Seven Things To Know
Seven Things To Know About Special Needs Adoption
Part I (Read Part II here.)
I believe that in some sense all adoptions are special needs. A child is always coming from trauma whether transitioning from an orphanage, a foster home, or an abusive or neglectful family. That child arrives with a stress-shaped brain and emotional baggage that must be unpacked, most likely over the course of a lifetime. But during the process of our family’s adoption, we discovered a few things to expect when considering a child who has diagnosed special needs from the onset. Here are seven truths we learned.
1. Average, ordinary people can do it.
We’ve all seen the stories of super human families who have taken on tremendously hard kids. There is a tendency to feel you must possess some sort of unique strength or giftedness if you want to tackle a special needs adoption. It seems this type of serving is only for “other” more faithful or gifted people. It simply isn’t true. You don’t have to be super human to change the life of one child. Remember, most of the people God used in the Bible were weak and ill-equipped at best. The one thing truly required is a willingness to say, “Yes” to wherever God calls you.
2. People will think you are crazy.
We live in a society, especially in America, that idolizes leisure and self. Things like vacations, career, recreation, safety, and luxury take precedence over serving and sacrifice. Some of our favorite suburban buzz words are “me time” and “self-care.” So when you willingly choose a more difficult path because God asked, most people won’t understand. Some, maybe even family members, will go a step further and actually push back and attempt to talk you out of it. Typically, a small sliver of adoption is about adding another family member, but the bulk is about calling. If you are being called to something hard that requires significant use of your resources, most people will be unable to grasp why you would make such a choice.
3. It can be terrifying and still be the correct choice for your family.
Fear is a successful deterrent in many life circumstances. However, God’s economy is based on different principles. Fear can sometimes be a sign that we are actually on the right path. It’s confusing because fear is often an indicator to flee from danger. But fear can also be confirmation that we are about to attempt something quite outside ourselves. It may indicate that an endeavor is so counter-cultural and life-changing that its only chance of success is through God’s hand.
The cycle of difficult decision-making follows a fairly predictable pattern. There will be a brief period of peace and clarity upon saying, “Yes.” Shortly after though, the fear will return, likely greater than before. It’s important to remember that the author of this fear is not God and its intention is to dissuade you. But if you have prayed, asked questions, sought wise counsel, and are still hearing the whisper to press forward, then you should take that next step.
4. You will never be ready.
Think about all of life’s big decisions. Marriage. A new job. A move. Having children. If any of us had actually grasped the difficulty and challenges ahead, we might never have moved forward. But in looking back we realize we would have missed so much had we not proceeded. It’s impossible to ever be fully “ready” for what lies ahead. The miracle that occurs when we attempt something beyond our equipping, is that it gives God a chance to carry us. Through prayer, provision, and community, His grace will sustain you. Rather than simply feeling proud of a small task you have accomplished on your own, you will be able to see God’s hand in a miracle that could never have happened without Him. The leap of faith is a crucial part of the process. God doesn’t call us to be safe, He calls us to trust Him.
You won’t ever be ready, but He already is.
5. Research will be your new hobby.
They say it’s unwise to do a web search on a medical diagnosis because statistics will not speak to each individual case. But if you are considering adopting a child with special medical needs, Google will be your new best friend. As I mentioned before, you will never be ready, but you should still prepare yourself as well as possible. Many people get lost in the emotional aspect of “saving a child” and if you aren’t educated in the specifics, the reality of life after coming home will be too shocking.
We have navigated a number of serious medical issues with several of our kids, both biological and adopted. We have found the most efficient way to gather information is to start with families who have been through something similar. While there are negative aspects regarding social media, it is a terrific way to connect medically. Find the groups dedicated to a specific issue and contact some of those families. They will answer your questions truthfully and will provide a much better picture of what life really looks like. These families will lead you to the best therapists who will then direct you to the best doctors. Our family calls it working backwards and we have had tremendous success using this method to find both a supportive and understanding community as well as a number of terrific medical professionals. You will ultimately be this child’s fiercest advocate and you must be well-informed if you hope to make the best long-term health choices for the child entrusted to your family.
6. It won’t be what you expect, but it is not a mistake.
Adopting a special needs child will never be what you expect it to be. It could be easier and not nearly as complex as you initially thought or it could be far more difficult. You might spend your days wondering why you waited so long, or simply struggling to the next hour because of complete exhaustion. Either way, choosing to love a child with little hope will never be a mistake. It is more challenging to consider random special needs for an unknown child than actually loving the child God places in your home. Once that child is yours, everything changes. Life may be more difficult than before, but you can’t look back. There could be joy because it’s so much easier than expected or grief at the life you left behind, but this is your story and He will provide. The tapestry of His plan is so much larger and more complex than we could ever understand.
7. It will change your family.
This is the push-back given by many well-meaning friends and family. What about your other kids? What about your finances? Why would you want to do something so difficult? What will other people think? Yes, adopting a special needs child will change your family. You may have less time, less money, and more stress. But your other children will see what it looks like to lay down their lives for another. They will learn the dire situation faced by many children. They will have to make sacrifices. They will have to give and share and be flexible. There will be tough things and sometimes knowing you willingly brought these difficulties into your lives can feel defeating. But watching a child come alive and heal, in whatever form that may take, is always worth it. The heart-shaping rewards it brings to a family far outweigh the challenges. It will provide a perspective you may never have considered. It will allow you to see God’s faithfulness.
It will change your family. Thankfully, it will change everything.
Tiffany Moody and her husband, Patrick, live in Johns Creek, GA and are parents to five children (three biological, two adopted internationally, all planned by God). She champions adoption, loathes childhood cancer, and allocates much of her day toward researching, advocating for, and treating the numerous special medical needs of her kids. Her imaginary free time is spent exercising, writing, coaching young athletes, reading, and taking naps.
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