Myth Busters: Special Needs Adoption Edition

If there's one thing I have a love-hate relationship with these days, it's the term 'special needs'.  In the adoption world, it can mean anything from a birth mark to severe mental and physical handicaps.  A child can even be labeled 'special needs' just because they are over 18 months old or in a sibling group.  All these little ones get lumped together under one term, making them even less likely to be adopted.  But I'll save you from my personal soap box rant about this issue because if there's one thing that I actually dislike even more, it's a blog used as a platform.  Instead, I'd rather shed some light on the truth (as I see it) about adopting one of these kids by debunking some common myths surrounding special needs adoption.     

1. You need to be prepared for the worst case scenario.

I can't tell you HOW MANY TIMES I heard this statement.  It came in many different packages, but it always conveyed the same message - before you make a decision to adopt an older child or one with extra needs, you need to be okay with the idea that things might turn out very badly.  This could not be further from the truth.  Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't be educated on the possibilities that you are facing, nor that you should forgo prayerfully examining your intentions before you commit to a child with significant needs.  But I know FROM EXPERIENCE how fear of the unknown and hypothetical scenarios can paralyze you and keep you from doing what God is calling you to do.  And who is ever prepared for the worst?  Who would honestly be okay when their child gets a life-altering diagnosis - expected or not?  Deciding to love an 'imperfect' child should not be dependent on ourselves and our abilities.  It should be rooted in our faith in Someone bigger than any 'worst case scenario'.  God rarely calls the equipped, but he is always faithful to equip the called.

2. Special needs adoption is only for 'special people'.

If by 'special' you mean broken and imperfect, then yes, it is.  If you think such a calling is reserved for the super-Christian or civil rights activist, then you are mistaken.  And my prayer is that I never misrepresent special needs adoption in a way that leads people to believe the lie that you have to have it all together - have everything figured out - before welcoming one of these precious kids into your life. Our inadequacies do not disqualify us from doing great things for the Kingdom.  They are the prerequisite for doing great things (stolen from Rupert Leary's sermon on 8-3-13).  Because God's power is made perfect in our weakness.  And it's only through God's power that we are able to love beyond the bounds of biology.  I assure you I am no more special than anyone else.  I struggle (and chronically fail) to keep my house clean and maintain order.  I battle with pride and insecurity.  I am often impatient with my kids.  I am severely flawed - much more so than I'm willing to admit (See?  There's that pride again...).  But an understanding of the gospel ignited a desire in my heart I could not ignore, and God gave me a husband in whom He grew the same passion in His timing.  And that's it.  The we just jumped in feet first and had to trust Him, not having a clue what the future held.

3. By taking a step of faith and adopting a child with special needs, you've earned God's healing hand.

This myth is one that you can buy into without even realizing it.  But it's a slippery slope to a works-based faith.  There's a fine line between expecting a miracle from an Almighty God and feeling entitled to one.  It's our nature to feel we deserve some sort of reward for our good deeds.  And well-meaning people may even tell you they are certain God's favor will rest on you in the form of healing, or protection from pain and suffering.  All you have to do is be faintly familiar with the great stories of the Bible, and you'll realize this is MANY TIMES not the case.  God allows a lot of suffering - even for those who live 100% sold out for Him.  Taking a step into the unknown should be viewed as making room for God to move, not as a way of manipulating Him to move in the way WE feel He should (JD Greear, 8-11-13).  And believe it or not, this could mean He calls us to something that will cause physical and emotional turmoil to test our faith and develop perseverance for our benefit.  One thing is for sure - adopting a child with significant special needs will teach you what it means to suffer well - a painful, but invaluable lesson that I am only beginning to learn.        

4.  Adopting a child with special needs will most certainly have a negative affect on your biological/other typical children.

This is the myth that caused me the most anxiety and fear in the beginning of the adoption process.  And I can't even put into words how much God has blown me away in His provisions for our family in this area.  My kids have thrived since Emi has been home.  There are adjustments we've all had to deal with  - as is the case with any new addition (I think I've actually had the hardest time of them all!).  But the way they love Emi is one of God's greatest elements of grace in my life.  When I lose sight of the big picture and start to see Emi as a devastating diagnosis, or a laundry list of medications - I see Jenna holding her hands and cheering her on as she takes her first steps.  And I hear Caleb proudly proclaim, "She's MY sister!" to anyone who asks.  They love her with a love that challenges and convicts me daily.  It's the kind of love that looks at her through innocent eyes and accepts her just as she is - as their sister.  And their awareness and compassion for kids with special needs is flourishing.  They may have suffered a little - and I expect they will 'suffer' (by the world's standards) more as a result of our choice to bring Emi into our lives.  But just as I mentioned earlier, I believe learning to suffer well is something many kids miss out on these days.  They grow up so indulged that they do not develop the skills to handle disappointment.  It's so easy to raise ungrateful, entitled children in our culture.  And I would much rather my kids encounter some uncomfortable lessons than have them grow up missing the joy that comes from a true understanding of the gospel - one that extends to all races, ethnicities, and abilities.  So we try to focus our efforts on the spiritual lessons with eternal value, and resist the temptation to serve our kids a cushy life on a silver platter.  We want what's best for them - just like every parent.  But the best road is not always the easy one.



I know this blog does not represent the opinions of everyone who has adopted a waiting child with special needs.  I also understand that some of these myths do have some truth to them in certain cases.  And NO, I don't think you need to seek out suffering in order to effectively teach your kids to have grateful hearts that grasp the gospel.  Obedience and faithfulness to God's calling in our lives - whatever that may be - will be the example of love and sacrifice they so desperately need to see.  So please know my intentions for sharing this are not rooted in a desire for debate nor a personal agenda.  Of course, I'd love to see more people step up and parent these kids who have been waiting so long for a family, and if God can use me to bring awareness to His people, then great!  But I'm writing about this because I know that there is someone out there struggling with the same things I struggled with - hearing horror stories about worst case scenarios and feeling torn by fear concerning a decision to adopt a waiting child.  And I hope to give an honest, first-hand, and PERSONAL account of how I've seen things come out on the other end of that decision.  Some good, some not so good.  But so far, even the 'not so good' has taught me about the character of God and made me more dependent on Him than ever.  And I believe whole-heartedly that His plan for Emi had as much to do with saving me from my complacency as it did with rescuing her.  So in a nut shell - choosing to parent a special needs child might be the hardest thing we'll ever do, but it is so worth it.