AP Medical Writer
Wed May 25,11:26 AM ET
CHICAGO - The scenario is increasingly common — eager parents adopt children born in hardship an ocean away, hoping to create a cohesive family against seemingly daunting odds.
And yet, children adopted from abroad seem to adjust remarkably well, according to a new study that challenges the widely held notion that these youngsters are badly damaged emotionally and prone to disruptive behavior.
The analysis of more than 50 years of international data found youngsters adopted from abroad are only slightly more likely than nonadopted children to have behavioral problems such as aggressiveness and anxiety. And they actually seem to have fewer problems than children adopted within their own countries.
"The first years of life should not be considered as inevitable destiny. On the contrary, most children grab the new chance offered to them," said researchers Femmie Juffer and Marinus H. van IJzendoorn of Leiden University in the Netherlands.
The results are generally reassuring for international adoption — a growing trend involving more than 40,000 children a year moving among more than 100 countries, the researchers said.
"Our findings may help them fight the stereotype that is often associated with international adoption," the researchers said.
The study appears in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.
The authors pooled results from 137 studies on adoptions by parents living in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Israel.
The analysis involved studies on adoption between 1950 and 2005, involving more than 30,000 adoptees and more than 100,000 nonadopted children.
During that time, adoption has evolved from being a "shameful secret" to being celebrated and often very visible, especially with the relatively recent phenomenon of white parents adopting Chinese children, according to a JAMA editorial by Dr. Laurie C. Miller of Tufts-New England Medical Center. In the United States alone, parents have adopted more than 230,000 children from other countries since 1989, she said.
Miller said sensationalized stories about severely disturbed children adopted from abroad have been widespread in the media, which may have skewed perceptions of these children.
In the study, behavior problems were relatively uncommon in all groups studied, but adopted children in general had more of them than nonadopted youngsters, regardless of where the adoption took place. That is not surprising, since both groups often suffer deprivation and come from broken families.
Internationally adopted children had a 20 percent higher chance of being disruptive than nonadopted children, and a 10 percent higher chance of being anxious or withdrawn. They also were twice as likely as nonadopted children to receive mental health services — results that the authors said were much better than expected given these children's often troubled early start in life.
The results might reflect the parents who adopt foreign children, said Dr. Gregory Plemmons of Vanderbilt University's clinic for international adoptees. These parents often are high-achieving and financially well-off, and tend to seek out services like counseling for their children, Plemmons said.
Children adopted within their own countries had an 36 percent higher chance of being anxious or withdrawn than the international adoptees did, and a 50 percent higher chance of being aggressive or disruptive, the study found.
These children were four times more likely than nonadopted children and twice as likely as internationally adopted children to receive mental health services. Also, domestically adopted youngsters had a 60 percent higher chance of having behavior problems than nonadopted children.
Plemmons theorized that children adopted domestically might suffer from the instability of living with different foster families before getting adopted.