In 2002, I began to chronicle my adoption journey and created Forever Parents, a supportive online community for adoptive and waiting parents. Over the next year, we grew our support forums to include an adoption shop and a blog. Forever Parents stayed active, helping thousands of people for over ten years. I’m in the process of updating and moving all the posts to this blog, in the Forever Parents section. This post was originally published on July 19, 2011 by forum member, Keadie for Forever Parents.
Written from the heart, by Keadie
When I tell people that I have adopted and that my daughter has special needs, almost always the response is some variation of, “And you didn’t know that before you adopted her?” as if to expect some horror story.
But yes, of course, we knew fully that she had autism and global delays before we even applied to adopt her. We were emotionally prepared for that. And she is perfect in our eyes. As our daughter sings heartily into her battery-operated microphone: Lady Gaga’s song, “I Was Born This Way!”, our Princess, our world: we cannot imagine life without her now.
There is at least one significant difference in parenting adopted special needs youngsters and parenting those biologically born to you: the disability has been disclosed to you and is accepted by you.
That difference prepares new adoptive parents to address head-on the need for medical and educational evaluations in a timely way, and not go into denial for years, supported by people (including pediatricians!) who say things like, “she’ll catch up”, or “boys take longer”. The full awareness of special needs in an adopted child inspires new parents to embrace the small advancements with enthusiasm.
There is no grief to overcome, knowing that your child may not reach the highest of aspirations. Each new day brings a fresh appreciation for a skill mastered, a word spoken, a task completed. There is nothing like it. The joy in watching a five-year-old child say her first words; clap in self-praise for putting on her own nightgown without help; ask for seconds of chewy food when there had been a time when only the softest mush would go down…it’s indescribable. You are there: a personal cheering section, for the sweetest, most innocent of children finding their way in the world bit by bit.
Can you adopt a special needs child?
Adopting special needs children is not to be taken lightly or for the faint of heart. I’d be inclined to discourage people who have not parented at all prior from taking on the task unless they have shared a life with someone with similar handicaps, and are totally aware of the potential needs for support and medical networking.
This shouldn’t scare anyone away: our child is as healthy as a horse physically. Some children are more fragile. People with big hearts wanting to rescue a child with disabilities really have the wrong motive.
These children are perfect in their own way. They need parents who are comfortable in their own skin and laid back enough to roll with the tide. There’s really nothing different about our family, to us. We accept our daughter as she is, and rejoice in life with her: never making her feel that she lacks anything.
She is not lacking, but many so-called “healthy” people are. By that, I mean that there is a kindred spirit among parents of handicapped children. We affirm and happily assist other disabled people in our communities without a second thought or a stare. We know how normal these people really are. We know that there’s nothing to be afraid of.
Fear among mainstream society remains an issue. You will have to be your child’s first advocate to ensure that academic, least restrictive environments for best educational practices be available for your child every scholastic year, and probably summer.
You will have to fight for admittance to events and places that you’d be shocked wouldn’t know any better than to discriminate against the disabled, but they do.
Many simply have to be educated. You must be the better person and calmly facilitate that understanding for your future encounters, and for the benefit of others.
You will hear other preadoptive parents express their desire for politically-incorrect terms such as “a perfect baby”. Or, you’ll hear things like, “I don’t know how you do it. Aren’t you scared? I could never handle the burden that you’re about to/are taking on.” It’s not a burden if you’re emotionally comfortable and well prepared, or already well-seasoned parents. Those other people end up being the ones in denial.
Adopted children can present with delays, psychological problems both genetic and environmentally exposed, and/or residual effects of biological maternal poor choices. Many are born having received no prenatal care. Adoption professionals explain that the more open that you are for conditions and circumstances which would not have naturally been a part of your family dynamics, the greater and the sooner the chance of being matched.
That means being prepared for drug exposure, for example. Make a special appointment to speak with your chosen pediatrician and ask for advice regarding adopted children. Pediatricians have experience caring for children from all kinds of adoptive situations and can advise as to what should be expected.
I can tell you of many adoptive moms on foreign forums lamenting about the emotional issues of their “perfect” children. Don’t be one of them. Nobody is perfect. Be prepared for your child to not be like you, even if he or she is of your own race and culture. Be ready to accept and appreciate those differences. The world is full of different colored flowers, and the sun shines upon them all.
I think that having an autistic child is a blessing and God gave this child to you because you are capable of taking care of her. Accepting the child is one of the best way to love her.
Jeannette, I am so sorry for your loss. I think you misinterpreted what I was trying to say about grief. As a mother to a biological son with Asperger’s, I was in denial for a very long time that he had processing problems. Despite teachers urging me to take him to a neurologist, our family doctor said that our son would grow out of it. That was validated when our son was a straight A student in junior high. I wanted to rub it in their faces. And then, eleventh grade hit, and he bottomed out. Social anxiety and peer relationships crippled him. Teaching methods and auditorium classes paralyzed him. His perfectionism and difficulties understanding what was expected of him eventually led him to drop out of school. I remain his biggest advocate and believe in him that he WILL find his own way in the world. Now in contrast, look at my little girl, whom I knew had huge obstacles from the beginning. I had no expectations that she’d be able to go to a military academy like prior generations in my family. I took things at a much slower, patient pace. I kept giving her reachable, yet challenging goals and something as little as her saying, “Look in the sky! A birdie!” is a developmental milestone that some people thought that she’d never reach. The process is joyful. My son, on the other hand, has been misunderstood by teachers, doctors, everyone at one time or another, and that’s unfortunate. So we begin now, at age twenty, with seeing the future with different glasses on. Do you understand now how I meant? Yes of course I grieve for their losses, but now I’m focused on the little successes. The “Little Flowers” of our lives, because little things mean something, too. Through little steps, wonderful things can emerge.
Mireille….thank you for your comments. It’s not my story however….one of our long time adoption forum members and now a writer at our blog, Keadie is the author. You can click her name at the bottom of the article to read her bio. 🙂
Jerry McConway says
Special needs children can be a challenge, and it definitely takes dedicated parents. They are truly special people as this story tells. Great post, thanks for sharing.
Joanne your story is an inspiration. God bless the special children and the people who adopt them. Your family is so wonderful and the kids are so lucky to have found their way into it, but as a grandparent raising a grandchild, I know that you are also the lucky one for having found them. Love of children is so uplifting.
Your perspective of being an adoptive parent who avoids greif is something new to me. As a mother of a daughter who got meningitis at one month, stayed in peds ICU for 4 1/2 months, and came home to uncertainties, I can say that we were only grateful Sara lived and deeply saddened when she passed suddenly 25 years later.
What I want to say is this: You are a wonderful mom to give from the heart. Please don’t assume that parents who give birth to a child who develops disabilities grieve. They could give up the child for adoption or place them in group homes. We received no special help or money for keeping our daughter home like my sister who adopted special needs children did.
I really don’t mean to sound harsh. Thinking about Sara breaks my heart. I can’t even finish her blog or talk about her without crying, six years later. http://savingsara.info
The grief started after her death. Like that of any parent who loses a child. Sara gave us daily joy. She was the happiest of all of our children and inspired them to be great, compassionate, grateful adults.
Sukhraj Beasla says
This is such a moving story. Thanks for sharing! I don’t know why people would question the motives of adoptive parents. Don’t all children deserve to be loved?
Zack Swire says
I hadn’t considered that perspective before. Thanks for sharing this story. You’ve got a truly big heart!
Ionut Popa says
This is really a touchy subject. You need lot of mental strength and a good heart to help someone in need
Beth Parker says
You’re so right–all babies are perfect. This is just beautiful.
Oh Mary, I wish I could give you the biggest hug! You have been blessed to share the life of someone really amazing and beautiful. I know that you are making the best of every moment, and they do all count…and there is a purpose for these dear little souls. Sometimes that purpose is to simply know what it is like to be loved. There is healing and growth in Love. Love Conquers All. No wiser words were ever spoken by man.
Karen, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment! I’m so glad that you enjoyed my post. My daughter came home at five, and I disregarded all of the negative talk that the window of growth opportunity ends at three. Children are amazingly resilient…never give up trying, never stop offering them chances to reach higher goals. Believe in your ability to share this amazing world with your child to the point that they can express an awareness of beauty, of appreciation, and to make their own contributions because we ALL can leave a productive footprint in this world.
All the best, and with much gratitude,
“The world is full of different colored flowers, and the sun shines upon them all.”
That is beautiful. I wish I could say more, but thinking on my own short time parenting a child with extraordinary medical needs and terminal illness, instead I am just bursting with a loving sadness and appreciation for this article. Thank you for writing it.
Karen Wood says
Very well written and hopefully an inspiration to others! We wish you and your gorgeous family well.