Special Needs Parenting

In His Hands {4 lessons learned from adopting older special needs children}

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This is day 18 of 31 Days of Supporting the Special Needs Family. To view the story behind this series and the series contents, please visit the landing page. Today, Sheila Temple is sharing some of the things she has learned through her family’s international adoption of older special needs children.


When Joshua was brought to the forefront to lead the Israelites, after the death of Moses, I am sure he had a lot of questions but also, a lot of faith.  When Joshua sent spies out into the new land to scope it out, I can see from his human perspective that the action seemed important.  I also know that God had already promised him victory and the land, no matter what they found in their investigation.

Much like Joshua, we are aware that God will be with us.  We also have the knowledge that He will help us do what men think is impossible. Many special needs adoptions are based on blind faith.  There is never a guarantee, much like children we bear, that things will go as planned.  Having two older children before we adopted was enough evidence for me that what you think is going to happen can be disappointing and has problems of it’s own, not to be overshadowed by the joys that abound.

These are 4 things that I did not know before adopting Zhang Zhou, Wang Xue, Ji Rong or Zeng Shu.   Our children were adopted at 3, 12, 6 and 12 respectively, from 2001 to 2006.   If I had known, it would not have changed the adoption process; I may have been better prepared for the new normal that was coming our way.

4 lessons learned from adopting older special needs children

1. I didn’t realize what years of intuitionalism would look like.

I had read several books on the topic, but was so excited about the children, that I overlooked some of the things to be on the alert for.  I underestimated the children’s ability to trust in us from the beginning.   They had never trusted anyone before.  I underestimated the amount of security that food, schedule, words of encouragement and hugs (more than words) would speak volumes to them.  Bonding is an issue that I had not really worried about and many of our problems with it have ironed out over the years since the children were adopted.  Each of them had their own amount of bonding issues. (Some greater than others)

2. I did not know that bonding could take years.

In one particular case bonding is still in process.  In eight years there have never been words spoken, appreciation shown, or eye contact established with our daughter.  I don’t know why, I just pray that time will work it out and her faith will allow her to be able to express some of her deep feelings of abandonment, dialogue about her disabilities, and expression on her part from deep within.

3. I underestimated the joy that progress would bring.

Our youngest daughter came at 6 and was given a very grim diagnosis at that time.  Two different doctors asked us why in the world we would adopt a child with such huge deficits and problems.  Our honest answer was that we didn’t know she had those problems until we were home and in the discovery process.  At two different times, in unprofessional ways, doctors suggest that we institutionalize her and get on with our lives.  One told us that she would not do puzzles, have any reasoning skills, or be above   pre-school development academically.  Because we are stubborn and wanted to prove them wrong, by faith, she can do puzzles of up to 50 pieces, can reason math and reading stragies, and is reading at a high 2nd grade level as a sophomore in high school. (Almost sweet 16!)  So thankful that by faith we could push her to her best potential.

Our son, now 22, is making all A’s in college with a degree in international business and will be graduating in May 2015.  He was very handicapped mentally and emotionally when he came into our family at 12, but his tenacity has had amazing results.  Coupled with being able to speak two languages now, he can interpret from Chinese to English and English to Chinese and is a great asset to all of the companies that are interested in hiring him post graduation.

4. I did not know how to assess what our children could and could not do in the future by following them day to day.  

Our daughters (16,17 and 20) will not be able to attend college.  They will however, with their caring personalities, be able to find something useful in life to help others and each other with.   Only one of them will be able to have children, because of physical problems, but each are willing to accept adoption as a means of parenting of they have that desire later in life.   Only one of them will be able to drive.  Vision problems and inability to multi task makes it very difficult for two of them to become drivers.  They are coping with that (with out help) in a confident way.  We have some resources in our community that help transport and find suitable vocations/jobs, and possibly housing if and when they decide they want to try things on their own.

Before adoption, we were not able to send out spies to see the lay of the land; we were not able to view our “enemies” as giants, when we felt like ants.  We were by faith, able to see a productive future for all of our children and are willing to sacrifice, daily, to help them reach their highest potential.  Adoption is not easy, but it is in the living day to day that we learn and grow together as a family.


Sheila Temple is a wife, mother of six, public school teacher and a follower of Christ. She and her husband Rick have been married for 28 years. Because of her family’s devotion to the children of China, Sheila and Rick’s two oldest sons are now working with students and orphans in China. 

Sheila is also author of Chinese Take Out, An Adoption Memoir:

How do you summarize growing from a family of four to a family of eight in six short years? Chinese Take Out is the story of our children and their adoptions at the ages of three, twelve, six and twelve respectively. Try to imagine, if you will, the stress and sensory overload under one roof! And the miraculous unfolding of each beautiful life.

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