Becoming a YouTube sensation is no small task. It takes a lot of effort, creativity, and consistency. Above all, it takes an ability to captivate and entertain an audience. For some people, being a sincere, honest, and awesome person does the trick. For others, being silly and absurd does the trick. And others it's being confrontational or controversial.
YouTuber Myka Stauffer built her audience with her adoption journey, so her followers have been invested in her family and her adopted child from the beginning. Since 2014, Myka and her husband James have been sharing their journey as a family in Ohio, USA. Today, Myka’s channel has 717,000 subscribers, and the family’s channel, The Stauffer Life, has 332,000.
In 2014, Myka and her husband had one daughter together and Myka had a daughter from a previous relationship. Over time they added two sons to the family, sharing their pregnancy and birth stories on their channels along the way.
It was in July of 2016 when things took a turn into the adoption journey, the couple posted a video titled “BIG ANNOUNCEMENT!!! || BABY #4.” In this video they announced they intended to adopt a little by from China. Additionally, they were considering adopting another child after this one from "Uganda or Ethiopia."
In a written piece for Parade magazine, Stauffer shared:
"Since Chinese adoption laws only allow U.S. couples to adopt children who have special needs (besides other stipulations), at first, we couldn’t wrap our heads around special needs adoption. We would just say, ‘No we can’t handle all of that, we just want a simple adoption.’ But as we let the idea soak in, God softened our hearts. Before we knew it, we were open to almost every special needs in the book."
Included in those videos was a 13-part series of adoption updates where she would answer questions about both the technical aspects of adopting a child from China and her emotional experiences throughout the process.
One particularly popular fundraising gimmick encouraged everyone to donate $5. Each donation would unlock a different piece of a 1,000 piece puzzle. Once fully unlocked, a photograph of Huxley would be revealed to the world. The puzzle piece symbolism is commonly associated with autism but is a contentious subject in the autistic community.
Myka also said that everyone who donated to that fundraiser would have their names in Huxley's baby book.
Partnerships and sponsorship began to trickle, if not roll in for the growing sensation.
In one such sponsored video from 2017, Myka said she was using the proceeds from YouTube ad revenue towards her adoption. In the caption she wrote that the sponsorship “profits are going towards bringing our SON home from China!”
Myka dedicated the video to “all of the orphans around the world.”
The compilation video, which has been viewed more than 5.5 million times featured short videos of Huxley from before his adoption, and a video of the family travelling to China to meet him for the first time. When Huxley was adopted he was 2.5-years old.
Myka used that video to talk about her emotions throughout the day of the adoption. Additionally, she continued to update followers as time went on in videos like “Huxley's 10 Month China Adoption Update! International Adoption Update!”
The parenting blogging/vlogging community soaked all of it up and delighted in Myka Stauffer's family story. Over time she developed partnerships with major companies like Glossier, Good American, Fabletics, and Ibotta.
She also began to write for multiple major media outlets about her story and journey and parenting Huxley.
"Our son ended up having a stroke in utero, has level 3 autism, and sensory processing disorder. It took a lot of time to process and to readjust to his new diagnosis. We spent 10 months preparing for brain tumors and never once did I read about autism or stroke damage—it was a curve ball."
In “Emotional China Adoption Update Two Years Home,” Stauffer said that since his autism diagnosis, they had put Huxley in ABA (applied behavior analysis) therapy.
The autistic community overwhelmingly asserts that ABA is an abusive therapy technique.
Fans and critics discuss controversial issues about how the child was treated including a seemingly barren bedroom, being locked in a small closet to calm down during meltdowns, and that the family duct taped his thumbs to try and get him to stop.
"Adopting, gaining custody or having a child is a life long commitment. When you take a child or when you have a baby, there is no guarantee that your child will be typical. There is a committment to support, love unconditionally, and protect the child. When I read about Stauffer's son Huxley, she duct taped his hands for punishment for sucking his thumb. This is abuse. Sucking a thumb is a coping mechanism and the parents took that away from the child. She used her child to make money from her videos. You do everything in your power to make sure your child gets what they need. Parenting is hard. Period."
Myka wrote things like:
“He is doing so well and I am so excited to see the huge steps forward he makes in his third year after being adopted from China."
The woman from New York who runs the @MykaStaufferFan account told BuzzFeed News she had been following the family for years when she noticed Huxley’s absence. She said when she asked Myka on Instagram, she “blocked me immediately.”
The video called “an update on our family," explained that they removed Huxley from their home and placed him with another family. The couple insisted the decision was made "for Huxley’s emotional well-being."
According to BuzzfeedNews:
The couple's attorneys, Thomas Taneff and Taylor Sayers, said in a statement to BuzzFeed News that Huxley had not been placed in the foster system, but rather they had decided to "hand-select a family who is equipped to handle Huxley’s needs."
"We are privy to this case and given the facts at hand, we feel this was the best decision for Huxley. In coming to know our clients, we know they are a loving family and are very caring parents that would do anything for their children. Since his adoption, they consulted with multiple professionals in the healthcare and educational arenas in order to provide Huxley with the best possible treatment and care. Over time, the team of medical professionals advised our clients it might be best for Huxley to be placed with another family. This is devastating news for any parent."
“I knew if I was going to try to find out what happened to him, I’d need more support to spread the word and get justice for Huxley."
The account now has over 3,000 followers.
While they did not elaborate on the legal reasons, they did continue to insist they did everything hey could for Huxley: “After multiple assessments, after multiple evaluations, numerous medical professionals have felt that he needed a different fit in his medical needs, he needed more."
In a comment on the video, Myka said “multiple scary things happened inside the home towards our other children.”
“We saw that in family time with other people, he constantly choose [sic] them and signed and showed tons of emotion to show us and let us know he wanted this.
He is thriving, he is very happy, he is doing really well, and his new mommy has medical professional training and it is a very good fit."
"They were forced to make a difficult decision, but it is in fact, the right and loving thing to do for this child."
While the family did not post the update on Instagram, they did share stories encouraging followers to check YouTube for answers to their prying questions. Seemingly, the YouTube feed has been flooded with support. Yet, the internet shows no shortage of outrage and opinions on the family's choices.
One person said: “As a child who was adopted I completely honor your decision and the very difficult acceptance that you were not his forever home. You will always be in his heart and you gave him a great life for the time he was with you."
Another said: “My heartfelt sympathies go out to you and your family. Sometimes even when you do everything right, it can still go wrong. Maybe this was your purpose - to help Huxley on his journey and enable him to be where he needs to be. God bless.”
Amanda Siegler wrote, "In on aspect, I am horrified that she would even give her child away to someone else after she had him for 2 years. She did not have temporary custody, she adopted him. A birth certificate was issued as her being the mother of this precious child. In another, it is better to put him with someone else than for Buxely to end up like Alejandro Ripley. His mother drowned him twice because she could not handle him."
The Autistic OT wrote out a timeline and important, critical final thoughts that invoked a lot of discussion:
The Change.org petition has been amassing signatures left and right in a very short time.
“These people need to stop exploiting and profiting off of Huxley immediately! The internet has your back Huxley. We hope you're happy and thriving wherever you are.”
In an interview with BuzzfeedNews, the person behind the @MykaStaufferFan account said:
“I think it would be best for her to step away from YouTube for the time being to reflect on the consequences of her actions and the hurt she has caused the adoption community and parents of special needs children."
Most importantly, we can all hope that Huxley is indeed in a good home with a loving family and that he won't ever be subjected to "re-homing" ever again. A lot of accusations are also coming to light that cannot be verified yet, but we don't suspect this will be the end of the discussion nor the end of the Stauffer's controversies.