Special-Needs Adoption

Are You Ready for a Special-Needs Adoption?

As you think about special-needs adoption, here are some of the questions you’ll want to consider:

  • What life experiences have you had that prove your ability to deal with problems and to survive crises?
  • What have you experienced that you’ve been able to manage? What was hard? How will that be useful to you?
  • Has there been a problematic member of the family?  How do you feel about the way the family dealt with the person? How would you go about handling a problematic family member?
  • How do you respond to problems, and how do you solve problems?
  • How do you feel about unknowns? Do they drive you crazy?
  • What’s the difference in the problem solving between yourself and your spouse?
  • How do you handle rejection signals? Do you get hurt? Do they devastate you? When they occur, do you feel you have to end the relationship?  To be a successful part of an emotionally disturbed child, for example, you’ll need to override rejection signals.
  • How do you measure success? Is it in terms of steady progress or achieving a goal?  If your child had a problem with stealing, for example, what would you consider a success – when he stops stealing or when he steals less?  Can you accept a partial success?
  • What’s your time frame? Some people can tolerate delays and wait for things to happen; others can’t.  The progress of developmentally delayed children may be measured in tiny increment over an extended period of time.  So too with children who are emotionally disabled.  Says therapist Claudia Jewett Jarratt: “If you’ve got a child who’s had five years of instability in life, for example, you’ve got to give him ‘equal time’ to turn around. Think terms of five years – not just one year.”
  • How do you feel about challenges?  Are you open to them?
  • Are you flexible enough to change your expectations if things don’t improve?
  • How do you handle disappointment?
  • Do you have a sense of humor? How do you use humor to defuse situations?  Do you use it with yourself?  Can you step back from a situation?  Can you use humor in a nondestructive way?
  • Are you comfortable with counseling and therapy? Would you be embarrassed to ask for it?  How would you feel if the school suggested to you that your child needed help?
  • How would you feel if your child had a physical handicap and people stared at you?  Would you be embarrassed? “When my adopted FAS daughter was an infant, I would get looks that told me, ‘What kind of mother are you? Look at that scrawny, pale, sickly baby,’” recalls one mother.
  • Do certain physical attributes turn you off?  What are your gut reactions to various physical deformities? (If you feel uncomfortable around people with facial deformities, for example, then a child with cleft palate would not be ideal.)
  • How would you feel if your child acted out in public?  What would be your reaction if your child’s teacher called and said that your child had been stealing other children’s lunch money?
  • How would you feel if you learned that your child had been sexually abused in a pervious home?  “The majority of the kids in the foster care system today have been exposed to sexual abuse,” maintains Joan McNamara, coeditor of Adopting the Sexually Abused Child. “These are hurt, traumatized children and the work you do in a family is going to be more important than that of any therapist.  It’s going to be made real by the continuity, safety and warmth of a family.”
  • How comfortable will you be talking about sexuality and sexual abuse?  Is there a history of sexual abuse in your past?  If so, how was the experience resolved?
  • How does your family feel about this adoption?  How do the children already in your family feel?  Will they be embarrassed, resentful, annoyed, ashamed?  What about other relatives?
  • What’s your support system and extended network like?  How will your neighbors feel?  How about your school?  Is your family doctor going to support you if you adopt a physically, emotionally, or mentally handicapped child?  Is the physician going to tell you that you’re crazy for doing this?
  • What’s your lifestyle?  What children best fit into it? (If your family relishes skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer, for example, you might find it hard to accommodate a physically handicapped child.  If you’re a very social or church-oriented family, you might find it tough to deal with a child who acts out in public.  What happens the first time your child swears in public?)