Moms Columns & Blogs

Use caution when dealing with adoption specialists

As a psychologist, I am a member of what is called the “helping professions.” The term is generally accurate – most of us are helpful, most of the time.

Nonetheless, when all is said and done, mental health care is a business. As such, entrepreneurial mental health professionals are no different than other businesspeople: They try to create new “products” and new markets.

Take the relatively new field of “adoption specialist.” The message: Adoption is fraught with psychological land mines that cannot be negotiated properly without a specially-trained professional.

I recently spoke with the parents of a 3-year-old whom they adopted from overseas shortly after she was born. Since then, several adoption specialists have told them that a rather nebulous condition called “attachment disorder” is an ever-present threat to their child's mental health.

Apparently, her primary attachment is to her biological mother, even after three years. According to said professionals, she remembers her mother's face, smell, and voice, and there is a part of her psyche that is constantly grieving the loss. This unresolved (unresolvable?) issue manifests itself in anxieties, shyness, tantrums, defiance, and other behaviors associated with toddlerhood.

The girl's parents have no reason to think that people with capital letters after their names are pulling things out of thin air, so this barrage has kept them in a perpetual state of anxiety. They have come to see the issue of their daughter's adoption behind every imperfect behavior. They've also been told that they should make every effort to compensate for the child's attachment issues, including allowing her to occupy their bed. When she misbehaves, they don't know how to respond.

Over the years, I've spoken to many adoptive parents who have received similar advice from adoption specialists. I've also met adoption specialists who don't hold to these views.

The facts: A consistent body of scientific evidence that adopted children are more prone to psychological problems than children who live with biological parents is lacking. On the other hand, there is significant evidence that orphaned children exposed to severe conditions of emotional deprivation and material neglect early on recover quite nicely when adopted by loving parents. For more, I recommend Dr. John Bruer's “The Myth of the First Three Years.”

The unscientific claims being disseminated by adoption specialists does no measurable good for adopted children and presents the potential of doing significant emotional harm to adoptive parents. As we are given to say in North Carolina, “It just ain't right.”