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Special needs, special adoptions


WORLD Radio - Special needs, special adoptions

A family in northern Virginia opened their home to children with disabilities after God gave them a biological daughter with special needs

Shelley and Matthew Mansfield in the family kitchen. Photo Credit to Jenny Rough

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, May 3rd. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: adoption and special needs.

Yesterday, we launched Episode 3 of Effective Compassion Season 4. WORLD’s Jenny Rough reports on international adoption and how the landscape is changing.

Today, she has a story of an American family who adopted four kids from China. An unexpected medical diagnosis led them to open their home to children with special needs.

SHELLEY MANSFIELD: Chores. You’ve got to do your chores. And Shakespeare.

JENNY ROUGH, REPORTER: Homeschooling mom Shelley Mansfield hands her younger kids a chart of tasks and homework assignments. She and her husband, Shawn, have seven kids. Three biological, four adopted. Shawn’s own childhood influenced their decision to adopt. His dad was a preacher. But when Shawn was a teenager—

SHAWN MANSFIELD: Something flipped in him, and he went opposite. Drugs. All kinds of stuff. Lost his job. My family split. I lived on my own for a month or so. My swim coach found out about it, and said, this isn’t working. And he talked to his wife, and they brought me in.

Shawn’s always been grateful the swim coach and his wife opened their home and hearts. Shelley is, too.

SHELLEY: They were much younger. They had three little girls, and not every family with three little girls would have taken in a 15-year-old boy. And so his take on it early in our marriage was I can never repay them, but I can pay it forward in the life of another child.

They thought they’d do something similar. Provide a home for an older teenager. But after their third biological daughter was born, those plans changed.

SHELLEY: And when Lauren was 2, she was diagnosed with Rett syndrome, which is a quite debilitating genetic disorder. Rett syndrome is a really awful diagnosis to receive.

It affects brain development. Lauren can’t talk. She can’t feed herself. Many with Rett syndrome can’t walk in a functional way. But thankfully Lauren can. The day I visit the Mansfields’ home, Lauren walks into the kitchen with a caregiver.

SHELLEY: Lauren says hello with her eyes. Lauren, thank you for saying hi to Miss Jenny.

After her diagnosis, Lauren was in six different therapies a week. The experience opened the Mansfields’ eyes to other kids with special needs. Friends from church had adopted from China, so the Mansfields followed in their footsteps.

SHELLEY: AnnaGrace came home at 16 months.

AnnaGrace had a cleft lip and palate. A medical condition easily corrected with surgery and speech therapy. Overall, her transition went smoothly. So eighteen months later, the Mansfields adopted Avery. She also had a cleft lip and palate. But Avery was older. The orphanage told the Mansfields she was 12. But right away, they suspected otherwise.

SHELLEY: Avery did not look like a 12-year-old. And so I was like, Okay, I think she's older.

Shelley met a friend for lunch who had done missions work at Avery’s orphanage in China.

SHELLEY: She spoke in Mandarin to Avery. And she asked Avery, “How old are you?” And Avery parroted the age that they had told her with the fake birthday that they had given her. And the girl that was doing the interpreting said, “No, no. Really. Like, we don't think that that's true.” And then she said, “Well, they told me I can't ever tell. Or they would know, and I would get in trouble.” And so she did admit. Well, I'm actually 14 and a half and my birthday is not in October. It's in March.

Shelley suspects the Chinese orphanage staff lied about Avery’s age to give her a better chance for a placement.

SHELLEY: I do think on some level, her orphanage was trying to care for her well. But I hate the way they did it.

Avery’s needs ended up being more emotional than physical. But four years later, the Mansfields’ agency called again. Another child needed a home. Matthew. Age 4. And he had severe physical disabilities.

SHELLEY: He has an orthopedic condition called arthrogryposis, which affects both of his arms and one of his legs. So three of his four extremities were affected. He has contractures in his elbows, his shoulders, his wrists.

Shelley says her husband was good at thinking through the practicalities. He asked for a video to see if Matthew could feed himself.

SHELLEY: And my husband said, You probably don’t want to have two children you have to feed. Because on days when I’m at work, when are you ever going to eat because you have so many kids that can’t feed themselves.

She’s thankful for that.

SHELLEY: Because if it was just up to me, we may have 12!

Matthew could feed himself. He could walk and even run, although he used the side of his clubbed foot.

SHELLEY: Lauren's our perspective giver. We've always compared everything to Rett syndrome and everything so far that has come into our life with the other children medically has paled in comparison to Rett syndrome. And for us, again, Rett syndrome, we were like, “Well, I mean, but he walks and he runs and he eats, and he, you know, we can do that.”

They brought him home in 2014. Matthew had surgery on his leg and wrist. Today, he golfs and swims, and loves to play outside.

Now the Mansfields thought their family was complete. But then Shelley went on a mission trip to the Chinese orphanage where Matthew had spent the early years of his life. And there she met Natalie.

SHELLEY: She is a spunky little girl. And she came leaping into my arms the day we got her.

She was 5 at the time. Today, she’s 13. And ready for lunch.

NATALIE: What are you doing?

SHELLEY: I’m making you some ravioli. It’s ravioli.


SHELLEY: Well, do you want to eat? Are you hungry?


SHELLEY: You’re hungry? She’s always hungry.

Natalie has Down syndrome. She’s capable of daily tasks, but she needs extra encouragement to do them.

Shelley says Natalie and Matthew, with their physical disabilities, never would’ve gotten out of the orphanage without the international adoption program.

SHELLEY: Her orphanage, you know, they didn't go outside. They had bars on the windows. It looked like a prison. There were gates on the staircases, so you couldn't even travel from floor to floor. It was a sad, sad place. And I remember she's just spinning in circles while we're there. And I’m like, I want to take her home.

The future of the Chinese international adoption program is uncertain. It’s been shut down since COVID. And as of April 2023, there are no assurances that it’ll reopen.

A life spent raising special needs kids has been difficult. But the Mansfields say their faith and faith community has helped them every step of the way.

SHAWN: God will take care of it. We deal with some of the most amazing people. Having special needs children means you now deal with all the people who love special needs children and who pour their lives into special needs children. You can't see it on the front end, but I promise you, on the back end, looking back at it, we wouldn't do it differently.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Jenny Rough in northern Virginia.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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