Adopted Child Syndrome

Adoptees are over represented in the juvenile criminal system, prison system, psychiatric institutions, drug and alcohol rehabilitation settings. They are most often the individuals who are serial killers, mass murders and those who commit parricides. The FBI estimates that of the 500 serial killers in the US, most are American born and adopted. This is alarming because only 2-3 % of the population (5-10 million) are adopted people.

Adopted Child Syndrome has been a successful defense used in a few Death Penalty cases where the accused has been adopted. This theory has been supported by many psychologists who specialize in adoption. Although not endorsed by the American Psychological Association, Adopted Child Syndrome was first studied in 1953 by Jean Paton, an adult adoptee and social worker. It was psychologist David Kirschner who coined the term “Adopted Child Syndrome” and saw it as underlying dissociative disorder. He believes that the adoptee reacts to the traumatic effects of adoption with identified anti-social behaviors.

The syndrome is a term used to describe a set of behaviors that has been used to explain problems in bonding, attachment, lying, stealing, defiance of authority, and acts of violence. It is believed that the syndrome only applies to a small clinical subgroup of adoptees. In particular it strikes those adoptees that secretly struggle with a type of genealogical bewilderment and in particularly it affects adoptees whose families treat adoption as a secret and do not talk openly. Oppositional defiant behavior is seen in these adoptees and if not treated by trained mental heath professionals, it can lead to antisocial behavior.

Sociopathic behavior is profiled in terms of having suffered intolerable emotional abuse. For the adopted child the suffering is experiencing the complete disconnection to someone who is like them in personality and appearance, from the experience of being left and abandoned and from the felt sense of being unwanted and unloved even if they are wanted and loved in their adoptive families.

How adoption is handled in the adoptive family is instrumental in its impact on the adoptees’ psyche. Families who recognize their child’s loss and assist them with the feelings inherently create more emotional health whereas families who are silent and secretive create a situation where a child has to bury and dissociate from what they feel. Once an individual has learned to dissociate parts of themselves, it becomes second nature. Anger and rage begin to build within yet the feelings are sequestered until something ignites them.

Over the last several years I have been hired as an expert witness on many cases of adoptee parricide and where Adopted Child Syndrome was considered as a defense.  All have been very disturbing cases, sad and unnecessary.

Excerpted from National Criminal Justice System, NCJS Journal Abstract, “Adoption & Murder” (from Psychology and Law” p.274-280, 1997, Santiago Redondo and Vicente Garrido et al, NCJS 176632)“…although adopted children commit murders more often than commonly believed, there is resistance to making an issue of this fact. This may be because of the secrecy associated with many adoptions and the failure of criminal justice agencies to record the nature of an offender’s family background. From a legal posture, an adopted child is simply the child of his adoptive parents. …the psychodynamics of adoption are easily overlooked in forensic mental health evaluations.”

Excerpted from “Adoption Forensics: The Connection Between Adoption and Murder” by David Kirschner, PhD, “Of the 500 estimated serial killers in U.S. history, 16 percent were adopted as children. Adoptees, he found, were 15 times more likely to kill one or both of their adoptive parents than biological children.”

These negative outcomes include adopted serial killers such as David Berkowitz  (Son of Sam), Ted Bundy (Co-ed Killer) Kenneth Bianchi (Hillside Strangler), Brandi Lynn Hungerford (Black Widow), Catherine Gypsy (Manson Family Murders). There are 36 documented female serial killers, all of whom have been adopted. Despite the high number of serial and mass murders who are adopted, there are many adoptees that murder their adopters and often entire adoptive family. For a complete listing go to Chosen Children 2016.