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Posted January 3, 2005

Resources for Families with Special Needs Children
Porthill, Idaho
Tom and Sherry Bushnell, Founders

By Kathy Nussberger

Tom and Sherry Bushnell of Porthill, ID believe it is their mission to help other parents dealing with the issues of raising children with disabilities. So in 1990, the Bushnell's founded NATHHAN (National Challenged Home-schoolers Associated Network), to provide a central source of information and support to the 15,000 families in their network.  They offer several unique resources to parents raising children with special needs. According to Tom, NATHHAN means "Gift From God."

With two adoptive children suffering from Reactive Attachment Disorder and a third child born with Downs Syndrome, the Bushnell's wanted to help other parents like themselves who were often misjudged by members of their church, family, friends and community. The Bushnells' adopted four children with special needs and have eight birth children.

"We have a heart for special needs children," Sherry said. "In our network, we have a lot of parents who are willing to talk with new parents of special needs children and let them know they are not alone or crazy. We understand how people from your church, friends and family may not understand what is going on with your child. They can misjudge you, your motives and your child, who often knows how to play other people like a fiddle. We understand, we want to help develop a support network of families that understand what you are going through and can help you get through some of the tough times, rather then being surrounded by people who don't understand and will judge you."

Even with children suffering from Reactive Attachment Disorder, a lot can be done when people work together.

"We can set up staged social meetings where the child is the only one who doesn't know it's staged," Tom explained. "The rest of us understand Reactive Attachment Disorder, and when the child comes up to play us, we let the child know that they can't get hugs because we are strangers. We encourage the child to go to his/her mother or father if he/she wants hugs, and when that happens on a steady basis, the child begins to learn that hugging strangers is not acceptable behavior. These children are damaged; and telling the parents how bad they are at parenting is not going to help anyone."

" NATHHAN is the home schooling aspect of our foundation, Christian Homes and Special Kids (CHASK) that serves over 15,000 families across the US who are raising and privately educating special needs children," Tom explained. “These families are caring for children with every type of disability ranging from mild to extremely severe. Our magazine “NATHHAN News,” is published twice a year and it goes out to all 15,000 families.” Other books published by NATHHAN include Christian Homes and Special Kids (CHASK) and two speech therapy manuals for parents who want to do speech therapy at home.

In addition to the magazine, NATHHAN has a lending library with about 700 titles, and operates through the mail, the library, and a family phone book. A discussion board and articles on over 40 different subjects are available on their website. Subject areas include different disabilities and information on occupational and speech therapy to help integrate special needs children into the family's church.

"Our family phone book is accessible to those who are listed," Tom said. "Almost 7,000 of our families have adopted special needs children, and several of them range between mild to quite severe Reactive Attachment Disorder.

We also encourage birth parents to raise their special needs children, but for those who choose not to, we have over 300 families waiting to adopt." Tom explained that CHASK tries to reach out to birth parents that have a baby with special needs, and if the baby is not yet born, they encourage parents to choose life for their child and help them find the resources they need to raise their child.

"If they are not able to raise their child, then we step in with a family who is willing to adopt," he said. "We never charge a fee for helping either the birth family or adoptive family make that special connection with the child. Anyone can adopt through NATHHAN as long as they have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. It does not matter which denomination or church they belong too, that is not an issue with us, the only question we ask is "Do they love Jesus?" The Bushnell's, through the NATHHAN foundation, will help any parent with a special needs child, regardless of whether the child is theirs by birth or through adoption.

"We really want to help anyone who needs the help and resources to keep their child," Tom said. "We do think adoption is a great option for those who cannot raise a special needs child, but we also want to provide resources for those parents who want to raise their child. Through NATHHAN and this network of 15,000 families who are already raising special needs children, the chances are very high that we have someone in any given area that is raising a special needs child with a similar disability who is willing to help a new family."

Tom said the network is open to anyone who needs it, but he wants people to know his world view right up front. "I am not going to do any baiting and switching, meaning that we do not believe there is any such concept as being theologically neutral or world view neutral. We want people to know that our world view is from the Judea Christian beliefs, and although some people try to hide their world view, it is not honest because we all have one."

Sherry explained that when someone is interested in adopting a child with a mild to severe disability, they are provided with all of the information they need, including the network of families, specifically those who have children with the same disability.

"We do all of this before they adopt because we want them to be fully aware of the situation and what to expect from the adoption," Sherry said. "Our application on the website allows adoptive parents to be very specific about their choices of ages, race, disability, etc. When I get a baby or child in the office, I go through those applications and call the families who are the best match for the child. I explain the situation and give them time to process it and make sure it is a good time for them and their situation. If they are still interested, I send a short biography of the prospective family with a picture to the birth parents as a way of introduction. Most of the time the adoptive family pays the interstate compact and lawyer fees when the child is coming from a different state. Sometimes, the birth parents are so grateful to get help they pay some of the expenses."

Tom said they want all adoptive parents to be honest about what types of disability they are comfortable with. “We like to know what the prospective family is able to deal with because we want to help both the child and the family succeed. We don’t want to set anyone up for failure. One of the things we try to do is keep the child within the state where they reside when adopted. Although we charge no fees, adoptive parents need to pay to have a home study done, which ranges in cost between $800-$1500 and lawyer fees that vary widely. We can help them find a lawyer, but we do not pay the fees. NATHHAN is a non-profit organization that runs solely on donations.”

Another aspect of NATHHAN is a special fund, the "Already Loved Fund," that is set up through donations to help 'hard to place' babies in life and death situations. "In the past year, we had two babies born with just brain stem function. They were left in the hospital to die, but with the Already Loved Fund, we were able to bring in adoptive parents and help pay the legal fees to get these children into homes. Both babies had the necessary surgeries right away. Although the Fund cannot cover medical expenses, most of these children are covered under Medicaid, and the money from the Fund is used to buy plane tickets and pay a lawyer's retainer fee to get the child into their new family. We live in a good society that doesn't just allow people to die, and that is a good and very humane thing."

Other books published by NATHHAN include Christian Homes and Special Kids and two speech therapy manuals for parents who want to do speech therapy at home.

Copyright © 2005, Woodbury Reports, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
(This article may not be reproduced without written approval of the publisher.)

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