Thursday, February 3, 2011

Special Needs Adoption

We have two adopted children who have twenty months difference in age. One was placed in our home at 12 weeks old, has had several neuro-surgeries, has special needs and is considered "disabled". The other was referred to us at one year old and was brought home at 35 months of age. He was considered healthy and typically developing when he got home. Now can you guess which child is more challenging to care for?

What are considered special needs?

"Special needs" describes several categories: disabilities, race, age, sibling status, and at-risk.

Disabilities include mental, physical and emotional disabilities and disorders which can range from mild to severe. Behavioral problems are part of the emotional disabilities group.

Minority Race. Some agencies consider minority race alone to be a special need, especially when the child is male, and other agencies do not. This does not mean that being a member of a certain racial group or gender is a disability. It means that, at this time, we have not recruited enough families to adopt our waiting minority race children, and especially the boys. In all racial groups, males outnumber females, sometimes by as much as three to one.

Age. The age limit at which a child is considered to have special needs differs from one state to another and may differ according to the race of the child. In general, a child over age 5-8 years may be considered an older child.

"At-risk" children. An an "at-risk" child is one who, while currently healthy, is at risk of developing learning, emotional, behavioral or physical disabilities in the future. Babies exposed to drugs, abuse, neglect, and those with genetic pre-dispositions to mental illness and physical disabilities are called "at-risk."

Our son E. is by far our most challenging child to parent right now. Although S. was born with an opening in his skull, developed hydrocephalus, has a VP shunt and has had two brain surgeries; I would not really consider his daily care difficult. E. has been home for nearly two years now. He would not be considered a special needs child but it's becoming more apparent that his needs take up more of our time and energy than his little brother's.

We have seen how far E. has come in a short period of time, but we are also realizing that his past has effected who he is. We are wondering if he would benefit from therapy. We are looking into that and reading more about attachment. I found this checklist online and surprisingly we circled 18 from this list:

Circle the items if they are frequently or often true.
  • My child teases, hurts, or is cruel to other children.
  • My child can't keep friends for an age-appropriate length of time.
  • My child doesn't do as well in school as my child could do even with a little more effort.
  • My child pushes me away or becomes stiff when I try to hug, unless my child wants something from me, in which case my child can be affectionate and engaging.
  • My child argues for long periods of time, often about meaningless or silly things.
  • My child has a large need to control everything.
  • My child is hyper-vigilant.
  • My child acts amazingly innocent, or pretends that things aren't really bad or a problem when caught doing something
  • My child does dangerous things such as runs away, jumps out of windows, or other potentially harmful actions. My child seems oblivious to the fact that my child may be hurt.
  • My child deliberately breaks or ruins his things or other's things.
  • My child doesn't seem to feel age-appropriate guilt when my child does something wrong.
  • My child is impulsive. My child seems unable or unwilling to stop doing something my child wants to do.
  • My child teases, hurts, or is cruel to animals.
  • My child steals, or shows up with things that belong to others with unbelievable, unusual, or suspicious reasons for how my child got these things.
  • My child likes to sneak things without permission, even though my child could have had these things if my child had asked.
  • My child doesn't seem to learn from mistakes, consequences, or punishments (my child continues the behavior despite the consequences).
  • My child makes false reports of abuse or neglect. My child tries to get sympathy from others, or tries to get us in trouble, by telling others that I don't feed, or don't provide the basic necessities.
  • My child seems not to experience pain when hurt, refusing to let anyone provide comfort.
  • My child does not usually ask for things. My child demands things.
  • My child lies, often about obvious or ridiculous things, or when it would have been easier to tell the truth.
  • My child is quite bossy with other children and adults.
  • My child hoards, sneaks food, or has other unusual eating habits (eats paper, raw sugar, non-food items, package mixes, baker's chocolate, etc.)
  • My child often does not make eye contact when adults want to make eye contract with my child.
  • My child has extended temper tantrums.
  • My child chatters non-stop, asks repeated questions about things that make no sense, mutters, or is hard to understand when talking.
  • My child is accident-prone (gets hurt a lot), or complains a lot about every little ache and pain (needs constant attention).
  • My child acts cute or charming to get others to do what my child wants.
  • My child is overly friendly with strangers.
  • My child has set fires, or is preoccupied with fire.
  • My child prefers to watch violent cartoons and/or TV shows or horror movie (regardless of whether or not you allow your child to do this).
  • My child was abused/neglected during the first year of life, or had several changes of primary caretaker during the first several years of life.
  • My child was in an orphanage for more than the first year of life.
  • My child was adopted after the age of twelve months.

If you find that more than a few items (more than five or so) have been circled, your child may be experiencing difficulties that require professional assistance. If, in addition to several items being marked, any of the last three items is check, your child may be experiencing attachment related problems.

So where do we go from here? Does that mean E. has RAD? Or just "attachment issues"?

When we started the adoption process, we had to fill our paperwork explaining what kind of child we preferred. This was so difficult for us, to say "yes we are comfortable to adopt a child with hearing problems but no, not a child with CP"? We were scared of special needs at the time, so we just circled those issues that were correctable. After God placed several people in our lives and we began hosting several special kids with severe medical needs, we realized that caring for kids with special needs is a blessing, not a burden.

I hope that more people would be open to adopting special needs children. S. has been such a wonderful addition to our family. I can't imagine life without his sweet smile, his cheerful little personality and his spunky energy in our home. I also think adoptive families should be aware and educated. They should consider EVERY child who have experienced some sort of trauma (even at a young age) a special needs child. Even though the agency lists them as "healthy" or "normal", these kids have issues. They need special care and attention, some even more than children with medical needs.

No comments: