Glossary - Alberta Human Services - Government of Alberta


Glossary of Special Needs and Related Terms

Please note that this is not intended to be an exhaustive inventory, but a partial listing of some of the special needs that may affect children, and some possible implications for parenting children with special needs.

Children profiled on this website or adopted internationally may face certain life-long issues and/or conditions in varying degrees with possible adoption implications including:

Attachment Issues

Child does not receive consistent, attentive care and nurturing and does not bond to a primary caregiver during infancy.

Adoption Implication – The child may be indiscriminately affectionate with strangers, may have challenges in forming stable, trusting relationships. Parents should learn techniques for enhancing attachment and strive to find ways to maximize interactions with their child.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual contact perpetrated upon a child by or person or persons who have power and control over the child.

Adoption Implication – The child may present numerous psychological, cognitive, behavioural and relationship effects including sexual acting out, overt masturbation, flirtation behaviour, low self-esteem, depression. Therapeutic interventions may be appropriate.

Physical Abuse

A non-accidental form of injury or harm inflicted on a child by a caregiver. This includes but is not restricted to physical beating, wounding, burning, poisoning and related assaults causing visible or non-visible harm.

Adoption Implication – The normal attachment process for a child whereby the child learns to trust and enjoy the give and take of a caring relationship may be interrupted. The child may be fearful, be slow to trust others and have attachment difficulties.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

FASD is a medical diagnosis for a specific pattern of birth defects caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Effect are terms that are in common usage.

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) includes particular sets of facial features, growth deficiency and central nervous system deficits.

Fetal Alcohol Effect (FAE) is similar but without the physical features.

Adoption Implication – Many of these children are bright and creative. They may have some learning difficulties, may require a special education program and usually do best in a structured environment. More severe situations may involve impaired social skills and problems with short term memory, understanding of consequences or cause and effect relationships. Additional information from Health Canada and from Children’s Services.


A mental illness usually manifesting itself during late adolescence and characterized by a general loss of touch with reality. Symptoms typically include thought disorders, hallucinations, delusions and abnormalities of mood. Schizophrenia may be controlled by medication which may have undesirable side effects.

Adoption Implication – Children with a birth family history of schizophrenia have an increased risk of suffering from a similar disorder. Symptoms are more likely to occur in late teens and 20s. There is no known cure but medication can help to maintain normal functioning.

Cocaine Use During Pregnancy

The long term effects of cocaine use during pregnancy are not fully known. Some suggest that there can be physiological and neurological damage as well as learning issues. Many children born to mothers who used cocaine during pregnancy are physically healthy.

Adoption Implication – Adopting parents must be able to live with uncertainty and be prepared to use and advocate for outside services as the child’s needs dictate.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

This is a cluster of symptoms characterized by a short attention span, poor concentration, impulsivity and hyperactivity.

Adoption Implication – Children with this disorder have difficulty listening, following through with instructions, are easily distracted, are always on the go, fidget constantly, are impulsive, are unable to wait their turn, interrupt others and typically have difficulty at school. Many children have responded well to medication.


Children are malnourished if they are unable to utilize fully the food they eat, for example due to diarrhea or other illnesses (secondary malnutrition), if they consume too many calories (overnutrition), or if their diet does not provide adequate calories and protein for growth and maintenance (undernutrition or protein-energy malnutrition).

Adoption Implication – Children may require enriched or special diets and may have life-long impacts, particularly from long term malnutrition or in-utero deprivation. Severe malnutrition may impact brain function or immune system, and have emotional and behavioural implications.

Acknowledgement is hereby made to the Adopt Ontario website as the source for the above information.

Modified: 2017-09-20
PID: 15545