Autism discrimination when adopting a child

Jake Snow

A couple of years ago my wife was told that she could no longer have children due to a medication she needed to take to prevent her being in constant pain. It’s necessary but as you can imagine caused us a certain amount of heartache upon hearing the news as we were just considering expanding the family. We’d delayed having any more children for years until we were sure our son’s needs could still be met whilst caring for another child.

After a year or so we’d decided that the only path available was adoption. Fostering was considered but we knew we couldn’t handle constantly saying goodbye to a child we grew to care for. My hat goes off to those that can and do. We did our research, attending an open afternoon, completed our application and had the home visit. Everything was going fine and the home social worker, and people we had previously spoken with, had all made positive noises until they dropped a bombshell. Sorry but your son’s autistic so there’s no point proceeding any further. Er, what?!

Yes, of course you tick all the right boxes we were informed. Our house was perfect, we were perfect, our finances were perfect, our support network was perfect and our plans for my wife to take a year off work then reduce her hours was perfect. It was just that our gorgeous little lad would have had such a massive negative mark against us as a family that we would never be chosen by local authority placing social workers. We were told that we’d most likely go through the application process fine and get approved as adoptive parents but be forever confined to the back of the queue as we would be discriminated against for our disabled child no matter what glowing references we came with as a family.

We were disgusted, angry and heartbroken all over again at the final chance of expanding our family was removed and such hurtful discrimination could be aimed at our son who we love so much. Below is a response I presented to the local authority which summed up our emotions and thoughts at the time. Of course a bog standard reply was provided to this and we had reached the end of the road…

Firstly, thank you for coming to our home and discussing the application process. I know the decision has already been made and understand there’s little point in proceeding with our application to become adoptive parents due to the prejudice we would experience from placing social workers due to being parents of an autistic child. At the time I had a mixture of confusion, shock and disappointment when you had raised concerns of our son’s social interaction and the huge negative effect this would have on being chosen from a prospective adopters list. Since then I have to say my emotion has changed to anger and resentment.

We have a nice home, are in good health, a good support network, our finances are very secure and we have a proven track record of being devoted parents who will do everything they can to ensure a child has the best start in life. My wife, being a teacher, was also prepared to take a year off work to bond with the child and there after only work three days a week. The other two days they would have attended either the nursery attached to the school, or indeed the school itself, where my wife works so she would see them as much as possible.

To have all of these positives completely disregarded as our son is autistic and has social interaction issues is astonishing. Not only that it’s insulting towards my son that he is considered to be a worse impact on a child’s well being than a parent who could be morbidly obese, smoking or any of the other rules on who can be an adoptive parent that have recently been relaxed. Jake is a wonderful boy and once somebody gets to know him they will feel the same as would a child coming into the family. The negatives that a new child coming into the home may possibly feel rejected by him is a lazy excuse in my opinion by any placing social worker making that judgement. I could easily spin that on its head in that our son would be accepting of anyone coming into the family, he won’t try to force them out of the home, potentially bully them due to jealously, etc. Our experience of children coming into the home is that they take Jake for who he is and are fond of him regardless. It’s a real shame that adults in 2016 can’t do the same…

I think that we have shown, and would have demonstrated during the adoption process, that we have the patience, commitment and skills necessary to re-assure a new child coming into the home and make them feel part of the family. With all that being said people are people with their prejudices and preconceptions and as you have pointed out the system won’t allow for a placing social worker to have the time to get to better know our son and change their mind. That’s a real shame and quite discriminatory especially in this day and age. I imagine in twenty years time when people are more aware of autism this type of discrimination will be looked back on in horror.

In light of the current situation I would recommend *removed* council, and other authorities, amend their websites and literature to explain that families in our position should need not apply. During my initial phone calls with the adoption team, further email correspondence, contact with staff at the information meeting that we had attended and on the enquiry form we had submitted we had always stated that we have an autistic child with social and learning difficulties.

At no point previously had anyone raised concerns that it would it would be a pointless exercise and neither does the literature on the website. I think best practise would be to immediately raise concerns and inform parents that it’s a road not worth going down. Nobody we spoke to had done this and indeed during the home visit everything seemed to be going great until the discussion moved onto our son. Maybe we were naïve but from our point of view everything seemed to be going well during the home visit and we were ticking all of the boxes. It came as a complete shock to be told our son would unfairly dismiss us as potential adopters.

Even more disappointing isn’t the fact it would prevent us from passing the selection criteria and approved by the panel but that placing social workers would forever not choose us because of my son’s disability. It may be the harsh truth but it’s a very ugly one. We have worked hard, as has our son, to get to where he is now. He is well behaved, happy and doing well at school. Whilst he’s non verbal he’s making good progress and forming some basic sounds and words and his non verbal communication and comprehension is excellent as noted by his speech and language therapists. Indeed we had waited for a number of years to expand our family as we had wanted our son to get this stage where we are confident we have the time to devote to another child and our son is ready for a sibling.

I know you had made your judgement on our son based on the hour or so you had been able to observe him whilst you were talking to us about the adoption process. As would be the case if a placing social worker were to visit us. I would like it to be noted though that he had just come home from school and wanted to relax and play on his own which I think is pretty natural for most children. He isn’t a child who will normally initiate communication and at no time had you tried to get to know him or properly interact. One of my wife’s friends, whom he had never met, came round awhile ago and she made the effort to get out a blanket with some toys and they played a lovely game together with plenty of non-verbal communication. Last week we told him she was coming again and he immediately got the blanket and brought it to us. At first we didn’t realise why he did it until we remembered the game they had played which he obviously had enjoyed.

Whilst I do appreciate the honesty it would have been a lot easier to take if everyone we had talked to had raised their concerns. Also, I think if this is such a negative factor then surely instead of spending two hours talking about our reasons for adopting, finances, etc. a meeting should have been arranged where our son was in attendance and he could have been assessed first. Indeed if our son hadn’t of been at home how far down the road would we have been allowed to go with our hopes raised even further before they were finally dashed?

As my wife is no longer able to conceive naturally this is the end of the road for us which will take some time to come to terms with. We’ll bounce back as we always do and move on but I will never see sense or forgive those that judge our son and who cannot see that a child coming into our family would be content and lead a happy prosperous life.