When Greg and Gina Altenburg of Fox Point wanted to adopt a child with Down syndrome, they contacted the National Down Syndrome Adoption Network in Cincinnati. The organization facilitates the process of matching couples who wish to adopt a child GracynGreg and Gina Altenburg and their 9-month-old adopted daughter Gracyn, who has Down syndrome, are pictured before the Down Syndrome Walk at the Milwaukee County Zoo on Sunday, Sept. 30. (Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)with Down syndrome with mothers who know they will give birth to a child with Down syndrome or whose child was born with Down syndrome, but who don’t wish to keep them.

Robin Steele, coordinator of NDSAN since its establishment in 1982 by the Down Syndrome Association of Cincinnati, and her husband are parents of four adopted children with Down syndrome. Their daughters are 41 and 32; their sons are 23 and 17. She described all of them as “independent in many ways.”

“For us, we adopted one and it led us to adopt three more,” Steele told Catholic Herald Family. “There are certainly perks that come with parenting a child with Down syndrome – being able to look at things with a different perspective, and finding joy in the progress your child makes that you otherwise take for granted.”

She offered a personal example.

“Each step is so delightful – to see our daughter Martha go to school, and to learn to read; it’s amazingly rewarding to be able to able to participate in a child’s life like that,” Steele said.

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She said some families “need to know” that a child is going to develop an ability to do specific things at a certain age.

“Birth families (of babies with Down syndrome) come to us because of that unknown,” she said.

Steele said that a couple wishing to adopt a child with Down syndrome undergoes the same process and home study by a licensed state agency that a couple adopting a child without Down syndrome would undergo. NDSAN wants parents “being open to whatever comes,” to know what they might encounter in adopting a baby with Down syndrome.

More Information

To learn more about adopting a baby with Down syndrome, contact Robin Steele at (513) 213-9615 or email rsteele@zoomtown.com. The National Down Syndrome Adoption Network website is http://www.dsagc.com/programs_adoption.asp.

“The family needs to be aware that children with Down syndrome will have some cognitive issues, and they may have medical issues,” she said. “These can’t be determined when they are born; we can’t predict a child’s life course. They need to be open that the child has a variety of needs and they aren’t going to know that ahead of time.”

While 180 couples are registered with NDSAN as wanting to adopt a baby with Down syndrome, Steele said that it’s possible that only two or three might be a good fit because the birth mother wants her child raised in a certain way.

“We want to meet the needs of the child, while assuring the birth family they made a loving choice (adoption) for the child,” she said.

How critical are the adoptive parents to babies with Down syndrome?

“In the majority of situations, we hear about children not yet born, and parents making difficult choices to discontinue the pregnancy,” she said. “(The adoptive parents) are truly lifesavers for those children.”