. Fortunately we have been able to keep things together but with a very concerted effort on our part. People who do not see the daily struggle cannot and do not believe how hard it is making this process very lonely. "
The Garus have been in family therapy for years and have also recently joined SELPA (Special Education Local Plan Area). Looking back, Ruth wishes that her family could have been given a better prognosis as to what to expect with her little son so that she and her family could have been better prepared. She jokes that if she won the lottery, she would develop a company that could help guide and educate adoptive parents about what diagnoses could actually suggest for the development of a child -- something that she feels went amiss in her own adoption experience. She also wishes that she could make the process easier for parents by assisting them in finding the correct doctors, schools, and specialists to help parents who are struggling to understand their special needs child. [tagbox tag="adoption"]
"The path is so hard to find and is blocked by financial constraints, government mismanagement and people who make the situation harder," Ruth observes. "There are services out there but they are hard to find, lack funding and are hidden from view. You have to really fight for your child rights and with the lack of funding in schools, this is hard work."
Ruth also notes that there is not enough understanding of mental illness in our society, even among teachers and school psychologists. She says that well-intentioned professionals often contribute to the stigma of mental illness by being too quick to judge or incapable of truly understanding the child's struggles.
"The kids are broken and the systems for helping them are broken," she observes. "There is much work that could be done."
Looking ahead, she and and her husband describe their primary goal for their son as getting him to understand that his behavior choices can shape his life -- a fundamental action and consequence component that he currently lacks.
"We really want to get him to adulthood safely and in a manner that means he can contribute to society and the world at large," says Ruth. "Helping him make good decisions and become a contributing member of society are our greatest wishes for him. Like all parents we want him to be healthy, happy and able to give and receive love."