Special Needs Myths

The top 8 myths surrounding special needs adoption and the children who wait for families.


  1. All children with special needs have developmental, physical or medical challenges.

    Not True! Many factors including gender, age and being part of a sibling group are also considered “special needs.” With some country programs, simply being older than age 3 can cause children to wait longer. These school-aged children have spent more time living in institutional or foster care settings and bring unique challenges and joys to their adoptive families. The child’s history can also be a “special need” as some children have experienced abuse, neglect or trauma and will need special care to overcome those challenges. Holt provides specialized training for families adopting children who have experienced early life trauma as well as lifeling support once you travel home.

  2. Children with special needs are severely disabled and will require lifelong care.

    While almost all children joining families through international adoption have special needs, very few of them are severely disabled. The majority of children have minor, manageable or correctable conditions. While adopting a child with special needs is not a good fit for every family, many parents grow more open to special needs after researching different types and degrees of medical conditions — or once they learn that “special need” doesn’t always mean a physical or intellectual challenge. During the homestudy process, your social worker will assist you as you consider special needs that your family might be open to.

  3. I will have to go outside my comfort zone when determining what special needs I am open to.

    Not at all! Families determine their level of comfort when considering age, gender and special needs. What drives the matching process, however, is finding the right family for every child — and what’s best for each child is to be placed with a family who can wholeheartedly embrace their emotional and medical care needs. With that said, you know your family best and are best equipped to determine whether to parent a particular child! If we present a child referral and you choose to decline, there is no penalty. No black mark. No going to the end of an imaginary waiting list. We will simply try again, this time with greater clarity.p1am7a1is29arl97sev2d4ivs5

  4. All children waiting for adoptive families are on Holt’s waiting child photolisting.

    Most children never appear on the photolisting! Only children for whom we need extra help finding families have online profiles for families to look through on their own. These children are often older or have more involved special needs, which is why they need us to advocate for them more heavily. Children with more minor needs are matched too quickly to need a photolisting profile. While the photolisting is a tool to find families for children, we don’t ask parents to sift through large numbers of child referrals on their own. Adoption is the decision of a lifetime, and you should have the opportunity to work with as many professionals as possible to inform your decision.

  5. Building a bond with older adopted children is always a struggle.

    Every child and family is unique. Children who are adopted internationally face some especially unique challenges, and for some families, the transition is relatively smooth while others will work through issues they didn’t expect. We work to ensure that each family is as prepared as possible and has the tools they need to help their older child adjust to their new life in the U.S. During the homestudy process, you will complete parent education training that will empower you with insights about attachment and bonding. And after your adoption is complete, Holt has a clinical services department available to support families with any questions, concerns or resource needs that may arise.

  6. Regardless of his or her special need, it will take many years for my child to come home.

    Actually, the process to adopt a child with a special need or an older child is currently quicker than the process to adopt a child with no identified special needs, and stands at 12-18 months from application to placement for Holt’s China program. For our other country programs, the timeframe ranges from 18-36 months. The notion that it takes 7-8 years to adopt is just not the case anymore, and that is especially true when adopting a child with special needs.

  7.  Only girls need families. 

    Boys need families just as much as girls. In fact, just being a boy can be considered a “special need” in some country programs because boys typically wait so much longer than girls to be matched with families. This myth grew from a time when, following the implementation of China’s one-child policy, girls in China did exceed the number of boys waiting for families. But today, as a result of policy changes and the growth of domestic adoption in China, that is no longer the case — in China or in any other country. Today, most country programs require families to be open to a child of either gender. But with the few countries that do allow families to specify a gender preference, more than 80 percent of families continue to request a girl — leaving many boys waiting.

  8. It’s easier to adopt siblings.Sibling groups of varying sizes are occasionally available for adoption and, although being part of a sibling group is considered a “special need,” we often have more families open to sibling groups than there are sibling groups available. During the matching process, Holt strives to find the best family for every child or sibling group. Families are not encouraged to be open to sibling groups only, but you are welcome to state openness to siblings on your application and homestudy. The majority of families are matched with a single child.

Ready to get started? Learn more at holtinternational.org/adoption

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Holt International Magazine – Because All Children Deserve a Family

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.