One of the RLC “blog buzz” questions this week was about adopting a child with special needs.  I felt compelled to write a little something on the subject because of how heavily I relied on reading other people’s perspectives last spring while Peter and I were contemplating our special needs adoption.

Here are some thoughts based on our personal process.  (*Please keep in mind that I am utterly and completely new to all this.  I have not parented a child with special needs before.  I’m certainly not an expert!  Until a year ago, I had no idea what a “brachial plexus injury” was… three months ago, I had never even heard of the term “neuronal migration disorder” or the condition “polymicrogyria.”  I’m simply the lucky mom to an amazing child who constantly floors us with his persistence, tenacity and zest for life!  So this is just my own unique, unprofessional, barely-experienced perspective.  🙂 )

Obviously one of the most important things you can do at the beginning is to research like crazy!  Become a dedicated mole digging for as much information as you can get — just as you would if you were given a diagnosis about your child while expecting and had the time to learn about what the diagnosis meant and what it entailed.  Talk to everyone you can who is familiar with the particular special need you are considering.  Read books.  Read blogs.  Speak with specialists.  Learn the vocabulary.  There are a lot of great resources to help you get started.  Here’s one of my favorites: 

If you are considering a specific child, it is very, very helpful to get a recently updated medical report to review with a pediatric specialist.  Obviously this isn’t always possible (and sometimes, even if you’re lucky enough to get the report, it might not be completely accurate!)  But if it’s possible, go for it.  Even if the agency doesn’t offer, ask if it’s an option for the child to be taken to a doctor for an updated medical report.  And then, if possible, have a list of questions from the specialist for the doctor conducting the medical exam to answer. 

It’s also helpful during the research phase to talk with parents who are raising children with that particular special need.  It makes it so much more tangible and realistic to speak with someone who is in the arena… Someone who knows the trials and the triumphs intimately and can share with you from the perspective of being a parent.  Because as important as it is to research the medical implications, it is also really, really important to remember that medical field isn’t infallible and not all children are the same.  It can seem daunting to read the medical descriptions of certain conditions; It can seem overwhelming to listen to a doctor talk about the care involved and possible complications.  But a mom or dad who knows what it’s really like on a daily basis within a family can change that perception in an instant. 

I also think it’s important to begin processing the inevitable emotions that come with the thoughts of parenting a child with special needs.  There will be hard questions that you ask yourself in the middle of the night as you stare at the ceiling wide awake.  It’s okay!!  Ask the hard questions.  Take a deep, hard, honest look at any fears or misconceptions or even subconscious prejudices in your heart and work through them.  Let yourself process the “diagnosis” as you would in the case of a biological child.  Grieve if you need to.  It IS difficult sometimes to think about the possible potholes and steep curves in the road ahead.  But it’s so important to do so.  I know that everyone is different in how they process their emotions and their fears and concerns.  The important thing is just to do it. 

And then, even in the middle of researching and processing , you really have to come to peace with the vast amount of unknowns inherent in international adoption.  The reality is that no matter how much you research and prepare; no matter HOW many specialists and parents you speak with, there is just no way that you can be fully prepared for every unknown.  And you have to be okay with that.  Hope for the best, certainly!  Keep a positive outlook, but don’t put undue expectations on the future. 

And while I’m sharing, here’s a bit of personal advice…  If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t share with quite as many people during the “research/contemplation” phase.  It was difficult to deal with people’s pointed questions and fearful assumptions before Peter and I had made a decision (even though I knew they came well-intentioned) because it complicated our thought-processing.   After we had made the decision to proceed and accepted Henry’s referral, it was much, much easier to handle the fear and concern from family and friends.  It was official.  We’d made the decision.  We were well-researched and united in our response to the myriad of reasons why it wasn’t a “good idea.”  We were able to meet people’s strong opinions from a place of confidence. 


I want to end by saying that no matter how much you research, or how prepared you feel… it’s still a leap of faith.  Just like any other adoption.  Just like having a biological child.  We have no way to know how the future is going to turn out.   That’s the beauty and the mystery of life.   We do our best to make the right decisions, but we have to leap in faith sometimes.  The best and most beautiful things in the world come with the price tag of risk.  Each time we choose to love someone, we are risking heartache and loss.  That’s true in every relationship — loving our kids included. 

In the end, special needs kids are just kids.  Just kids that need moms and dads to love them and take care of them.  To treat them like any other kid.  They are no less deserving of a loving family and parents to take care of them than any other child.  In fact, in some cases because of medical considerations, their very lives depend on it. 

I know that adopting special needs kids is not the road for every family.  But it is the road for some.  It may be a completely unexpected road — like it was for us!  But however you get to it, it’s awesome.