‘Adoption Paradox’ Neglects To Mention This Common Cause Of Cognitive And Behavior Issues

The “Adoption Paradox” research presented by the Institute for Family Studies demonstrates that while adoptive parents seemingly put more effort into their children and have better educations, adopted children have the poorest behavioral and academic outcomes in kindergarten and first grade. The research was covered in a comprehensive article featured in the Atlantic and written by Olga Khazan, but it failed to even mention by name the most common cause of congenital neurological deficits, as though it plays only a minor role in this so-called adoption paradox.

The Atlantic article summarized the research brief entitled the “Paradox of Adoption,” written by psychologist Nicholas Zill. Both the article and the research brief stress that the information isn’t meant to discourage people from adoption, but to point out an interesting observation and alleged paradox. Statistically, teachers report that adopted children demonstrated more attention problems, a lack of eagerness to learn, and a lack of persistence on challenging tasks, the research claimed. Adopted children, reportedly, also performed worse in math.

In the Atlantic, attachment theory was heavily stressed as a reason why adoptive children reportedly don’t fare as well behaviorally and academically.

“Adoptive parents go to great lengths to do a great service. Why are their young kids’ behavior and test scores nonetheless worse, on average? One clue might be attachment theory, which holds that a strong bond with at least one nurturing adult—usually the mother—is essential to a child thriving.”

Almost all experts agree that attachment is critical for children, and also that many adoptions inherently involve some attachment concerns. Both the “Adoption Paradox” article and the research brief also spoke generally and briefly of genetics and trauma. People are furious over this article which has been called “poorly sourced” and worse.

Dawn Friedman MSEd LPC, of Building Family Counseling, wrote that the source, upon which the entire article in the Atlantic is based, is “a conservative think tank.” She calls the Institute biased and accuses it of “shoddy research.” Furthermore, some adoptive parents say that there is a glaring puzzle piece that is also missing from the commentary provided by the article featured in the Atlantic and the research brief it was based upon.

“Not one mention of FASD,” one mother exclaimed on social media, shocked that fetal alcohol spectrum disorders wasn’t brought up even a single time. Therein lies the real paradox, some parents say; few are even aware that prenatal alcohol damage is so prevalent.

The University of Minnesota’s website openly discusses this major consideration that “Adoption Paradox” and “The Paradox of Adoption” both failed to mention.

“Most children thrive in their adoptive families. But others experience problems with learning, behavior, attention or attachment. A child facing these challenges may need further assessment as he or she grows. Often, known or unknown exposures to drugs or alcohol before birth may be causing or contributing to a child’s difficulties. That is why some families may need to consider a fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) evaluation, which includes a thorough medical, developmental and neuropsychological assessment.”

Diane Lohrey is an adoptive mother who was featured in an article on Alaska Public Media, because she and her husband adopted three children whom were later found to have FASD. She didn’t set out to adopt children with FASD. Lohrey’s adult biological daughter Emilyanne explained that her siblings’ eventual diagnoses opened the doors for getting help, “and for, like, other people to understand, they’re not just bad kids. There’s a logical explanation for why they are the way they are, and how to give more ideas how to help them and not discard them like trash.”

Adoption medicine physician Judith Eckerle, MD, director of the University of Minnesota Health Adoption Medicine Clinic, explained it more succinctly, stating, “The earlier medical providers are able to fully evaluate the child, the better the potential for interventions to help them reach their full potential.”

Children adopted from orphanages or foster care have a much greater rate of damage from alcohol exposure. Reuters reported that among these children, problems from prenatal alcohol exposure can be as much as 60 times higher than in the general population, but the article in the Atlantic didn’t even mention it. Granted, the author in the Atlantic did mention limitations from a child’s “genetic heritage,” which provided little more than an offensive, unclear stigma limiting adoptees’ potential due to unspecified high-risks, according to public comments on the article and on social media platforms. Thankfully, instead of simply praising adoptive parents for their finances, education, and parenting provisions, Reuters was far more specific in both terminology and in presentation of useful, proven interventions for at-risk adoptees.

“It’s increasingly well recognized that this is a very high-risk population and one that we should really be paying attention to,” psychologist Phil Fisher, who studies foster and adopted children at the University of Oregon, told Reuters. “We know that one of the main reasons that kids end up in foster care or being made eligible for adoption is because their parents have substance abuse problems.”

Dr. Svetlana Popova from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto found that — among studies with the most accurate reporting techniques — 6 percent of children in foster care and special needs orphanages had Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, the most pronounced of the alcohol-related disabilities. Meanwhile, almost one in five of these children had FASD, Reuters reported. Children adopted from Russia and Eastern Europe generally show the greatest alcohol-related damage. In some Russian orphanages, as high as 68 percent showed impairments caused by maternal ingestion of alcohol.

Fisher believes that instead of focusing on behavior and academic struggles, which would be more appropriately termed “symptoms,” children damaged from prenatal exposure to alcohol should be treated as though they have chronic diseases, like diabetes.

“The supports need to be available in an ongoing way,” Fisher said, stressing that early diagnosis and early interventions can significantly improve the quality of life of a child with FASD, a belief shared by Popova.

With this piece of the puzzle, it could be argued that many adopted children, even those with this often invisible disability, are actually thriving, not faltering, in their adoptive homes. Research has clearly shown that the odds of children affected by prenatal alcohol exposure escaping adverse life outcomes are doubled to quadrupled by receiving the diagnosis of FAS or FAE early and by being raised in a stable, loving home. If fewer people refused to discuss the effects that prenatal exposure to alcohol can have on a child, perhaps certain aspects of adoption wouldn’t be perceived as quite so paradoxical.

[Photo via Pixabay]