Monday, January 11, 2010

Older Child Adoption

Many people may not know how many children there are waiting for families in China. While the wait for healthy babies continues to get longer, there are children on the waiting child list who wait almost as long for their families to find them.

Choosing the waiting child path may not be for every family, but there are so many amazing children who wait every day. These children may have may have medical special needs and others may be older. Right now, there are a number of children who are in LWB programs that wait.

One story of the special needs path has unfolded over the last six months on the Motherlode blog, part of the New York Times. Last week, the story of an older special needs adoption from China was featured, “An Adoption, Six Months Later”. Jenny Staff Johnson and her husband adopted a six year old little who had severe scoliosis from China this past July. Jenny, who has written periodically about her adoption of her daughter Rosemary, wrote an essay about what it means to bond to an older child and to be a family.

In this essay, she talks about the process of bonding with her colicky, biological children and then how surprisingly easy the bonding process has been with Rosemary. She had planned for the worst, but says that it has “exceeded my wildest dreams.”

She summarizes her experience this way:

Parenting both biological and adopted children has taught me this: fit is different with every child, regardless of how they come to you. Sometimes you just have to work at it for a while. It’s natural, and it’s O.K. We expected our daughter to grieve, and she has. To sometimes be angry at us, and she has been. But mostly, she is a game member of the family she joined already in progress.

This essay was very well written and honest, and the comments that follow are just as informative. What an uplifting and inspiring story…..our only hope is that another child waiting will find their family.

Have you considered the adoption of an older child or a child with a medical special need? What concerns do you have? If you have adopted an older child, what were your experiences? What advice would you have for someone considering an older child?


  1. Our first daughter was NSN, adopted at 9 months old, our second daughter had a very minor SN, but was 4 years old at adoption. Having had both experiences, I have to say that neither way was harder than the other. There were just different.

    A typical concern of most considering an older child adoption is the issue of bridging the language gap. My preconceptions about this were no where near what we experienced. Our second daughter could communicate quite well with facial expressions and gestures until she gained the English vocabulary.

    She has needed and responded to speech therapy, not related to her SN. Her speech therapist works as much with vocabulary concepts (before, after, next, etc.) as with the mechanics of speech. She has now learned to ask if she doesn't understand a word.

    Another main difference with an older child is helping them learn family/school/social behaviors, so different from the survival skills needed in an orphanage. Yet if you think about it, these are the skills you also have to teach an infant. With an older child, this tends to happen in a fast forward speed! They learn these skills faster than a toddler does and it seems like we lived the ages 2-5 in the space of 2 years instead of 3.

    As the essay above mentioned, you just have to work at whatever your child needs and you do it out of love which gets you where you need to go. No one ever promised that parenting is easy, but it is still the most reward job around!

  2. I have adopted an older special needs child as well. Our Lilly is beyond a blessing for our family, but I too had reservations and fear about adopting an older more...I would gladly board a plane tomorrow to bring back one of these special children. Lilly did grieve, and she did tantrum, but now that she is old enough to explain she told us she was scared of us. Of course, who wouldn't be?
    Lilly too has caught on to language wonderfully and is as healthy as an ox.
    The neat thing about adopting an older child is that they remember life in China. Our daughter has told us about crying at night wishing for a Moma and Baba. She tells us about not having nice clothes to wear and having her hair all buzzed off. She does miss her friends, and we send pictures and clothes back to the orphanage as a way to stay connected. i would be glad to talk to anyone who has reservations about adopting an older child. Our Lilly is a blessing and we could not imagine life without her.

  3. To Love for Lilly Yin, I'd like to talk to you about reservations to adopting older child. My email is Thanks..

  4. I adopted my second daughter from China who was a six and a half year old waiting child with a repaired cleft lip/cleft palate. I spoke a bit of Mandarin and have friends from China who helped. Oh, she made her needs and wants known - nooooo problem. And we had a lot of laughs too. My daughter was given speech therapy by our medical plan and also assisted by our school system. (See the Kennedy Kassebaum Bill). She started kindergarten a month after she came home. It was a difficult first few days because she didn't speak the language and due to some problems with the severity of her cleft, her speech was garbled. But laughter crosses boundaries. She made friends and hugged her teacher every morning, grateful to be going to school.
    A year later she was assessed at almost the same level as a child who had spoken English all her life.

    We put her in kindergarten because we thought she needed the group social skills. Sounds funny doesn't it, since she came from an orphanage. Things are different in an orphanage where one has to compete for attention. Sometimes I think she would have been able to adjust to first grade, especially now that her age difference and maturity over her classmates is more apparent. She is however, an honor student.

    She has had a few operations here - the creation of a pharyngeal flap, nose restructuring, and removal of some scar tissue over her lip. All worth it. Her voice is almost crystal clear now. She is wearing braces like the rest of her classmates and hating it. She may need implants for places teeth didn't develop when she is fully grown.

    A quick memory - One morning she commented how nice her clothes smelled. Her clothes in China apparently never quite dried due to the humidity and they smelled of mildew. They would be washed, hung on a line to dry and placed in the group sleeping room. Every morning the kids would just pick from the pile of clothes. Nothing belonged to an individual. Guess who is a "clothes horse" now?