Special Needs Adoption: Navigate the Challenges and Rewards

Newborn baby girl in an open adoption

If you are a prospective adoptive parent considering special needs adoption, you may have questions about the delicate nature of this type of adoption. Read more to learn practical tips for considering adoption of a child with special needs, navigating the challenges, and ultimately, how love and special needs adoption are deeply interconnected. 

What is special needs adoption?

Special needs adoption refers to adopting a child who has physical, emotional, behavioral, and/or learning differences that require special accommodations and/or an additional level of care. Some families pursue special needs adoption through foster care or domestic adoption, while others may adopt internationally, particularly from countries where children with special needs may not receive adequate and readily available medical care.

Special Needs Adoption & the Home Study

During the adoption home study process, your social worker will work with you to determine what medical conditions you and your family are open to, if any. This is a great opportunity to bring up any specific questions or concerns you may have about adopting a child with special needs. While it may feel uncomfortable to sit down and tangibly decide if this is something you would like to do or not, the purpose is to ensure that a child with special needs is placed with a family who can adequately care for them. In fact, depending on the circumstances, some prospective adoptive parents must be specifically approved to adopt a child with special needs as part of the home study process. Keep in mind, there is nothing wrong with determining that there are certain conditions your family is not open to. It is healthy and responsible to set these boundaries for yourself and for the benefit of the child.

Questions to Ask Yourself before Pursuing Special Needs Adoption

As you consider the possibility of adopting a child with special needs, there are some questions you should ask yourself. Here are a to start with:

  • What disabilities and/or conditions are you equipped, willing, and prepared to handle? 
  • What does your support system look like? Do you have people in your life you can rely on to support you in this important decision and all that comes with it?
  • Does the school district you live in offer support for children with special needs? If they don’t, are you willing to relocate to a district that does?
  • Will your child have access to adequate healthcare and facilities in your area? If not, are you willing to relocate or travel to health facilities where your child can receive the proper care?
  • Does your insurance cover any of your child’s conditions and needs? If not, do you have a plan for how you will handle paying for any level of care that is not covered? 
  • Is it possible to make modifications to your home that suit your child’s needs and are you willing to do so? 

Tips for Considering Adoption of a Child with Special Needs

1.) Do your research. 

This goes without saying, but adopting a child with special needs requires additional research and thought as the adoption process and challenges may differ. A good place to start is understanding the specific conditions you included in your home study and what lifelong care looks like for those conditions. This can allow you to get information and connect with other parents who are successfully raising their children with similar conditions. 

You should also take some time to understand the support you can expect from your local school district or state programs that could be beneficial in helping you raise your child while ensuring they have everything they need for a happy, healthy life. 

2.) Establish a support system. 

At Angel Adoptions, something we always recommend to prospective adoptive parents is to establish a strong support system. An ideal support system consists of people and professionals who can support you as you go through the adoption process, after the adoption has been finalized, and as your child grows. The best thing about your support system is that it will grow with you as you grow as a parent. 

For adoptive parents of children with special needs, having a reliable support system can make all the difference. As you embark on this journey, you may find yourself needing more support than ever before from your family, professionals, and other families of children with special needs. This ensures that you are not raising your child alone and that your needs can also be met. 

3.) Consider the financial aspects.

When it comes to special needs adoption, an important consideration is the financial aspect. Depending on the child’s condition, their care could be expensive, particularly if they have any conditions that are not covered by your insurance. Before considering the idea of special needs adoption, you should take some time to determine if it’s financially feasible for your family to pursue this type of adoption. The last thing you would want to do is find yourself in a situation down the line where you are inadvertently having trouble caring for your child financially. 

4.) Consider how you will care for yourself.

All parents need to take some time to exercise self-care on a regular basis, but for a child with special needs whose care might require additional effort, it is even more important. Ensuring that you take proper care of yourself helps you be a better caregiver for your family. 

Some practical approaches to self-care while parenting a child with special needs includes getting enough sleep, taking a few minutes each day to recharge, regularly engaging in some level of physical activity, practicing meditation or mindfulness, and staying connected with your loved ones. You can also take some time to read this helpful guide by the National Institute of Mental Health on self-care and mental health. 

Challenges of Adopting a Child with Special Needs

Parenting in and of itself is a challenge, but if you factor in medical or behavioral conditions that affect your child, the challenge can be greater. Depending on the child’s condition, they may have physical, emotional, or language related difficulties that can affect their lives and relationship with the world. As parents, it is difficult to watch your child experience challenges in a world that is not always made with them in mind. However, with a loving family and a safe, supportive place to call home, most adopted children with special needs have the opportunity to thrive, get the care they need, and find their place in the world. 

Benefits of Adopting a Child with Special Needs

Despite the various challenges of special needs adoption, there are also practical benefits of this type of adoption. In some cases, if you are open to adopting a child with special needs, you may experience a shorter wait time. 

Additionally, many adoptive parents of children with special needs receive financial support and assistance in the form of subsidies and support from the state. Childcare.gov is a great place to start when researching services and support for children with special needs. Programs, benefits, and subsidies can vary by state and county, so narrowing down your research to your specific area will help you find what options are available to you. 

The most important benefit is the love that is central to the act of adoption and parenting a child with special needs. Many adoptive parents find that providing a safe, supportive home that meets all of the child’s needs to be one of the most rewarding aspects of adopting a child with special needs. 

Resources for Prospective Adoptive Parents 

There is a wealth of resources available for prospective adoptive parents who are considering adopting a child with special needs and for those who have already made this important decision.

Resources exist in the form of supportive online communities, books, podcasts, academic articles, and more. Any of these resources can help parents understand the scope of raising a child with special needs and hear stories from other families who are in similar situations. 

Here are a few resources to get you started: 

Special Needs Adoption from the Birthmother’s Perspective 

Many birthmothers of children with special needs worry if there will be adoptive families who are open to adopting the child. This is a valid concern, but thankfully, there are many prospective adoptive families who are open to and even specifically hoping to adopt a child with special needs. 

If you are considering adopting a child with special needs, you need to take time to understand this type of adoption from a birthmother’s perspective. When it comes to domestic infant adoption, before you are connected with a birthmother of a child with special needs, it is essential to be absolutely certain that you would like to pursue this path. If you connect with a potential birthmother and are uncomfortable or decide adopting a child with special needs is not feasible for you and your family after developing a relationship with her, it could be devastating to her and even cause her to lose faith in adoption. Whe would have to start the process of finding a new adoptive family and begin building a new relationship with them, which adds to an already stressful situation and potentially causes her to second guess her adoption plan. 

For this reason, if you decide you are open to adopting a child with special needs, we recommend that you take as much time as you need to do your research and be prepared so that if and when an opportunity comes your way, you can be open and ready to embrace it if it feels right.

Love & Special Needs Adoption

Love is infused with every aspect of special needs adoption, including the decision to pursue this path, actually caring for your child, and getting support from your loved ones and community as your child grows. With that said, adopting a child with special needs is a decision and an act of love that will bring both challenges and rewards. Choosing to be open to adopting a child with special needs is a deeply personal decision and only you can choose what is right for you, your family, and your future.

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Angel Adoption, Inc. provides marketing and advertising services that assist biological parents considering adoption and prospective adoptive parents to connect with each other, and provides support and referral services throughout the process. Angel Adoption, Inc. is an independent contractor and provides services under the supervision of Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois, License #012998, One Oakbrook Terrace, #501, Oakbrook Terrace, IL 60181; 708-771-7180.