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Attachment Disorder

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My adopted 7 year old has reactive attachment disorder

March 2013

I need recommendations for something for my son. He is adopted and clearly has reactive attachment disorder. He is 7 and has been in therapy for over half his life. Nothing we have done has helped. We did play therapy for a couple of years, we did family attachment therapy for a couple of years, we did a year and a half of OT.

He is not better. Sometimes it looks as though we are making progress, but then then it becomes clear the issues inside him are just as entrenched as always, they're just taking a slightly different form because he has grown older.

I feel so tired and so hopeless. I sometimes find myself envying parents whose kids have autism, ADHD, etc. At least that is something other parents understand and are willing to be sympathetic and supportive about. My kid ends up looking like he's just ''bad.'' It's such a hard thing to explain to others without explaining all about adoption and orphanages and attachment issues. I don't necessarily want to give all that personal information out to everyone and I don't want to have to be apologizing all the time for my child's behavior.

Other kids don't want to play with him and I understand why. Grown-ups don't want to be around him either. They look at me like ''oh, you're THAT kid's mom. You must be a really terrible parent to have created this disaster.''

My husband and I are worn out - all of our energy goes to our child and none of it has any impact. It is so draining to have our child constantly demand attention and then reject it when it is given. It's starting to feel like we are just waiting for the next bad thing. If we don't find some kind of help that works I fear we will end up, just 4 or 5 years from now with a kid in juvenile hall, or addicted to drugs, or in a psych hospital, or dead.

The good news is he's articulate and talkative, he has a great sense of humor, he's interested in everything. He clearly exhibits the ''disinhibited'' type of attachment disorder rather than the inhibited one.

Have any of you adoptive parents who have faced these kinds of issues tried DBT? Or even regular CBT? Have you had success with social skills groups? Have you tried child psychoanalysis as opposed to therapy? What have you done that has worked?

I'm grateful for any suggestions. Worn Out and Feeling Like a Bad Mom


If you haven't done so already, please check out pactAdopt.org. They may not specialize in your exact type of adoption, but they are a wonderful resource for adoptive parents, with workshops and all kinds of support. I notice they do emphasize that adoption presents ifelong challenges, so I think they may be of some help to you. They may also be able to recommend like-minded support programs that may be more relevant to your situation. Kim
My sister-in-law, my cousin, and a friend of mine from a parenting group all have adopted kids with attachment disorders, and all of them tried various things until finally stumbling upon DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) when their kids were in their teens and things were really tough (kids getting into trouble with the law, acting out, self-harming, etc.) For all of them, DBT has been a huge help. It hasn't made all the troubles magically disappear, but it's given the parents and the kids very useful ways of coping with emotionally dysregulated kids and has lessened everyone's stress. I know they all wish they'd found DBT much earlier, so hopefully your early intervention might really make a difference in your lives. Locally I know about Clearwater Clinic in Oakland; there may be others. I have to say, from what I've learned about DBT, it is an empirically based, really valid approach that at the very least will help you, the parent, cope with parenting your challenging child, and may also really help your child manage his/her way of being in the world. Best wishes. ===
Hello there. I'm sorry that I don't have any advice as I am not in your situation, but I feel for you and I felt compelled to thank you for your post. So often we judge kids based on their behavior, I know I've been guilty of that, and of thinking ''what crappy parenting'' but your post really struck me. We have no idea what is going on in any family and it's so unfair to judge...I will think twice the next time I see a child acting out and remember your story and I hope and pray that you and your family will find your way through these difficulties to a more peaceful place. Wishing you peace
Have you tried getting advice from an adoption group? I have found the AdoptionParenting yahoo group to be full of people willing to share their vast experience with all kinds of problems. They operate on a schedule of two weeks discussing a specific topic but are always willing to answer off-topic questions (just label it OT). So sorry you and your son are having such a hard time
I am a parent of a 10-year-old who had severe, undiagnosed Sensory Processing Disorder. That meant years of getting kicked, hit, and bitten everyday, as well as dealing with terrible tantrums that lasted 30 minutes or more. In some ways I grieve the loss of a diagnosis (although the APA does not officially recognize Sensory Processing Disorder yet), and behavioral therapies paid for by the state. In other ways, I am very happy that searching for help on my own brought me to psychoanalysis for my child. It's unreasonable to expect that 1/hr. wk of therapy would help with a difficulties as profound as she had. It was a long road with over five years in therapy, and the first 2 years were 4X week, gradually decreasing to 1X week. Many times along the process I wondered if it was ''working'' or would ''work.'' It was hard to get her there before school each morning at 7 am, it's was pricey, but none of that time or expense matters when I see how far my daughter has come. The little girl who used to hide under her desk and read obsessively at school now plays tag every day, instead. It's been years since the last tantrum. She is truly relational and happy, now. She is able to realize when she has gone too far, and she apologizes for those rare instances on her own! Simply put, she is solid. I'm not guaranteeing outcomes. As a mental health professional, I know just how tough Reactive Attachment Disorder can be to treat. Also, finding the right therapist is key. I would like to recommend Dr. Thomas Cohen, licensed psychologist at www.familytherapyeastbay.com Best of luck to you. Anon
I don't have an answwer for you, but as an adoptive parent who has known other people going through this, I wanted to share my support. I feel that the adoption community and media is too busy trying to be positive all the time to address this very real issue, and I am sorry to hear you feel so alone.

You didn't say where your chiild came from, but one thought would be to reach out to FRUA(Friends of Russian and Ukrainian Adoption), whether or not your child is from there, as this is a common problem with Russian adoptees. Other than that, I see there are a lot of adoption therapist recommendations on BPN, but since you already went that route, these may not relevant to you.

Anyway, just to say that I feel for you and hope you find some support. You are not a bad mom-- just doing the best you can with a very very difficult situation! adoptive mom


Hello burnout mom, My husband and I are in the process of adopting our first child from Pact and as part of our educational training we were requested to attend a conference sponsered by Pact and other adoption agencies this past Saturday here in Oakland which was VERY educational! One of the speakers was an adult adoptee named Joyce Maguire Pavao and she mentioned something about attachment disorder. She said that she didn't like to use the term ''attachment disorder'' and in her professional experience - she has a Ed.D in Psychology from Harward - it could be associated with different kind of traumas. I don't know terms of your adoption and if your son's birth mother or extended family is part of his life somehow but answers for his behavior could be in that area. I suggest you to reach out to Joyce. She is a big believer that contact with birth family (or at least know who they are) is crucial. Her website is www.joycemaguirepavao.com and even though you have tried family therapy, I would reach out to her. Also Pact is another GREAT source of information. Pact offers classes and workshops for everyone adoptive and birth parents and adoptees of all ages regardless of their race. There is an ENTIRE community right here and you don't need to deal with this alone trust me! There is one workshop coming up on April 6 about attachment, baggage, behavior and discipline. My husband and I will be there and if you can, you and your husband should attend it as well. Look up at their website for more information - www.pactadopt.org. Beth Hall, the co-founder can even give you tools to help you and your son to ''educate'' and respond to other parents, teachers and kids about adoption without you feeling the world is in your (and your son's) business. I am not a mom (yet) but if I can help you with any further information, please feel free to contact me directly. Best of luck!

Support group nearby for parents of Attachment Disordered children?

Aug 1999

Does anyone know of a support group nearby for parents of Attachment Disordered children? This disorder is most found in adopted kids, but can also occur in children who have had major disruptions in (or neglect/abuse from) their caregivers in their first years of life. My adopted teen has been recently diagnosed and we want to share respite and information with similar families.


Regarding attachment disordered adopted kids, I suggest you contact FAIR (Families Adopting in Response) 650-856-3513. They are an old time organization with an excellent newsletter and they run this type of support group. I believe that they have a group in the East Bay or SF. There is also a local therapist who specializes in adoption: Susan Love. -- Peggy
Re: Attachment Disorder Resources... are you in contact with organization called PACT, that addresses issues for adopted chidlren of color? Only resource I know of via my work as teacher... but they might have link for you. Good luck. PACT Press, 3315 Sacramento St, Suite 239 SF, Ca. 94118... Litsky
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