On an unusually cold day in Hong Kong, China my husband and I walked into an orphanage to meet a four year old child who would soon become our son. Hours later we walked out of the orphanage not only with a new family member in our presence, but with a new title as well–special needs family.
At the time of adoption, our son had been diagnosed in Hong Kong with severe Autism and significant cognitive delay. We weren’t entirely sure what to expect once we were home. We knew that outside of the orphanage he would be able to reach his full potential and that his diagnoses might change. As weeks turned into months, we realized that our son not only had significant special needs, but that he was deeply traumatized by his past four years of institutionalization. The first year home was a challenging time of growth and adjustment for us all. Now we are approaching the 1.5 year mark home and life seems to finally be reaching a new level of normal. Our son’s diagnosis remains, but he has made remarkable progress.
The most frequent question we get from others is “why?” Why would we adopt an older, special needs child with very difficult behavior who will most likely need life-long care? The answer is not simple nor is it easy to explain. My husband and I always knew that we would grow our family through adoption instead of the “traditional” way. Four years ago we adopted our first son, a young child from Vietnam. We had initially thought we were only capable of adopting and parenting a healthy infant. We were scared of the term special needs and all that it implied. Somewhere along our path, however, our hearts and minds were changed. We ended up adopting a waiting child from Vietnam with minor health issues. After the adoption of our first son, our eyes were opened to the fact that many orphaned children around the world were indeed older with special needs. We also had heard how older, special needs children were usually aged out of the orphanage and sentenced to a life of institutionalization if not adopted. We witnessed this fact with our own eyes and vowed that the next time we adopted, it would be an older, special needs child. So four years later, we found ourselves in Hong Kong, doing just that.
Adopting an older, special needs child is not for the faint of heart. It takes thick skin, compassion, a lot of patience, perseverance and a heart that is not easily broken. Although we tried to prepare for the arrival of a special needs child, there is only so much you can learn from books or other families. It wasn’t until we were living the reality that we truly understood just how hard and rewarding the job of a special needs parent is. In fact, we are still learning. If you are thinking about undertaking this challenging but rewarding path, here are some practical questions to as yourself:
- Will your medical insurance cover all the services that your new child will need? If not, are you prepared to pay for them out of pocket?
- Do you have a flexible schedule that will allow you time to take your child to the many appointments and therapy sessions that will surely be needed?
- Are you willing to make changes to your current style of living in order to accommodate your new child?
- Are you prepared for encountering significant attachment issues that may be amplified by your child’s special needs? Do you have therapists and strategies in mind to help you deal with these types of challenging and stressful issues?
- Do you have a support team in place; friends, family members, church/synagogue staff who are supportive and willing to help your family during the adjustment period and beyond?
- Do you feel comfortable talking with medical professionals, therapists, school staff and others with whom you will be in contact on a regular basis?
Adopting our older, special needs child was a leap of faith for our family. Although we have been stretched emotionally, physically and financially, I would not change a single moment of our journey. Though the challenges we face each day are real, so are the joys and triumphs. Adopting an older, special needs child has made me stronger, wiser, more patient and has helped me to focus my life on the things that are most important–love, family and all the things that money cannot buy. Our son is home and thriving and we have a new, wonderful outlook on life. No matter what lies before us, we will do something amazing, we will tackle it together as a family. Unfortunately, not all children with special needs have this luxury.
To find out more about adopting a special needs child, be sure to check out these resources: