Accept the Realities of Special Needs Children
By agreeing to adopt a child with serious physical and or emotional disabilities, you are doing something many people think is heroic or beyond the average person's capabilities. You, of course, know that love for a child and a willingness to give that child whatever is necessary drives your actions. Perhaps you do love more deeply than the ordinary parent, but your rewards also transcend anything anyone, except those who walk the same path, can imagine.
With the love and dedication you feel, you also know that you need to deal with your personal issues before taking on a special needs child. In addition, you must have access to respite care so you can recharge your emotional batteries on a regular basis.
When you adopt a blind, deaf, or emotionally disturbed child, you must put aside fantasies about your son becoming a star athlete, member of the Blue Angels, or a Broadway headliner. Letting go of these fantasies is a kind of loss for you as a parent, and you must take the time to grieve for the future your child will never have.
In the abstract, before your child comes into your home, you may think it won't be so bad, but when you're faced with a frightened, angry five year old who wears diapers and can't speak in sentences, you will be stunned.
Your greatest strength will come from putting aside your preconceived notions and accepting your child on his terms, according to his reality. He may have a feeding tube and be unable to breathe on his own. Or he may go into rages and tear up toys and clothes and punch holes in the wall. Whatever the reality, you can handle it if you let go of your preconceived notions, recognize your need to heal, and have training and professional support, as well as a loving circle of friends and family.
Experts have begun to realize how important dealing with grief can be, especially for special needs children. You know that this particular child is different from others his age. Because of his mental or physical problems, he may have been rejected by his biological family, or his biological parents may have relinquished him out of love and a desire for him to receive medical services they couldn't manage. However, no matter what the reason, he will feel rejected and needs to be able to work through his grief and anger at what has happened to him.
All adopted children wonder why those who gave birth to them didn't stick around to be parents, and they fear they were inadequate in some way. But a child with mental retardation, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or other disability knows he doesn't walk, learn, or behave like other children and can think he's somehow broken. He will probably have erected emotional barriers and engaged in troubling behaviors; it's safer to throw a tantrum or lash out than to admit he doesn't understand. He needs to find a way to work through the emotions this causes.
You may have a problem with your adoption process if you aren't given opportunities to interact with your child before placement, her foster parents are hostile or uncooperative, you have few details about her background, or are not allowed to see her medical records. Don't be deflected from your search to understand her better by references to privacy. You will be her parents and must have all pertinent information.
You will have to enter his reality and coax him into yours. Patience, persistence, and working with those who have studied his particular disorder will bring results.
A special needs child in the family can bring everybody together, promoting cooperation and unselfishness beyond the reach of those who have never faced similar challenges. But don't lose sight of the importance for everybody's needs to be met. Help your other children express themselves if they feel neglected because of the large amount of time you have to spend with your handicapped child.
Help your other children understand your new child's particular handicap. Many adoptive parents role-play with their children before the special needs sibling comes home. For example, if your future son suffers from low or no vision, have a family activity where members of the family wear blindfolds and try to do something like walk from one side of the room to another or make a bed. This effort will help develop sensitivity to what the new member faces all the time. Try similar activities for hearing loss by using ear plugs and trying to carry on a conversation.
Some siblings may try to overcompensate by becoming too involved in the care of their handicapped sibling. When the child first comes into your home, there may be a sense of novelty, but quickly moving to normal family life will be best for everyone. You are the parent and should reassure your children that they don't have to be adults, that you will take responsibility. But thank them for their help.
Your children may be more understanding of physical handicaps than they are of mental or emotional dysfunctions. Learn together about the particular disability and how you can help the new child fit into the family.
All parents need backup, and parents of special needs children are no different. Respite care refers to a plan for care so that you can take a break from parenting. One option is to rely on family and friends to step in and provide child care. Another option is to work out a plan with your agency for respite foster care. Under this plan, your child will stay with trained and experienced foster parents who know how to work with disabilities. You can use respite care to take a vacation or just have some time to yourself.
Don't assume you can do everything on your own. Every parent needs a break, and it is best to think about how you will arrange respite care before you complete your adoption.