The first step to adopting is to make the decision that it's what you want to do. No one can really do that. A few things to consider about this first step. Realize that you will be taking another kid into your home. Adoption has it's own joys, and it's own pitfalls, it's different than giving birth to children. Still, it can be a very rewarding thing.
Adoption will change your life, in a way that giving birth won't. You gain a child from the experience, but you will also gain an appreciation for people you might not always meet in your daily life.
You should think about the basic things of course, like can you afford the child. Adoption often comes with an up-front cost, which you would do well to consider as well. Don't forget things like the number of rooms in your house now. Also, keep in mind that a new child will occupy you for some time, making it more difficult to pay attention to your current children and your spouse.
Let me say a bit about your child with Autism. Autistic children tend to like to have things in a particular way. If things change, they tend to be upset. You would do well to prepare your child for a new child into his life. If he has some kind of a therapist, you should council them as well, to help prepare him.
The next step is to decide what kind of adoption you wish to pursue. The most common types are:
- Newborn infant within the your own country
- Special needs adoption
- Foster Care adoption
- International adoption
There are some sub-categories of the above, as well as some combinations, but that will do for now. Let me explain a bit about each of them.
Newborn adoptions can take place via an agency, or can be accomplished directly if you know a person or know a person who knows a person who is willing to give a child up for adoption. The last is rather rare, it's far more common to contact an agency. Increasingly in the US, and I suspect in the rest of the world, it is becoming quite rare to give a child up for adoption. The most common supply of these babies, teenage mothers, are either aborting their kids, raising them, or giving them to their parents to raise.
Special needs is really a variant of the first, but can take on it's own challenges. Sometimes the birth family knows that their kid will have special needs, including being blind, Down syndrome, autism, or other similar disorders. These type of children tend to be easier to find, for those parents who are willing to take these children into their homes.
Foster care is an often overlooked opportunity. Really there are 3 types of foster parents. There are some who are willing to watch children in their lives for a short period of time, but not permanently. There are those who take children whose birth parents still have legal rights, and might be given back to their birth families at any time. And lastly, there are those who only take children who their parents have been taken away for one reason or another. Foster parenting is similar to Special Needs adoptions in some ways, but not all. Typically, you will have more appointments, involvement, etc with these kids than with normal kids, but unless you specifically go for special needs foster kids, it should be easier than a special needs kid, in terms of the daily taking care of. Still, foster parenting can exact a very emotional toil on the whole family.
International adoptions are increasingly becoming popular. Most commonly, these kids come from countries like China, South America, Africa, but can sometimes come from countries facing a major disaster, like Japan is right now. Typically, these kids will be older, because the process to send these kids away takes a few years. They will have some emotional issues, and perhaps a language barrier, but they are well prepared to be adopted.
Beyond that, it's mostly contacting an appropriate agency or person, waiting the appropriate amount of time, filling out paperwork, meeting the kids, going to court, and probably a bunch of things I'm missing.
If you'd like to know more, feel free to ask:-)