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The Challenge of Complex Developmental Trauma in Adopted Children . . .

Updated: Apr 21, 2021

Adopted children who have been diagnosed with Complex Developmental Trauma (also known as Reactive Attachment Disorder or RAD) face many daunting life challenges including learning how to trust, learning how to manage their emotions, and the inability to show empathy. The label of Complex Developmental Trauma is so much more accurate than RAD in describing their condition, for the multiple traumas they have experienced are at the very core of their inability to attach in a healthy way to their parents.

How does trauma affect a child’s ability to attach in a healthy way to his adoptive parents? This question reminds me of a 17-year-old young man I worked with in a long-term residential setting. He had been repeatedly physically abused and neglected as a very young child and had subsequently been in thirty different foster homes prior to his adoption. In the residential setting where I worked with him, he orchestrated his dismissal (by breaking one of the zero-tolerance rules) from the program after only six months. He seemed to take this dismissal in casual stride as he remarked to me, “I’ve only ever stayed at any one place for about six months anyway”. His inability to fully trust the residential staff was fueled by years of situations where his trust was betrayed, especially by his birth parents, but also by some of his foster parents.

In upcoming posts I will share more about Complex Developmental Trauma and how parents can help their adopted or foster child, along with some tips for parental self-care, which is so critical in parenting a child with this condition. Thanks for reading and stay tuned!


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