I was an African American child adopted by a white mother and there were several things that came up for me in my childhood. They were things that a biological child may not have had to deal with. Some were easy to see and identify like the color of my skin versus the color of the rest of the family’s skin. Others were not so easy to identify.
I remember at one doctor’s visit they asked if there was a family history of cancer, diabetes, or any other health issues. I had to say “I don’t know, I’m adopted.” That meant that the doctors were unable to see a complete picture of my health in order to provide me the best healthcare possible. That also meant that extra tests were important so any issues could be identified and would be caught.
Of course, I had the same experience with mental health questions. When I visited a psychiatrist’s office they would ask me questions like, “Is there a history of mental illness in your family?” Once again I would have to answer “I don’t know, I’m adopted.” That meant that the mental health providers were also unable to see a complete picture of my mental health without a lot of testing. Which is what we did.
I remember having a lot of different kinds of tests and assessments, and many were just to rule different things out.
Some issues are more common to people who have been adopted. Some of the most common (but not only) issues that adopted people face are based around trauma and separation. PTSD can be one issue, as well as reactive attachment disorder, both of which can affect someone in variety of ways. Being aware of and sensitive to these common issues is critical as they can have direct and long lasting impacts on your loved one and your family.
Besides the impact that adoption can have on an individual, it is also important to recognize the impact adoption can have on other family members such as siblings and even parents. Providing the proper supports for all family members is truly important.
We were really helped by several agencies and organizations dedicated to bringing awareness to and support for families involved in adoption. My mother found an organization that provided support for single parents who have or were thinking of adopting a child. This became a support network for my family and they did more than just support us emotionally. They provided my mother with a chance to network with other parents experiencing similar struggles, attend informational seminars and workshops and share resources and learn about available local and national resources. More than that, it provided us with a real sense of community. I remember spending holidays with the same (for the most part) group of kids and families. I remember going on vacations with these other families, building lasting and deeply felt friendships and connections (many of which last to this day). These experiences came to me only through this organization.
My mother was a driving force in the quest to better understand and support my mental health. She knew it was important that she take charge of my mental health care and continuously advocate for all of the needed tests and assessments. She pulled things together to provide me with the support I needed so I could be the best me possible.
My mother did a lot of research on mental health and behavioral health, attended support groups and became involved in a support network of other parents raising kids with mental/behavioral health concerns. They shared information, resources, tactics and strategies and told each other what worked or didn’t work. They shared stories of struggles, failures and frustrations, but they also shared stories of success, joy and hope. They supported each other, through both good times and the difficult times.
All of this was vital to help supporting me both in terms of my emotional well being and accessing the best education possible. I went to public school most of my childhood but there were a couple of times when it was suggested that I attend a school with more emotional and academic support. I only had access to these schools and programs because of my mother’s push to identify and treat unknown mental/behavioral health concerns, and advocate for me to get a proper and appropriate education.
By becoming involved with a community of people who were experiencing similar struggles, we had support and the chance to interact with others in a nonjudgmental environment. We had the opportunity for sharing and learning about resources and mental health care system navigation. Navigating the mental healthcare system can be daunting and frustrating but my mother learned early on that if she didn’t advocate strongly for my mental health care and education, nobody else would.
Josh Schram is our guest blogger. He is the proud parent of two children who have each experienced mental health and/or behavioral concerns at different times in their lives. Josh was adopted by a single parent and enjoys using his past experiences to help other families in need of support and direction.