The label, “Special Needs,” can be a concern and even a deterrent to adoptive families. Obviously, it can apply to children with fairly overt medical, behavioral and physical challenges. Yet, it can also apply to symptoms a lot more subtle… which begs the question:
When exactly does a child become a child with special needs?
All children have basic human needs. The life experiences of some children create added or special needs. Most professionals agree that any child “who has had inadequate parenting before the age of three or who has experienced significant losses at any age” constitutes a child with “special needs.”
The loss that an adoptive child experiences often does not stop with the loss of their birth family. Going into foster care is ideally a short-term proposition – a bridge to an adoptive family committed to making a difference in the child’s life, helping him heal his hurts and seeing him through life with a sense of belonging. But, adoption might not happen quickly for children in the care of the legal system. While home-finding efforts are made, a child can live in anywhere from one – to many -foster homes before their placement in an adoptive home.
These living changes require the child to hopefully adjust, attach and separate successfully each time. Although children have an amazing resiliency, the child can develop some special needs as result. Therefore, we apply the label Special Needs to each child in the fost/adopt system.
Although their special needs may indeed by overt, they may also be quite subtle. Some subtle displays of their special needs might include the following:
-may have a deep need for help to understand history and grieve losses – and may be unable to articulate that to anyone.
-may have an initial inability to trust and care for others. Their ability to allow others to care for them might decrease with each loss.
-may develop self-parenting techniques to protect themselves from the pain of another loss.
-may develop some survival skills which can make the child seem grown up and independent – but might actually keep him from attaching to adults or a new family as quickly as we’d hope.
-may have an unwillingness to open up and give back emotionally.
A foster child who is building up emotional armor against rejection and loss might not immediately entertain the notion of adoption. Their outward behavior may seem angry or withdrawn or passive aggressive. Inside, the child may be struggling with the loss of his birth family and perhaps a sense of loyalty to that family. He may also fear attaching to his new parents and fear losing them.
In summary, all children available for adoption will be labeled as “Special Needs.” Their emotional needs are significant and will require careful attention. The faith of families and the courage of children is a sweet recipe, however. The chance for children who have lost so much to connect, to attach, to have security and protection of a permanent family is the final product. Working together, families, adoption workers and therapists can give these children the opportunity to heal and truly blossom.
If you’re considering the fost/adoption and live in or around the Central Valley, please give our office a call to explore this opportunity.