When Sally and Tim Morris adopted their son Sammy, they had high hopes for him. They figured, despite Sammy’s physical disabilities, that he could go to high school and college and secure a desk job one day.
The Morrises learned early on, however, that Sammy struggled with far more than paralysis and spasticity in his arms and legs and, as they learned about later, with restricted cognitive functioning. The early neglect Sammy had experienced back in Ethiopia is what held him back most in life.
His reactive attachment disorder—his inability to attach to others—was his biggest hurdle to overcome. “Very early on, we realized that…unless [Sammy] learned to have a relationship with our family,” said Sally. “…that he would never be successful with anything. Ever.”
Sally and Tim read every book they could about reactive attachment disorder and took him to different therapists. Yet, Sammy’s behaviors continued to get worse.
The Morris family was falling apart. Sally’s health was failing—she had developed chronic fatigue syndrome and began losing weight at an alarming rate. Sally and Tim’s marriage struggled. “It was just survival for us—really day by day,” said Sally. “We couldn’t dream anymore. We couldn’t look toward the future.”
Then one night, Sally heard something on the radio about the Institute for Attachment and Child Development. She called immediately. Claire Szafraniec of the Institute answered at 6 ‘o clock that evening. “Claire gave me a sense of peace,” said Sally. “By then, we really didn’t know what to do.”
After Sally talked to the Executive Director Forrest Lien the next day, the Morrises knew they had found hope. “Forrest made me feel like we weren’t crazy,” said Sally. They enrolled Sammy in the Institute for Attachment and Child Development in-patient program as soon as possible.
Tim recalled the first moment he and Sally knew Sammy was thriving at the Institute. After a month in the program, they were in a therapy session with Sammy. The therapist asked a question that Sammy didn’t like and he began mumbling in baby talk. The therapist told Sammy to stop, take three breaths, and talk to them like the 15-year-old he was at the time. And Sammy did. “[Sally and I] looked at each other,” said Tim. “For three years, we tried to do that with Sammy. We wondered how [the Institute] had made that happen.”
And Sammy only continued to progress and thrive from there.
Sammy learned how to behave in ways that truly benefited him in life, rather than to simply manipulate others. He learned what made him successful and how to make and keep friends in school. He learned to trust his parents. He learned to love and care for himself.
Tim recalls the memory of Sammy’s high school graduation with pride. For Sammy, walking across the stage to get his diploma was not an easy task. But just as Sammy was determined to move closer to his family, he got across that stage too. And he accepted help to make it happen.
Sammy’s peers were with him that happy day. Sammy got his wheel chair to the stage and a friend had his crutches waiting. He moved from his wheel chair onto his crutches and moved slowly up the stairs. From there, he made his way across the stage. Another friend helped Sammy with his diploma. Sammy stopped for a moment and gave a big smile to the crowd. And he got a much-deserved standing ovation.
Sammy had finally let people in. He was not only depending on and trusting himself, but also in others.
Today, Sammy is living in an apartment with a young man who works with the disabled. He is learning, through accepting the help of others, how to make his way through basic life skills. Sammy now goes to the grocery store and cooks meals for his family. He cleans and keeps his apartment immaculate.
Every day, Sammy sets his alarm, gets ready, packs his lunch, and takes the bus to work with his dad at their family roofing and sheet metal business. “He’s functioning,” said Sally. “There was no was I could’ve envisioned this before [the Institute] because he mentally was not able to do anything then.”
Tim and Sally marvel at how far their son has come. He went from a boy with no dreams or hopes to a productive, responsible, and happy young man. He is now an inspiration for others.
Sally tells her story for other parents who are now full of despair and just barely hanging on, as she once was. She wants to offer them hope. “We feel like the Institute definitely saved my life,” said Sally. “But also [Sammy’s] life. I want to offer other parents hope.”