Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Choosing a "Scary" Special Need

-Shannon Zaller

I can laugh now- looking at my kids playing in the water sprinkler, jumping on the playground, flying kites, digging in the sand, and getting ice cream all over their faces- about how very little having a child with a special need has affected our lives in the way we thought it would. It feels more like… just having another child.  

Like everyone in the early stages of planning a China adoption, I thought that we would be adopting a young healthy baby girl. No reason except that it was what I had seen in the media my whole life. When we started calling around to agencies, that’s the first time I had heard the term “special needs program”, which, quite frankly, scared the heck out of us. And not only were boys available for adoption, it was also considered a special need because less people were even open to a boy than a girl. 

So we did the obligatory “check list”, which nearly every parent will tell you is the worst part of the whole process. For us, it was a good time to do some research. I printed up a long list of special needs common to adoption, many of which I’d never heard of, and some which I had predisposed ideas about. Every day I would google search two or three of those needs, and at least learn about what they were- even the ones I thought I already understood. I didn’t discriminate on the list of needs, because I knew that there are new treatments available all the time. I learned loads about clefts, limb differences, HIV, deafness, albinism, and hemophilia, just to name a few. And I found out most of those aren’t really so scary at all. It took me about a month to skim over the wiki version of the major special needs.

I saw the face of our son on a waiting child site, but of course I didn’t know he would be ours. I just thought he was the cutest thing ever. He was four, which was older than I wanted. He was a boy, which surprised me. And he had a scary special need: he was blind. 

My first thought: NOPE. We couldn’t parent a blind kid. We didn’t know a thing about blindness. I’m messy. We live in a busy downtown with no blind school. I assumed a blind child would have to live with me forever. But my curiosity got the best of me, and I found myself asking parents of blind children, and chatting with blind adults online about how it affected their daily lives. 

I learned that all blind children can receive public education AND blind instruction in whatever school they attend. That they learn cane and mobility skills for free as well. They have refreshable tablets that let them scroll facebook and read the internet. They can use iPads and iPhones because there are built in applications that make them accessible. They are college grads and professionals that are only limited to not driving their own cars (which is changing with the invention of the Google car!).

We did pursue his adoption. The chances that a boy over the age of 1 that has a vision impairment will be adopted is among the lowest of all special needs. I admit, I had a panic attack every week leading up to China, thinking that we were taking on something too big. I still was a little nervous when we met him. But he is not scared of blindness. He has changed my (unintended) preconceived ideas of blind people. He joyfully greets everyone who walks into a room. He loves the doctors appointments and we are currently putting his education plan in place. And, much to my dismay, I have not become any tidier at my housekeeping skills, because my son very skillfully can step right over my horrible mess and piles of laundry, and his sibling’s toys everywhere. He has so easily blended into our family.

We learned when we came home that we cannot fix his eyes as we had hoped. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit sad that he won’t ever see my face or his first child. But my son’s biggest special need was for someone to SEE him. He has been the greatest joy for those that have met him, and he inspires smiles and laughter in almost everyone. He has learned all the Beatles number 1 songs by heart. He likes to “watch” Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. I have only had to change my life in that I have an extra plate at the table and an extra bed in my house. And we eat a little more rice now. 

That scary special need? Not so scary. Seeing my son crushing my ideas of “scary”? Well… he’s pretty much the coolest and bravest superhero I’ve met!

Friday, May 6, 2016


Sometimes when a family is considering adoption, they ask themselves, “How will it affect the children I currently have?”  Well, who better to answer that question than a child who has been affected by adoption themselves?  Brendan is the older brother to two beautiful sisters, one adopted from China.  We are honored to share his story below.

Brendan, thank you so much for sharing your experience with us.  You are a talented writer and a very wise young man with much insight to offer the world. 

By: Brendan C

“Nanchang, China,” I thought. “This is so cool. This is birthplace to my sister, Lila.” I sat in the back seat of the car and stared out the car window at the unfamiliar city. My family came halfway around the world to pick up my new sister and bring her home. We took two planes to get here. It was all worth it. More than worth it.

“I can’t believe this,” I thought. I then thought back to over a year ago when my parents told my other sister Bridget and I that our family was going to adopt. I remember thinking about having another sister. It was one of the most exciting times of my life, but not as exciting as right now.

It had be a year full of anticipation.  Within a few minutes we were at our hotel. We would be staying for a few nights, but more importantly, this was where we were going to meet Lila for the first time. I sat in the back seat of the car, twiddling my thumbs in excitement. I was last out of the car. I quickly unbuckled my seat-belt and chased after the rest of my family.  I had the video camera in my hand. As we were walking into the hotel, I remembered my dad telling me my job was to get the whole thing on video. It’s very important he told me. I took a deep breath then pushed the green button on the camera.  I had a big smile across my face. There she was. My sister. Lila. She had a bright green dress with a lot of sparkles and a pair of bright orange sandals that squeaked when she walked. My mom told me that it was a popular trend in China for little kids to wear those shoes. “This is a true miracle,” I thought. 

After my family greeted the woman who took care of Lila’s orphanage, my mom slowly approached Lila making sure not to scare her. My mom warned me before that she might get scared because she had not seen many Americans in the middle of China, much less had one approach her before.  Lila had a puzzled look on her little face. “It’s okay Lila,” Mom whispered in a comforting voice. Lila stared at Mom then back at the floor, her eyes starting to get a little watery. Luckily Mom was prepared and quickly pulled a lollipop out of her purse. She took the wrapper off then handed it to Lila. Lila studied the candy for a few seconds unsure of what it was. Mom stepped in again and helped Lila. After a few more seconds of confusion, Lila stuck the whole thing in her little mouth. She then smiled, and so did the rest of my family.

After my mom held Lila, my dad got his turn. When he was finished, he beckoned to Bridget and me that it was our turn. I handed him the camera, which was still running, and took a seat on the couch next to mom who was holding Lila in her lap.  Bridget sat on the other side of mom.

I looked at Lila who was engrossed in her lollipop. I then whispered to her, “Hi Lila, it is your big brother Brendan.”  She then looked up like she just noticed me. She giggled then looked over at Bridget. Bridget said, “Hi, Lila”. She laughed again. We all then laughed.

As we walked up to our hotel room with Lila I realized that change is important and is life. I thought back to when my parents asked what I thought if I had another sister. I could have said I did not want another sibling and avoid change. If I would have done that I would not have this amazing experience. Don’t run away from change, run at it.