Human Interest

School paraprofessional adopts student with special needs: ‘We are better because of him’

adopts student special needs

Tricia Yoder and her husband weren’t looking to adopt a child, but when a PE coach at the school where she works as a paraprofessional told her that a student was about to be placed for adoption, she didn’t hesitate. She and her husband immediately decided to adopt him.

“One Friday, one of our PE coaches pulled me aside and said that my little buddy David was about to be put on an adoption website,” she explained in an essay for Love What Matters. “Without thinking, I told her that we would adopt him. The words literally just came out of my mouth. But the more I thought about it, I knew there was no way I was going to take a chance that he would find a good family. Why couldn’t we be his family?”

Yoder had met David earlier that year. He was 13 years old and in a self-contained class at Thompson Sixth Grade Center. She didn’t work with him directly, but she often spent time playing with his class at recess. David had a speech delay, a developmental disability. He did not, however, have an actual diagnosis.


Photo from Tricia Yoder via Facebook.

By the end of that day, Yoder found herself calling the State offices to learn how to start the adoption process through foster care. David was living with a foster family at that time, and Yoder and her husband would have to take classes and fill out a lot of paperwork. She called her husband:

‘There is some paperwork in the printer I need you to look at when you come home,’ I told him. ‘I want to adopt a little boy from school.’

‘Are you sure?,’ he asked.

‘I am.’

‘Then what do I have to do to get the house ready?’ We brought it up with the kids that weekend and with no hesitation, they all agreed we should do it.

Their three children — Brittany, Brennan, and Owen — ranged from college to seventh grade, and they were all on board.


Photo by Jennifer Woodbery. via Facebook.


David began visiting the family in January 2016 on Friday afternoons. Then he began spending weekends with them. From day one, he seemed happy, though it was difficult to know what he was really thinking. As time went on, it was obvious David had a lot of abilities that had gone unnoticed.

READ: He grew up in foster care. Now, he’s adopted three boys from the foster system.

“I realized quickly he was so much brighter than anyone gave him credit for,” said Yoder. “When he came to us, he didn’t really know how to take care of his physical needs. We taught him how to shower and wash his hair well, how to really brush his teeth and spray down and comb his crazy hair in the morning. Simple stuff, because he didn’t know how to do it. We gave him chores like emptying the dishwasher and folding towels. If you showed him once, he did it that way every time.”

The family gave David every opportunity to learn to be independent and he began setting his own alarm, making his own breakfast, and taking his medication. He was making progress and the family decided they should run genetic testing to see if there could be an official diagnosis for David along with better ways to help him. The tests revealed that David has a rare chromosome disorder called 16p11.2 deletion syndrome, meaning that a small piece of chromosome 16 was missing. It can lead to developmental delays, intellectual disabilities, and autism.


Photo from Tricia Yoder via Facebook.

“It was nice to put a name to what he has but it doesn’t really change anything,” said Yoder. Still, she pushed forward working on his academics. She knew he could memorize hundreds of Pokémon cards, so why not math facts? They focused on one skill at a time and David continued to improve. He is now in a regular classroom for math and reading and plays Miracle League baseball and TopSoccer. He also talks “nonstop.”

“He can carry on a conversation, asking questions and responding to questions,” said Yoder. “His personality has really come out and he has this amazing sense of humor.”

Yoder said that before his adoption, social workers believed David would be put in a facility when he turned 18. But now, the future looks much brighter. Yoder is encouraging other families to consider adoption, saying their “life will be so much richer and full of love” for welcoming a child into their homes.

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