Special Needs

Special Needs Adoption

What Does Special Needs Adoption Mean?

  • Definitions
  • Eligibility
  • Making the decision
  • Getting started
  • Financial and health-care assistance
  • Postadoption services

Common Mental, Physical, Emotional Disabilities

Abuse and Neglect

What is Child Abuse and Neglect

  1. How is Abuse and Neglect Defined by Law?
  2. Recognizing the Signs of Abuse and Neglect
  3. The Impact of Childhood Trauma on Wellbeing

Understanding the Effects of Maltreatment on Brain Development

  1. How the Brain Develops
  2. Effects of Maltreatment on Brain Development
  3. Implications for Practice and Policy
  4. Effects of Maltreatment on Brain Development Summary and Resources

Long-Term Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect

  1. Factors Affecting the Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect
  2. Psychological Consequences
  3. Behavioral Consequences
  4. Societal Consequences
  5. Summary and Resources

Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect

  1. Prevention Strategies and Protective Factors

Child Maltreatment: Past, Present, Future

  1. Scope of the Problem
  2. Promising Prevention Strategies
  3. Looking Toward the Future
  4. Conclusion and References

Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Activity Disorder (or "ADD or ADHD"):

  • What is ADHD (ADD)
  • What are the Symptoms of ADHD
  • Does My Child Have ADHD
  • What Can I Do if I Think My Child Has ADHD

This term describes a lifelong developmental disability that can first be detected in infancy, early childhood or even in adolescence, and which involves challenges with attention span, impulse control, and the intensity level of activities at school, home or at work. Typical behavior would include such things as distractibility; difficulty with following instructions or in waiting for turns within groups; a difficulty with staying on task with chores or play activities; a difficulty with sitting or playing quietly; inattention; restlessness; and engaging in physically harmful or dangerous activities, without a concern for the resulting consequences for self or others. For more information, see Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder page.


  1. Building attachment with an adopted child
  2. Attachment: What Works

The formation by a child of significant and stable emotional connections with the significant people in its life. This process begins in early infancy as the child bonds with one or more primary caregivers. A failure by a child to establish these types of important connections before the age of about five years may result in the child experiencing difficulties with a wide variety of social relationships for significant periods of time in its life. Severe cases can fit within the definition of a more permanent condition known as "reactive attachment disorder.” For more information, see Attachment page.


  • What is Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • What are Some Signs of ASD
  • What Can I Do if I Think My Child Has ASD

Autism is a developmental brain disorder with physical and behavioral components. It affects the brain areas controlling language, social interaction, and abstract thought. Symptoms may include: communication difficulties, emotional problems, intellectual disability, and sensitivity to sensory stimuli. Autism spectrum disorders include pervasive developmental disorder, Asperger syndrome, Retts syndrome, and childhood disintegrative disorder; any of these terms may be used interchangeably with the term autism. Services that may be beneficial for a child with autism include: educational training, speech therapy, language therapy, medication, and occupational therapy. (www.childwelfare.gov) For more information, see Autism page.

Bipolar Disorder:

  1. What is Bipolar Disorder
  2. Causes
  3. Signs and Symptoms
  4. Who is at Risk?
  5. Diagnosis
  6. Treatments
  7. Living With
  8. Clinical Trials

This term is used to describe a form of mental illnesses in which moods and reactions are affect, and which is characterized by irregular cycles of mania and/or depression. During manic the periods, the affected individual may be in a very elevated mood and exhibit symptoms of hyperactivity, wakefulness, distractibility or even irritability. Psychotic symptoms may also be present in very extreme manic episodes. During the depressive periods, affected individuals can exhibit sustained symptoms of depression, disinterest in most activities, fatigue, sleep disturbance, ranging anywhere from insomnia to hypersomnia, weight loss, weight gain, and sluggish or delayed mental reasoning. For more information, start with the What is Bipolar Disorder page.

Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD):

This term describes a condition in which the affected individual, whose hearing capabilities are otherwise functionally sound, will have difficulty understanding and processing information that is heard. It is believed that this occurs as the result of a communication breakdown somewhere between the ear and the parts of the brain that receive and interpret hearing stimuli. All of the possible causes of this disorder are still not known, but those that are known include: head trauma, lead poisoning, and possibly chronic ear infections. Because of the wide variety of possible causes of this disorder, and the strong likelihood of the existence of multiple contributing causes, each suspected case needs to be carefully evaluated on an individual basis. For more information, see Central Auditory Processing Disorder page.

Cerebral Palsy (CP):

This a very broad umbrella term that is used to describe a group of chronic, non-hereditary condition of varying severity that are believed to be the result of faulty development of, or damage to, the motor areas in the brain, which then causes a disruption in the brain's ability to control muscular movement and posture. The brain damage and/or developmental problems that cause CP can take place before, during, or after birth, and can affect muscular control and movement in one or more parts of the body. Depending on the parts of the brain that are involved, affected individuals may also experience speech control problems, but will often enjoy very normal mental capabilities. Some of the causes of cerebral palsy that have been identified through research, and which to some degree are considered to be preventable or treatable, are: jaundice, head injury, Rh blood factor incompatibility, and German measles (rubella). For more information, see Cerebral Palsy page.

Developmental Disability:

  • Facts
  • Developmental Milestones
  • Concerns
  • Monitoring and Screening for Disability
  • Causes and Risk Factors
  • Who is Affected
  • Living With a Developmental Disability

This term refers to a severe and chronic impairment, which can be attributed to one or more mental or physical impairments which will require specific and lifelong or extended care that is individually planned and coordinated, and which had an onset before age 22, and which is likely to continue indefinitely. The condition or conditions must create substantial functional limitations in three or more of the following areas of major life activity: 1) self care, 2) language skills, 3) learning, 4) personal mobility, 5) self-direction, 6) potential for independent living and 7) potential for economic self-sufficiency as an adult. For more information, see Developmental Disability page.

Down Syndrome:

A genetic disorder that is caused by the presence of an extra chromosome, which results in varying degrees of physical and mental abnormality. Physical characteristics of the syndrome include a flattened face, widely spaced and slanted eyes, comparatively smaller head size and lax joints. Although not present in all cases, mental retardation is typical. Those who are affected with the syndrome display a wide variety in mental, behavior and developmental capabilities, and will have a high propensity to suffer from common health problems, include a low resistance to infection, pronounced hearing loss, gastrointestinal problems, and heart defects. For more information, see Down Syndrome page.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders:

This term refers to certain birth defects, and serious, life-long mental and emotional impairments that may be suffered by a child as the result of heavy alcohol consumption by its mother during pregnancy. Symptoms of mental and emotional deficits may include significant learning and behavioral disorders (including attention deficits and hyperactivity), poor social judgment, diminished cause-and-effect thinking, and impulsive behaviors. For more information, see Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders page.

Learning Disabilities (LD):

  1. What are Learning Disabilities?
  2. Causes
  3. Symptoms
  4. Who's at Risk?
  5. Diagnosis
  6. Treatments
  7. Is There a Cure?
  8. Other Facts

One or more impairments that a child may have in such areas as reading, mathematics and/or written expression skills, which interfere with the expected academic performance of the child in school, or in other daily activities that require those skills. Performance on standardized tests that is below that which would be expected for the child's age, schooling and level of intelligence are customarily used as preliminary diagnostic tools to identify areas where children are experiencing difficulties. Children with learning disabilities may be of average or above average intelligence, but experience difficulty in learning, differentiating, processing, storing and/or otherwise maximizing their use of information. Some children with LD will find it difficult to learn in a conventional classroom environment, and may need to attend LD classes for a period of time in order to help them achieve their potential in school. The presence of learning disabilities is not limited to children that are adopted, and will generally be just about as common in the general population as they are among children that are adopted. For more information, see the Learning Disabilities: What are Learning Disabilities? page.

Mental Retardation or Intellectual Disability:

  • What is intellectual disability?
  • What are some signs of intellectual disability?
  • What can I do if I think my child may have intellectual disability?

Impaired or incomplete mental development characterized by an IQ of 70 or below and characterized by significant functional limitations in at least two of the following skills: communication, self-care, home living, social/interpersonal skills, use of community resources, self-direction, functional academic skills, work, leisure, health, and safety. Onset usually occurs before age 18. More than 200 specific causes of mental retardation have been identified. For more information, see Mental Retardation page.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:

  1. What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  2. Causes
  3. Signs and Symptoms
  4. Who is at Risk?
  5. Diagnosis
  6. Treatments
  7. Living With
  8. Clinical Trials

A condition in which victims of overwhelming and uncontrollable experiences are subsequently psychologically affected by feelings of intense fear, loss of safety, loss of control, helplessness, and extreme vulnerability and in children the disorder involves disorganized or agitated behavior. For more information, see Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder page.

Reactive Attachment Disorder (or RAD):

  • Signs of RAD
  • Services that may be beneficial

This term is used to describe a condition that generally appears in children before age five, and is thought to result from a lack of consistent care and nurturing in early years. The disorder is characterized by the inability of a child or infant to establish age- appropriate social contact and relationships with others. Symptoms of the disorder may include a failure to thrive, developmental delays, a refusal to make eye contact, feeding difficulties, hyper-sensitivity to sound and/or touch, failure to initiate or respond to social interactions with others, self-stimulation, indiscriminate sociability and a an unusually high susceptibility to infections. For more information, see Reactive Attachment Disorder page.

Sexual Abuse:

Parenting a Child Who Has Been Sexually Abused

  1. Educating Yourself
  2. Establishing Family Guidelines for Safety and Privacy
  3. Seeking Help

Indicators and behaviors which suggest that a child may have been sexually abused, including: excessive masturbation, sexual interaction with peers, sexual aggression towards younger and more naive children, seductive behavior, and promiscuity. For more information, see Sexual Abuse page.

Social Disorders

Speech and Language Disorders:

  • How Do Speech and Language Develop
  • What Are the Milestones for Speech and Language Development
  • What is the Difference Between a Speech and Language Disorder
  • What Should I Do if My Child’s Speech or Language Appears to be Delayed
  • What Research is Being Conducted
  • What Are Voice, Speech, and Language
  • Your Child’s Hearing and Communicative Development Checklist

Impairments of speech or receptive language. Speech disorders usually involved difficulties with articulation which can generally be improved or resolved with speech therapy, usually requiring treatment over months or years. Language disorders, on the other hand, often result in substantial learning problems, involving difficulty with language comprehension, expression, word-finding and/or speech discrimination. Treatment by a language therapist generally leads to improvement in functional communication skills, although treatment cannot be generally expected to eradicate the problem. For more information, see Speech and Language Disorders page.

Tourette's Syndrome:

  1. What is Tourette’s Syndrome?
  2. Diagnosis
  3. Treatments
  4. Other Concerns and Conditions
  5. Risk Factors and Causes

A treatable neurological disorder that consists of involuntary "tic" movements or vocalizations that become more apparent under stress. Common manifestations include shoulder-shrugging, neck-jerking, facial twitches, coughing, grunting, throat clearing, sniffing, snorting, and barking. Children with Tourette's often have problems with hyperactivity as well. For more information, see What is Tourette’s Syndrome? page.

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