Understanding the Impact of Trauma on the Adopted Child part 1 of 3

by Bryan Post

Adopted at the age of six months, Joseph was a fussy and sometimes hard to soothe infant. When Joseph reached the age of two and began to bite the other children in daycare, they chalked it up to the dreaded two-year old stage of which everyone seems okay with. The teachers raved about how smart he was. By the time he was six the increasing duration of the school day seemed almost more than he could bear. Sometimes screaming for hours at a time, Joseph would do no work and then would spend the remainder of the day in isolation. Eventually Joseph began to stack up a list of schools attended and suspended from. By the time Joseph had hit the 5th grade his increasingly violent outburst coined with outward defiance had gained him two different stays at local residential treatment centers. Not knowing where else to turn or what else to do, and after failed attempts at therapy, and more than eight psychiatric medications had proved of little benefit other than causing Joseph to appear “zombie-like,” Pat and Robert felt their only other option was to send Joseph to a boys boarding school.

Though not always leading to a disruption or out-of-home placement, many adoptive families struggle for years to create the peaceful family they had dreamed of. Regrettably, one of the main barriers preventing such family harmony is one of the least understood when it comes to understanding the plight of the adopted child. The barrier is trauma.

Whether adopted from birth or later in life, all adopted children have experienced some degree of trauma. Trauma is any stressful event which is prolonged, overwhelming, or unpredictable. Scientific research now reveals that as early as the second trimester the human fetus is capable of auditory processing and in fact, is capable of processing rejection in utero. This early experience is generally the child’s original trauma. From that point forward many more traumas may occur in the child’s life. These include premature birth, inconsistent caretakers, abuse, neglect, chronic pain, long-term hospitalizations with separations from the mother, and parental depression. Such life events interrupt a child’s emotional development, sometimes even physical development, subsequently interrupting his ability to tolerate stress in meaningful relationships with parents and peers.


  1. Wow as early as the 2nd trimester that is so amazing. So now that we have this information how do we deal with our adopted children. I have 7 and one of my kiddos sounds just like Joseph. He is in a treatment center now because of violent behavior and for sexually abusing other children and he is only turning 13. I know my other kids are struggling now but i really don’t know how to help them with the adoption trauma and all there struggles.

    • Bryan Post says:

      My short answer is read From Fear to Love: Parenting Difficult Adopted Children (you can buy the Kindle version for only $2.99!) Or buy the book http://www.postinstitute.com/books. The longer answer is to keep on reading everything here, on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/postinstitute) and sign up for our free parenting course at the top of this blog home page. The good news is that it can be done. The not so good news is that you will need a bag lunch and a clear change of underwear – it can take a while.

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