Making the Decision to Adopt a Special Needs Child

One Family's Story

Having married in mid-life, my husband and I could have spent the rest of our years traveling, remodeling our house, and pursuing hobbies. But we wanted to share the love that brought us together. We decided to adopt an older child.

Our agency sent us records of children waiting for their forever families, and one little girl named “Miss Phonthip” (pronounced pon-tip) stood out to me. There was an old-womanish air about her as she stood, feet planted firmly, wearing a feisty expression and the hint of a smile.

Her record indicated that she had “mild cerebral palsy” and also that she was “a very creative little girl.” When my husband finished reviewing the records late that night, the same girl’s photo was at the top of the pile.

A delicate balance

Having children is usually a decision of the heart. Yet, at our time of life, my husband and I felt the decision should reflect a balance of heart and mind. We knew that we needed more information.

What did “mild cerebral palsy” mean? Were we up to the challenge? Our research told us that cerebral palsy can cause a range of disabilities, both physical and intellectual, and the more we read, the more confused we became.

Because we wanted to make this decision with our eyes wide open, for her sake as well as ours, we consulted a specialist in adoption medicine. He believed that our little girl was doing “incredibly well,” considering her disability and her lifelong residency in orphanages, but he wanted to take the precaution of faxing a list of questions to her caregivers.

We nervously waited for responses from the Department of Public Welfare in Thailand. Their reports were all positive, save one, which was puzzling: “She does not draw well.” Our doctor explained that this could indicate hemiplegia, a weakness of her leg and arm. If this were the case, her cerebral palsy would place her at higher risk for learning disabilities.

A firm belief

This new information gave us pause. The love of learning is important to each of us. Could we parent a child who might not share this love?

The next morning, however, I awoke with a firm resolve. Wanting it to remain a mutual decision, though, I wrote my husband a casual e-mail: “I’ve just been thinking about the little girl. How are you doing?” He responded immediately, “I am very excited to begin my new family with you and our little girl.”

Several months later we were sipping tea in the office of the Ransit Babies Home in Bangkok. Our beautiful little girl entered the room, leaning on the arm of a caregiver. I noticed that her right hand was fisted—a clear indication that our doctor was right about her hemiplegia. But we were prepared for this. As the three of us looked at each other, our eyes said, “This is a good thing.” It was instant love!

A happy home

The first three years she was home involved regular visits to occupational, physical, and speech therapists. Our daughter receives academic accommodations for learning disabilities, and we continue to be vigilant about her safety, making sure that host parents know about her condition when she goes on play dates.

With the right interventions and the unconditional support of a happy home, our daughter has made amazing strides. Five years later, she is a lively, inquisitive 11-year-old who is wise beyond her years. She learned English quickly, attends school, and has many friends.

Her hands are now strong enough to maneuver her pencils and paintbrushes exactly the way she wants. But above all, her spirit blesses everyone who knows her and it will serve her well in life.

Making the decision to adopt our little girl is the best thing we ever did. The challenges we face are far outweighed by the lessons we’ve learned about respect, determination, and courage.

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