Adopting children with special needs
WHAT PROSPECTIVE PARENTS SHOULD KNOW
Researching adoptions leads to a realization – all adoptive children, in their own way, have special needs. There are, of course, the children whose needs are immediately recognizable – those who have physical disabilities such as Down’s syndrome, those with medically correct- able conditions like a cleft palate, or those adopted out of foster care who may have experienced trauma and loss, resulting in emotional and behavioral issues.
Then, there are others with needs that may not be readily apparent. While some prospective parents consciously make a choice to adopt a child who would not otherwise be adopted, many others eventually come to accept that, practically speaking, if they want to adopt a child, they may need to expand their parameters to include adopting one that comes with special needs.
Robin Fleischner, an attorney specializing in adoption, who practices in both New York and New Jersey, usually works with prospective parents looking
to adopt healthy newborns. However, she acknowledges that “sometimes birth mothers are in dire straits and babies can be born addicted to methadone or other drugs. Additionally, there are birth mothers who suffer from mental illness.” Fleischner notes, “The trend in adoptions is that they are very open – that is there is a tremendous sharing of information, such as medical history.” Thus, prospective parents are often aware of addiction or mental health issues ahead of time.
A common situation which gives rise to special needs is when families adopt trans-racially. Such adoptions can be extremely successful, but Fleischner observes that in transracial adoptions, “children are wearing their adoption on their sleeve.” In her blog, Fleischner has addressed the pain of racial discrimination and difference that transracial adoptees can face.
Cathleen McNee is the administrative director of A Loving Choice Adoption Associates and works with prospective parents all over New Jersey who are looking to adopt domestically. She agrees with Fleischner and says, “It is important to expose a child to as much of their own culture as possible. It is necessary to weave some of the child’s heritage into the family fabric. We have a number of clients who have been very successful doing this.”
As part of the adoption process in New Jersey, all adoptive parents must undergo a home visit by someone who is state-licensed. A Loving Choice conducts such home visits, and McNee emphasizes “they are not just investigative; there is an educational component of home study. We give as many resources as possible.”
International adoptions are another alternative and come with their own set of challenges. To begin with, some countries such as Guatemala and Russia, which in previous years were common places from which to adopt, are now closed to adoption. International adoption has become tougher to accomplish. When it is possible, adoptive parents need to be cognizant that children who spent time in an orphanage, even as infants or toddlers, may suffer from attachment disorders. At an age when most newborns are bonding with parents, these children were in an institution.
Similarly, those who are adopted out of foster care may have experienced trauma or loss. They may have spent time in many different homes. They need to feel safe. And they need understanding.
Laura Perry, of Extraordinary Parent Coaching, who offers adoption, childhood trauma and special needs coaching for parents, explains, “Behavior is a form of communication. For a child who has lived in an institution or foster care, they may have sensory processing issues, they may rock back and forth, or they could be cutting.”
Perry emphasizes the need for more post-adoption services, including educational programs. She firmly believes that “any child who joins a family that they are not biologically related to is at risk for having special needs.”
Of course, even when you give birth to a child, as opposed to adopting one, that child could have special needs. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of 45 children is now diagnosed with autism. The percent of children 5 to 17 years of age diagnosed with ADHD is more than 10 percent. Some reports estimate that as many as 15 to 20 percent of Americans are affected by learning disabilities and disorders.
If you are willing to open your heart and your family to an adoptive child, the best thing is to educate yourself about the child, their background and their unique needs. Then, advocate for them and love them as much as possible.
“IT IS IMPORTANT TO EXPOSE A CHILD TO AS MUCH OF THEIR OWN CULTURE AS POSSIBLE. IT IS NECESSARY TO WEAVE SOME OF THE CHILD’S HERITAGE INTO THE FAMILY FABRIC.” Cathleen McNee administrative director, A Loving Choice Adoption Associates