With National Attachment Trauma Awareness Day approaching on June 19th, we thought it would be beneficial to write about the effects of an attachment disorder on an adopted child. Did you know that one out of fifty infants nationwide suffer abuse and/or neglect annually? Often these children are so hurt that it takes more than typical parenting to heal their wounds. Without the proper knowledge of what attachment and developmental trauma actually is, these children could go their whole lives with this unresolved suffering that can continue to increase exponentially with each generation. With some understanding of attachment theory, the adoptive or pre-adoptive parent can help their child avoid getting an inappropriate label and/or the wrong type of treatment, which can in fact be harmful.
History of the Attachment & Trauma Network
The Attachment and Trauma Network (ATN) is the nation’s oldest parent-led organization that supports families of traumatized children. This network was actually formed by three mothers who were all adoptive parents that were struggling to raise their children that had attachment disorders. The ATN has grown internationally in the past 20 years. The organization provides trainings at regional and national adoption conferences, operates online support groups, maintains database of worldwide therapists and is the premiere network for all families raising traumatized and attachment disordered children. Their mission is to promote healing of families through support, education and advocacy.
To shine light on the millions of children who are diagnosed with this disorder every year, the ATN along with supporters and partners designated June 19th as the second annual National Attachment Trauma Awareness Day. A few highlights that occur on this special day are as followed.
- Volunteers will host screenings of award winning films that show the impact of early trauma on children.
- Volunteers will spread the word through social media with the hash tag, “#NATADAY2015”
- Volunteers can send a personal letter to an elected official, pastor, school principal or other civic leader to advocate for this cause.
- They will wear blue ribbons or string around their fingers to symbolize the ties of love and importance of building attachment to help traumatized children become more resilient.
RAD vs. Attachment Theory
Attachment between a parent and his or her child is the bond formed between them, and the foundation of all future development. If you are the parent of a child with an attachment disorder, you may be exhausted from trying to connect with your child. A child with insecure attachment or an attachment disorder lacks the skills for building meaningful relationships.
Attachment disorders come in degrees of severity, with the most severe being Reactive Attachment Disorder. Very few children, even those with RAD, have all of the symptoms. Since a number of the major psychiatric disorders have overlapping symptoms, you should take your child to a psychiatrist to get the full diagnosis, The Mayo Clinic best describes RAD as “A rare but serious condition in which infants and young children don’t establish healthy bonds with parents or caregivers. A child with reactive attachment disorder is typically neglected, abused or orphaned. RAD develops because the child’s basic needs for comfort, affection and nurturing aren’t met, and loving, caring attachments with others are never established. This may permanently change the child’s growing brain, hurtling the ability to establish future relationships.”
Attachment Theory is focused on the relationships and bonds between people, particularly long-term relationships including those between a parent and child and between romantic partners. John Bolby was the first attachment theorist, describing attachment as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.” The most important tenet of attachment theory is that an infant needs to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver for the child’s successful social and emotional development, and in particular for learning how to effectively regulate their feelings.
Signs of Attachment Issues in an Adoptee
- Avoids eye contact
- Doesn’t smile
- Doesn’t reach out to be picked up
- Rejects your efforts to calm, soothe, and connect
- Doesn’t seem to notice or care when you leave them alone
- Cries inconsolably
- Doesn’t coo or make sounds
- Doesn’t follow you with his or her eyes
- Isn’t interested in playing interactive games or playing with toys
- Spend a lot of time rocking or comforting themselves
- An aversion to touch and physical affection
- Anger problems
- Difficulty showing genuine care and affection
- An underdeveloped conscience
This is a great chart created by an adoption training coordinator that outlines overlapping behavioral characteristics of an adoptee.
Therapy for Parenting a Child with a Attachment Disorder
Parenting a child with insecure attachment or reactive attachment disorder can be exhausting and emotionally draining. With concerned effort, time and patience with your child, attachment disorders can be repaired. The key is to remain calm, yet firm as you interact with your child. This will teach your child that he or she is safe and can trust you. The most important thing you can do for your child is show them unconditional LOVE.
There are studies that do show specific healing treatments that will help your child get through the attachment disorder. Below are just a 6 different “needs” that you will need to full fill for your child.
- They need to know that you are in control of your own feelings and will not, under any circumstances, attack them in any way
- They need to know that you are going to keep them safe in the world
- They need help managing their anger
- They need the opportunity to “tell you” about what happened to them.
- They need your reassurance that their body won’t be violated
- They need your reassurance that you will not abandon them, no matter what.
Treatment for reactive attachment disorder usually involves a combination of therapy, counseling, and parenting education. While there might be medication to treat depression and anxiety, there is no quick fix for treating attachment disorders like explained in the beginning of this bog. We have found in the research done that there are specific treatment plans that could help your child. See below for our top 5 plans that we believe are the best therapy for your adopted child.
- Family therapy: Therapy often involves fun and rewarding activities that enhance the attachment bond as well as helping parents and other children in the family understand the symptoms of the disorder and effective interventions.
- Individual psychological counseling: Therapists may also meet with the child individually or while the parents observe. This is designed to help your child directly with monitoring emotions and behavior.
- Play therapy: Helps your child learn appropriate skills for interacting with peers and handling other social situations.
- Special education services: Specifically designed programs within your child’s school can help him or her learn skills required for academic and social success, while addressing behavioral and emotional difficulties.
- Canine Therapy: Canines are sometimes used as service animals for medical and emotional purposes but they also serve as therapy for adopted adolescents that have an attachment disorder.
Recommended Next Steps to Parenting an Adoptee with an Attachment Disorder
As many as 1.5 million children are diagnosed with an attachment disorder or development trauma each year and it is important to remember that early trauma can lead to a spectrum of conditions with unfortunate consequences for not only the adopted child but the families and society as a whole. Without the proper therapy and support of loved ones, the unresolved trauma of the adoptee can not only affect their emotional well being the rest of their lives but there is a huge physical effect as well. We mentioned in the above excerpts the therapy that we would suggest for your adoptee but there are other ways to help you through what might seem like the most difficult time of your life with your adopted child. Please take a look at this compiled list of attachment and trauma specialist throughout the country.