When we were in the process of adopting, we were told by many experts that our child would be classified as a special needs child. At first, I balked at this. I had every confidence our son would ultimately fit seamlessly into the fold of our other four children after a time to adjust to family life.
I had done so much reading about adoption, the trauma that goes along with it, and how to prepare ourselves ahead of time. My background was in psychology and early childhood education. I felt confident I could handle any obstacles or hiccups in the transition home.
Looking back on the old me, I laugh at the pure ignorance. There was so much I didn’t know simply because I didn’t know. Either I didn’t find the right resources or meet the other mamas in the trenches. Maybe because they were too exhausted to reach out and lend a hand? I totally get it now. It’s a fine line of expressing our need for support while at the same time, respecting and protecting our children and their needs. While I am exhausted, I try to share glimpses of life raising a child with needs that are different from our other children.
I think my stubborn hope has carried me through. This verse reminds me to hold fast to that. “As for me, I will always have hope.” Psalm 71:14
I had homeschooled our middle three for so many years that teaching this math curriculum became rote. I enjoyed the curriculum and since it was visual and hands on, it captured and held the attention of my children. So when my son was struggling with some math concepts, I pulled out the blocks and began working with him. I assumed that after I introduced him to the curriculum he would enjoy it as much as his siblings.
The frustration in both of us was pretty evident from the beginning. He struggled even after so much repetition. I tried a different approach, but I kept going back to this one. The curriculum was definitely better than others I tried. What I didn’t know at the time, was that he had an undiagnosed learning disability. Once we discovered the learning disability, it all fell into place. I became more patient. While our math lessons looked a little like the movie “Groundhog Day” where each day is like new, I now had a frame of reference and a lot more understanding.
I later learned the math curriculum I used all these years is one of the best for his specific type of learning disability.
Brave is…teaching anyway.
Now that I learned what would help him specifically, I could approach teaching him on a different level. I had to relearn how to teach him. I had to adjust my methods to match his learning style. His brain was wired differently. Even though his math learning disability would make the process a little more tedious, I realized I had to plow through my frustration and teach him anyway. Even if that meant I repeated the same math fact over and over again without seeing anything “stick”. The more I learned about adoption and trauma, this philosophy carried over to parenting as well.
We simply could not parent him the same way we were used to. Traditional parenting methods did not mesh with his needs. The shift in parenting was somewhat counterintuitive to us at the time, but made more sense the more we learned about early childhood trauma and the effects on the brain.
Our parenting habits had to be retrained. Not that our parenting wasn’t effective for our other children, but we quickly learned that we needed to adjust for our son. Bonding and attachment was our main focus when he came home. Connection had to be the priority before any effective change can be made. Even family members who witnessed this new way of parenting questioned our skills.
There were many books I read ahead of time before our son came home, but many more were added to our collection after we realized we needed to learn more to better support him. Last week, I shared some basic parenting books that helped with raising our other children. While some of that still applies to our youngest son, this week, the list looks very different. This list incorporates trauma, adoption, and special needs.
If you are parenting a child with special needs, these books are probably familiar to you. If you are in the process of an adoption, I would add them to your list. If you are a seasoned parent of a child with special needs, I invite you to share your resources for the rest of us. Let’s learn from each other and support one another. You are not alone.
If you are a friend or family member of someone who is raising a child through adoption or has special needs, thank you for reading this. Walking alongside someone is extremely supportive and much appreciated.
Here are a few resources that have helped us parent differently: [affiliate links]
This list is by no means exhaustive, but merely an introduction. I would also recommend Karyn Purvis’s training from TCU (Texas Christian University) on TBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention) and The Attachment and Trauma Network. Also, anything related to trauma informed practices is helpful.
- Parenting From the Inside Out by Daniel Siegal
2. The Body Keeps Score by Bessel van der Kolk, MD
3. The Primal Wound by Nancy Newton Verrier
4. Theraplay by Phyllis Booth and Ann Jernberg
5. Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child by Patty Cogen
6. Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control by Heather T Forbes and B. Bryan Post
7. Smart But Scattered by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare