Adopting Sam: Our Privilege & The Reality of Adoption
by Martha Mason
What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails,
That's what little boys are made of.
We first adopted a baby girl from China, a beautiful baby girl. Shortly after coming home, we knew we were supposed to go back and I knew it was to be a boy; a soccer playing, dirt, and insect-loving boy. There are many adoptable boys in China, most with special needs- all in need of love.
Sam was 5 years old when we saw his picture on the photo listing of America World’s special needs children. His sweet, shy face stole our hearts. We began the process soon after coming home with our daughter in January of 2006. We brought him home August of 2007 at 6 and a half years old. He is now 13! His documented needs were congenital; a heart murmur (inconsequential), tongue tied (repaired in China), and a couple of other physical needs that required surgery. We were also told he was developmentally delayed. Somehow we had blinders on because I didn’t think much about that. I just assumed it was orphanage living and that he would quickly catch up.
He was walking when we brought him home, but his motor skills (both gross and fine) were awkward and delayed. He had an odd gait and still does. He is very slim. His records say he didn't walk until he was two and didn't talk until he was 4. He had no therapies in China, but we believe he had a caring foster home for 4 years of his life.
His delays were also cognitive and emotional. He wasn't speaking Mandarin very clearly, could not read or write, and had no number sense. He acted more like a 4 year old when we first met him. He was, and is, all boy. He loved to run, jump, tackle, make noises, and play with Legos. He and his dad bonded immediately. He also had a lot of fear- such as insects and water. Once he came running out of the bathroom screaming because of a bug in the sink. In China he wanted nothing to do with the pool in the hotel, but was happy to watch us swim.
His delays were much deeper than we knew and it was hard pinpointing a diagnosis. One of the many evaluators we had suggested it was some sort of syndrome or maybe just his own unique syndrome. We had genetic testing done that was inconclusive. He has low muscle tone and has trouble with short and long term memory. He can’t hold things in his head for long. This is what makes academics so hard as you need to have a working memory for so many subjects. He does surprisingly well with stories as he picks up themes and a story line, maybe because all the parts are interrelated and one character moves from scene to scene. However, his own story is somehow lost as he barely remembers China and he went through a stage where he didn’t believe he was ever a baby.
The first year was the hardest for us because of the language barrier and the adjustment to his needs which we really had no idea of the extent. He learned English more slowly than most children adopted internationally. He also had little self control, was very sensory seeking, and would make noises, touch everything, and throw things, but never out of anger. He's always been a sweet, kind boy. He presented as having ADHD. That is part of the adjustment though as many adopted children have these behaviors at first as they adjust to their new surroundings and the many new environments they encounter. Sam has settled and matured.
We put him in kindergarten 4 months after bringing him home. This was wonderful, but also frustrating. The system blamed all his difficulties on being an ESL student. Where it was obvious to us that he needed additional interventions, to them he just needed to learn the language. We worked with the system and he finally has in place all the special needs services he needs, but it took a few years to get to that point.
He is still years behind cognitively, but has made great progress. He is in a special needs class in middle school with a number of boys just like him, two of whom are also internationally adopted. He thinks deeply about the future and he wants to be prepared. Sam will probably always need extra help getting through life, but I don’t worry about him. He is a hard worker, conscientious, and friendly. He enjoys meeting new people and is great at starting up conversations. He knows how to ask for help and isn’t afraid to do so. He still has other fears though and has trouble expressing his very deep thoughts and doesn’t like to be thought of as having special needs. However, he does have needs and he is learning to accept that. We try to emphasize the special and explain that knowing his needs will help him know how to ask for help.
Bringing a special needs boy into our home was a major adjustment and very emotional at times, but developmental delays are not a terrible hardship. In the end his “label” for educational purposes is Intellectual Disability. The exact cause is not known and there is no other name for his disability that we have found. To us, it doesn’t matter so much anymore. It took time, as it would for any parent, to wrap my head around how to best serve and help Sam. Thankfully, there’s a wealth of resources in our country and in the area I live in specifically, which have enabled Sam to grow mentally and emotionally. Left in China, I can only imagine what his plight might have been; likely, he would have ended up neglected and certainly impoverished.
If you are considering adoption, boy or girl, don’t be wooed into thinking that enough love will cure any hurt. Any adopted child, on target or not, will have needs that biological children don't have. That's the reality of adoption. Love is the primary ingredient in parenting, no doubt, but these children need parents who know what they are dealing with- a hurt child from a hard place. We also have a 9 year old daughter adopted from China at 15 months of age who is physically and academically “on target,” but has emotional scars that run deep.
Both of my children are a joy and I would not change our lives for anything, but if I can help someone be more informed about adoption, I will do so. Parenting is a constant “laying down” of our lives, and this is magnified with adopted children. I recently joined a Facebook group of families with boys adopted from China. It’s wonderful to see all the handsome faces of many boys who have been adopted over many years and are thriving in their forever families. Boys, who if left behind, would have a terrible time making a living with the stigma of being an orphan or by having a physical deformity or intellectual disability.
When I think rightly about adopting our Sam, I feel privileged that we have been given the opportunity to make him one of our own and are able to give him a family, a future, and a hope; however, it hasn’t been an easy road and it’s not close to being over. Our little boy will be a man and will hopefully rise above his hardships; with love, but also through parents who are willing to learn what type of interventions he needs to thrive in his new world.
Did you know that most families can complete the adoption process of a little boy through the China waiting children program in 12-16 months? Families who are open to boys and commonly seen medical needs can be matched while working on their dossier or almost immediately after. We currently have many boys available for adoption and have recently matched all but one of our families who have their dossier logged in and are open to boys, so the need is great! Please pray and consider if God is calling you to adopt a boy through China’s waiting children program. You can view boys and girls who are currently waiting for a family on our Waiting Children website. Please contact our staff at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 800-429-3369 with any questions or if you are interested in reviewing a waiting child.