Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Attachment myths


I've been reading a lot about attachment and adoptive children. From the beginning of my research into adoption, this has been a huge topic that shows up everywhere. I asked my social worker during the home study about whether infants will also have attachment issues, as I thought the younger the child, the less attachment issues there would be. I'm right, she said, but there will still be SOME no matter what. I'd be naive to believe everything will be peaches and cream just because I'm adopting "as young as possible". Also, I might accept a young referral who, through the closing of courts during rainy season or other problems may grow older while we wait. So this is a topic that all adoptive parents should read up on and feel comfortable with before their children come home, I believe.

Tonight, in my traveling through cyber space, I came across a wonderful website chock full of information on attachment and attachment disorders. The website is A4everfamily.org. It has articles on neurobiology, PTSD, "before placement" attachment issues and "post placement" issues, how to grow bonds between parent and child, etc. Really chock full of great info. Here are a few myths for those who may think adopting an infant will prevent all those issues:

Myth: Infants, especially those adopted out of foster care, do not have attachment problems.
Every adopted child, regardless of the age at adoption, has suffered trauma: that of being separated from the birth mother. Many times, that single trauma is enough to produce attachment problems. Attachment therapists treat even children whose adoptive parents were present at the birth.

FAQ: When newborns are placed with a foster family at birth, how can they miss their birth mother?
A baby's first attachment is to the biological mother. Research indicates that attachment develops throughout pregnancy. At birth, the child knows his mother's voice and her smell. His emotions, heartbeat, and respiration are regulated by hers. He believes that he and his mother are one. If this attachment or bond is broken, trust becomes an issue and the child may have difficulty forming a secure and healthy attachment to the foster/adoptive mother.

Myth: Babies don't remember.
Early memories are remembered by the body. Although a child may not consciously remember early trauma (including separation from the birth mother), the experience is difficult to erase because it is stored as a nonverbal/emotional memory in the body. Neurons in the heart, stomach, and other parts of the body can fire messages, effectively hijacking the thinking parts of the brain…especially if these memories took place before the child developed cognition skills. We have also experienced many moments that indicate that our children remember more than we give them credit for.

Myth: All They Need is Love!
Although love is inarguably what attachment disordered children need, the challenge is getting them to accept 100% of their parents' love. They are like tiny banks, desperately in need of deposits, that have put up signs saying, "Closed for business." Adoptive parents with attachment impaired children find it helpful to consider where their children are in the attachment process by asking, "Is my child willing to accept ALL my love?" When the answer is no, the task then becomes figuring out how to get the love in when the child shows resistance. "

Here is the link to the website:


Michelle J said...

Does the idea of having a child with attachment issues worry or frighten you?

Adopting1Soon said...

No, not now that I've researched it. It would worry me if I was adopting a much older child, say a toddler or older. it would also worry me if I was adopting from a country with notoriously bad orphanages where children languish and are not held. I'm confident my agency's orphanage ("house" they call it) takes great care of the kids there, and the nannies sleep with the babies, etc. I feel like I could handle the issues an infant might have now that I've read up on it and know what 'attachement parenting" looks like, what I'm supposed to do and not do, etc. I'll be blogging more on the topic as I continue to read excellent articles on it. Thanks for asking Michelle!


Hi Michelle,

I adopted my daughter at 26 months and I noticed that she has “Disinhibited Attachment Disorder.” She has responded to me as her mother but she fails to discriminate me as a “special person” and she shows the same or similar level of responsiveness to complete strangers.

When I’m in public with my daughter she would rather be comforted by a total stranger and she readily goes to strangers with no fear. I try to keep her confined when we are in public and I do not allow her to sit in anyone’s lap. Hugs and kisses are reserved for me until further notice. Technically, she’s still bonding with me since she has only been home for nine months. I have seen some improvement, although she still has the desire to comforted by strangers.

It’s good that you are preparing yourself for possible attachment issues because even if you adopt an infant the child may still be affected with attachment issues.

Fortunately, the caregivers in Ethiopia are very attentive to the children and they love them tremendously. I witnessed it myself while I was in Ethiopia but there is still a possibility for attachment disorders.

Keep reading and learning so you can disern any attachment issues, if any, when bring your daughter home!


Adopting1Soon said...

Wow, thanks for your input, Andrea. That must be hard to watch, in some ways. I'm glad you are seeing improvement. Thank you for posting as I think it is tempting for all involved (myself included) to have some degree of wishful thinking on this issue, especially with a young infant. I appreciate your comment and please continue to let us know how Selamawit's attachment to you develops over time.

J-momma said...

yes! so true! i love that website by the way. my son is adopted from foster care. we got him at 14 months. and we had problems with attachment. he fought it as hard as he could and it took a good year for him to have a normal attachment with us. and even now (1.5 years later) something small can trigger an attachment related reaction. i actually blogged our whole story (bad and good) in November for national adoption month. you can check it out in my archives if you want. it's good that you are gaining all this insight now, cause i think i underestimated the age thing. make sure you have a good support system for yourself too. the website you listed is great for reference and ideas too.

Karen said...

Writer Holly Schlaack provides a sharp, keen look into lives of little troubled children in the foster care system. Holly Schlaack goes over successes and failures, all from her own firsthand as a long time social worker and guardian ad litem. Invisible Kids (www.InvisibleKidsTheBook.com) professional involved in the service of families and children should read and Holly's wisdom and influences could append any training program. Media accounts collided with the private citizens of system failures can find Holly's "Dozen Ways to Make a Difference" practical and inspiring.

Kathy WI said...

We read a lot about attachment issues before we adopted our son, who was three at the time (he's now almost ten). Fortunately, he has shown no attachment problems at all. He "claimed" us as his parents from the beginning. I'm glad I read a lot about it though, just to know what to look for.