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Adopted Children at Risk for ADHD, Other Mental Disorders

ChildAmerican teens who were adopted as babies are at greater risk for emotional and behavioral problems than those who were not adopted, according to new research.

The researchers are quick to note that most adoptees in the study were psychologically healthy and doing well, but that adoption doubles the risk in children for two mental disorders — attention deficit disorder (ADHD) and oppositional defiant disorder.

Approximately 120,000 American children are adopted each year and there are about 1.5 million adoptees under age 18 in total, according to the study.

As domestic adoptions have decreased, the number of international adoptions has increased.

“Worldwide, approximately 40,000 children per year are moved between more than 100 countries through adoption. Despite the popularity of adoption, there is a persistent concern that adopted children may be at heightened risk for mental health or adjustment problems.”

Margaret A. Keyes, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, and colleagues assessed 540 non-adopted adolescents, 514 internationally adopted adolescents and 178 domestically adopted adolescents (ages 11 to 21) to determine if adopted adolescents were at a higher risk for behavioral and emotional problems. Assessments were based on child and parent reports of attention-deficit/hyperactivity, oppositional defiant, conduct, major depressive and separation anxiety disorders, teacher reports of psychological health and contact with mental health professionals.

Adoptees scored moderately higher on continuous measures of behavioral and emotional problems.

“Nevertheless, being adopted approximately doubled the odds of having contact with a mental health professional and of having a disruptive behavior disorder [attention-deficit/hyperactivity, oppositional defiant, or conduct disorder]. Relative to international adoptees, domestic adoptees had higher odds of having [a disruptive] disorder,” the authors write.

“Focusing on internalizing problems, teachers reported that international adoptees were significantly more anxious than non-adopted adolescents and their parents reported significantly more symptoms of internalizing disorders, specifically major depressive disorders and separation anxiety disorders.”

“Although most adopted adolescents are psychologically healthy, they may be at elevated risk for some externalizing disorders, especially among those domestically placed,” the authors conclude.

The study appears in the May issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Source: Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine

Adopted Children at Risk for ADHD, Other Mental Disorders

Psych Central News Editor

APA Reference
News Editor, P. (2018). Adopted Children at Risk for ADHD, Other Mental Disorders. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 18, 2019, from
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Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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