Signs of Attachment Disorders in Adopted Teenagers

As an adoptive parent to adopted teenagers you may be aware of the possibility of attachment disorders and how they can impact your child’s development. However, you may not know how to recognize the signs that an adolescent or teenager has an untreated or undisclosed attachment disorder. The symptoms and side effects are not always intuitive. If you do not know what to look for, you may make incorrect or harmful assumptions about your child’s mental health.

Facilities like Havenwood Academy can assess adolescent and teenage girls for attachment disorders and provide evidence-based treatments.

Adoption and Attachment Disorders

Most attachment disorders can be diagnosed relatively early on and involve a range of symptoms. The most common disorders that affect a child’s ability to form healthy relationships include:

  • Reactive attachment disorder (RAD): Children with RAD have difficulty maintaining emotional stability and struggle to create bonds with parental figures, often due to fear, restrictions, or ambivalence
  • Disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED): Children with DSED will seek comfort, approval, and encouragement from any adult, even complete strangers, and neither prefer their parents nor notice whether their parents provide the necessary support

Adopted and foster children have a higher risk of developing various attachment-related issues that affect their ability to form healthy relationships with peers and adoptive or biological family members. RAD is not uncommon among adopted children who display behavioral issues.

The Scientific World Journal says, “It is thought that RAD is a result of severe maltreatment in early childhood, and there is research indicating that adopted children will be more likely diagnosed as having RAD.” Your daughter may display attachment issues due to adverse childhood experiences that caused her to develop low self-esteem along with a distrust of adults.

What Are the Signs of Possible Attachment Disorders?

Attachment disorders can manifest in various ways, and each child requires personalized treatments to heal. You may worry that your daughter has attachment issues because of how she acts toward you and other adults in her life. Below are some common signs that might indicate your child has RAD or DSED:

  • Attempts to get the attention of any adult
  • Avoids drawing attention to themselves and remains completely withdrawn from adults and peers, including parents
  • Seeks comfort and support from any adult
  • Avoids seeking help and uses self-soothing to cope with distress and discomfort
  • Shows a distinct lack of interest in their parents and often appears not to notice their presence
  • Exhibits extreme self-sufficiency and independence
  • Acts childish, needy, and emotionally younger than their physical age
  • Behaves too emotionally old for their age and exhibits adult behaviors
  • Aggressive or violent behaviors

Your child might respond inconsistently to parental support and experience abrupt mood swings or other mental health symptoms. Behavioral changes can interfere with their relationships and quality of life. Primary characteristics of attachment disorders include an inability to regulate emotions and difficulty making socially acceptable interpersonal connections. If you notice these symptoms in your child, you may need to seek professional help.

How Do Attachment Disorders Affect Behavior?

Attachment disorders can have multiple causes, including physiological changes which influence behavior and thinking. Difficulty identifying and regulating common emotions or recognizing social cues are also major signifiers. According to InnovAiT, “Insecure forms of attachment suggest that a child has learned that their caregiver will not be reliably available.” You can help them relearn to trust parental figures which can lead to fewer behavioral problems related to attachment issues.

If left untreated, the warning signs of attachment disorders can morph into long-term relationship and social problems. The effects can impact their finances, career, education, and romantic relationships as they grow and mature. Common behavioral issues caused by attachment disorders in young adults include:

  • Social isolation
  • Emotional detachment
  • Lack of affection
  • Inappropriate affection or behavior toward strangers
  • Impulsive behaviors
  • Angry outbursts
  • Control issues

The combined side effects of attachment disorders can impact all areas of a child’s life. As they grow and mature, this can leave them vulnerable to maladaptive behaviors like substance misuse.

Be Patient and Compassionate

When you provide your child with resources, it can help them work through issues and cope with emotional distress. Essential tools for helping your child overcome attachment issues include:

  • A strong support system
  • Access to therapy and mental health treatment
  • A nurturing and safe home environment
  • Unconditional love and support
  • A strong peer group

Your child can overcome issues related to attachment disorders like RAD or DSED and build healthy relationships with their adoptive family and social group. By being patient, consistent, and compassionate, you model positive behaviors they can emulate and use to build their sense of self. With the help of a loving family and professional mental health treatment, your adopted child can heal and create strong bonds.


Think Havenwood Might Be For You?

We encourage any visitors considering placing their daughter in treatment to fill out our online assessment as soon as possible. This two minute form will give our admissions team all the information needed to determine if your daughter is a good fit for our program.