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Parenting a child with special needs

In Canadian private and public adoption agencies, children who are considered to have special needs do not always have developmental delays or disabilities. The term special needs in adoption can also include age, abuse or neglect, mental, emotional or physical disabilities, sibling groups, culture or race, and those ‘at risk’ of developing health issues later on.

Parenting a child with special needs

Children with the traditional definition of special needs may have a physical disability, or issues that are emotional, psychological, learning, genetic or biological.

A child with special needs requires care and services that are not typical of the average child. They may experience life differently than others their age, even in adulthood, and may need to be parented and understood differently.

It is believed that all children have some sort of special need. It is also believed that all children who are adopted have special needs because they come to their permanent families differently than many of their peers.

Children with special needs require parents with exceptional patience, flexibility and parenting skills. For families considering special needs adoption, it's very important to assess what type of special needs you can reasonably handle. You’ll need to be honest with yourselves and your adoption professional.

Special needs children may need extra help attaching and bonding to their adoptive families, and may require professional care such as speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, medical specialists, and social workers. Adoptive families may have to be involved in special need resources at school, even into post-secondary education.

What’s important to remember is that sometimes a child with special needs simply needs a loving, permanent family to help them reach their potential. As with all things involving people, special needs are fluid and can change over time.

The waiting children photolisting on the AdoptOntario website are there because they may have high needs and their local Children’s Aid Society hasn’t been able to identify a family within their own jurisdiction. These include being part of a large sibling group, seeking cultural or racial matching, or any safety concerns.

Support and services for children with special needs

Support and services for children with special needs can take a variety of forms and can be formal or informal. Formal support may include Children's Aid Societies adoption subsidies for services that a child with special needs requires, or government benefits to help with the additional costs of parenting this type of child.

Informal supports may include organized support groups, some of which are focused on a specific type of adoption or special need, events, seminars, workshops, printed resources, videos, audiotapes, Internet websites and support services that maybe provided by a child’s placement agency.

Most public adoption agencies in Canada offer subsidies to help with the costs involved with raising a special needs child. Speak to your adoption professional about the possibility of financial assistance to pay for equipment and therapies that are not covered on your provincial health plan.

The Adoption Council of Ontario operates an Adoption Resource Centre, which is another source of information and referral to support groups and services, and has a helpline support service.

To provide further support for parenting and understanding children with special needs, AdoptOntario has provided information about some of the most talked about topics in this section.

Content references

Ten Great Things About Adopting a Child with Special Needs

Canada Adopts

Adoptive Parents