Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Friday, September 7, 2012

What's in it for me?

I have been talking a lot about the moral basis for special-needs adoption and how it may be grounded in a non-religious ethical context.  However, one of the major hurdles for both religious and secular potential adopters is the notion that this is fundamentally an "extreme", "dramatic", "altruistic" project.  A religious context can create a framework where people are motivated to take on such things for a higher purpose.  Secular contexts can do so, as well, though generally to a lesser extent.  However, both religious and secular people are motivated, more than anything else, by the selfish motive -- "What's in it for me?"

When I first found out about the conditions of special-needs orphans in developing countries, and read the stories of families which adopted them, I had many of these same reactions.  "Wow," I thought.  "These people are really amazing and self-sacrificing!"  Then I kept reading, however, and a new pattern emerged.  Very consistently, the parents reported great joy in the miraculous progress their adopted children were having, and in the beauty that the children were, in spite of their disabilities.

These, however, were parents.  They were highly invested in this enterprise, so surely they were biased.  The clincher came when I started reading reports by siblings of the adoptees.  After all, siblings are not the ones who made these decisions, but they live with the outcome.  What do they have to say about it all?

This 12-year-old girl has 2 little brothers.

Last year, her parents adopted 2 more little boys, both with Down syndrome.  Right now they are adopting a third boy with Down syndrome from the same orphanage! Read her blog to see how she feels about adoption.

Here is another 12-year-old sister of an adoptee with Down syndrome,

 answering readers' questions on her mother's blog.

Here are some more comments from the same family, including the 2 oldest brothers, aged 16 and 18.

And another family with 3 typical biological children, and 4 adopted children with special needs, 2 with Down syndrome.

Well, maybe these are just self-selecting anecdotes, right?  The people with negative experiences wouldn't post about it, right?  I actually googled on-line quite extensively looking for stories of siblings who wished their parents never had/adopted their sibling with special needs.  I couldn't find any!  Some stories of occasional frustration or sibling rivalry -- like any other siblings.  Many stories of parents worrying about the siblings' reactions!  But nothing that stood out as actual regret because of the sibling's special needs.

Here is a cool blogger with 2 biological children with special needs, a girl with cerebral palsy and a boy with Down syndrome.  She cites this study done by physicians at Children's Hospital Boston on the impact of children with Down syndrome on their typical siblings.

How anyone can read these stories -- and many, many others like them -- and not think "I want this for MY family, too!" is beyond me, no matter what your religious beliefs.

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