Adoption of a Child with Disability

Author: Thomas C. Weiss
Published: 2011/01/13 - Updated: 2022/07/05
Contents: Summary - Definition - Introduction - Main - Related

Synopsis: Families that adopt children with developmental disabilities often have various reasons which differ from parents who adopt non-disabled children. The number of children waiting to be adopted shows that thirty to fifty percent experience a form of developmental disability. Every one of these children's diagnoses is joined with their individuality. Children who experience developmental disabilities, as with all children, benefit greatly from the stability and the love that come from being a part of a permanent family.


The numbers of children waiting to be adopted show that thirty to fifty percent experience a form of developmental disability. The population of children with developmental disabilities waiting to be adopted is not a homogeneous group of children. These children and their cognitive, social, and physical characteristics can differ considerably. Every one of these children's diagnoses is joined with their individuality. Children who experience developmental disabilities, as with all children, benefit greatly from the stability and the love that come from being a part of a permanent family.

Main Digest

Families that adopt children with developmental disabilities often have various reasons which differ from parents who adopt non-disabled children. Parents who experience infertility and opt for adoption often seek non-disabled children and the potential to create a family. Parents who desire to adopt children with disabilities have other goals and characteristics. Many of these parents already have large families with many biological children or children they have adopted or fostered.

Parents who adopt children with disabilities perceive themselves as successful parents with the unique skills required to parent a child with a disability. They commonly have prior experience in working with school systems and health care providers and have a level of awareness concerning how to advocate for a child with a form of disability. Parents who desire to adopt a child with a disability often know from personal experience that each child is unique and that every child has at least one difficulty; some are more pronounced than others. Their motivation moves from wanting to adopt children to form a family to the provision of quality life for additional family members.

Parents who have adopted children with a form of developmental disability speak of the incredible joy the children they have adopted bring into their lives. They talk about the levels of enrichment their children have brought into their families in ways they never imagined. Parents gain immense satisfaction from assisting their children to gain in life and reach for accomplishments; truly a cause for celebration. However, these parents balance their protective instincts and help their children to live independently.

Defining Developmental Disability

The Federal Developmental Disabilities Act of 1984 describes a developmental disability as a chronic and severe form of disability. It describes developmental disability as being attributable to physical or mental impairment or a combination of both that manifests before the age of twenty-two. The Act also describes developmental disability as one that will most likely continue indefinitely and results in considerable functional limitations related to particular areas of a person's life. These areas include:

Developmental disability affects each child uniquely. Each disability presents conditions that range from mild to severe. Several conditions are associated with developmental disabilities. Two of these are cerebral palsy and mental retardation, affecting most children with the greatest severity.

Examples of Disabilities Children May Experience

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)

AIDS is a disorder that slowly destroys a person's immune system and leaves it without the ability to fight diseases. AIDS is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). Children and adults may contract HIV, although AIDS is not transmitted through casual contact. The fact that there is no cure at this time makes it the most serious disease a child can acquire. New forms of medication treatment are helping children who are HIV-positive to live longer.


Autism is a form of developmental brain disorder that has both behavioral and physical components. Autism affects a person's brain areas that control social interaction, language, and abstract thought. Approximately one in a thousand people experience autism. The symptoms of autism can vary greatly, although the disability commonly becomes apparent by the time a person is two or three years old. Autism affects male children more than female children.

People with autism experience difficulties expressing their meaning; sometimes, they cannot speak. Mental retardation and/or emotional issues may also be disabilities people with autism experience. People with autism are often susceptible to sensory stimuli. They may become overwhelmed by sights, sounds, touch, and smells. The cause or causes of autism remain unclear.

Cerebral Palsy

"Cerebral Palsy," is a rather, 'catch-all,' term; it refers to a group of conditions that are the result of brain damage before, during, or shortly after a person is born. Cerebral palsy is not hereditary. The most prominent symptom is an inability on the person's part to control or coordinate their muscles. Children with cerebral palsy cannot control the muscles in one or more areas of their bodies.

Children with cerebral palsy may experience additional symptoms such as limitations related to intelligence, convulsive disorders, or difficulties with speaking, thinking, hearing, expressing thoughts, and seeing. Some children with cerebral palsy who experience serious limb involvement might attend orthopedic schools, which are a part of the public school system, and where physical and occupational therapy is a part of their curriculum.

Cerebral palsy is a permanent disability, although many people with it do not experience limitations in their ability to achieve. People with cerebral palsy have been involved in law, medicine, writing, education, and even the New York Marathon - Famous People with Cerebral Palsy

Down Syndrome

Down syndrome is a form of disability where a child is born with an extra chromosome. The disability happens in around one out of every eight-hundred children, and more than fifty characteristics identify a child with Down syndrome. No one child has all fifty of these characteristics, the most notable of which are short stature, slanted eyes, and poor muscle tone. Very few children with Down syndrome experience severe mental retardation.

Children with Down syndrome present a wide range of mental development, mostly in the mild to the moderately delayed range. They usually experience congenital heart disease and respiratory infections; although many forms of heart defects are treatable, some may be corrected without surgical intervention. Recent research on computers and children with Down syndrome shows that they understand more than verbalize. This means that children with Down syndrome might have a largely untapped potential to be nurtured and explored. There is also evidence that children with Down syndrome raised in families receive individual attention, helping them to accomplish more than previously thought possible.


Epilepsy has various definitions. However, the term springs from the Greek word for 'seizures' and is used in several disabilities related to a person's nervous system centered in their brain. Seizures, in one form or another, are the main symptom or characteristic of epilepsy. Seizures can involve symptoms to include convulsions of the person's muscles, partial or total loss of consciousness, mental confusion, or disturbances of the person's bodily functions that are commonly controlled by their brain and nervous system.

At this time, the cause of epilepsy remains unknown. There is general agreement in the medical community that epilepsy may be the result of an injury to the person's brain before, during, or after birth, defects in their brain, chemical imbalance, head wounds, childhood fevers, poor nutrition, brain tumors, specific infectious diseases, or some poisons. At times, a cause is not found. While epilepsy is not curable, it is highly treatable and can be controlled to various degrees through medications.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome/Fetal Alcohol Effect

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) refers to a set of mental and physical congenital disabilities in children whose mothers drank alcohol regularly and heavily during their pregnancy. Fetal Alcohol Effect (FAE) involves a milder version of congenital disabilities caused by the same drinking among pregnant mothers. Effects of alcohol during pregnancy include brain damage, low birth weight, small size, behavioral issues, mental retardation, lung, kidney, and heart defects, as well as facial abnormalities.

Children with FAS or FAE still experience a vast amount of neurological development. If the nutrition, care, and environment the child receives are sufficient, the child can make considerable progress. While the neurological damage is not curable, early intervention, training, education, and treatment may increase the child's success.

Mental Retardation

Mental retardation involves impaired or incomplete mental development. Mental retardation is usually a disability a person experiences for a lifetime, beginning at or near the time of their birth. The disability can be treated through education, although it is not curable. Greater than two hundred unique causes of mental retardation have been identified. These causes combined account for fewer than half of all who experience the disability.

There are four classes of mental retardation; mild, moderate, severe, and profound:

Spina Bifida

Spina bifida is a form of birth defect involving a person's nervous system. The disability occurs when the person's vertebral bony units covering and protecting the spinal cord do not develop completely. The person's spinal cord fails to form a tube or send out enough nerve fibers to the person's muscles. Because of this, the person's lower extremities and the lower part of their spine are affected in several ways.

Children with spina bifida might not be able to move their legs, feel pain or touch, and might not be able to achieve bladder or bowel control. Several children with spina bifida, however, can walk. Still, others need braces and crutches, while other children use wheelchairs.

Hydrocephalus, a rapid and excessive enlargement of the child's head caused by fluid backup, may accompany spina bifida. Hydrocephalus treatment involves inserting a 'shunt,' or tube draining fluid off the child's brain. Once the shunt is in place, hydrocephalus rarely causes additional issues. Many children with spina bifida are of average or above intelligence.

Adoptive Parent's on Children with Disabilities

Parents who have adopted children with disabilities feel they receive far more from the experience than they give. Parents who adopt children with disabilities require a unique level of awareness and the ability to understand that parenting children with disabilities mean a lifetime commitment related to the amount of care and support their child might need as an adult. The challenges do not simply disappear; instead, they shift as the child ages and goes through various stages of development. It takes a person with particular abilities and an optimistic attitude to help a child with disabilities reach their full potential.

Most parents who have adopted children with disabilities agree that the positive growth within their entire family is a cherished opportunity they would most enthusiastically repeat. Adopting a child with disabilities means opening yourself to a very loving challenge and the gifts the child brings.

Families who adopt a child with disabilities and need financial assistance will find it available. Help is available through monthly cash payments, medical costs, and some specialized services and adoption-related costs. Assistance is available through the State Departments of Public Welfare and is often arranged before the adoption. More information is available through the North American Council on Adoptable Children.

Guardianship and Special Needs Children

Author Credentials:

Thomas C. Weiss is a researcher and editor for Disabled World. Thomas attended college and university courses earning a Masters, Bachelors and two Associate degrees, as well as pursing Disability Studies. As a Nursing Assistant Thomas has assisted people from a variety of racial, religious, gender, class, and age groups by providing care for people with all forms of disabilities from Multiple Sclerosis to Parkinson's; para and quadriplegia to Spina Bifida. Explore Thomas' complete biography for comprehensive insights into his background, expertise, and accomplishments.

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Cite This Page (APA): Weiss, T. C. (2011, January 13 - Last revised: 2022, July 5). Adoption of a Child with Disability. Disabled World. Retrieved June 14, 2024 from

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