Your child's condition is challenging, and you need support from family, friends, and experts. Remember, however, that whatever advice you receive from your support group should be evaluated according to your instincts and understanding of your child. Consider whether or not the advice seems helpful or harmful. The Internet brings every kind of idea right to your fingertips; your great challenge will be sorting it out.
The best support groups are those with family situations resembling yours. If you have ethnically different children, then you need other families who are in the same situation. If your child is visually or hearing impaired, you need to be able to talk to parents whose children cannot see or hear well. The same goes for those with emotional or intellectual impairments.
You must be able to share the frustrations and compare strategies. But finding your group can be difficult — you will need to try various methods. Start with your agency and social services in your community. Go to your child's school and talk to the teachers and administrators, especially resource teachers who travel to different schools. Consider placing information in your local newspaper.
According to the Center for Adoption Research, adoption of special needs children continues to rise. Adoption of children with medical conditions or disabilities rose from 13.6 percent in 1996 to 24.3 percent in 2003.
If you can't find an established group, organize one yourself. Here, again, your local newspaper can be a great help; enlist the interest and efforts of the editor. You can provide information to a reporter and find other adoptive families. Stay focused and positive, read books, put up flyers on community boards at the grocery store or library.
Supplement your local group with online support. Literally hundreds of blogs and Web sites are at your fingertips. Just type in “autism support group,” “oppositional defiance disorder,” or “low vision,” and you'll be amazed by what comes up. Because there is so much information now on the Internet, remember that many things you might read about your child's disability could be inaccurate. Parenting suggestions can also be confusing. It is best to take information you find and work on verifying it through more direct means by working closely with a therapeutic service provider, doctor, or local support group of a national association focused on your child's disability.
Reach out to your family, neighbors, and friends. Ask a friend to play chess with your wheelchair-bound daughter while you take a couple of hours to get your hair cut and browse the new arrivals at the library. Let your mother know that you'd like an overnight getaway with your spouse. If limited funds put a hotel out of reach, see if she'll take your child so you can have private time in your own house.
Adopting a mentally or physically disabled child changes the dynamics of your extended family. Your grandparents, uncles and aunts, and cousins may worry about your own physical and mental health, especially if they have little or no experience with autism, ADHD, cerebral palsy, or other problems and disorders. You will have to educate them, while reminding them that you knew what you were getting into. Explain that their support and help is important and that you would appreciate their acceptance of your choices.
Most of the time, a little education is all you need. Those who love you the most can give you the most. However, do remember that, ultimately, you cannot control people's emotions. If your parents or siblings react negatively to your daughter who has autism, limit contact, because your daughter's emotional needs have priority.