A family story for World Down Syndrome Day
In May of 2019, Special Education Teacher Matt Harder, and his family brought three-year-old Millie home from China. Millie is an incredible little girl with Down syndrome, but that never deterred the Harders from adopting her.
March 21st is World Down Syndrome Day! This year’s theme is “With us, not for us.” Matt and his family are hoping that this message resonates with everyone as a call to move on from an outdated concept of treating people with disabilities as objects of charity, deserving of pity and relying on others for support. Instead, the campaign promotes a human rights-based approach that views people with disabilities as having the right to be treated fairly, with the same opportunities as everyone else.
“People with Down syndrome are individuals like everyone else! They have their own likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses and other traits that make them unique. Their special need is only a tiny fraction of who they are,” Matt says.
In 2017, Matt and Katie began the adoption process with Nightlight Christian Adoptions to bring a little girl into their family from China. They anticipated that the child would have special needs, but they didn’t know what or how severe they would be. In November of 2018 they saw some short videos of a little girl with Down syndrome.
Katie says, “She was this happy little girl who was dancing and seemed to have such a cute personality. We were instantly drawn to her. We prayed hard about it and God confirmed that He was calling us to be her parents.”
The primary concern for the Harders was that there might be health issues such as heart defects that are common with a Down syndrome diagnosis, or other medical conditions that the doctors in China might have missed. “The fact that she has Down syndrome was not a concern,” Katie says.
The couple, along with their two sons, Knox and Canon, found the waiting and uncertainties to be difficult at times throughout the process, but they received a lot of support from their agency and had faith it would all be worth it in the end.
In May of 2019 they brought three-year-old Millie home.
“We had heard stories of children not bonding with their adoptive families, so that was a concern for us, but Millie bonded with both of us quickly and the same went for us,” Katie admits. “Our boys loved her instantly and bonding with them was easy for Millie as well. It was like she had been with us forever! We will be forever grateful to the Lord for leading us to her because we cannot imagine our lives without her.”
Matt shares that the experience of raising a child with special needs is unique to each family and child.
“Every situation has different challenges, and there are no blueprints on how to do this,” he shares. “It’s important to surround yourself with people who support you and will advocate for you. It may be an office mate, classroom staff, church, friends or your family. Sometimes you need someone to walk beside you, make you laugh or be an ear to voice your frustrations to and help you navigate those times when things get difficult.”
For the Harders and their community, the addition of Millie has been a blessing. “Millie is full of personality. She has us laughing daily. She brings happiness and joy everywhere she goes,” says Katie.
“When some of the teachers in Millie’s elementary school are having a bad day, they sit with Millie in class and their day instantly improves! She is smart, sassy and wants to be loved by everyone.”
Matt adds, “Down syndrome does not define who Millie is. She is AMAZING!”