The Skinner Family Proves Love Knows No Bounds
As most parents can lament, there is no manual for raising children. It takes a whole toolbox of skills, emotions, experiences and a huge learning curve to provide a child with the spectrum of support that meets their individual needs. So often, Sierra Forever Families connects a child with their forever parents and, almost like magic, it’s a perfect fit. That was the case with the Skinner family, who welcomed two girls to their family and fully embraced their special learning and hearing needs to help them blossom as individuals.
With two biological children, Heidi and Jason Skinner began their journey with Sierra Forever Families in 2012 hoping to adopt their third and final child. As some of the Skinner family is deaf (Jason is deaf and their oldest daughter is hard of hearing), the Skinners were also hoping to be placed with a deaf or hard of hearing child to provide support with sign language and communication. Three weeks later, they were introduced to Heaven, a six-year old profoundly deaf girl in need of a forever home. The connection was almost instant – she moved in with the Skinners in 2012 and quickly became a natural part of the family, calling Jason and Heidi “Mom and Dad” from day one.
Shortly thereafter, the Skinners got a huge surprise: they were pregnant with their fourth child, Landen. Before they knew it, they received a call with an even bigger surprise: Addison, a nearly two-year old girl believed to be fully deaf and with no speech was in need of placement. The Skinners met Addison in 2014 and didn’t hesitate. “When we got the call, we couldn’t say no. We had to do it. Once we met her – just, wow,” remembers Jason. “We had to have her. We felt like we just had to offer our hearts to have her with us. I just felt like this was the place that she needed to be.”
Five children later, Heidi and Jason have created a warm, welcoming family and have helped Heaven and Addison make leaps and bounds in their development. When Heaven arrived at age seven, she was still in pull-ups, couldn’t read, had limited sign language skills and had major behavioral issues. Today, at age 10, Heaven is potty trained, has progressed to grade level and mainstreams with kids her age in school. “We worked with her for a year just on how to use the bathroom and how to take care of herself,” says Heidi. “She has undergone tremendous amounts of tutoring at home. She’s acquired language beautifully and made tremendous progress at school.”
Outside of school, Heaven is developing into an active, social kid with lots of friends. She is a competitive cheerleader and, despite her lack of hearing, is the best tumbler in the entire gym. “Heaven is the center flyer and is the one showing the hearing children how to tumble,” says Heidi. “The whole gym has embraced it – the coaches have even learned some sign language to tell her how to do the tumbling and how to work on certain things.” As she continues to grow, Heaven has also become more independent and self-confident in her abilities. “She’s a different kid than when she first came. She is a lot more independent and she knows how to access her environment,” says Heidi. “She’s gesturing, and she doesn’t feel that she needs help. We’re trying to raise her as an independent person and she’s doing a really good job of that.”
At age three, Addison has also made tremendous progress as the Skinners have learned more about her and her needs. They quickly discovered that she is not fully deaf, but hard of hearing and continue to work with her to develop sign language skills. She also has severe cognitive delays and receives occupational and physical therapy. Due to her previous lack of support, Heidi and Jason have worked hard to develop basic skills for Addison to learn to communicate and express herself. “When she came to us, she didn’t have any eye contact. We had to work with her to even look at us to start the signing,” explains Jason. “It was hard to get her to that point. We want to make sure she has communication skills so she can have a better life.”
All this care is steadily paying off, as Addison is now acquiring more sign language, learning to use the bathroom and able to use a fork to feed herself. She also has found a love of books and enjoys pointing out pictures and learning their corresponding signs with her parents.
As the Skinner family continues to grow and develop together, Jason and Heidi are thankful to have worked with Sierra Forever Families to find and fully support their daughters with their needs. “In the deaf community we see kids who can’t really sign or talk and it’s heartbreaking,” says Jason. “Having that communication is key, so anybody who wants to adopt or foster, I always send them to Sierra because I know they’re willing to find those deaf or hard of hearing kids and really help to get the kids’ communication because it’s such a necessary thing. Give them a better life. Give them that communication.”
Story by Julia McCandless