Hudson Valley Family Adopts a Special Needs Child



Joy and Alex Brewster opened their Hudson Valley home in Lagrangeville in Dutchess county to Emma, a beautiful little girl who has Down syndrome.

Emma Rose is as outgoing as any four-year-old. She welcomes visitors to her LaGrangeville home by grasping their hands. She has upturned eyes and a very round face. They are the classic features of a child with Down syndrome. As a smile crosses her face, Emma is undeniably cute. She is a key member of a one of a kind family here in the Hudson Valley. She’s the adopted daughter of Joy and Alex Brewster.

Read more: Are you ready to adopt?

How it all started

Joy explains that she has had a special place in her heart for special needs children since she was in high school. She met two students with Down syndrome and was fascinated by their friendliness and happy temperament. She knew right there and then that she wanted to make a career out of working with special needs children.

Today, Joy is a mental health professional. Together, she and her husband run Joy Brewster and Associates in LaGrangeville, a consulting service for families. Many of their clients are special needs families, but that wasn’t enough for the Brewsters. They wanted to open their home to a child with Down syndrome. Joy dreamed of having a little girl. They saw Emma’s photo on an adoption agency’s website and were immediately smitten with the child from Poland. “She had this mischievous look in her eye,” Joy says. “She looked like a diabolical genius.” Emma was two years old when she came home with the Brewsters two years ago.

What is Down syndrome?

Down syndrome is a genetic disorder that occurs when a person has 47 chromosomes instead of the usual 46. It affects 1 in every 800 children. As a result of her condition, Emma’s speech and cognitive skills are delayed. The Brewsters made sure their daughter learned American sign language, so she would be able to communicate under any circumstance. Emma signs about 60 percent of the time and speaks her responses the rest of the time. Sometimes, non-family members have trouble understanding what she is saying. Joy is hopeful that Emma’s speech will improve with practice.

Read more: Preparing your home for an adopted child

Active and outgoing

Emma shows no sign of letting her speech delay slow her down. She is a natural ham, who clearly enjoys having fun. As her photo was being taken for this article, she blew kisses to the photographer. To show off her agility, she threw caution to the wind as she somersaulted all around the living room in her dress. “She loves it when people laugh with her,” says Joy. “She is a little joker. It is a hoot when she helps with the laundry. She often tries to wear garments belonging to other family members.”

The challenge

Even with their understanding of special needs children, the Brewsters admit the challenges of raising Emma are sobering. They’ve found that her cognitive skills are more like those of a two-year-old than a child of four. “Our grieving process started when the gap between her strengths and abilities, and those of her peers at school widened and became more apparent,” Alex says. “She is making slow, steady progress, but it is so obvious that she has issues her peers do not have.” The Brewsters say consistency is important in raising a special needs child. So Emma is kept on a routine. She attends the Nurtury Montessori School of LaGrangeville, which offers a program tailored to her needs.

Read more: What my adopted kids taught me

Breaking stereotypes

“With Emma, she kills all the Down syndrome stereotypes,” Joy says. The Brewsters feel Emma has a keen ability to problem solve that sets her apart from many with Down syndrome. They’re working hard on helping her develop that ability. When Joy sees Emma playing with a toy drum that’s about to fall out of her lap, she doesn’t tell her daughter to move the drum. Instead, she asks Emma to decide what to do next. As Joy speaks to her, she signs at the same time. “We present things in more of a problem solving way, because that gives her the opportunity to come up with her own solutions,” she says.

Facing the future  

When Emma is ready for the third grade, her parents plan to enroll her in a local elementary school, where she can socialize with typical children. As Emma ages, they expect to make difficult choices such as what career path she will take and whether she will be able to live independently. “Everything we do now is establishing a foundation for her as she matures,” Joy says. “We hope Emma lives a productive, independent, and satisfying life full of things she enjoys.” Joy added that people with Down syndrome can be high functioning, but they often get pigeonholed into certain jobs. She believes Emma would do an excellent job putting books away at a library, working in a daycare, or helping with animals. “We hope she has a job that provides fulfillment for her,” Joy says. “We also hope she has a few true friends who love and accept her as she is.”

Her big brother

The Brewsters are heartened by the fact that as Emma grows up, she will have her big brother to look out for her. In September the Brewsters adopted eight-year-old Fitsum was from Ethiopia. His immediate problem was that he did not speak English. The Brewsters acknowledge they had their pick of children to adopt from all over the world. They feel their decisions to adopt Emma and Fitsum were no brainers. “We were looking for a spark in the eye,” says Alex. “They both have that spark and we think the world of them. People call us the United Nations. To us, race is not an issue. A child is a child.”

The siblings

It didn’t take long for Fitsum to fit into his new family. “She calls him ‘Soom,’ because she can’t say Fitsum,” says Alex. “They love each other.” Fitsum attends public school. He is hard at work learning to speak English. The Brewsters say he’s making steady progress. Sometimes Emma and Fitsum watch TV together. Their favorite program is Scooby Doo. “People like to tell us how lucky our kids are to be adopted,” says Alex. “We keep telling everyone that we’re the ones who’ve been blessed. We’re the ones who’ve been given this great opportunity. They’re terrific kids.”

Sandy Tomcho is a professional writer who lives in Orange County. She has written for Rhythm and News Magazine and the Times Herald-Record.