Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Thursday, May 2, 2013


The following facts about Down syndrome adoption:

1. There is a long waiting list for infant adoption of a baby with Down syndrome.

2. Most families adopting older children with Down syndrome already have a biological child with Down syndrome.  This means that families who are not dealing with all the extra challenges of Down syndrome are resistant to taking it on, while the families who know how hard it can be first hand are not daunted by it.

On the one hand, this is not ironic at all:  The unknown is scary, while a struggle we have already contended with is just "stuff to do".  The same phenomenon is apparent in most areas of human endeavor: Standardized exams, sporting events, presentations, and childbirth are all less terrifying the second (and third, and so on) time around.

On the other hand, those are all things which are generally seen as positives.  At least, the positive aspects of them are readily acknowledged by society at large.  Raising a child with special needs, however, is seen as an overall negative.  Sufficiently so, that #1 above notwithstanding, the overwhelming majority of women who get a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome choose to terminate the pregnancy.  Likewise, most families who get a post-natal diagnosis of Down syndrome go through a grieving period for their lost expectations.

Because raising children with special needs is seen as an overall negative, families who have typical children see no reason to seek them out.  The more or less unspoken idea is that "it's not our problem (thank G*d!) so let someone else deal with it".   Well, if the families with typical children won't adopt children with disabilities, then the other choices are families WITH such children or childless families.  The message is either,

"Families who already have this horrible misfortune can take on an extra helping."


"Families who are truly desperate for a child will be willing to settle for an imperfect child."

Neither of these messages is particularly, um, nice....  Furthermore, if you start from the premise that caring for these children is a "burden", then we should neither "dump" this burden on those who are, by this definition, burdened already, nor on those who lack the experience to handle it.   I mean, would we do this in a school setting?  Would we assign "difficult" students to a teacher who already has multiple challenges in her classroom?  Would we rather place them with a novice? Of course not!   But for the 24/7 task of parenting an ostensibly difficult child we are OK with these options...?

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