Vital Facts About Adopted Children Ignored By Parent, Society
By Nancy Verrier
- An adoptive family is different from a biological family.
- An infant knows her own mother at birth
through her senses: smell, voice, heartbeat, resonance, skin, etc.
Adoptive mother doesn’t pass the sensory test.
- The child comes into the family traumatized by the separation from the mother.
- No matter what we call it (relinquishment, surrender), the child feels abandoned.
- The natural order of things is interrupted: may affect child’s understanding of cause and effect.
- Infant cannot make sense or integrate what has happened to him: world unsafe … chaos, confusion.
- The child is grieving. Mother needs to notice signs: seems sad, depressed, daydreams (dissociation).
- Fears another abandonment: anxious, hypervigilant. clingy.
- Somatic responses to anxiety may include: irritability, gastrointestinal problems, projectile vomiting,
asthma, rashes, sleep disturbance, etc. Often an elevation in pulse rate, blood pressure.
- Affect: rage, sadness, fear, numbness, dissociation, constriction, depersonalization.
- Adoptive mother cannot mirror the child as birthmother could have: no genetic markers.
- Bonding with adoptive mother will be difficult: fear of another abandonment.
- Anxious attachment (clinging) is not same as bonding. Bonding is enhanced by a mother’s understanding, acknowledging, and validating her child’s feelings (rather than discounting, defending against, or giving assurances).
- Lack of genetic markers makes the child feel as if she doesn’t fit, doesn’t belong.
- Child has to figure out how to be in the family. Hypervigilant. Tries to adapt.
- As child begins to adapt, he forms a false self.
- Begins to lose authentic self. Becomes a “chameleon,”"Actor."
- Child copes with pain of loss in one of two ways: compliance, acquiescence, and withdrawal, or aggression,provocation, and acting out.
- If two adoptees in family, there is usually one of each. Behavioral methods of coping have nothing to do with the child’s basic personality. May trade off.
- Behavior may be difficult, but it is not abnormal. Normal way of responding to an abnormal event:
- separation from biological mother.
- Although child with each coping style needs help, parents of the acting-out child are usually the only ones who seek it.
- Family dynamics will be affected. (Families with biological children need to consider this before deciding to adopt).
- Most of the child’s difficulty will be with the adoptive mother: potential abandoner.
- Many parents, not understanding the issues, blame themselves. Feel isolated.
- Children may have difficulties around birthdays (separation day): fussy, sad, angry, ill. Celebrate early.
- Symptoms will fit criteria for PTSD, but more complex
- (see J Herman, B. van der Kolk).
- Because of trauma many adoptees have difficulty in school due to problems with attention, distractibility, and stimulus discrimination.
- When trauma occurs early, child, in trying to make sense of it, creates a set of beliefs, which seem to become permanently imprinted into psyche ( i.e., blaming self for abandonment: “I was a bad baby.”) This often results in distorted reality and low self-esteem, self-worth, and self-realization.
- Children are not a “blank slate” at birth. Most of personality traits are genetic (but personality must be distinguished from behavioral coping style.) Adoptive parents cannot expect the child to be like them.
- The core issues for adoptees: abandonment, loss, trust, rejection, intimacy, guilt and shame, mastery and
control, and identity.
- More research needed:. Many neurologists and neurobiologists such as Carla Shatz of U.C. Berkeley, Bruce Perry of Baylor, Daniel Siegel of UCLA, and William Greenough of U. of Illinois are studying the effect of early environmental influence upon the brain’s wiring. We have to ask what this means for children whose earliest experience includes separation and loss. Also of interest is the effect of trauma upon the chemical makeup of the body. Scientists such as Judith Herman, Bessel van der Kolk, and James Prescott note elevated levels of adrenaline and cortisol and a drop in serotonin in trauma victims.