Adopting a Child with ADHD

Adopting a Child with ADHD

*Links in this blog were selected by the author because she found them helpful during her process and parenting. They do not represent endorsement from the agency or medical advice.

When people find out that one of my two beautiful children is adopted, and the other was naturally conceived, they often seem to feel that I must have some special insight into the differences between being a biological mother and an adoptive parent. What I always tell them is that, while some of the experiences might vary, it really doesn’t make that big of a difference. I love both of my children. The fact that my daughter was adopted doesn’t make me any less her mother than I am my son’s mom.

The biggest differences in becoming a parent through adoption or by birth actually take place before your child arrives. In the one case, you are filling out a lot of paperwork, being advised and interviewed by the experts, and trying to find your child among the many who need adoptive parents. In the other, you are attending doctor’s appointments, watching your body change, and wondering who you are about to meet when you finally go into labor. Both approaches require a great deal of patience and place a certain amount of stress on everyone involved.

ADHD and Adoption

The other reason why people often ask about my experiences as a biological and adoptive mother is that one of my children has special needs. It just so happens that my adopted daughter has ADHD.

Raising a child with ADHD can be difficult. The name alone can be daunting for many parents - Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder - but one of the hardest parts for me is not knowing how having the condition will affect my daughter. The impact can vary so much that, at first, I wasn’t sure how much of her behavior could be attributed to the ADHD, and how much to her personality. My daughter is a thoughtful, sharp-eyed child who can easily slip into a daydream halfway through a conversation. She also gets distracted easily and never seems to be able to sit down and focus on one task at a time. Her imagination and enthusiasm can make her a lot of fun to be around, but it can also be incredibly frustrating when all you want her to do is keep still and listen to what you are saying. There have been plenty of tears and tantrums, but since she has been diagnosed with ADHD, life has become easier for all of us, particularly at school. My daughter’s teachers have been wonderful, helping her to develop her own ways of working and giving her the attention she needs to stay on task. Her focus has improved, and with it her reading skills, but I know that there will be plenty of struggles ahead, particularly as her schoolwork becomes more demanding.

ADHD is a lifelong condition that we will keep needing to manage as my daughter grows up, but this is a situation that many biological parents find themselves in too. When we made the commitment to have another child, we didn’t know whether our biological son might have his own special needs too. Uncertainty, and a certain amount of anxiety, are inevitable in parenthood. The difference was, that as we adopted our daughter at a later age, we already knew that she was a special child. She had not yet been diagnosed with ADHD, but there were signs that she was likely to need some extra care and attention, and there was a family history of ADHD, which doctors believe can be hereditary. We were worried about what it might mean to take on this challenge, but we talked to some wonderful people who had more experience than us, and we knew that our daughter needed a family.

"Special Needs" Adoption

The sad truth is that many people are put off by the idea of adopting a child who has special needs, a disability, or other issues. My advice to potential adoptive parents is this: don’t dismiss these children or your own ability to raise a child with additional needs. It can be easy to believe that you are not up to the job, particularly if you don’t have much experience with disabilities or special needs in your family, but you are probably stronger and more capable than you give yourself credit for. You should give yourself the chance to meet a child as special as my daughter, rather than ruling out the possibility early in the adoption process.

Talk to people, find out as much as you can, and try to spend some time with families in similar situations. What seems scary and impossible at first can become far more manageable when you actually understand what it really involves. I am not saying that it is easy to raise a child with special needs, but that when you have child, by birth or adoption, it is always going to be unpredictable, and often difficult. There will be plenty of surprises along the way, but with love and support from the whole family, you will be able to cope.

Additional Resources

  1. Special Needs Adoption: What Does It Mean? Child Welfare Information Gateway
  2. Adopted Teens Face Higher Risk for ADHD, NPR
  3. When is it Attention Deficit Disorder?
  4. Creating an IEP or 504 Plan: 6 Guidelines for Parents, ADDitude Magazine
  5. Types of Accommodations to Include in an IEP or 504 Plan, National Center for Learning Disabilities

Children's Home Society of Minnesota

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With a combined 275 years of experience, Children’s Home Society of Minnesota and Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota serve children and families through adoption, child welfare, and family preservation.  We are driven by the understanding that a child in a safe, nurturing home is a child who thrives. We work to give every child security, opportunity and a loving family. Through our partnership, we offer the following services to families nationwide. We encourage you to visit the Lutheran Social Service Rainbow Kids page to view additional country programs.

International & Domestic Adoption — Respected for our legacy of excellence in adoption services, Children's Home and Lutheran Social Service believe that every child deserves a permanent, loving family. Today the need for adoption is most urgent for older children, sibling groups, children with a history of abuse and neglect, and children with known medical and special needs.

Post-Placement Support & Connections — Children's Home and Lutheran Social Service are committed to supporting all members of the adoption circle throughout their lifelong journey. We are proud to offer educational and cultural events, travel, search and background services, and opportunities to connect to the larger adoption community.

International Child Welfare — Children's Home and Lutheran Social Service recognize an inherent responsibility to improve the quality of life in countries where we facilitate international adoption. We support targeted, community-based projects that provide care, protection, health and education to vulnerable children around the world.

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