Principles for Talking About Special Needs

One adoption counselor was quoted as saying that all adopted children have special needs. Perhaps she was referring to extra sensitivity to separation or teasing, or to a need to have sensitive explanations of why they may have been placed for adoption or why their family looks different.

Adoptive parents become accustomed to talking about differences and difficult situations. Those experiences can help not just adoptive parents, but all parents to discuss important issues with their children.

Other parents are far more experienced than I am, of course. But here’s my experience.
Some principles I’ve tried to maintain are:

–Use a calm tone of voice so that children aren’t afraid to ask questions and so the problem doesn’t seem horrible or frightening.

–Don’t try to rationalize unfairness. It is unfair that some parents have to place their children for adoption. It is unfair that some children have to live in foster care. It is unfair that some women can’t bear their children. It is unfair that some children have to work harder to learn and do the same things other kids do. Some things just are.

–While not trying to make everything fair and equal, do remember and convey to your children that almost everyone has to deal with something. I do my physical therapy exercises while Meg uses her auditory processing software. Patrick goes to the orthodontist, Meg goes to tutoring with a speech/language therapist, Regina wears an eyepatch and orthotics (special insoles in her shoes).

Although both our adopted daughters have minor special needs, I do not believe they think of themselves as “special needs kids” or handicapped/disabled in anyway. In terms of impact on our family life, our biological son’s food allergy is probably more inconvenient than the girls’ issues.

Sometimes it seems like everyone is being diagnosed with something nowadays. Certainly we are more aware of learning problems. But perhaps the more we learn about learning disabilities, the more we will come to believe that all of us have learning strengths and weaknesses, just as all families have unique strengths and weaknesses, some of which come from being formed in different ways.

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About Pam Connell

Pam Connell is a mother of three by both birth and adoption. She has worked in education, child care, social services, ministry and journalism. She resides near Seattle with her husband Charles and their three children. Pam is currently primarily a Stay-at-Home-Mom to Patrick, age 8, who was born to her; Meg, age 6, and Regina, age 3, who are biological half-sisters adopted from Korea. She also teaches preschoolers twice a week and does some writing. Her activities include volunteer work at school, church, Cub Scouts and a local Birth to Three Early Intervention Program. Her hobbies include reading, writing, travel, camping, walking in the woods, swimming and scrapbooking. Pam is a graduate of Seattle University and Gonzaga University. Her fields of study included journalism, religious education/pastoral ministry, political science and management. She served as a writer and editor of the college weekly newspaper and has been Program Coordinator of a Family Resource Center and Family Literacy Program, Volunteer Coordinator at a church, Religion Teacher, Preschool Teacher, Youth Ministry Coordinator, Camp Counselor and Nanny. Pam is an avid reader and continuing student in the areas of education, child development, adoption and public policy. She is eager to share her experiences as a mother by birth and by international adoption, as a mother of three kids of different learning styles and personalities, as a mother of kids of different races, and most of all as a mom of three wonderful kids!