There are generic, run of the mill, average kids. And then there are special needs kids. Sure, your average kids are going to have their quirks. An aversion to cheese. Maybe some mild sensory issue, like not wanting to wear socks with seams. Seasonal allergies. The little things that make us individuals.
Special needs kids, are first and foremost, kids. They're just like other children. Except they add a depth to your parenting that you didn't possess before. For our family, adopting a special needs child has been a very easy transition. Hannah fits into our world well. She's the most adaptable person I've ever met. She personifies Go With The Flow. For other families I know or follow in blog world, adopting a special needs child is much more of a challenge.
Sometimes a child's special need is not known before the adoption. A friend recently found out that her little girl is very sick with a serious organ malfunction. My heart breaks for her, but I know their family is strong and they will pick up the pieces and move on and forge a new normal for their family.
Sometimes special needs are more serious than parents knew or hoped. One or two issues turns out to be a syndrome. A "repaired" heart defect, turns out to need more surgery.
Adoption is full of unknowns. And special needs adoptions are not for every family. But most of the families I know would agree that their child's biggest special need was their need for a family.
Really. These kids need homes. They need mommies and daddies to teach them how families operate. They need their own, non-communal belongings to take care of. They need someone to care about how they do in school. Someone to cheer for them when they accomplish something. Someone to cry with them when things don't go well. Someone who loves them.
My own belief is that every adopted child is a Special Needs child. First, they needed a family. That's a pretty big need! For whatever amount of time they were without a family of their own, they had unmet needs that shaped who they are. Those things don't just vanish when you sign adoption papers. Second, they need someone to help them navigate all the emotional stuff that goes along with being an adopted person. That may come right from the start, with rocky attachment and other post institutionalized issues, or that may come years down the road when normal teen "who am I?" thoughts bring up all sorts of unresolved grief and anger. For most of us, it comes in little spurts along the way, like several months ago when Hannah saw a baby at church and announced, "I was a baby at China!" and my heart lurched with the unexpectedness of it.
If you've thought about adopting, my prayer for you would be that you consider some of the "less than perfect" children who are waiting. So many families want that healthy newborn, that "clean slate" so to speak that they can shape from the earliest days. But there are no guarantees, and many of us know children adopted in infancy who turn out to have special needs, yet bring their families great joy.
A dad we traveled with when we adopted Hannah recently wrote this about adopting special needs kids:
When we adopted our first child, a 8 yo girl, waiting child, who happened
to have an SN - it was in essence an easy SN, a no brainer, because we both
knew someone in the USA with said SN, who led productive lives.
While in China, to adopt her, I saw several children with cleft lips and
palates. I remember saying, I could never parent a child with that SN.
Seeking a sibling we found our second child, a boy, age 7, in Taiwan,
listed as waiting child, mental delays. Since my wife had worked with many
SN children in her career, reading the medical evals, we felt we could
parent him. We were not prepared when he came home 14 months later. We
did not understand the energy level boys have over girls..... :)
Funny thing that - in the summer of 2009, midst his adoption, my wife
indicated the desire to adopt two more children. Then my education of SNs
began. I joined the various China adoption lists, some specific SNs and
other general lists and asked a ton of questions and slowly SN by SN I
widened our list of particular SNs.
When our 3rd child appeared, who had a cleft palate / lip repaired, my
thoughts from the spring of 2008 came to mind. Yet this child grabbed a
part of me I'd left unguarded - my heart.
When she had listed another SN, of which we had no clue, we widened our
list to include as best we could what we thought would cover what the
medical report stated - even though a surgeon here, was unsure what it was.
Love did that.
Even now 4 adoptions under my belt, my list is expanding. This last time,
in China, I met a girl adopted by first timers, brave souls, braver than
me. This girl, barely into double digits of age, by her tender, light
touch, taught me, spirit to spirit, values that only spirits can
communicate and translate to one's heart - that even though I have this SN,
yet there is unconditional love, friend to friend.
Thus by her touch, she opened my heart and mind to yes, I can parent to
this SN, because now I understand.
On the one hand, it pains me to know that my Hannah was passed over by several families who reviewed her file. On the other hand, I know something they'll never know. She IS perfect. Sure, she may have to strap on her leg every morning (which she can now do all by herself, Little Miss Amazing!), but from that moment on, she's pretty much just like every other kid. In fact, we'd been her parents for less than a week when I told Paul, "Somebody forgot to tell this kid she was handicapped." She's feisty and funny and sweet and helpful and bossy and adorable, and some days I still can't believe that she's mine.
If you're in the paperchasing part of an adoption, you have my sympathies. It's hard; I know it's hard. But what really hit home for me in that Civil Affairs office in Nanjing, Jiangsu was that, you do all the paperwork, you jump through all the hoops, you pay all the money, you get all the signatures, stamps, seals and stickers, you fly thousands of miles, and THEY GIVE YOU A CHILD. They hand you a human being and say, okay, she's all yours. All the work fades away. Yet, in another sense, the work is only just beginning.