We didn’t start out to adopt a special needs child.
When we first explored adoption, we thought about foster adopt. Then we found out that most of those kids are older or special needs. “No, thank you, we’re not interested in special needs adoption.” When working on our home study, we had the option to list which special needs we would feel comfortable parenting. “No special needs, please.” When we looked into Ethiopia adoption, everyone told us how these kids were well-loved and cared for, even in the orphanages. They didn’t have the trauma that Eastern European kids had experienced and so were less likely to have special needs. “Yes, please, sign us up!”
So, years later, we brought home two “healthy” kids. And we struggled with language and attachment like everyone does. Only it didn’t go away. It didn’t get easier at the six month mark, or even at a year. Only recently have I come to admit it to myself.
I am the parent of a special needs child.
In the last 19 months, I have learned about the RTI process, developing an IEP, what’s allowed under Section 504, wand hat the differences may be between trauma and ADHD. I’ve been to speech therapy, behavioral therapy, and play therapy. I’ve advocated for my kid to receive services, even when the school told me he didn’t qualify. I’ve home schooled during the summer and every day before or after school to give my kid a fighting chance of catching up with his peers. I’ve watched videos, surfed the blogs, read books and listened to podcasts looking for help with the behavioral challenges we face. And this is just with one kid.
Yes, but Lucy will be fine, because she was adopted so young. Ummm…now I’m not so sure about that. She may be more prepared academically when the time comes, but she will have the same trauma of losing her first family. She has already started to ask about her other family and we talk about them every night before she goes to sleep. She has already said she wants to go to “Opia.” She is so little, but she has lost so much. And she knows this. And some day, I will have to advocate for her, too. For her not to have to do a family tree assignment, or not to be treated differently in science class when studying genetics.
So, here’s what I’ve decided. ALL adoptions are special needs adoptions. Yes, some are more obvious. Some are more life altering. But ALL of them are special needs. If you know someone who has adopted kids, call her up this week and offer to take a casserole. Because even though her child may not be in the hospital or chronically ill, I guarantee you that she could use a break. (Unless your friend is me, in which case, no one in my family will eat a casserole.)
But this is not all a downer. By having special needs kids, I am able to rejoice when we do make progress. When my older kids learned to read, it was a non-event. I loved having them read to me, but I can’t tell you the day or the moment that I knew they could read. Working with Ayub with reading has been such a wild ride. There were days where I was sure that he’d be illiterate all his life. Then, one day, he got it. I can tell you the exact page of the book because I remember seeing the lightbulb go off over his head. He got it. And he knew it, too. He was so excited, and he read 11 words. That kind of joy only comes after you work really hard for something. And both of us got to experience it together. I know he’ll continue to make strides like that, and that helps a little when the rough days come.