When adoption fails

This is a story of how adopting a child with an undiagnosed and untreated case of attachment disorder can lead to really big problems.

When Melanie Allen and her husband Rob first met their prospective adopted daughter, Alex, she took to them straight away. The then five-year-old called them her “new mummy and daddy” within minutes, which delighted the couple.

But looking back on it now, Melanie sees that some warning signs were there.

“We would have expected her to be shy and nervous and to stick closely to the foster parents who she’d been with for a year,” she says. “But she came over to us without a backward glance at her foster carers. We were to find out later that it was because she hadn’t attached to them and she couldn’t attach to anyone.”

Melanie, who lives in the Midlands in the UK, eventually discovered that her adopted daughter suffered from Reactive Attachment Disorder. She has written about her experience in a book called The Trouble with Alex, using pseudonyms to protect Alex’s identity.

Alex had suffered neglect and abuse as a very small child. Her mother was an alcoholic and drug addict whose boyfriend had beaten the little girl. She was malnourished and was often left in soiled nappies.

Most significantly, Alex was left alone for periods of time and her cries for attention usually went unanswered.

“We knew that she’d had a traumatic childhood but she presented to us and everyone else as a happy, outgoing child. But we didn’t have any comprehension of what was going on with Alex. She was so terrified of attaching to anyone because, as a young child, she had attached to someone and had nearly died because of it.”

Alex was infuriatingly clingy with Melanie but she rarely showed any emotion and wouldn’t let anyone into her world. If she was told off for something small, she had an unnerving habit of staring intensely at Melanie rather than shouting or throwing a strop.

“She’s never formed a relationship with anyone but she’s exceptionally good at looking as though she has these bonds. That’s why her teachers and social workers couldn’t understand what was wrong as she knew how to present herself to the world and what people expected of her.”

While Melanie and Rob noticed that something wasn’t quite right with Alex, they believed that it would take some time for her to trust them and that things would settle down. They went ahead with the adoption and it was only in the next couple of years that problems presented themselves.

Read the full story here.

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