Tips for Professionals

Understanding the Ages and Stages in Adoption

When I was at Harvard many, many years ago, I was looking at the developmental stages in adoption. My professors laughed and said there wasn’t a “psychology” of adoption. I told them there was indeed.

I think Erik Erikson was the only one who “got it.” Having never known his father he even went so far as to name himself Erik Erikson … Erik son of himself. He loved his adoptive father dearly. He was a kind pediatrician and a loving father. But Erik longed to know his genes, his history, his story. He never did.

I have always¬† felt that “normal” developmental tasks and stages are taken very seriously and if one varies from them, they are pathologized and seen as “abnormal.”

I put together a table showing what is “normal or typical” at each stage and then what is “normal or typical under the circumstances” for adopted children. The third column includes strategies to respond to adopted children and teens.

By “adopted” I always include those who are emotionally adopted (in foster care, kinship care, half adopted like Erik, of donor egg or sperm, etc.)

Do let me know if this chart is of use in understanding the children and teens in adoption.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joyce Maguire Pavao, Ed.D., LCSW, LMFT, is the founder and CEO of Center for Family Connections, Inc. in Cambridge and New York, Pre- Post-Adoption Consulting Team in Cambridge, and Family Connections Training Institute in Cambridge. She is a clinical member and approved supervisor of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, Clinical Member of the American Orthopsychiatric Association, and Clinical Member of the American Family Therapy Association. She is a member and past director of the American Adoption Congress, former bord member of the Open Door Society of Massachusetts, Kinship Alliance in Monterey, Calif., and Education and Policy Board of Adoptive Families of America in Minneapolis. She is currently on the practice board of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in New York, the editorial boards of Adoptive Families magazine and Foster Families Today magazine, the adoption advisory board of the Child Welfare League of America, and the library board of the Oregon Post Adoption Resource Center. Pavao has received many awards and honors for her work.