Adoption and PTSD
The process of separating children from their birth parents is one that is both consistently and inherently traumatic for the child and the parents. As much as the adoption process tries to mitigate the harm of separation for the child, the damage remains and must eventually be addressed. When welcoming an adopted child into the family, it can hard to spot the child who is genuinely depressed or suffering the effects of trauma. All children are sad or anxious from time to time, but if the mood intensifies or continues for an extended period, it may be time to take note. It might not just be "the blues" or growing pains, it may be a child experiencing intense emotional pain they cannot or will not express.
Childhood depression is a causative influence across a wide spectrum of educational and health related issues. If left untreated, it becomes a common factor in adolescent drug abuse and suicide. In adopted children the risk factors are multiplied by depression on the part of other family members. Regardless of other elements, children who are adopted have already experienced separation and loss. Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder include but are not limited to nightmares, standoffishness, flinching, and avoidance behavior. Commonplace things such as holidays with unknown family members, other children, and even the sound of a new language can be triggering on adopted children. If state and local protective services have been involved, even more unknown damage may have been inflicted on the child. Recognizing when these symptoms indicate more than just a period of adjustment to a new home and family is critical, but often quite difficult as there may be language and/or cultural barriers to expression.
It is so important find ways to bond with adopted children, to listen and to empathize with what their feeling. All the TLC and support in the world may not be enough to counter feelings of alienation and trauma, and time is of the essence. The child is suffering, and it won't just go away. While discussion with the family physician is encouraged, it is better to consult with a trained mental health care professional. While possibly uncomfortable, proper diagnosis is key because finding the right treatment for the child is undoubtedly the first step to recovery.
If it is determined that your child is dealing the effects of trauma, treatments may include but are not limited to, psychotherapy, dietary changes, behavioral therapy, or medication. For chronic depression and anxiety, patience is part of the therapy. Treatment will take time, effort on the part of all involved, and above all else, love.
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