After multiple miscarriages, Courtney and John decided adopting a baby would be the best way to start their family. “It was kind of a whirlwind,” Courtney said. They were in the process of closing on a home when they received a call about a baby in California. The adoption process went very quickly and baby Bella was in their home a few days after being born. During her toddler years, Bella had difficulty communicating and showed serious behavior problems such as excessive biting and scratching. Bella’s behavior only got worse. At age 9 it was determined she was a danger to herself and others. Courtney and John, not knowing what else to do, checked her into a psychiatric facility. She was finally diagnosed with autism and a mood disorder. Her diagnoses were life-changing for Bella and her parents.
Factors that Led to a Later Autism Diagnosis
“Everything came late for Bella, but we didn’t know it was late,” Courtney said. Since Bella was their first child, they didn’t know she wasn’t reaching milestones on time. These first-time parents did their best to address her aggressive behaviors in her toddlers years. They did speech therapy with Bella because they believed her aggression was a result of not being able to communicate.
When the aggression continued after she could talk, they sought out psychiatric help for Bella. The problem was, they saw a new psychiatrist each time so they couldn’t examine Bella’s case and get a correct diagnosis. She even received a wrong diagnosis of an attachment disorder.
After Getting the Correct Diagnosis, Life Dramatically Improved
While Bella was in the psychiatric facility, “this team emerged…and they gave us so much organization to the chaos in our life,” John said. Courtney and John learned that autism looks different in girls than in boys. They learned about her IQ, memory, and genetics, all of which played a part in her struggles at school. Those challenges were “causing frustrations which, with her mood disorder and the way her brain was wired, caused her to react and do certain things,” John said.
Once John and Courtney learned all this, they finally understood WHY Bella acted the way she did. For several years they were stuck, not knowing what to do, but that changed to relief. “Letting go of all of my own personal expectations…allowed us to get her help and put us on the path of being so much more healthy today than we were then,” Courtney said.
“We realized things needed to change in her schooling environment and in her home environment,” John said. Before going back to a normal environment, Bella went through a transition unit. These people helped her learn coping techniques that dramatically changed things for her. Over the next couple of months, John and Courtney petitioned Bella’s school district to get her approved to attend a self-contained class where she would have teachers experienced in working with children with autism. Bella now thrives in school, loves her friends, and looks forward to each day.
Autism Diagnosis Teaches Others to Show Love
“One of Bella’s gifts is that people love her,” Courtney said. Everyone has shown increased amounts of love, understanding, and empathy since Bella became part of their family. Bella’s younger brothers sometimes take on the caretaker role because they love their sister. The two of them can sense when Bella is having a rough day. “They’ve learned to adapt, and they’ve also learned to be her protector and to show her unconditional love,” John said.
There is Uncertainty in Adoptive and Biological Children
When it comes to adoption, parents often want to adopt a child “without any problems” whether they be mental or physical. “I think there is a certain amount of uncertainty when you adopt, but then there is a certain amount of uncertainty when you have a biological child,” John said. Just because you get to choose which child you adopt, doesn’t mean you get to choose how their life will go. The only thing you get to decide is whether or not you love and support that child. That’s the only decision that really matters.
“My life is completely different than I thought it was going to be when we adopted that child 12 years ago, but it’s so much better,” Courtney said. John and Courtney recognize their lives with Bella are “beautiful” and they don’t want it any other way.