A bond beyond language
Looking back over the past 20 years, Susanne and Keith Poole reflect that theirs is a story of joy, of love and loss, and of a family bond that goes beyond language.
Susanne and Keith have raised five children, including four with special needs. All of the couple’s adoptive and foster children have been nonverbal, and each has their own way of communicating. “As a parent, it is pretty cool, because you understand your child in a unique way,” Susanne says.
Keith and Susanne are parents to Brandon and Marissa, both 27, a 16-year-old son who is in the adoption process, and little Lucas, the couple’s birth child.
- Brandon, “the king of the family room,” likes to be in the center of everything. “He connects to us with his heart and gives us lots of hugs and kisses,” Susanne says.
- “Girly girl” Marissa has a sense of happiness that’s infectious. Marissa’s favorites include jewelry, magazines, getting her hair done, and going out to eat, particularly at IHOP.
- The family’s 16 year-old foster son adores technology and recently began using an iPad to communicate with everyone in his world, from bus drivers to peers, teachers, and relatives. “Relatives are impressed when he says ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’” Keith comments.
- Lucas is a typical five-year-old, silly, loud, and social. Growing up with siblings with special needs has made him an inclusive, compassionate kid.
In 2013, the family experienced tragedy when their adoptive son Danny died at age 24 from conditions related to a rare chromosomal disorder. Alive in everyone’s memories, he is still very much part of the family.
The family’s story
Two decades ago, Keith and Susanne welcomed six-year-old Brandon into their home through a foster placement. They were able to adopt him in 2000.
During 2002 and 2003, teenagers Marissa and Danny joined the household when they needed emergency foster placement. “We became a family with ‘fraternal triplets’ all born the same year,” Susanne says. Marissa’s adoption was finalized just prior to her 18th birthday, while Danny was able to legally join the Poole family through guardianship after his 18th birthday.
In 2005, a five-year-old boy joined the family. Keith and Susanne hope he will soon become their adoptive son. Then, in 2011, the family celebrated the birth of baby Lucas.
Invaluable post-placement support
Keith and Susanne speak warmly about the many forms of support they’ve received in parenting children with special needs.
- Help from CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) during Brandon’s adoption. A CASA volunteer enabled the couple to build a relationship with Brandon’s birth family through monthly, supervised visits. The two families remain in touch.
- Support from the family’s licensing agency regarding foster care, adoption, and issues related to the children’s needs.
- School programming. The kids’ teachers have promoted practicing skills at home and in all environments.
- Respite care, which has given the Pooles time for household responsibilities and for recharging when needed.
- Good pediatricians and therapists (occupational, behavioral and speech).
- Parent support groups, such as Raising Special Kids and Arizona Association for Foster and Adoptive Parents (AZAFAP), which provide peer support and an opportunity to help other families.
Keith and Susanne continue to take pride in their kids’ new accomplishments and like the fact that they won’t be facing an empty nest.
“When people ask how we do it, I reply that our kids give us back way more and bring happiness and love to our whole life,” Susanne says.