Regardless of the circumstances, the events that occur around adoption are monumental to the adopted child, their biological parents, and their adoptive parents.

It could be a joyous moment where the adoptee forges new family bonds, a traumatic moment where one is displaced from family, or a shocking moment when one finds out they are adopted.

Adoptees are at the center of all these instances, and there are many factors that influence the way they cope with learning about their adoption, such as their:

  • age when this event occurred
  • age of when they found out about their adoption
  • relationship (or lack thereof) with their biological relatives
  • time spent institutionalized or in foster care
  • individual personality traits
  • genetic predispositions

People who have undergone the process of integrating the news of their adoption to their identity have an easier time overcoming the various stages of emotions that come with the news. However, some adoptees find it difficult to manage feelings of anger, guilt, grief, shame, fear, rejection, or low self-esteem.

While most can manage their emotions with help and support from their family, there are a proportion of people who develop some mental health challenges commonly referred to as Adopted Child Syndrome. In these instances professional assistance is normally required to help one overcome its symptoms.

If you are struggling to cope with intense feelings regarding your own adoption or are the parent of an adopted child who seems to have behavioral issues related to adjusting to new family and surroundings, here are some things you may want to know:

What is the Adopted Child Syndrome?

Adopted Child Syndrome (ACS) is a term commonly used to describe a multitude of intense emotions experienced by adoptees and a range of problematic behaviors which often stem from being unable to process these emotions. This condition is not currently recognized by the psychological community but has been a popular topic of discussion in the adoptee community. The most common emotions are:

  • Insecure attachment with adoptive family – Attachment style forms during the first two years of life. It is a result of how the primary caregiver tends and reacts to the child. If they are inconsistent, unreliable, or neglectful of the child’s needs, the child will develop insecure (anxious or avoidant) attachment. If unaddressed, it will manifest through their life as excessive clinginess or the constant need for approval. Alternatively, it can manifest as excessive independence – the rejection of help or affection from others.
  • Overwhelming fear of abandonment – If the child perceives their adoption as a form of abandonment by their biological parents, they may live in fear that they will be abandoned by others they come to love and depend on. They may need constant reassurance that they will not be abandoned or strongly resist developing deep relationships with others so that they cannot be abandoned by them.
  • Anger and resentment towards their biological family – There is a potential for adoptees to perceive their adoption as an injustice which has been done to them by their birth family. A consequence of these thoughts is that the adoptee would foster anger, contempt, and hostility towards their birth parents. This is common for adoptees that had biological relatives that subjected them to abuse or neglect.
  • Deep-seated trust issues towards adult caregivers – If the adopted child suffered physical or emotional abuse from their caregivers (eg. biological parents, foster parents, or guardians), they can find it very difficult to entrust their safety and well-being to another adult. Even if their adoptive parents prove themselves as responsible and trustworthy, the child may continue searching for signs that they will hurt them in the future.
  • Shame and guilt which result in low self-esteem – If the child regards their adoption as a form of rejection by their birth parents, they will fixate on what they did wrong and justify that their birth family left them because they are no good. In day-to-day life, they will interpret every mistake they make, as proof that they deserve to be rejected by the ones they love.
  • Feelings of grief and loss regarding their adoption – When a child finds out that they were put up for adoption, they can experience profound grief and loss. This is because they may have perceived this event as having potentially a loving relationship taken away from them. It is very common with orphans – they once had a safe and loving home, which now they can no longer go back to. They may feel disloyal to their biological families if they allow themselves to accept their new adoptive parents.

What can be done to help adoptees who show signs of Adopted Child Syndrome?

While coping with Adopted Child Syndrome (ACS) can be a difficult and painful experience for the adoptee and their loved ones, identifying it can be a positive opportunity for improvement. Mental health professionals specialized in adoption or childhood trauma can bring a significant amount of clarity, comfort and healing to a struggling adoptee. They can help adoptees regain control over their impulses and improve their behavioral issues. It’s important that an adoptee that exhibits symptoms of ACS, receive therapy as early as possible. Depending on each individual’s case, treatment can involve talk therapy or be combined with appropriate psychiatric medication.

When should an adoptee suspected of Adopted Child Syndrome consider seeking professional help?

There is no such thing as “too soon” to provide support. If there is any reason to suspect that an adoptee might be experiencing ACS symptoms, it is likely that they can benefit from being evaluated by a therapist or psychologist. The younger the age at which help is received, the greater the likelihood that the ACS will have less significance and long-term impact on their development. Nonetheless, it is never too late to start therapy. ACS symptoms can be diminished with adequate mental health support. Seeking professional assistance can also help with other psychological comorbidities that may affect the adoptee’s quality of life.

How can families help support those who are recovering from Adopted Child Syndrome?

While professional help can be necessary for treating Adopted Child Syndrome, having a strong, committed support network is just as important for recovery. Fear of abandonment and rejection are at the root of this condition. Making the adoptee feel safe, loved, and cherished is paramount. These are basic needs we can all identify with.

The family should make efforts in building trust and rapport with the adoptee. Methods to go about this include:

  • making promises with the adoptee that can be fulfilled
  • maintaining confidence to build trust
  • modeling acceptance, kindness, and forgiveness with the adoptee and others around them
  • refraining from having strong negative emotional reactions when the adopted child opens up about a difficult issue.

How does one find closure after experiencing Adopted Child Syndrome?

During an adoptee’s path towards recovering from Adopted Child Syndrome, they may embark on a journey to learn about their birth family, reconnect with them, or get answers about their adoption to get emotional closure. There are many ways to go about achieving this such as looking into one’s adoption records or registering with the adoption reunion registry.

However, there is always a chance that meeting one’s biological relatives may be a deeply disappointing and destabilizing experience, or that reconnecting with them might not even be possible due to:

If this is the case, adoptees should reach out to their therapist or spiritual advisor to process through this new development and move forward with their life in a healthy way.

During these difficult times adoptees can rely on their adoptive family and friends for love and support. In order for adoptees to look into the future with confidence they must work towards letting go of the traumas of the past. Nonetheless, there’s no reason to rush through recovering from Adopted Child Syndrome – it will happen when the mind and soul are ready for it.

If you have ACS, start your journey towards overcoming it with the tips shared above and take time to look forward to your life.