The children have disabilities ranging from Spina Bifida to Downs Syndrome. Many are tube-fed and use wheelchairs; others are blind or nonverbal. When people ask Karen about her family, she explains that adopting and raising several handicapped children was “not a conscious decision; it just happened. One came, then another, and so on.”
So how do Karen, a busy mother attending to eighteen children, and Larry, a retired firefighter, make it work? Although the Wilsons receive some adoption subsidies for medical coverage, it takes both of them to make ends meet.Despite the physical, financial, social, and emotional strains of caring for seventeen handicapped children, Karen never questions whether she’s doing the right thing. “It’s worth it,” she says. “The strength to keep on comes from the love I have for them and the love they give unconditionally and abundantly.”
While she is sure of her family’s mission, she is sometimes frustrated by others who are afraid of children with disabilities, even suffering criticism from those who don’t know how to help. When giving advice to families who’ve decided to adopt a handicapped child, Karen recommends that they develop a tough skin against the opposition they receive from obnoxious questions that sometimes arise. She suggests pretending they have been coated with Turtle Wax. “Just let it all bead up and roll off.”Six Wilson children have died, and because of their serious health problems, Karen and Larry know that more children will die. Disabled children with hydranencephaly (a condition eight of the children are afflicted with, in which most of the child’s brain is missing), usually don’t live past the age of nine. But the Wilsons find strength in the gospel, knowing that they will be with their children in heaven. The Wilson family, though mostly physically hindered, has been able to recognize their spiritual blessings, love being one of the most profound. “When you are a child you love your parents in one way,” she says, “then as you marry you love your spouse in a completely different way. When you have children you again love in yet another way. None of these are more than the others, just different.” For Karen, the love she shares with her children is unique and special. “Our children have brought with them little parts of heaven that we can feel but can’t identify.”
If you want to make a difference by adopting a handicapped child, Karen suggests seeking out a support group in your community or on the Internet. It is also important to find a doctor who is experienced with helping children with special needs. If you are in the Tucson area, you can help the Wilson family by donating materials or labor for the addition of their home by getting contact information through the Arizona Daily Star.