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Children with Down syndrome in demand

- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 12, 2006

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Seven were not enough for Diane and David Petersohn, so they decided to adopt.

Because one of their seven children has Down syndrome, a type of disorder caused by a genetic malfunction, they decided they wanted another one with that condition.

The Petersohns found that they had plenty of company. The couple from Liberty, Mo., placed their names on national lists of people seeking to adopt children with Down syndrome, and waited.

After waiting nearly three years, they turned to a private agency that facilitates international adoptions. Today, they're raising money and completing paperwork to adopt a 6-month-old boy from Ecuador who has the syndrome.

Most who seek to adopt children with Down syndrome have had a family member, friend or acquaintance with that chromosomal disorder, or work with them in medical or school professions.

"People think they are just great kids; people feel like they are very lovable," said Rachel Crews, a social worker with the Special Additions adoption agency in Stillwell, Kan.

Changing attitudes are helping unite these children with families, advocates say.

"Society as a whole is much more accepting," said David Tolleson, executive director of the National Down Syndrome Congress in Atlanta. "You are much more likely today to see people with disabilities in the media, places of worship, schools. Whereas in a prior generation, mothers were told ... [to] put the child in an institution and forget about them."

That's what happened 34 years ago to a little girl named Martha, whose single mother gave her up for adoption. Martha was diagnosed with Down syndrome and placed in a group home in Cincinnati.

But when Martha turned 4, Robin Steele and her husband met her and fell in love immediately. With one son already, they adopted Martha and have gone on to adopt nine other children -- three of them with Down syndrome.

Martha's adoption also spurred the Steeles to start the Adoption Awareness Program in conjunction with the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati, which connects people who want a child with Down syndrome with biological mothers or adoption agencies.