When my husband and I decided to adopt, we didn't know how many questions we would have to answer. Questions about our growing up years, questions about our marriage, questions about what kind of child we were looking to adopt. One question we were asked is "What special needs are you willing to accept in a child?" We knew we were ill-equipped to answer this question. However, as we thought and prayed about it, we agreed that with God's help we should be willing to accept any special needs. This was the first major nudge out of our comfort zone.
One advantage adoptive parents have is knowing up front what some of the special needs of a child are, and having time to prepare. When we were matched with our twin boys, we were told they were born prematurely, they had developmental delays, they both had glasses, and one of them had a severe hearing loss. We were able to gather some information, meet with some of the specialists, and discuss education options with our local school, before the twins were placed with us.
However, adoptive parents only have access to as much information as the birth parents are willing to share. We have been asked several times whether our children were exposed to alcohol or drugs in utero. This information is required for a diagnosis of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. We will probably never know the answer to that question. Sometimes, without a diagnosis, funding and services are not available.
When we adopted, there were a lot of things we didn't know:
We didn't know the special joys associated with parenting a child with special needs. It's difficult to put into words how rewarding it is to parent these children. Some people look at all the work involved and ask how we can do it. We look at the rewards and ask, "How can we not do it?" Seeing the progress of our children, watching them interact with others, and seeing how they teach others empathy is amazing. They have taught us how to love and how to trust God in ways we may never have learned any other way. Although adopting and parenting special needs children has been (and continues to be) the most challenging thing we've ever done, we would do it all over again.
We didn't know what RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) is like, or how to parent someone with RAD. It may have been easier if we had seen this video.
We didn't know how difficult it would be to advocate for inclusive education for our children. My children made me into the strong advocate I am today. I naively believed that all people do their best to meet the needs of ALL children. Unfortunately this is not true. However, in the process of advocating, I have met wonderful people who go over and beyond the call of duty in meeting the needs of children and families. I gladly share the resources I have discovered with other families. In fact, one of the reasons I served as a school board trustee with Northern Lights Public Schools was so that I could help other families. That experience gave me insight into the education system, how it works, and how to be an advocate on the political level.
Just like parenting doesn't end when children become adults, advocacy doesn't end at age eighteen either. This past year we have had the opportunity to connect with Inclusion Alberta and learn more about the benefits of inclusion. We have been armed with information. For instance, did you know that research has shown that when children with special needs (even severe cognitive disabilities) are educated in an inclusive environment, 80% of them find a job? However, when children with special needs are segregated into specialized programs, only 20% find a job after high school. Research also dispels the myth that "regular" students suffer when special needs students are included in general classrooms. In fact, all students benefit both academically and socially.
Each day is a new adventure with our children. Some days bring laughter. Other days bring tears and prayer for wisdom. Through it all, God is teaching us all many important lessons.
What about you? What is God asking you to do? Sometimes obeying feels like jumping off a cliff. However, God is always there and when we are willing to move out of our comfort zone in obedience to God, the results are amazing.
"So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." (Isaiah 41:10 NIV)
Ruth L. Snyder lives with her husband, Kendall, and their five children in northeastern Alberta. She currently edits a newsletter for foster, adoptive, and kinship families in northeastern Alberta. Ruth enjoys writing, publishing, and marketing. She offers coaching for other writers and helps other writers publish their material. Ruth also serves as the President of InScribe Christian Writers' Fellowship.