So you decided to adopt a special needs child? Congratulations! The good news is you’ve already made it over one hurdle. Now comes the even more difficult, but far more rewarding part, parenthood. Adopting a special needs child will be difficult at times, but it will also be extremely rewarding.
Worried you don’t know what to expect? You’re not alone. It is hard to know what to expect with any child, special needs or not. This guide will help you prepare for and know what to expect when adopting a special needs child.
Do Your Research
Thoroughly researching will help you know what to expect when adopting a special needs child. This starts with defining what “special needs” means in terms of your child. Ask the tough questions about their condition, whether mental, developmental, physical, or emotional. Not every condition is easy to prepare for, so do your best to gather all the information you can. Research their specific condition and find out what you can do to best support the child. To get you started, here are some of the most common special needs:
- Autism: People with Autism Spectrum Disorder often have problems with communicating or interacting in social situations, and may have restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests. They tend to have different ways of learning, moving, or paying attention.
- Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Children with ADHD often experience difficulties paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors, and sitting still.
- Down Syndrome: Down syndrome is a common condition found in children in foster care, and is defined as a genetic disorder caused when a person has an extra chromosome. People with Down syndrome typically have an IQ in the mildly-to-moderately low range and are slower to speak than other children.
- Cerebral Palsy: This is a group of disorders that impacts one’s movement and how they maintain balance and posture. The symptoms differ depending on the severity, but some children may be able to walk with special equipment, while others may not be able to walk at all and will need lifelong care.
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: This disorder occurs when a child is exposed to alcohol during the mother’s pregnancy. The effects can be physical, behavioral, or they may face problems with learning.
Discuss the child’s condition with their social worker in addition to doing your own research before adopting a special needs child. While you can learn a lot about the child and their needs, every child is different. Thoroughly prepare, but also know you will learn over time once the child is in your care.
Take a Deep Breath
Remember, you are doing an amazing thing by adopting one of the 134,000 children with special needs in need of a permanent home. That being said, it may not always be the easiest task. Be ready to be vulnerable and uncomfortable at times. Make sure you have a support system in place and most importantly, be ready to ask for help. Self-assessment is essential. Determine your strengths and weaknesses. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What disabilities are you prepared to handle? What disabilities may be more challenging?
- Do you have the financial resources in place to appropriately care for the child?
- Does your insurance policy cover all the treatments necessary for the child?
- Have you talked to a parent of a child with a similar condition?
- Do you have sources you can turn to for training, advice, or support?
As an expectant mother or father, you must ensure you have the necessary support in place not only for the child, but also for yourself. It is crucial to build out your support system and take care of yourself. Whether that’s finding someone who has been in a similar situation to turn to, seeing a therapist or counselor, or meditating daily, make sure you have a plan and stick to it.
Before adopting a special needs child, make sure you are prepared for them and their condition. Start by making a list of everything that needs to be done. Adopting a child with special needs is a big responsibility, which comes with several tasks. Make sure you have done the following:
- Budget for upfront and additional expenses
- Make sure to budget for any fees and costs upfront, but don’t forget to take into account all the additional costs that come with raising a child.
- Purchase the necessities
- This is one of the fun parts! Prepare the child’s room and wardrobe, and buy things like bottles, a crib, baby monitors, toys, diapers, towels, high chairs, and more. The items you’ll need depend on their age, but try to get as much as you can ahead of time.
- Find necessary medical professionals
- This is especially important with a child with special needs, so be sure to have all the professional help the child needs ready before they arrive. This may include a pediatrician, dentist, and other more specialized medical doctors. Additionally, you should find a family therapist that’s trained to work with adoptive parents.
At the end of the day, adopting a special needs child won’t always be easy, but as other adoptive parents will tell you, it’s all worth it in the end.