Adopting a child with autism is a unique and special experience. Here are some tips that may help you welcome home a child with autism...

Adopting a Child with Autism

Some things to know when adopting a child with autism spectrum disorder 

Adopting a child is a life-changing experience—not just for you, but for the beautiful and fantastic child you’re adopting. Adoption can be even more of an adventure when you’re adopting a child with special needs. As a twin of an autistic sister, I’m very honored to write this article to inform and inspire you. Suppose you’re considering adopting a child on the autism spectrum. From this article, you’ll gain some fundamental knowledge, learn of the different services that’ll help both you and your child, and become more prepared to welcome home your adopted autistic child. But first, what exactly is autism spectrum disorder? 

Autism Spectrum Disorder Defined

It’s essential to know about special needs adoption and to know the definition of autism.

Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder that affects both behavior and communication. The disorder starts in the early years of childhood, often between 1 to 2 years of age. Autism is a neurological condition that causes social and emotional disturbances and can generate repetitive and restrictive behavioral patterns. A child with autism may have particular interests and specific routines and rituals. It’s okay if your child with autism is showing any of these characteristic traits of autism:

  • Repetitive movements (also known as “stimming”), like rocking back and forth, flapping arms, spinning in circles, etc.
  • Disinterest in playing with other children. 
  • Minimal eye contact.
  • Delayed speech.
  • Rejecting displays of affection (cuddles, kisses, tickles, etc.). 
  • Speaking with a robotic, sing-song, or monotone voice, or is nonverbal. 
  • Repeating certain words or phrases.
  • Showing an obsession with peculiar objects.
  • Behaving aggressively due to overstimulation, having meltdowns, and causing harm to themselves or others.
  • Difficulty starting and keeping conversations.
  • Comprehension of simple instructions or questions. 
  • Sensitivity to lights and sounds.
  • Specific food preferences. 
  • Difficulty understanding non-verbal cues. 
  • Difficulty fitting in with peers at school or in society. 
  • Difficulty sleeping or eating.

You might not see all these signs in your adopted autistic child, and every child with autism is unique. If you feel like you’re struggling or will struggle with adopting and raising an autistic child, there are many great options to help both you and your child cope with their autism.

Let’s Look At The Autism Facts

  • 1 out of 54 children is diagnosed with autism.
  • Girls are less likely to be diagnosed with autism than boys. (Boys have a 1/34 chance of having autism, while girls have a 1/144 chance.)
  • Autism can affect anyone, regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or age.
  • Every child with autism is different and has different needs and skillsets.
  • 40% of children with autism are nonverbal.
  • Children with autism can get diagnosed earlier than two years old.
  • The earlier children with autism receive services, the better the outcome throughout their lives.
  • There’s no known cure for autism, but there are plenty of services to help children with autism with their social, developmental, emotional, mental, physical, and academic skills.
  • Children with autism can be happy and thrive with the support of their parents, family, friends, educators, and specialists.

What Can I Do to Help My Adopted Autistic Child? 

Early interventions are support services that help autistic children. Today, there are many educational resources and tools to help autistic children thrive. You can ask for advice from parents who are also raising autistic children, talk with your child’s teacher, or speak to your pediatrician about different autism services. For your adopted autistic child to be eligible for these services, he or she will need to be evaluated by an early interventionist. Once assessed, you can set your child up for services and have input on their school’s Individualized Education Plan. Some of the services included are:

  • Physical and occupational therapy: Both physical and occupational therapy can help autistic children with everyday activities of daily living and play. These treatments can increase autistic children’s independent skills, help them develop, and help them with fine motor skills. 
  • Speech therapy: Speech therapy helps autistic children with language and communication skills. This therapy can help children comprehend what others are saying or asking them. Speech therapy helps autistic children with social skills and improves communication with friends and family.
  • Play-based therapy: This type of therapy helps autistic children by play. This therapy lets autistic children know that it’s okay to communicate and play with others and not feel withdrawn.
  • Nutritional therapy: Nutritional therapy aids the dietary habits of children with autism. This therapy helps those with autism eat healthier and gives them nutrients that they usually miss in their diets. 
  • Government programs and services with little to no cost: Children with autism spectrum disorder are qualified to receive the services listed above at little or no cost to you and can also receive autism training and technology devices.

By starting early intervention with your adopted autistic child, you’ll help them live a healthy life with their autism in the community and at school and vastly improve their productivity.

What Kind of Specialists Can Help My Adopted Autistic Child?

Many different specialists can be a considerable part of your adopted autistic child’s development and intervention process. These include: 

  • Child psychologists and psychiatrists
  • Child neurologists 
  • Pediatricians
  • Audiologists 
  • Speech therapists
  • Occupational therapists
  • Physical therapists
  • Special education teachers
  • Paraprofessionals 
  • Home health aides or caregivers
  • Direct support professionals

Can Autism Be Treated?

While there’s no known cure for autism, educational and behavioral treatment plans and prescribed medication will help your adopted child manage their autistic symptoms. 

Medications are one of the options that will help manage symptoms of autism. It can be beneficial to have a pediatrician aware of adoption. If your child has other mental and physical health problems, such as the ones listed below, consult your pediatrician about what medication would be suitable for your child.

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • ADHD 
  • ADD
  • Sleeping disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Digestion issues 
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Tourette syndrome
  • Immune disorders 
  • Allergies
  • Viral infections 
  • Epilepsy

What If I Have Other Children or Family Members in My Household? 

If you haven’t talked to your other household members, set a time to talk about adoption to your friends and family and explain what life will be like once your adopted autistic child lives with you. Reading them a book or watching a video about children with autism could help both younger and older children understand their new sibling. 

Younger children might feel a little left out once your adopted autistic child is officially home. They might feel as if they’re not getting all the attention they once were and might either withdraw or act out. Reassure them that you love all the kids in the house and that everyone is unique. Ask them if they want to share toys with their new sibling or if they want to spend a special day with just you and them. 

Older children can show maturity when your adopted autistic child officially lives in your home, but they also can feel mixed emotions about it. They might feel annoyed or embarrassed when their autistic sibling acts out or stims in public. Remind them that it’ll be an adjustment for everyone and that their autistic sibling isn’t trying to be disruptive. Let them know that you’d appreciate their help by bonding with the new child, decorating their new autistic sibling’s room, or going along with their sibling to therapy appointments. 

With extended family members, if they’re willing to learn, educate them on adopting a child with autism. If one of your family members asks a question or says something unintentionally harsh, remain calm and politely talk to them about it. Extended family members can be a great asset to helping you with your adopted autistic child.

How Can I Help My Child at Home?

Adjusting to a new situation or home environment can be difficult for anyone at first, but it can be even harder for adopted children with special needs. What can you do to help?  

Accept your child for who they are by showing them unconditional love, patience, and calmness.

Being loving, patient, and calm might seem obvious, but these are some of the most crucial things to do when adopting an autistic child. 

What else should you do?

  •  Learn all you can from experts and parents of autistic children, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. 
  • Be your child’s advocate, not just at school, but also in the services your child receives. 
  • Learn what triggers their behaviors and what soothes them so you can have a positive outcome when a meltdown is on the rise.
  • Be a safety net for your adopted autistic child.
  • Show consistency and establish a structured routine. 
  • Have a visual aid on what your adopted autistic child will do that day. 
  • Use positive reinforcement for good behavior (sticker charts, toys, favorite activity, etc.).
  • Provide a safe space in your home for your adopted autistic child to retreat to when they want to be alone or when they feel overstimulated.
  • Learn about the ways your adopted autistic child learns best.
  • Help the other children/family members adjust to your adopted autistic child’s routines and schedules.
  • Have a great support system, whether it be from family or friends.
  • Take time for yourself. For you to fully care for your adopted autistic child, you must take time to rest or do something you enjoy.

What shouldn’t you do?

  • Don’t belittle or get easily angry with your adopted autistic child.
  • Don’t make unnecessary unexpected changes to their routine.
  • Don’t yell, scream, or punish your autistic child when they’re in meltdown mode.
  • Don’t show disinterest in what they like to do. 
  • Don’t shut them out when they show their autistic traits.
  • Don’t ask them a lot of questions at once. 
  • Don’t try to do everything, even when you’re overly exhausted.
  • Don’t call it quits when the going gets tough.

Most importantly, never give up on your adopted autistic child. There’s been more than several cases when parents have adopted children with autism only to feel completely overwhelmed and “rehome” them by sending the autistic child back to the agency, relatives, or foster care. Read this article for a better understanding of the scary reality of rehoming adopted children. Adoption, especially when adopting a child with autism, is a lifelong commitment.

What Services Are There To Help Me?

There’s nothing wrong with admitting you need more help or even a break when raising a child with autism. It’s a challenging task, and you need to know what resources are available to you to take care of yourself.

One excellent option is respite care. Respite care is where a trained autism professional looks after your autistic child while the caregiving is away for a few hours or a few weeks. You can use respite care once or regularly. Respite care can happen in your home or at a healthcare facility. Although the waitlist for respite services is quite lengthy, it’ll be worth the wait. 

There are also autism support groups (both in-person and online) and even counseling services. Talking with someone who’s been down the path you’re on can be relieving and help increase your confidence in becoming the best parent you can be for your adopted autistic child. 

All adopted children need a family who will love them no matter how easy or difficult each day will be. Adopting a child with autism is a unique and unforgettable journey. Autism doesn’t wholly define a child; it is just a particular part of who your adopted child is, so embrace them with love and nurture them all through their life!

Are you ready to pursue adoption? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to connect with compassionate, nonjudgmental adoption specialists who can help you get started on the journey of a lifetime.
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Kandice Confer