Arriving at the Reker family home in Elkford, the door is opened to reveal three little girls with bangs and gappy smiles.
Two are dressed in princess dresses and colourful tights, while the third, wearing a Minions t-shirt, is screaming at the top of her lungs.
“She stubbed her toe,” mom Denise explains as she comforts Adalyn, who is eventually calmed by a children’s show playing on a tablet.
Adalyn has Chromosome 1q21.1 microdeletion syndrome, a chromosomal condition that is so rare, only a few dozen individuals with this deletion have been reported in medical literature, according to U.S. sources.
One of the features of the condition is autism, which Adalyn has along with hearing and vision loss.
The seven-year-old has the highest needs of her three adopted siblings, Sean, 10, Mylie, 5, and Emma, 3, who are also autistic.
“Sean, Emma and Mylie, they all have something called fragile X, the X chromosome is broken so they lack protein to the brain… it’s the number one genetic cause of autism,” said Denise.
“Adalyn has a deletion of a chromosome and she has a duplication of a chromosome, but she had a stroke at birth, so she has a lot of problems.”
Denise and her husband Evan decided to adopt after learning they couldn’t have children of their own.
The couple had experience with autism, Denise having worked in early childhood education in Ontario, so it was agreed they would give children with special needs a forever home.
“We wanted children and so this is who God had in mind for us, these kids,” said Denise.
“They’ve given us so much love and they’ve taught us so much about life. We’re thankful for all four of them.”
Sean was the first to arrive in September 2010 followed by Adalyn in February 2012, Mylie in November 2014 and Emma in April 2015. The Rekers originally planned to adopt three children but then they learned about Mylie and Emma.
“We agreed on one more and then we found out about both of them on the same day because they’re actually Sean’s biological sisters,” said Denise.
Each adoption was different, even though three of the children came from the same family.
Sean had to be transitioned into the Rekers’ home over two months, while Adalyn was a relatively quick adoption.
Mylie was out of province, which dragged the adoption process out for six months, then there was Emma, whom the Rekers were originally told could be adopted at birth.
However, the process was stalled by the discovery Emma might have Metis heritage and she was placed in a foster home for several months before finally joining the family in April 2015.
“They do have big personalities, every single one of them is different,” said Denise.
“Sean and Mylie are more emotional and sensitive.
“Adalyn can be our most challenging child. Emma is our daredevil, our wild child, no fear at all and the tough one.”
Denise and Evan are open with their children about their adoption and have photos of their biological families displayed in their home.
“They don’t understand but we are open with them, they understand that Addie has a grandmother,” said Denise.
The Rekers maintain a relationship with Adalyn’s grandmother, who is “grandma Carrie” to all four children, as well as other relatives after agreeing to an open adoption with Adalyn.
“We don’t hide it from them, they just don’t quite have the capacity yet to grasp it,” said Evan.
Between home schooling the children and ferrying them to various medical appointments in Cranbrook and Calgary, the Rekers’ life can be chaotic at times.
“We’re busy but we’re a good team, we do it together and Evan is a great dad… as soon as he comes home, he steps into dad role,” said Denise.
“You have to anyway, even with just four kids period,” replied Evan.
“It’s a lot, let alone with the special needs and things, so you do what you can to chip in.”
Evan works in IT, based at Teck’s Line Creek Operations as Team Lead of End Use Computing.
Denise is a stay-at-home mom and assists the children’s teachers with their schooling.
“It’s a unique balance of still providing for the family but then making sure you have that home time as well with the kids, both after hours then on the weekends too,” said Evan.
In the summer, the Rekers’ favourite pastime is playing in their impressive home playground, which includes a fort, trampoline, swing set and seven-seater teeter-totter.
The family also travels regularly, recently returning from a four-day trip to Jasper and the icefields.
They’re currently planning for their biggest trip yet – a month-long holiday to Vancouver and the U.S. with Denise’s mom.
The couple admitted the hardest part of raising children with special needs was the hospital visits.
“We spend a lot of time going back and forth to Calgary to the Alberta Children’s Hospital,” said Denise.
There is also limited support for families with special needs children available in Elkford.
“There could always be more,” said Evan.
“You’re pretty much looking at Fernie for visits or Cranbrook even, depending on what you need. Then Children’s Hospital of course.”
The couple’s advice for other parents interested in adoption was to be prepared.
“Just to make sure you’re ready for it and really look deep inside yourself, and if you think it’s something you can do then by all means there are definitely kids out there that need it,” said Evan.
“It’s not an easy journey,” agreed Denise.
“It’s just like having a child birth I guess, you never know what you’re going to get… It’s a life journey and it’s a great journey.”
Despite the challenges Denise and Evan have faced, and will continue to face as most of their children will need lifetime support, they have no regrets.
The couple encouraged other families to consider opening their hearts and homes to children with special needs.
“Adoption is a wonderful thing, it’s hard, it’s challenging, it’s a long process, but in the end it’s rewarding and amazing,” said Denise.
“We wouldn’t have our family… if it wasn’t for adoption. We wouldn’t have our grey hairs.”
“It’s tough but amazing,” agreed Evan.
“There’s just something different every day, both in challenges but then they surprise you and they’ll turn around and do something.
“Mylie had no clue how to use a swing two weeks ago and I looked out the window one day and she was flying back and forth, she just figured it out.
“It’s just amazing little stuff like that. They come and give you a hug when you get home from work and it’s just amazing everyday.”