Some adoption specialists spew misinformation
By John Rosemond
September 12, 2009 / sunherald.com
As a psychologist, I am a member of what is called the “helping professions.” The term is generally accurate — most of us are helpful. Nonetheless, it conceals the fact that 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. An example is the relatively new field of “adoption specialist.” The not-so-implicit message behind this specialty: Adoption is a special circumstance fraught with psychological IEDs that cannot be negotiated properly without a constant vigilance; thus, the need for a specially trained professional to guide one through the adoption minefield.
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, fears, shyness, temper tantrums, defiance, moodiness and other behaviors associated with normal toddlerhood.
The little 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 of misinformation 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. When she misbehaves, they don’t know whether to respond with understanding or discipline. Consequently, their attempts to discipline are generally ineffective.
These parents are not alone. Over the years, I’ve spoken to numerous adoptive parents who have received similar apocalyptic, anxiety-arousing information and advice from adoption specialists.
To be fair, I’ve also met adoption specialists who do not hold to these views, but they testify to being in the minority and to not being well-received by their peers.
The facts: A consistent body of hard, objectively gathered scientific evidence to the effect that adopted children are more prone to psychological problems than children who live with one or two biological parents is lacking.
On the other hand, there is significant evidence to the effect that even orphaned children exposed during their early, supposedly “formative” years to severe conditions of emotional deprivation and material neglect recover quite nicely when adopted by loving parents.
For more on the subject, I highly recommend Dr. John Bruer’s “The Myth of the First Three Years” (The Free Press, 1999). An excellent related article can be found at www.gladwell.com/2000/2000_01_10_a_baby.htm.
The claims being disseminated by certain adoption specialists does no measurable good for adopted children and presents the potential of doing significant emotional harm to adoptive parents.
John Rosemond, family psychologist, has more parenting advice available through his Web site: www.rosemond.com.