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.