“Your Daughter Has Autism”

March 28, 2015 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

My husband and I were high school sweethearts. We met young, married quickly while in college, and had plans for our life together from the start. Our plans included chasing the American dream and one child. Years went by and we were doing fine! We had our one child, a few advanced degrees, stable jobs, and we were happy. Through the study of God’s word, we began to see His heart for the orphan. Eventually, we felt compelled to put action to our faith and do more than just pray and sponsor.

We jumped off the cliff and said yes to adoption in the spring of 2010. We researched a few programs and were drawn to China. We were surprised to find that most referrals were for children with special needs. With our boots shaking, we filled out our checklist and began working to assemble our dossier. That magical special needs checklist contained only about three check marks back then. We were willing to surrender to God’s plan for our lives and share our lives with just one more child, but we couldn’t parent a child with involved needs.

In the fall of 2010, just five months after beginning our journey, we were sent a special focus referral for our daughter. I will never forget the moment that I saw her for the first time in those blurry orphanage images. God gave me a love for her that I can’t describe. (Three adoption journeys later, it still baffles me that you can love and miss someone so much that you don’t yet know.)


The details of her life and development in her file were minimal. She had a complete palate, but cleft lip. Her lip was repaired in China by an organization so really her “special needs” were a non-issue. WHEW! We could definitely handle this “special need”. Because this was our first adoption we were pretty naive, but we were told to expect some developmental delays in general from being institutionalized and we were ready for that on a small scale. We enthusiastically said yes to this sweet girl whom we would name Jillian.

Just ten months after starting this process, we boarded a plane bound for China. On Easter Morning in 2011, we walked into a small, sterile government office in Xi’an and were handed a fifteen pound 26 month old. She reeked of infection, smelled of stale urine, and bore a shaved head full of fungus. We were told that she had been fed only one bottle a day. She didn’t look at us, communicate at all, or take anything into her mouth. She couldn’t leave the hotel room without melting down for hours, couldn’t walk, couldn’t give us any eye contact, was covered in bed sores, and seemed a whole lot more like an empty shell than a child.


After spending that first night with our daughter, we returned to finalize her adoption and waited, what seemed like hours, as the official phoned the orphanage, looked at our daughter’s file, and tried to “prepare” us for the fact that she wasn’t who her file said she was. We were told, in words much harsher than I could publicly type, that she wouldn’t learn much. Finally, we were asked if we still wanted her. I know they were doing their part to correct the errors of her file, but honestly it ripped this momma’s heart from my chest. I wanted her. She was mine. Miraculously, though this child looked nothing like we dreamed and this trip would be nothing like we planned, we were filled with love and joy.


We arrived home to a flurry of excitement and support. I wish I could say that instantly this was enough for our girl to thrive, but the comfort of home did little for our Jillian. Her sensory processing was so off and, because of the experiences of her past, she was so unable to trust that we couldn’t leave the house with her. In those first months home, I remember thinking about my original intentions to share my life with a child. I remember the moment as I was praying that I felt God whisper I am not calling you to share your life with her, but rather to lay your entire self down for her. I gave up my job to became a stay at home mom to her which truly was a dream come true. I carried her to therapy five times a week and I loved her and prayed for her like I have never in my life. God carried me and was closer to me in that first year home than I have ever known.

Despite the closeness of my Lord, when, at three months home, I heard the words “this is typical behavior for one who is on the (autism) spectrum” casually thrown out during an Occupational Therapy session, I was crushed. A few months later, I would sit in the office of a developmental pediatrician and have this confirmed by his words: “Your daughter has autism.” What I haven’t told you is that I was a special education teacher for thirteen years before bringing this darling girl home. In fact, I had dedicated most of my professional life to teaching students with autism. I knew that Jillian had autism long before hearing the words, and I knew full well the joys and heartache that this diagnosis carried with it. Still, I was so afraid and yet so full of the promises of the Lord at the same time.


After much therapy and working, we finally started to see our precious Jillian thrive. She was beginning to trust us and the terror she lived in was subsiding. When, after a year of speech therapy and much prompting by this momma, she made her first sign independently to ask for the water to be turned on outside, I was over the moon. I always believed she was bright and if she could just communicate she would come so far.

Since that breakthrough, she has continued to blossom. She is in kindergarten, can write her name, sign and use assistive technology to communicate, identify sight words, name letters and numbers, giggle like nobody’s business, love, trust, and experience life to the fullest. I will never forget how it felt when she looked into my eyes and signed “momma” “i love you” for the first time.


That first year home was a battle for her heart and mind like no other that I have ever been entered into, but she is so worth it. She has taught me so much more than I could ever teach her. She is a loving, vibrant, miraculous daughter who happens to have autism and, while it has handed her a great deal of challenges, it does not define her.

I have watched her do many, many things that so many told me she never would. In fact, I am grateful to God for all of the unknowns in this journey because I may not have said yes to laying my life down initially when I saw her referral that chilly October morning in 2010, but now I simply can’t imagine my life without her. She is the bravest, most vibrant six year old I know. She has touched many, many lives in the four years she has been home and I am forever grateful that God gave her to us to love.

– guest post by Leslie

burst into bloom

March 27, 2015 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments

The waste-land and the dry land will be glad. The desert will be full of joy and become like a rose.  Many flowers will grow in it, and it will be filled with joy and singing. The greatness of Lebanon will be given to it, and the beauty of Carmel and Sharon. They will see the shining-greatness of the Lord, the wonderful power of our God.  Give strength to weak hands and to weak knees. Say to those whose heart is afraid, “Have strength of heart, and do not be afraid.” – Isaiah 35:1-4, NLV

Spring always finds me a little disbelieving.

I was working in the garden yesterday, underneath the only tree trying to stake its claim in this rocky soil that was a desert before it was a sub-division. I stood there watching my big girl carefully plant rows of peas. She fully expected them to burst into life tomorrow and was talking about how excited she was to come back outside to check on them in the morning. She’s four and she really never stops talking, and I confess that sometimes I just nod and let my thoughts wander.

As she chattered about covering the seeds with dirt so they didn’t get too chilly, I looked up at the piercing blue sky and caught a glimpse of the tree’s barren branches. I looked a little closer… no buds yet. The seeds in my hand seemed all dried and withered and the tree didn’t look much better, and I wondered if maybe this was the year that the tree hadn’t survived the harsh winter – with its ice storms and dry spells and inhospitable soil. Could anything really burst into bloom?

Exactly one year ago, my feet were on China’s soil. But I didn’t really feel like I was on solid land; I felt like I was riding a wave – a river, maybe – that was carrying me to a new place whether I felt ready to go or not. And when the river carried me into that Civil Affairs building to meet my daughter for the first time, she seemed just like those branches and seeds – barren, withered, dry, and covered in a hard shell that disguises all the potential for life inside. And I stood there with “weak hands and weak knees” wondering: Could anything really burst into bloom?

Here I am a year later and I unequivocally know the answer. Yes. 1,000 times yes.

It’s been a year of looking at what sometimes seems like barren branches and dry seeds and watching them burst into bloom right in front of my eyes. It’s been a year of a nearly incomprehensible combination of simmering disbelief and nervous uncertainty mixed with awe-struck wonder and grateful astonishment.

One minute I’m awash in I-can’t-do-this-fear, convinced she’ll never let me love her. The next minute I feel her arms wrapped around my neck squeezing with all her might as she whispers ‘mama’ into my ear. One minute I’m wondering if she’ll ever talk and how badly her hearing loss will impact her life. The next minute I listen as her speech therapist tells me her “receptive language abilities” are above average for her age… not for kids from orphanages or kids with hearing loss or kids learning ESL; just kids her age. One minute I’m wondering if her developmental delays are signs of an underlying condition that we’re just missing. The next minute I learn she has graduated from Occupational Therapy because she made 17 months of gains in 6 months, jumping from the 3rd to the 50th percentile for developmental milestones, and is officially average for her age.

It’s been the hardest year of my life and one of the best.

I’ve learned so much this last year… but one of the most profound lessons has been to look for his “shining-greatness and wonderful power” in the smallest of places. In every possible way, Alea seems like a totally different child today than she did one year ago; but at the same time, one of the hardest parts of this year was feeling like I couldn’t see any changes happening. Spring comes silently and quietly; sometimes almost so imperceptibly that we find ourselves wondering if maybe this is the year it won’t come at all. But friends, he is so faithful. And even in our places of doubt and fear, he is working to bring out the new life.

You may not see the buds-that-will-be-blossoms yet. You may think you’re only holding a handful of dry and withered seed. But he is faithful to bring new life. If your heart feels afraid and if all you see right now in your family is barrenness and dry land, hold on because Spring is coming. And the Father who started something new in you and your family will bring it to completion… and that waste land? “Flowers will grow in it, and it will be filled with joy and singing.”


The dry land will be glad, friends. The waste land will be a meadow. We can trust that He will finish his redemptive plan. And someday we can stand together, in that kind of awe-struck disbelief that you feel when something too-good-to-be-true is happening right in front of your eyes, and testify that the “shining-greatness of the Lord, the wonderful power of our God” is on display for this whole downtrodden world to see. Because everything will burst into bloom.

disruption: 3 things for parents to consider

March 26, 2015 by nohandsbutours 3 Comments

Today we finish out our month-long series on disruption with a post by Amy Eldridge of Love Without Boundaries Foundation. We are so grateful to include her voice of experience here, as she has spent years working on behalf of orphans in China and has witnessed the wake of disruption on families and children – her insight on this subject is invaluable.

If you haven’t read the previous posts in this series, we hope you will. Disruption is a heartbreaking reality, but with education, support and preparation, it is our hope that even one disruption might be averted. We featured an introductory post with disruption facts, and followed with posts from three mothers: a mother who adopted a child from a disruption, a mother who disrupted during the harmonious period while in China and a mother who, despite significant, undisclosed issues discovered while in China, chose to complete the adoption. Thank you to each of these moms for sharing their very personal story.


I’ve had the honor of working with orphaned children for the last 12 years and have said many times that nothing can change their lives in a more profound way than adoption. Having a permanent family not only allows a child to belong and be loved, but it also gives many children, especially those with special needs, access to education and continued medical care.

When a child in one of our programs is chosen by a family, whether domestically or internationally, I am always so happy to know they’re getting a chance to be someone’s treasured son or daughter.


I wish I could say that is always the outcome, but there have been many times over the last decade that children have been returned to the orphanage when the adoption process was disrupted. And then a shocked adoption community almost always reacts by asking how anyone could change their minds and send a child back to institutional care. It seemed so black and white to me as well in the past. If you made a commitment to adopt, then you had a moral duty to bring that child home, no matter what.

But once orphan care and adoption became my daily life, I began to see that it’s much more complicated than that. Rushing to judge the family or the child during a time of high emotions is rarely productive. Now when a child in our programs is disrupted, I feel only sorrow for everyone involved, but I then remind myself that perhaps it means the particular family isn’t the right one for that child. I learned that lesson in the most awful way possible.


Many years ago, I was called by a family adopting a little girl I had met many times in China. She was very serious when you first met her, but once she warmed up she had a great smile and a gentle personality. The orphanage nannies liked her very much, and she had many friends in her preschool room.

I had no reason to think her adoption would go any way but positive, but then the adoptive father called me from China and told me quite bluntly that they didn’t like this child. That she was sullen and withdrawn. I encouraged them the best way I could and told them to give it more time as her whole world had been turned upside down. A few days later the mom called me – to complain that the little girl smelled terrible and seemed more like a boy in the way she carried herself than the dainty girl they were expecting. I was truly taken aback by the tone of the call, but assured them she was a kind little girl and to give it more time.

The last call I received was the day before they left China. The father told me tersely that they still didn’t like her, but they were going to bring her home because legally “they had to.” I hung up from that call heartbroken – and extremely worried. I never heard from the parents again.

A few years later, I received a phone call from a social worker who was trying to piece together this little girl’s story. The parents had never bonded with her, and in fact had emotionally and verbally abused her for years, addressing her as “Monster” and not letting her eat with the rest of the family. She had finally been removed from their home and was placed into state care.

I cried so hard that day after hanging up the phone, knowing I had played a part in convincing the family to bring her home. I will carry that regret with me the rest of my life. How I wish they had disrupted in China, as the gentle little girl I knew could have gone back to her known life in the orphanage and waited for the right family to choose her, a family who would love her for exactly who she was. Instead she had come home with parents who had decided they didn’t like her while still in her birth country, and she paid the terrible price of being told for years that she wasn’t good enough to be their daughter.


I have heard countless reasons from families and orphanage directors on why adoptions have ended in disruption. Some are a bit bewildering, like the family who disrupted a baby with cleft because milk kept coming out of her nose or the family who disrupted a child because she struggled with walking, even though her adoption file clearly stated that she had lower limb issues.

The majority of disruptions are due to behavior, of course (too wild, too withdrawn, too clingy, too angry). These can be agonizing times for parents trying to decide if a child’s behavioral responses are due to the stress of being handed over to complete strangers, or if they are seeing behavior they fear could throw their lives into complete turmoil. Some disruptions I have seen stem from a parent’s own personal belief on things, such as masturbation, a known self-stimulation behavior for older kids not touched or hugged growing up, but a behavior that different people view in very different ways. Then there are really complex and difficult disruptions, involving non-disclosed conditions such as autism, mental illness, or sexual abuse, which are definitely topics that are rarely black and white.


Few people go into adoption thinking it could end in disruption, just as few people plan a wedding while contemplating their divorce. I don’t believe anyone makes the decision to adopt from a foreign country thinking they will fly across the ocean and then change their minds, but the reality is that it happens every single month.

In working so many times with disruption, there are three key things I wish more people would consider:

1. It is essential to talk through every possible scenario you can think of with your family, so you aren’t surprised when you get to China.

Research the worst complications for your child’s special need, even if they aren’t noted in their adoption file. If you’re adopting a child with spina bifida, for example, learn about tethered cords. If you’re adopting a child whose file clearly states “developmental delays,” don’t just research physical delays but intellectual ones as well. Have open discussions about the behavioral possibilities you might face. What happens if your child lashes out with anger at being taken from all he knows and even physically fights you to get away? What happens if your child starts self-stimulating at night in your hotel room? What happens if your child seems off the charts wild, or is physically over-affectionate, or completely shuts down?

And definitely ask yourself what you will do if you get to China and don’t immediately feel a connection to your new child. I’ve talked to many parents who say disruption could never happen for them because they want the adoption more than anything in the world or because God placed it on their hearts, but I’ve seen plenty of people who were 100% committed to a child before travel still end up stopping the adoption in-country.

2. Don’t ever leave for China without a list of at least three trusted people you can call and be totally honest with after receiving your child.

With one recent disruption, the family felt completely isolated while in China and couldn’t reach their agency. They had so many questions and concerns about what they should do, but they weren’t able to connect with someone they trusted. The only person they could talk with was a Chinese guide who was hired through the travel service, and he had no idea about orphanage behaviors or whether what they were experiencing was in the realm of normal.

There is of course a lot of shame surrounding disruption, and I think some people are afraid to openly admit things aren’t going well. Don’t leave for China without at least a few “lifelines,” even if you think you will never be faced with such a decision.


Yes, that one needs all capital letters. I know in the age of social media that it’s a terribly embarrassing thing to disrupt, especially if you have a whole host of people following your journey online. I understand that families feel a need to justify their decision, especially since there is a tendency to vilify people who end a child’s adoption.

However, if everyone was honest with themselves, the very WORST time to try and explain a disruption is when you are in the middle of such emotional chaos. Parents are often exhausted and jetlagged; they have just made a decision that will impact their lives in a major way, and they are dealing with the pain and grief of having their adoption dreams shattered. That is never the time to blame the child, and the key word in that sentence for everyone to remember is that we are talking about a CHILD.

I wish so much that parents in the middle of disruption wouldn’t diagnose children online with labels like RAD, mental retardation, or sexual predator. While any of those labels could end up being true, few of us are probably equipped to make those definitive diagnoses on our own after spending just a few hours or even days with a child. I have seen those labels stick for years post-disruption, and in many cases they simply weren’t true.

I honestly wish it was an agency rule that parents who disrupt are prohibited from posting anything about the child online. Especially not until the agency, the orphanage staff, and medical experts can review everything that happened once emotions are calmer.


Thankfully, the vast majority of children I know who were disrupted in-country have gone on to be chosen by the exact right families for them the second time around. But therein lies one of the biggest questions – how can we ensure that as many children as possible are placed permanently in families the very first time?

I know that is far easier said than done, since every child and every family comes to the adoption with their own unique histories. Without a doubt, disruption is a topic that brings out very heated opinions, but it is a reality that we in the adoption community shouldn’t ignore. If more families and agencies are open and honest in discussing the “what if” possibilities, perhaps the number of children being returned to orphanage care will grow smaller every year.






In her work at Love Without Boundaries Foundation, Amy has written a blog series to help parents as they prepare to meet their new child.

Please consider reading through this excellent series, it will be such a wise investment of your time on behalf of your growing family and, most of all, your new child.



You can read all of Amy’s Realistic Expectations posts here:

Realistic Expectations: Cleanliness
Realistic Expectations: Potty Training
Realistic Expectations: Clothing
Realistic Expectations: Child Preparation
Realistic Expectations: Food Issues
Realistic Expectations: Attachment
Realistic Expectations: Parasites
Realistic Expectations: Post-Adoption Struggles

find my family: William

March 26, 2015 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments


Adorable 6.5 year old William is newly listed with Madison Adoption Associates. William is diagnosed as having hydrocephalus and spina bifida- tethered cord syndrome. He had surgery for both conditions. William is outgoing and active. He is talkative and quick to laugh. He gets along well with his friends when playing games. He is energetic …Read More

Caring for her heart

March 25, 2015 by nohandsbutours 6 Comments

Lydia March 3

I rarely seem to get the significant conversations when I try to start them. But, I try anyway. I don’t try everyday; neither of us need it everyday. In fact, there have been weeks that go by with no real attempts on my part to open those doors. But, every once in a while, when …Read More


March 24, 2015 by nohandsbutours 28 Comments


We say yes.  We say yes to adoption.  Not because we are ready, gutsy, extra loving, secure, or financially capable. We say yes to adopting children with special needs.  Not because we are strong, capable, patient, knowledgeable, or prepared. We say yes to adopting children with developmental delays. Not because we are competent, gentle, even …Read More

four families found

March 24, 2015 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments


Advocating for Children Who Wait is an important part of what we do here on No Hands But Ours. We celebrate with great joy every time we learn that there is a Family Found for one of these children. Today we would like to share four children who were highlighted on NHBO who now have …Read More

Adopting a Child with Vision Impairment: 8 Things to Consider

March 23, 2015 by nohandsbutours 5 Comments


December 11, 2011 in Fujian was cool, damp and grey. We were waiting in a conference room at the hotel with another couple from the US. This wasn’t the first time we’d done this. We had waited in similar rooms four times prior to this; however, this time was very different. Long after, we would …Read More

Aging Out Child: Summer

March 22, 2015 by nohandsbutours 3 Comments


Summer will age out and no longer be available for adoption on her 14th birthday which is less than 2 months away on May 15th. She needs a family already in process who is motivated to expedite her adoption before this day. Summer has Cerebral Palsy and her gait is slightly affected. She is described …Read More

World Down Syndrome Day 2015

March 21, 2015 by nohandsbutours 0 Comments


March 21st. The 21st day of the 3rd month of the year. A day picked specifically to celebrate those with a 3rd copy of their 21st chromosome. And this day specifically to increase awareness of the global blessing of Down syndrome! There is no firm data on how many beautiful people there are world wide …Read More