Aug 26, 2011

Adoptive Child Syndrome

"In twenty-five years of practice I have seen hundreds of adoptees, most adopted in infancy. In case after case, I have observed what I have come to call the Adopted Child Syndrome, which may include pathological lying, stealing, truancy, manipulation, shallowness of attachment, provocation of parents and other authorities, threatened or actual running away, promiscuity, learning problems, fire-setting, and increasingly serious antisocial behavior, often leading to court custody. It may include an extremely negative or grandiose self-image, low frustration tolerance, and an absence of normal guilt or anxiety." ("The Adopted Child Syndrome: What Therapists Should Know," Psychotherapy in Private Practice, vol. 8 (3) Hayworth Press, 1990)....

David Kirschner, Ph.D (No, not the same David Kirschner, producer, who did the Chucky film series) coined the phrase and although it is not an "approved" diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association it is an interesting concept.

Knowing of more than a few failed adoptions I'm of the firm belief that it would be a good idea if this subject was touched on in the Model Approach to Partnership in Parenting (MAPP) classes required for all potential adoptive parents instead of the inane "role -playing" dramatizations they put prospective parents through. I remember my role playing assignment had me miming a tire change on an imaginary car. Seriously, to this day I have no clue as to how this exercise prepared me to be an informed foster parent or adoptive parent.

Especially since I pay AAA auto club to change my tires for me.

A friend of mine who took the classes years later called me weekly to tell me horror stories regarding the supervisor who taught her MAPP classes The one story that sticks with me all these years later was that according to my friend the supervisor kept discussing "gentiles" and she and her husband could not figure out what gentiles had to do with anything until it became apparent that the supervisor was mispronouncing "genitals."

Of course the flip side is that if prospective adoptive parents were given the good, the bad and the ugly statistics in their MAPP classes would anyone ever adopt? Certainly those on the fence might climb off leaving behind the seasoned veterans who actually know what they are getting in to but even those seasoned veterans who've already experienced and won battles are sometimes taken by surprise.

This week, for instance, the arrest of the adopted son of dear friends was plastered on the front page of our local newspaper. After reading the article and being overwhelmed with grief for his wonderful parents I did my own Internet mini-study last night.

Of the five families I personally know who have adopted boys, now in their 20's two are currently in jail, the third has been arrested four times and the fourth has been arrested 3 times.

Only the fifth has never had a brush with the law but is currently living at home driving his parent person insane.

Although experts don't all buy the Adoptive Child Syndrome almost all will agree on the fact that if a child is adopted before the age of 6 months the outcome is generally the same as if they had been raised by a birth parent.


Who in our current foster system is adopted before the age 6 months? According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway the average age of the adopted foster child is 8 1/2 years while a 2005 study showed 7 years. Of course there are some exceptions but rarely are those exceptions under 6 months of age.

Who's to blame? Don't ask me. I'm pretty certain you don't want to hear it.

One of my favorite bloggers and someone who lives in the trenches is Cindy of Big Mama Hollers. Reading this post yesterday, as always, gave me more food for thought.

The difficulties of adoption, whether you are the adoptive parent or the adoptee, needs to be addressed in detail before embarking on the life. If you have had experiences with adoption or know more than one person who has adopted, you have a pretty good idea that some adoptions do not always, realistically speaking, end well. The fail rate alone of teens who are adopted is 14- 15%.

So what can we do?

I believe the most productive thing a prospective adoptive parent can do is to educate themselves and not rely on the "system" to adequately prepare you for the issues that the majority of adoptive families will face.

Once you've completed your Forever Family Puppies & Rainbows classes take a moment to ponder these blogs from veterans that will tell it like it really is:

Big Mama Hollers
Mega Family Living
Never A Dull Moment

Or you can do your own searches for your own blogs. There are hundreds out there.

Read about what it's like
from the child's perspective when they find themselves snared in the foster care web starting with Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter and The Red Glass:From Abuse Hell To Living Well by my friend Pamela K. Keyser.

And for all of you Pollyanna's out there I'll go ahead and apologize now. The above rant is intended to inform.

I did not set out to pee in your punch bowl.


B.D.D.W. said...

I think I understand comletely.I may have been crazy to start with if not and I am going there now its going to be a very short trip. Got to leave the train is pulling out of the station.

Lilith said...

There is a very good book written by a doctor in Vancouver, Gabor Maté called "In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts". It's not about adoptions but about addictions but it does address the effects of pre and post natal stress on the developing fetus and baby. The stress alters the baby's brain forever, leading to problems such as depression and addictions.

It is my belief that this is part of the problem with adoptions, pre natal stress. I would imagine many babies given up for adoption come from mothers that struggle with addictions, poverty, depression as well as a multitude of other problems.

I chose not to give up my son for adoption but I think the stress I was under while pregnant and after his birth affected him negatively.

Anyway, that's my two bits.


Lilith: I totally agree with your two bits as it is absolute truth. Prenatal addictions, traumas, poor can't erase the damages by providing a "forever family." The residual effects are the only thing "forever." The rest is a crap shoot. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose.

Lisa said...

Oh yeah!! This description is mark on to most of my adopted children and it seems to have made zero difference the ages they were. Two of the adoptees were 9 mos. at foster care placement - one is a sociopath in training (he's 17 now) and the other is 7 and the smartest, most astute child you've ever set your eyes on. One was a newborn and she struggles with mental illness and general teenage angst (ie selfishness) but seems to be attached at age 16. Another was 2 and she seems to be the worst off so far. She's now 18, we thought she was attached, apparently wasn't and her mental illnesses kicked in full force 2 yrs ago. She is lost to us right now. Two others (sibs) were 3 and 4 and while they have varying levels of attachment to our family, they have a very strange attachment to one another that is hard to describe (not truly unhealthy, but it could head in that direction if we weren't there to correct them OFTEN). So, my point is, there probably needs to be some kind of program for adoptees, that adoptive parents can access when the need arises, that deals with loss and attachment and all of those other things we take for granted but seem to cut us off at the needs when the behavioral issues emerge. Thanks for this info - I personally think I need to be as informed as possible when fighting this battle.

Kathleen Scott said...

I had no idea. Do you think it makes any difference if the kids are from other cultures?

I have a couple of friends and an acquaintance who've adopted, two children each, only one of them with a child children now approaching the teen years. The friends adopted toddlers from China. Both couples were older and thrilled to start families.

This post was scary coming from you.