- Associated Press - Sunday, December 4, 2016

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. (AP) - Matt and Jeni Platte recall when their son Leo began to walk.

Leo, who has Down syndrome, didn’t start walking until he was 3 1/2 years old, a month after sister Lily, then age 3, joined the family.

He would hold onto Lily’s shoulders while she stood up, then she would slow her pace so Leo could walk behind her.

Both children were adopted by the Plattes, and both have Down syndrome, reported the Skagit Valley Herald (https://bit.ly/2fNVyUc).

Between the two 6-year-old children and several pets, the Mount Vernon family is full of energy.

Lily is in preschool and Leo started kindergarten in September at La Conner Elementary School.

Both Lily and Leo went into foster care after they were born.

Leo, who is the son of distant relatives of Jeni Platte, came to the Plattes’ attention through a letter written by Leo’s social worker in Portland, Oregon.

The first time they met Leo he was in the hospital.

“We met Leo and we just knew,” said Jeni Platte, who was also adopted. “Every cell in our body was like, ‘Yep, this is what we are doing.’ We pretty much knew when we saw him sick that this wasn’t the life he was supposed to lead. We saw far more potential in him.”

The Plattes hadn’t been married long when the letter arrived, but they knew they wanted to have kids. That desire was reinforced when they met Leo.

“He cuddled up with Jeni and fell asleep in her arms and that was it. That’s when we decided to go through the process of adopting,” Matt Platte said.

Leo, like his sister, has medical issues that come along with Down syndrome, including heart and feeding issues. Both children have been in and out of hospitals since they were born.

The adoption process for Leo took more than a year.

Because the Plattes were not licensed foster parents, they had to take classes and be approved in both Washington and Oregon before Leo’s adoption was approved.

“That was the most time-consuming piece really - the agreement between states and working through the system,” said Matt Platte, who is a child therapist.

The couple didn’t want Leo to be an only child, so when the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services contacted them about Lily, they took immediate interest in the young girl.

Lori Good, Jeni Platte’s mother, said when Jeni and Lily first met, the connection was amazing.

“If you saw the picture of the time they met, you would know that they chose each other,” Good said.

Although there are challenges that come with raising Lily and Leo, Jeni and Matt Platte say they feel lucky to be their parents.

“I never knew I could do so many doctor appointments,” Jeni Platte said. “I think last year we did over 100 and that doesn’t include the weekly therapy appointments. Our lives are completely these kids and doing whatever is necessary to help them emotionally and physically.”

Jeni Platte said one of the most difficult aspects of raising the children is being a constant advocate for services the children need and fighting the state to get those services covered.

“I don’t feel like you should have to advocate when you’re struggling with a special needs kid to fight for funding or coverage or therapy,” she said. “I think about what would’ve happened if the kids didn’t have someone sticking up for them because we’ve had to do it so much.”

The Plattes said they are lucky to have a supportive local Down syndrome community and a supportive school district for Lily and Leo.

The children have completely changed their lives, the couple said, and have brought their family closer together.

“People come out of the woodwork to help our family,” Jeni Platte said. “(The kids) are great at understanding when people need a hug or when they are feeling down. It opens up a dialogue with people that I have never experienced before. At this point, they show you that there are good people out there. We need that encouragement.”

___

Information from: Skagit Valley Herald, https://www.skagitvalleyherald.com


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