Growing a family through adoption is often a wonderful experience, but it is not without its difficulties. Because adopted children have been through tremendous loss and many children come from institutionalized backgrounds, they face unparalleled challenges. It is important for adoptive parents to be aware of what issues they will face and to look to professionals to help them bring healing to their child.
The attachment process -- the relationship between a child and his caregiver -- is profoundly affected in adopted children. Dr. Karyn Purvis, the director of the Child Development Institute at Texas Christian University, points out that even children adopted from birth have experienced disruption in the attachment process as they are separated from the birth mom -- whose voice and heartbeat they have come to know for the previous nine months. Children who have been institutionalized or bounced among foster families may have more deeply rooted attachment issues as a result of not having needs met and experiencing multiple caregivers. An adopted child with an attachment disorder has trouble trusting and forming connections with others and may have difficulty managing his own emotions.
According to Holt International, 5 to 15 percent of school-aged children suffer from sensory processing disorder, with rates believed to be slightly higher for internationally adopted children. Contributing factors can be prenatal stressors and lack of stimulation during the first year's of an adopted child's life. A child with sensory processing disorder has difficulty sorting the sensory messages his brain is constantly receiving. Symptoms include sensitivities often accompanied by extreme responses to noise, clumsiness and aggressive behavior.
Purvis points out that lying is a significant challenge faced by many adoptive parents. Children around age 4 to 6 go through a developmental stage where they explore truth, but adopted children who didn't have a typical childhood may explore these boundaries later in life. Purvis points out that misbehavior has a purpose, and an adopted child may believe she must lie in order to have a need met or may lie out of fear of an adult's reaction.
JaeRan Kim, an adoptee and social worker, believes that many adoptees suffer from ambiguous loss -- a combination of grief and confusion about the person associated with the grief. Adopted children grieve the loss of their first family and, for internationally adopted children, the loss of their first home, country, language and customs. Symptoms of ambiguous loss are similar to post-traumatic stress disorder and include difficulty handling change, problems coping with common childhood losses such as the death of a pet or a friend moving away, depression and anxiety, inability to make decisions, helplessness and guilt.