Adopt­ing chil­dren with spe­cial needs

WHAT PROSPEC­TIVE PAR­ENTS SHOULD KNOW

201 Family - - CONTENTS - – LES­LIE PERLMUTTER

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

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