Adopting kids with disabilities
Transforming Health | 08.06.13
When Matt and MaryAnne Roberto married nearly 30 years ago, having children was always in their minds and hearts. They tried for five years to have their own birth children, seeking out infertility treatments and surgeries and spending precious hours in prayer. When it seemed as though adoption may be their only choice to become parents, they sought council from Catholic Social Services.
And that’s when it happened. “I got pregnant with my first son, and in seven years we had four birth children!”
Thrilled with their new family, the Robertos tucked away their ideas of adoption, but MaryAnne continued her work in reaching the hearts of many through her position with Overbrook School for the Blind.
“When I was very young, 13 or so, I read about seeing-eye dogs,” said MaryAnne. “I knew I didn’t want to go into the science part of the field, but I wanted to work with people who are blind… I really see it as a vocation, not just a job. I’m blessed.”
Caring for children with health ailments soon became commonplace in the Roberto home too. Their second child, Sarah, had surgery for her scoliosis and third child, Meghan, developed childhood osteoporosis and an autoimmune disease. They made trips to the doctor’s office three to five times a week, and MaryAnne’s efforts turned to just making sure the family got from one day to the next.
During Meghan’s months of treatment, the desire to have her parents adopt resurfaced.
“I literally said, yeah, I don’t think so,” MaryAnne laughed.
She admits that she tried to run away from the idea of adoption, given everything else that her family had undergone, but Meghan would not let it go, and the signs became unbearable. One day MaryAnne was shopping in the clothing section of Sam’s Club, and out of nowhere was a misplaced book about adoption – waiting just for her, it seemed.
They decided to at least take a look to see what children might be available. That’s when they saw Sophie, a four-year-old, little girl who lived in an orphanage in China.
“I saw Sophie’s photo and thought she had crossed eyes, but I had no idea that she had a disability. After looking at hundreds of children, I found her and I just knew. When I clicked on the link to learn more, it was only then that I discovered that she is deaf.”
The couple just laughed to themselves. They had never actively pursued adopting children with disabilities, but they’d both worked with children with disabilities for years.
Vincent (6 years old) and Sophie (12 years old). As MaryAnne explains it, “They are adventurous and mischievous and love to get into trouble together.”
Soon after visiting China and welcoming Sophie into their family, the couple adopted their second child, Shane. They were prepared for Shane’s blindness but were caught off guard with his severe intellectual and physical delays. He had just turned four years old when they went to pick him up from the orphanage, but he had the skills of a 10 month old.
“We had to regroup. I said, I have to listen to the advice I’ve been giving to other parents for the last 20 years,” said MaryAnne thoughtfully. “The road has been really hard, but it’s been a good road.”
Now parents to six children, many couples would have called it quits – but not the Robertos.
They soon adopted Maeleigh, a 15 year old girl from China who has a physical disability, and Vincent, a charismatic and mischievous six year old who is blind.
“We really believe the children were always our children. We had to find them. They were waiting for us,” MaryAnne said.
As much as she’s taught them, however, MaryAnne noted that she has learned much from her four adopted children too.
“We take things like going to the beach for granted,” she said. “Imagine trying to explain the ocean to a child who is blind. There is no learning that happened outside of the four walls of their orphanage. We went to the beach in June, and it was the first time for both Vincent and Maeleigh.”
“The best part is knowing they have a future, and my hope is that someday they’ll be able to give back and work with orphans… I can see that happening; it will come full circle.”
This summer, the Roberto’s birth children, Sarah, Meghan and Shannon, entered a photo of their siblings, Vincent and Sophie, in the Living Well With A Disability photo contest to win free admission to the event in August. They shared the contest via social media with all of their friends and family, and were the clear winner when the contest ended in July.
On August 25, the couple will be recognized for their tremendous work and dedication to helping their children live well at the Living Well With A Disability Conference & Expo in Lancaster, Pa.