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Adoption Insights Reaching the Disconnected Child Strategies for Attachment and Bonding

Adopting a child is such a rewarding experience! Sometimes, however, the circumstances of adoption can present a challenge to loving parents and families that contradicts the natural human instinct to attach.

Attachment behaviors are essential for an infant's survival. Attachment develops when an infant expresses a need, and a primary caretaker consistently meets that need. Unfortunately, when needs are repeatedly neglected, or are met by an ever-changing procession of caretakers, the infant learns not to trust. This sets the stage for Reactive Attachment Disorder, often referred to as R.A.D. Primarily found in foster and adoptive children, it can also present itself in families who have not adopted if bonding between the mother and her child is disrupted due to an extreme circumstance, such as a severe illness.

To ensure the best success with adoption, it is essential for pre-adoptive and adoptive parents to learn what R.A.D. is and how it can be treated. Even if a child is adopted at an early age, he or she may not exhibit symptoms until later. R.A.D. presents extreme challenges because a parent cannot love it away, and a parent's natural instincts may even hinder the adoptive child's chances of getting better. Oftentimes parents of a child with R.A.D. are left feeling inadequate or that something is wrong with them because their child does not respond to them in a positive way.

A child with Reactive Attachment Disorder is very good at finding parents' “hot buttons” and using them as means to prevent intimacy. Children with R.A.D. do this because their past experience has taught them that intimacy is too risky for their fragile hearts. The child with R.A.D. believes that in order to be safe, he or she must not allow anyone to get too close. The good news is that with treatment by highly specialized therapists, the success rate is 85 percent - even with teens and young adults.

The most effective treatment for R.A.D. is called attachment therapy. Attachment therapy involves two attachment therapists, the primary care takers, and the child in each session. The number of sessions required ranges from six to twelve; each session is usually two hours.

The focus of attachment therapy is to create intimacy between the primary care takers and the child by utilizing eye contact and parental holding. Attachment therapy is directive, empathic, and solution-oriented with a high success rate. Traditional psychotherapy usually fails with a child with R.A.D. because it is based on a trusting relationship and an assumption that the child wants to change.

Two adjunctive therapies that are frequently used successfully with attachment therapy are Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and neurofeedback. Often a child with R.A.D. has unresolved trauma. The brain gets stuck with a negative imprint, which can be cleared and reprogrammed with a positive imprint by utilizing EMDR. EMDR is a specialized form of treatment that has been proven to be highly effective. The second method, neurofeedback, is a process of biofeedback that retrains the brain to work at its optimal capacity.

One of the centers that offer this highly specialized treatment is the Attachment Institute of New England located in West Boylston, Massachusetts . This Institute consists of four therapists working in interchangeable teams and is headed by Peg Kirby, Psy.D. Dr. Kirby has both personal and professional experience with R.A.D. She is the adoptive mom of four children and has been a pioneer of attachment therapy in New England for over a decade.

Dr. Kirby is joined by Ken Frohock, LMHC, LRC, who also combines his extensive professional and personal experience as an adoptive dad of three. Suzanne Allen, Ph.D., and Joe Lyons, Psy.D. complete this highly specialized team of therapists offering powerful strategies and treatment to often desperate and frustrated adoptive families.

Common symptoms of insecure attachment include a history of abandonment, neglect, abuse and/or multiple placements; a child who indiscriminately seeks affection and/or comfort from strangers; lack of authenticity, spontaneity, flexibility, and empathy; lack of physical affection and closeness and/or inappropriate clinginess; poor eye contact; lack of conscience; problems with learning, attending, self-regulating, and self-monitoring; abnormal eating and elimination patterns, such as wetting or soiling or hoarding food.

A Conference on Attachment and Bonding

To help educate parents and therapists, the Attachment Institute of New England is sponsoring a three-day conference at Clark University , March 11-13, featuring Nancy Thomas, a well-known Therapeutic Foster Parent Specialist from Colorado . The conference is entitled “Strategies for Attachment and Bonding: When Love Is Not Enough.”

Nancy, author of “When Love Is Not Enough: A Guide to Parenting Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder”, is an international presenter who has trained over 15,000 parents and professionals with her powerful parenting methods. Nancy has worked as a co-therapist in intensive attachment therapy sessions for over ten years with such leading attachment therapists as psychiatrist Foster Cline, MD and Daniel Hughes, PhD.

Nancy has also shared her life and home with severely emotionally disturbed children for over 25 years. Nancy specializes in bonding and conscience development with children who have been diagnosed with conditions that include R.A.D., Attention Deficit Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Tourette's Syndrome, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and others. She has an 85% success rate with these high-risk populations.

Nancy defines R.A.D. as “a condition in which individuals have difficulty forming loving, lasting relationships. They often have a nearly complete lack of ability to be genuinely affectionate with others. They typically fail to develop a conscience and do not learn to trust. They do not allow people to be in control of them due to this trust issue. They can be compliant for weeks if there is no loving relationship involved. With strangers they can be extremely charming and appear loving. Uneducated adults misinterpret this as the child trusting or caring for them.”

Although the behaviors of a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder can be challenging, parents and families should take heart. Attachment therapy has a proven success rate - regardless of the child's chronological age or the severity of the symptoms.

If you are a parent, educator, or therapist interested in attending a part or all of this conference, call the conference information line at (508) 845-4128.

To learn more about treatment, contact the Attachment Institute of New England (508) 835-2663 or visit their website www.attachmentnewengland.com.


Office Manager
Jen Kelleher

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