Lindsey Atwell Standing In Front of Red Bench

Blog Special Needs

How A Daughter With Special Needs Inspires Giving

Despite all my thirty-two-year-old daughter’s mental and physical challenges, she has a heart as wide and deep as the Grand Canyon. Lindsey takes after my husband in that respect.  I wish I could say she inherited her generosity from me, but every single day, I work at giving.

I’ve experienced spontaneous charitible moments when I purchased $5 Footlong’s for a hungry couple or a full-meal deal for a homeless woman. When I donate to an individual living on the street, I prefer to give food. I’m afraid cash might go for drugs or booze. Someone else might not care. He may hand the man on the street a few coins or dollars without attaching any strings. But for me, a food donation lets me be in control of how the money is spent.

My husband and I write quarterly checks to S.A.C.A., our local food bank. We open our wallets for anything education related–fundraisers for Silverton schools or sporting events. We’ve contributed to charities that support disabled individuals (one of our favorites because we live “disabled” firsthand). Over the years, monetary gifts to other non-profit organizations have been sporadic: United Way, American Red Cross, Katrina, Japan’s Earthquake, Tsunami Fund, American Idol Gives Back. Yet the truth is, we’ve been blessed; we could give more generously.

But my daughter doesn’t have to work at giving. Like Nike, she just does it. Consistently.


When Lindsey turned sixteen, she adopted her first sponsor child from Children International.  Ten-year-old Verlie was from the Philippines. Lindsey promised to send $12 a month in exchange for letters and pictures and drawings. She thought the trade-off well worth it. “I love gettin’ mail,” Lindsey said, explaining how she’d always wanted a family but didn’t want to “pass on” her tremors (or any other idiosyncrasies of her disability) onto another human being.

I thought my daughter would tire of the monthly treks to Roth’s or Safeway or High School Pharmacy to buy the required money order.  On every allowance day, then every pay day, Lindsey walked to the store, rain or shine, snow or sleet, to exchange her cash for a money order, fix a stamp on the upper right hand corner of the envelope, a return address label on the opposite end, and slip it into a U.S. Postal box.

“I put my money to good use,” Lindsey told me. “I could be buying drugs or junk food.” (Maybe she doesn’t fall so far from her mama’s tree?) I smirked, wondering if she thought these were her only two other options.

But I was proud of her.

Two or three times a year, a letter printed in child’s penmanship arrived for Lindsey. While I cooked dinner, Lindsey stood in the kitchen and read Verlie’s words out loud–the subjects Verlie took in school, the chores she preformed around the house, her favorite pastime: jumping rope.

“My daughter is so smart,” Lindsey would say, tucking the letter into a cardboard shoebox she hid under her bed.

Picture of Gold Mommy's Brag Book
©Michelle Kay Hamilton

New photographs of Verlie arrived in the mail. Lindsey removed the old one from a pewter picture frame she displayed on the top of her dresser. She slid the old photo into a “Mommy’s Brag Book” before she inserted the most recent picture into the frame and set it back on top of her dresser. Every time someone came to visit, Lindsey dragged out her brag book, flipped through the photos, describing Verlie at this age or that age. Once I overheard Lindsey critique the child’s clothing. “I sure like that top,” she said, pointing to a photograph. “It looks good on her and it has lots of pretty flowers. But I don’t much care for this one. It’s not her color.” I wondered if Lindsey was a secret member of the fashion police, which surprised me since she’d never been a fashionista for herself.

Verlie stayed in the program until she was nineteen. “Now she’s a stewardess on an airplane serving drinks,” Lindsey said, beaming. “It’s her dream job.”

Picture of Kayla

Lindsey wanted to continue the program and sponsored three-year-old Kayla. Children International promised to use my daughter’s $12 a month to help pay for medical and dental expenses, school supplies, clothing, and food. Then Kayla’s family abruptly dropped from the program–they disappeared. “I don’t know where my daughter is anymore,” Lindsey said, her voice drifted away as she stroked Kayla’s photo over and over. “So now I have Ann Jeannette. She’s my third sponsor child. She’s eleven.” Lindsey’s hands tremored as she turned the page in her brag book. “She was seven when I started,” she said, pointing out how much Ann had grown.

Once a month Lindsey receives her Social Security Disability payment. She works part time: two hours a day, five days a week. But Lindsey is willing to give up a Snicker’s-mocha-iced-coffee and a new Dora The Explorer coloring book in order to send a $12 money order. “I budget,” Lindsey said. “They need the money more than I do. I’m doing a good thing sponsoring them.”

“Which daughter is your favorite?” I asked, peeking over Lindsey’s shoulder, studying the photographs.

“I don’t have one,” she said, shaking her head. “They’re all my favorites.”

Diana, our neighbor and friend, (who also happens to be the Director of Special Education in a Woodburn, Oregon grade school) asked Lindsey how she might adopt a child, too?

“It’s a big responsibility,” Lindsey lectured Diana, wagging a finger in her direction. Lindsey shoved an information packet across the table toward our neighbor. “It’s like having your own kids, but you don’t have to push them out your vagina.” I cringed, exasperated Lindsey still hadn’t developed any language filters. Diana just nodded her head and smiled, jotting down the organization’s information.

Picture of Ann Jeannette
Ann Jeannette

Lindsey’s been committed to this program for one hundred and ninety-six months. “I’ll do it for as long as I can,” she said. “Hopefully, for the rest of my life.” Lindsey told me that the best part of sponsoring these kids is that she gets to pick the sex of her child. “I always pick a girl. I wouldn’t know how to talk to a boy kid.”  Lindsey twirled a strand of hair around her finger as she chatted, looking at all three of her girls.  “I lucked out,” she said. “They all have the same birthday.” Lindsey gulped. “October 14.”

“October 14th?” I asked. “The same day you married your husband?

“Yep.” Lindsey nods. “It’s my lucky day.”

John and I are also inspired by Lindsey’s long-term dedication to these children. We can do a better job of supporting organizations we believe in. Therefore, we have renewed our commitment to make a monetary donation to a non-profit organization every single month this year.

Every month or so, I highlight a non-profit organization that offers support to people with special needs. This month, I’m featuring The Arc.

The Arc promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively supports their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes. The Arc believes that all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are defined by their own strengths, abilities and inherent value, not by their disability. For 60 years, The Arc has been on the front lines in making change happen for people diagnosed with Autism, Down syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and a range of diagnoses across the spectrum of intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Arc is the nation’s leading advocate for all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families and the premier provider of the supports and services people want and need.

If you are looking for an organization that could use your help, consider The Arc. You can donate household furnishings, clothing, and other useful items–even cash. They often pick-up donations from your front porch. If you aren’t familiar with the good things The Arc does in your community, please click here to learn more. And remember, all donations to this organization are tax-deductible.

Loving Lindsey Cover


My first book, Loving Lindsey: Raising a Daughter with Special Needs will be out September 26, 2017. If you would like to learn more, click here.

I share many passions in this world: antiquing, gardening, hiking, traveling, taking amateur photographs, writing, sitting on a white, sandy beach with my husband and sipping a frozen margarita—just to name a few. If you enjoy any of these things too, let's connect! The world is better with friends.

  • Kandi

    Thank you Linda – I am so proud of Lindsey as well – that is a very long commitment that she has stuck to and I know she loves doing it. I write with tears of joy falling down my face as I think of how my ‘older, but doesn’t look older’ sister has raised this young woman. Be proud – you didi it and I know it wasn’t (and still isn’t) always easy!

    • Thanks Kandi. Especially for agreeing about the ‘older, but doesn’t look older’ sister comment. Love you lots.

  • I just love this post, and I’ve been inspired to encourage my special needs daughter Jennifer to consider doing the same with the “adoption” of a child in need. My daughter is filled with maternal instincts and has so much love to give, so I’m sure she would love this opportunity. Thank you Linda for sharing this beautiful story.

    • I hope Jen adopts one too! Lindsey loves it. They’d even have more to talk about next time they see each other. Thanks again for your kind comments Wendy.

  • Lisa.G

    Amazing and inspiring!

  • What a great story! Your daughter is amazing and I’m humbled by her commitment to help others. Like you, I buy meals for homeless people when I think about it, and we donate to individual causes when something tragic moves us on the news, but could definitely do a better job at “regular giving.”
    Some of the quotes in your story had me tearing up and laughing out loud (laughing at the sponsored children being like your own but not having to push them out and tearing up at the many examples of what a beautiful heart your beautiful daughter has. Smiling! And thanks for the info on The Arc, too!

    • You are so welcome, Kristi. Thanks for stopping by. Am so glad you enjoyed. Sometimes Lindsey says things in the darndest ways. She makes me smile, too.

  • M.

    What a beautiful, inspiring story. I just “adopted” two kids of my own. The world definitely needs more “Lindseys” ! Thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you so much for visiting Out One Ear…and for your kind comment.

  • Philis

    It will be such a pleasure getting to know Lindsey, I am prepared to be amazed regularly! Thank you for letting me have this opportunity…I suspect that I’ m going to have to become a better person!

    • Well, Lindsey has some incredible pluses, but she also has some incredible challenging moments as you will soon learn. I know you won’t have to become any better person. To do what you are already doing is already–special. We appreciate it too!

  • From Autism With Love

    What an encouraging and inspiring post! 🙂 I am enjoying getting to know Lindsey and your family through your writing. This is such a great idea. ~ Jamie

    • Thanks Jamie. She has grown into a lovely young woman. Exasperating at times, but loving and generous, too. We are lucky in many ways. Thanks (as always) for reading and leaving a comment. I appreciate your support!

      • LynnK

        What daughter isn’t exasperating at times?

  • Hi there,

    I just gave you an award! Check it out here, and congratulations! 🙂

    • Wow, Kristi! I’m flattered. I’ll be checking into this more tomorrow. In the meantime. Thanks for thinking of me. This is an honor–especially since it is from a fellow, respected, blogger. 🙂

  • Reading your posts, it seems Lindsey is very much like my special daughter, Taylor. The heart of gold, the generous nature (also from her Dad) and other things as well, like the trouble grasping time. I am so glad I found your site, its probably no small coincidence that Taylor was born on October 14 (1991)! Will be looking forward to future posts.

    • Thank you so much for finding Out One Ear, Marg. Sometimes Lindsey’s generosity can be too much. Once she gave a $100 bill to a guy in the park because he asked her for it. (It was a birthday present from a grandmother.) She doesn’t always reason well. But I’m proud so that she is doing this project!

  • I love your posts, 🙂

  • What an inspiring story here…for once we read good news that we can take away with a smile in our heart!
    Thanks for being brave enough to share openly with a world in need of understanding and accept those who are a tad different than what WE think is normal!…may this happy couple celecbrate 99 more Happy Valentines Days! Blessings from Boring Oregon. Cheryl, Larry and Max the big BIG kitty who was abandoned at our driveway, left to suffer 4 days until he made it up our long driveway, past cat killer dogs and coyotes.
    Too bad for them b’cuz Max has MAX love, MAX smart, MAX sweet, MAX Awesome!

  • PS…we adopted 2 girls from outside the US…it wasn’t easy, but it was a blessing for us.