"Special needs" includes several categories: disabilities, race, age, sibling status, and at-risk.
Disabilities: Mental, physical and emotional disabilities which can range from mild to severe. Behavioral problems are part of the emotional disabilities group.
Minority Race: Some agencies consider minority race alone to be a special need, especially when the child is male, and other agencies do not. This does not mean that being a member of a certain racial group or gender is a disability. It means that, at this time, we have not recruited enough families to adopt our waiting minority race children, and especially the boys. In all racial groups, males outnumber females, sometimes by as much as three to one.
Age: The age limit at which a child is considered to have special needs differs from one state to another and may differ according to the race of the child. In general, a child over age 5-8 years may be considered an "older child."
Sibling groups:Sibling groups of two members are called small sibling groups. All others are considered to be large sibling groups. Since small sibling groups of pre-school age Caucasian children with mild to no disabilities are as easy to place as healthy white infants, such groups usually do not fall into the special needs category unless other factors, such as disability, minority race, or risk factors, are also present.
"At-risk" children: An an "at-risk" child is one who, while currently healthy, is at risk of developing learning, emotional, behavioral or physical disabilities in the future. Babies exposed to drugs, abuse, neglect, and those with genetic pre-dispositions to mental illness and physical disabilities are called "at-risk."
Waiting children and older children: Special needs children waiting to be adopted are referred to as "waiting children," and have usually spent some amount of time in foster care.
Reprinted by permission, from Homes for Kids and the book "Adopting and Advocating for the Special Needs Child," Greenwood Press of Connecticut, (ISBN 0-89789-489-8) (Bergin & Garvey, 1997), Babb & Laws