By Carrie Lafferty, Off-Campus Program Advisor
When I think back on the days before we adopted our son, I was filled with fear. Would he be healthy? Would we like each other? Would he want to be a part of our family? Would I be able to give him all that he needed?
Fast forward eight years. He’s healthy. We love each other fiercely. No one in our family would want to imagine life without him. Am I able to give him all that he needs? This is the question with the most staying power, evolving from worry into something I can only describe as daily motivation. When he joined our family, he brought with him needs that I had no experience meeting; and it took me time to understand that they were affecting his ability to learn.
Adoption triad is a common term used to describe the dynamic, reciprocal relationship created by a child, birth parent(s), and adoptive parent(s). As most anyone who has been a part of this dynamic can tell you, one of the lifelong issues that ties this triad together is a keen understanding of loss. Children lose their birth families and birth families lose their child. Adoptive parents have often experienced losses along the way to creating a family. Even those who haven’t, must ultimately embrace the losses their child has experienced. Adoption creates new families that over time work to heal from this loss. It can be a beautiful thing, but in my experience, it means that at different times, different people are having to overcome more than their typical share of pain. The pain passes and the love grows, but the loss and related trauma remain part of the story.
Sometimes trauma complicates things so much you find yourself juggling challenges you never even thought to worry about, like PTSD, ADHD, leaning disabilities, and anxieties. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (CTSN) outlines a list of behaviors and emotions that stem from early experiences with fearful situations. Some examples include poor verbal skills, memory problems, acting out, being withdrawn and poor sleeping patterns. The list is long and most of the symptoms listed can create challenges to learning.
Trauma takes all sorts of shapes. Certainly, the loss of birth parents and families is traumatic. Internationally adopted children have lost their culture and might have experiences with anything from being hungry to long hospital stays to refugee camps. And of course, any child who has survived abuse has experienced trauma. The research is evolving, but the findings are consistent—even if they don’t remember it, children who experience early trauma are affected by it.
I still feel overwhelmed sometimes, but when it comes to learning and overcoming trauma, I’ve picked up a few tips along the way.
- First things first. Slow down, listen with your heart, and make sure your child feels secure in your relationship and safe in your home environment. The Connected Child is essential reading for parents who are welcoming children from hard places. It’s an accessible and research-based resource for helping you connect with your child—and reconnect when the symptoms of trauma pull you apart.
- Connect with other families like yours. The popularity of Facebook groups and other social media have made it much easier to find people.
- Allow as much time for healing as your child needs.
- Consider an educational assessment. To the untrained eye, one learning disability can look a lot like another.
- Allow your child’s background and cultural identity to inform curriculum choices and let their interests to lead the way.
These might sound like simple or even common-sense suggestions, but when life gets busy, they can be difficult to implement. The more homeschooling families I meet, though, the more I am convinced that these are exactly the areas where they excel. So, the next time you have one of those difficult days, look back at how far you’ve come together and have faith that together you’ll figure out the next challenge, too.
Do you have a story or advice to share with other adoptive parents and children? Please add your comments below.