Ask AF: Explaining Adoption to a Special-Needs Child

A parent wonders what the best strategy for explaining adoption to a special-needs child who may struggle to process the information.

Q: Our five-year-old daughter has a processing disability. How should we explain to her that she was adopted? I tried to start a conversation about it the other day, but she didn’t seem to understand.


A: Until age six, all adoption talks are simply foundation for future conversations. Telling the basic outline of her adoption story with a joyful tone sends the message that you love your child, and that she can discuss adoption with you at any time. It is common for a child with a special need to think she was adopted because something was wrong with her. And because your child has a processing disability, she may be an extremely literal thinker.

Spell out to her that her birth parents would have placed any child they had at that time. Then give her concrete examples of people she loves who have imperfections: You love your brother, even though he has temper tantrums. You love Mommy, even though I can be strict. Actually, no one is perfect, but we are loved for who we are. You have a disability and we love you just the same. It may help to act out scenarios with dolls or stuffed animals. Gauge her reactions and know that it’s OK to proceed slowly.

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