Yes, some special needs are known prior to adoption, but many are not. All bets are off in birth and adoption when it comes to disabilities or diagnoses.
At the beginning of our journey into foster care and adoption, my husband and I examined our parenting styles and openness to various areas of disability, and we identified five areas of disability that we really didn’t think we could manage. One was any significant degree of physical disability, one was fetal alcohol syndrome, one was HIV, one was epilepsy, and one was autism.
I’m hesitant to share that list for two reasons.
(1) I have sweet friends who have one or more of those diagnoses, and I have other sweet friends whose children do. Please, friends, know that I love you and love your children well. I think you’ll understand that when you hear my second reason for being hesitant about sharing the disabilities we were prepared to say no to…
(2) Every single one of those disabilities is currently represented among the six children in our family.
Yeah, some people say God has a sense of humor. Well, I suppose you could say that. Or, more accurately, we could say that God knew better for us than we did, and we are so very thankful for that.
Some of those labels caught us by surprise, while others were known from the moment we knew about our dear ones. And that’s the reality for many families. Yes, some special needs are known prior to adoption, but many are not. All bets are off in birth and adoption about disabilities or diagnoses.
However, research shows that children who are or have been in foster care or an institutional setting (like an orphanage or other children’s home) have higher rates of disability, higher rates of fetal alcohol syndrome and other prenatal exposures, higher rates of mental health disorders, high rates of medication prescribed for ADHD and other neurological concerns, higher rates of PTSD and other trauma-related difficulties, the unique potential to be diagnosed with what some experts call institutional autism (that is, difficulties in social and communicative abilities due to extended time outside of the family environment), greater possibilities for lasting changes to the brain due to prolonged exposure to stress, and a whole lot of grief even in the absence of any other diagnoses. Adoption and foster care can be beautiful and redemptive, but neither would be needed in the absence of sin. They would never have existed in the Garden of Eden. Before death and injustice and abuse and assault and disease and abandonment entered our world, adoption wasn’t necessary.
If we ask families in our churches to say yes to adoption, then we need to be ready to say yes to those families and their children if they need support after their yes leads to unexpected challenges.
But you’re not alone. As you say yes, even to families who have diagnoses that might be on that list of ones that scare you, you might need some help. That’s what Key Ministry is here for. We offer a free consultation service for churches, and I’m one of those consultants who is glad to help you figure out how to say yes and keep saying yes. Because sometimes hard things can paralyze us so that we don’t know what the first step should be. And if that’s where you are in your desire to say yes to families affected by disability, including but not limited to adoptive and foster families, then we would love to come alongside you. It’s what we do.