Our journey to embracing a special needs son

Written By – Adoptive Parent, Inter-country

The start of our story: A traumatic birth

Our adoption story starts with me and my husband being blessed with a biological baby boy in 2015. He was the light of our lives, but a difficult pregnancy and traumatic birth led us to decide not to have any more children. We were happy with our small family. But, by the time our son was three years old, it started to feel like something was missing. We wanted the laughter and noise of another child at home, and as we knew, we could offer another child the love of parents and a sibling. We started to consider adoption as a way to expand our family. We were excited, but especially my husband was sad too; we would add a new child to our family, but we would never have another biological child. Adoption can be like this….there are many mixed emotions throughout the process.

Being open to special needs

We went through all the necessary steps; the adoption course, home study approval and CARA approval. The whole registration and approval process took approximately one year. We learned that the Indian adoption laws (quite rightly) favour children staying with Indian families rather than going abroad. So, families who are residents abroad often adopt from the special needs pool or the ‘waiting children’ pool i.e. those who have been in the system for a while and haven’t been adopted by Indian residents yet. Our agency asked us to consider what special needs we would be open to and encouraged us to review a list of special need types and check the boxes of any we felt we can handle. Faced with this list, my husband and I held several serious conversations late into the night. We had different feelings about the conditions; some overwhelmed him but not me, and vice versa. Armed with Google, we made our decision as informed as possible. Ultimately, the list served as a basis for a good conversation about what we felt we could handle. We discussed what we would do if we had been in the position of having a biological child with special needs and agreed we would just…deal with it. While we would love a healthy child, we agreed we were not shopping for a perfect child here. We decided to stick to two main principles:

  1. The child should be able to be independent in future
  2. We would not knowingly adopt a child with severe conditions that would mean we would need to relocate or otherwise cause major upheaval to our biological son. It was very hard to come to these conclusions, but we believe they are principles that helped us be guided when making decisions later.

The emotional experience of reviewing special needs files

Almost as soon as CARA approved us, our foreign adoption agency started looking into special needs children. This is an emotionally draining time as, unfortunately, many of the children on the list have severe medical needs. At this point, as PAPs, it is important to take advice from medical professionals or your adoption agency, look deep into yourselves, and be forgiving if you are not the right parent for a particular child. It is also very beneficial to take part in counselling. You may be in a position where you have to review several files and get to see the names and faces of the children. It was an overwhelming decision, and there were more than one children’s profiles we had to say no to and still think about. We know of one of them who found his family some months later, but the others we don’t know what became of them and can only hope they were matched with parents who could help them.

Getting our referral: a four-year-old with an orthopaedic condition

The process of reviewing files is tough, but ultimately it helps to give you further certainty about what you can or cannot handle. Finally, after around 8 months, we accepted the referral of a 4-year-old special needs boy, “Noah” from the North East region. Noah shared the same birth year as our biological child, making him only 9 months younger. According to his paperwork, Noah had been surrendered at birth and had a congenital leg length discrepancy and knock knee. His process had been much delayed due to Covid lockdowns and other admin issues out of the control of the SAA. We fell in love with his photos and videos immediately. However, it was difficult to assess the severity of the condition remotely. We consulted several professionals. We noticed that most doctors err on the side of caution when faced with this type of case. We heard every possible worst-case scenario, from genetic disorders to leg amputation. One doctor even warned us that the boy may have dwarfism. We took it all on board and revisited our initial principles. We watched inspirational videos of people with no limbs and learned what we could about treating leg length discrepancy. We decided eventually to take the leap of faith and accept the child, preparing ourselves for the necessary medical treatments and adjustments to family life. The SAA was extremely professional and helpful throughout the process, providing us with medical information, photos and videos. Once we accepted the referral, we could do some short video calls together to show Noah the new house and meet the family members, which he loved! We travelled to India in December 2021 to complete the process and pick up Noah, who was by then age 5.

Seeking support and treatment

In the beginning, we immediately noticed challenges. It was very obvious that Noah had emotional and social issues. He would be very overfamiliar with strangers, exhibit some extreme attention-seeking behaviour and have an anxious relationship with food. He had never been in any normal situation, such as going to a playground or a shop. So he was easily excited or overwhelmed, constantly seeking sensory input like loud noises, touching everything and his behaviour oscillated between extremes. He had also not learned well for his age, struggling to understand basic concepts such as numbers and simple four-piece puzzles. However, after speaking extensively to other adoptive parents, we realised this is quite common, and we organised ourselves to manage the situation, getting immediate support in the form of an early intervention specialist and an occupational therapist.

It helped to get into a good routine right away, too. Noah started school within weeks of coming home; he was excited to be with other children and his sibling and did not want to be left out. On the first day of school, he did not speak English or know the numbers or colours. Yet he proudly put on his uniform and tried his best. We persevered with catch-up sessions and good communication with the teacher. It was hard for him, but he was a credit to himself and put in a lot of work, motivated to catch up to his brother and peers.

At the same time, we tackled medical care. Noah’s leg was deformed, and he walked with a limp. He was frustrated as he could not run fast like other kids, which sometimes impacted his behaviour. We took him to a specialist who ran numerous tests. He told us that, due to having no family history, we needed to accept that we would never know exactly what caused his condition and that, most likely, it is genetic. But to our great delight and relief, he optimistically informed us that he could greatly improve it. Noah had surgery about 8 months after the adoption.

The path to healing

His leg surgery was a success, his leg has straightened out, and he can now run as fast as his friends. He still needs to have 2 minor surgeries, but it looks like this condition will not affect him in adulthood. Quite honestly, his physical need was the least of his challenges, with learning and emotional needs being more of a challenge for us as a family – very typical of an adopted child.

18 months home, we have a young man who is becoming our pride and joy! He was recently selected as “Student of the Month” at school, and can independently write short sentences, do age-appropriate maths, etc. Aside from his accomplishments at school, Noah has learnt to understand a 2nd language, become a strong swimmer, attend theatre classes, and excel at gymnastics. He is becoming more mature emotionally too. We find that lots of encouragement, small treats and rewards have helped to show him what is expected of him socially, and he is starting to understand how to relate better to others.

We learned that adoption requires an open mind to physical conditions. A biological child isn’t always born perfect, so why should anyone expect it from an adopted child?

His special need is not holding him back, thanks to the medical care. Noah has taken to family life well; he is a very confident, loving and caring little boy with great enthusiasm for everything he does. Our family feels extremely blessed and grateful to have him in our lives. We encourage anyone considering special need adoption to do your soul searching, research, and ultimately sprinkle in a leap of faith. It is a rewarding and fulfilling experience.