My brother Tyler was adopted at fifteen months old. We didn’t know that he was a special needs child until months later when my parents realized that he wasn’t developing like my two sisters and I had as babies.
Tyler has since been diagnosed with numerous disabilities, including ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, Non-Verbal Learning Disability, and he is on the autism spectrum. At first it was very difficult for our family to fully understand the different disability areas that we would face with Tyler. Having three very involved, athletic girls, our family had never known anything other than a “normal” lifestyle. However, my parents were very active in seeking help from many professionals so we could learn as a family how to best support Tyler. From my experiences, I have learned essentials for parents with children who are adopting a child with special needs.
First, involvement of the entire family is essential– including siblings. The siblings of the child need to know exactly what is going on with the adopted child and need to know the essentials for taking care of the child. Trying to ignore the problems will not make life easy. It’s extremely important to communicate with the entire family.
Second, it is important for the family members to get some time away from the home. Oftentimes, I found myself feeling too responsible for Tyler, which led to some resentment toward him and my parents. When Tyler would have episodes, it was very taxing on the family. I needed to escape from the intense environment during these times. I loved one-on-one time away with my parents or with my sisters to recuperate. Tyler also loves having special outings and time away from the house. I think it helps all of us to put things back into perspective. It reminds us why we love Tyler and can find the energy and strength to be and do what he needs.
Third, seeking outside help can bring the family closer. My parents often checked in with my sisters and me to make sure we were okay. At one point in time when things with Tyler were extremely difficult, we saw a therapist as a family. This helped us all to heal in a safe environment where every voice was heard.
Last, don’t be too hard on yourself. There will be trials and failures while parenting a child with disabilities. When one or both of my parents felt defeated, all of us felt it and it brought us down. We try to take each mistake and learn from it; this has made our family stronger and closer. We have learned to stop dwelling on our failures and start celebrating our successes.