What Are The Special Needs of Adopted Kids?

Draining Shame from Adoptee Sensory Issues

For my whole life, I’ve believed that I’m clumsy. My.whole.life. I trip, fall, run into things, and go ballistic when I hear the sound of the vacuum cleaner. Just last week, I was working out at the gym with a friend. When we changed machines, she said with urgency, “Look out!” There was a machine part just an inch from the back of my head. I had no awareness.

As a preteen, I remember punching in the freezer part of my Mom’s fridge. Several of my friends had come for a get together and without warning–the freezer was permanently damaged. All these decades of life, I’ve wondered why I’d do such a thing. There was no teaching about sensory issues by my parents–it wasn’t even a topic in the scant world of adoption in the 1950’s.

Many adopted and foster children suffer with sensory issues. Even though it tends to be genetic, it’s shame producing, at least for me. The thinking goes, “There’s something wrong with me. Normal, healthy people don’t act like this. Try not to let anyone see.” Even my tone of voice is revealing. I say it in a condemning, chiding way, like I’m punishing a wayward child. Truth be known, I am punishing the unhealed, child-like parts of me.

It’s not only difficult for parents to live amidst these sensory issues, but also adoptees who are still silent about the ever-so-real pain. We’re not born clumsy. We’re children of trauma. If savvy adoptive and foster parents are aware of this, how helpful it would be for them to teach kids about the reality of trauma repercussions. This act will gradually removed embedded shame.

I know, it may appear that your child is misbehaving, plain and simple. Every time you communicate this, another nail of shame will be pounded into your child’s brain. How about saying something like this: “You drop things or run into walls because of the pre-adoption trauma you’ve suffered. Your brain got hurt, but it can get better. I will help you and will find a counselor to help both of us.”

When I was about ten years old, I scratched messages of love into my mother’s fine furniture. That would have been a great opportunity to teach about the emotions involved–anger. Anger at my First Mother, Elizabeth. Just lately, I’ve realized how much I’ve hated her and wanted to get back at her–make things even. My Mom, Retha, could have said,” Well, we love you too, but I’m wondering if maybe you’re wondering if your First Mother loved you.”

Remember, parents, that a primal belief of the majority of adopted and foster children is that our First Mothers gave us up (relinquishment) because something was wrong with us. The resulting curiosity is, “What was wrong with me? Was I tool small? Too large? Did I cry too much?” Or, for older relinquished children, it may be, “Maybe I wasn’t a very good child for my mom. That’s why they took her to jail.” Take it a step further, many believe their lives are a mistake. That is the bedrock of shame for adopted and foster children. If you ask them about it, they’ll deny it over and over again, but with one another, it is often a topic of conversation.

It’s downright freeing for this adoptee to be able to explain sensory issues to those in my life. That day in the gym, I validated my special needs and that because I have sensory issues, my limbs don’t have the awareness of where things are.” Instead of my old voice of condemnation, it was soaked in empathy, like a parent with a soft and gentle voice.

This is such a huge topic for the adoptive and foster parents. Hopefully, some of the resources listed below will help you help the unhealed parts of your child.


Read this excellent article by Timothy. L. Sanford, M.A., LPC., and Christina Chisnar, M.S.W., LSW: Sensory Processing Issues In A Child, Dec. 8, 2019, @focusonthefamily.com

2. HEAR A MOM’S STORY ABOUT SENSORY ISSUES:  Cameron Kleim, Founder of Understanding SPD–Parenting Resources 2020, @sensorymom.com/bio.

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