A school project that requires a baby photo, classmates who tease, well-meaning counselors who say the wrong thing, uncommon medical conditions -- these are just a few of the challenging issues families with adopted children experience in their day-to-day lives.
A new report summing up adoption research shows that the portrait of adoptive families in the United States is changing and so are the needs of those families, said lead author Dr. Faye Jones, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Louisville.
Jones said the research suggests that families would benefit if their pediatricians were more aware of their unique needs -- specialized counseling and emotional support, connections to other adoptive families and tutoring service recommendations, for example. Adoption experts say educating schools and communities would help too.
"The key point is that families and children are going through a lot of different types of adjustments and it doesn't stop when the papers are signed. It's a lifelong process," Jones said.
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As far as health issues, 39 percent of adopted children were classified as having special health needs, compared with 19 percent of the general population. The authors recommend pediatricians offer a roadmap to families -- help them locate any specialists, therapists and medical-equipment providers they might need, even before parents bring their new child home.
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Family doctors and teachers can ease communications with adoptive families by learning to use terms like 'birth parents' and 'biological parents,' and not saying 'real parents,' Goldwater said. Teachers should also know what might trigger a youngster's anxiety.
"An assignment that requires a baby picture can be traumatizing for a child who has no photos of herself as a baby," Goldwater said. Family-tree projects and Mother's Day may also spark deep emotions.
"Getting teachers to be aware of how they talk about family, what kinds of language they use, what might be embedded in their curriculum that might be difficult is important," she said. She recalled one family whose daughter, adopted from China, "fell apart" in school one day when her class was reading a textbook that described how baby girls in China are sometimes abandoned or given to orphanages.