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CULTURE AND IDENTITY


IDENTITY ISSUES FOR ADOPTED CHILDREN

There are typical stages of identity formation in children. From the toddler's first declarations of "No!" and "Mine!" through the teenager's struggles with individuality to the young adult's formation of independent identity, the stages are familiar and predictable. The adopted child must also progress through these stages; however, this journey is complicated by the additional psychic tasks imposed by adoption. The adopted child's progress through these stages necessarily differs from that of a non-adopted peer. Professionals must be prepared and knowledgeable about these differences to support the child and family through these transitions. Because the psychological tasks for the adoptee at each stage differ from that of the non-adoptee, the adopted child's behavior and emotional response may be misinterpreted as "abnormal." Renowned adoption expert Joyce Maguire Pavao relabels these stages as "normative crises": Necessary and important steps in identity formation for the adopted child. In her acclaimed work on adoption, she advises professionals and parents to broaden their awareness of the developmental tasks of the adopted child. Her book, The Family of Adoption, is a readable, insightful, and comprehensive analysis of theses stages.

Each psychosocial stage is complicated by adoption; the adopted child must reconcile these issues to progress to the next psychological level. In every stage of life, except infancy, toddlerhood, and old age, "coping with adoption-related loss" is necessary. This means different challenges arise at different times in life. Adjusting to the fact of adoption is not something that happens once, but must be processed again and again. The following chart identifies typical developmental stages and has added the necessary adoption-related tasks at each level.

 

From THE HANDBOOK OF INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION MEDICINE by Laurie C. Miller. © 2004 by Oxford University Press, Inc. Used by Permission.

 

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