In For the Long Haul

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Some parents knowingly adopt special needs children. These children have biological and emotional issues that may stay with them for life. These parents may feel "called" to adopt these special children, or have special knowledge and abilities that make them suited to parent a special needs child.

Some parents choose to adopt fairly regular kids. Kids whose behavior and physical abilities present no particular obstacles throughout their lives. These parents deal with mostly age-appropriate issues and challenges. These parents may discover that their child has a previously unknown disorder. But, they do the research, find the required therapy or treatment, and move back on track.

A few parents, however, intend to adopt fairly regular kids, and learn that they're in for the long haul.

One mom of a five-year-old, adopted from Russia at 12 months, said, "I'm beginning to shift my perspective. For a long time, I was looking for THE therapy that would help him be calmer, interact better with peers, and so on. I'm beginning to realize that there are multiple issues I'm dealing with. I guess I have to keep researching and help my son through this one treatment at a time."

Another mom and dad say that they always try to remain hopeful, but realize that their daughter will probably always have various glitches in how she learns, interacts, behaves, etc. They've taken her to speech therapy, physical therapy, tutoring, attachment therapy, and tried medications.

For these and all of the other similar parents out there, the search is long, challenging, and often with no "cure."

At some point, these parents realize that their child isn't on target, either behaviorally, academically, socially, or emotionally. So they consider various possibilities: sensory integration disorder, auditory processing issues, hearing problems, vision problems, ADD/ADHD, neurological issues, post traumatic stress, attachment issues…

Unfortunately, it's often not one thing. These are the parents who slowly quit looking for the one therapy or treatment that will do the trick. They begin to realize that their child has multiple issues that need to be treated over time.

These parents seem to move through phases, that in some people may parallel some of the stages of grieving.
  • Denial - My child is fine. He just needs more time.
  • Anger - How can this be happening to us? It's not fair. Why can't I find a therapist (doctor, specialist) who can help?
  • Early acceptance - Surely, if I do enough research and find the right treatment, my child will be fine. It might take a while, but that's ok.
  • Full acceptance - My child has multiple issues that may take years to work through. I will provide him with as many resources as I'm able. I will nurture his strengths. I will help him overcome his shortcomings. I understand I'm in for the long haul and know that I need to take care of me, too.
Parenting is hard. Parenting older adopted children is hard. And, for those parents in for the long haul, we salute you. Let us know what we can do to help.

Credits: Susan M. Ward, an older child adoption specialist, provides parent coaching and resources for adoptive families. Susan's training has focused on adoption issues relating to attachment, grief, and parenting. She's also the adoptive parent of a child healed from RAD (reactive attachment disorder). Her website is

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