May 1, 2011


Adopted Child Syndrome (ACS)


Adoption secrecy is credited with fueling several types of negative outcome issues for adoptees, including the statistical possibility that siblings separated by adoption, unaware of their biological relationship, have engaged in incestuous relationships (see the story of Joel Domingues at , under GEORGIA, and “Keeping it in the Family: Incest and Inbreeding,” at . But it’s the apparently higher probability of criminal and sociopathic behaviors by adoptees that has been the most documented — and most disputed by pro-adoption groups and supporters of “tough on crime” legislation.

Reuben Pannor, former Director and now Consultant to California’s Vista del Mar residential center for emotionally disturbed children is quoted by Los Angeles Times writer Beverly Beyette: “I started working in adoption at Vista del Mar 30 years ago…There, I was surprised to note that every 3rd child had been adopted and had problems.” The Adopted Prisoner and Adopted Killer pages, as well as the free download for the e-book, Chosen Children, not only documents the existence of the link between adoption and emotionally disturbed to sociopathic behaviors, but also explains WHY.

That adoptees are prone to specific behaviors referred to as “Adopted Child Syndrome,” says famed attorney and Harvard Law Professor, Alan Dershowitz, is just another “abuse excuse” to avoid reponsibility for their actions, including felony crimes. But this is the same Alan Dershowitz who, in his op-ed piece in the LA Times,suggested using “Torture Warrants” — court ordered to control what Dershowitz calls the “inevitable” use of torture by U.S. law enforcement in the “war on terrorism.” He claims torture is “constitutional,” regardless that it is also detrimental to a democratic society. He rationalizes that its sanctioning by warrant would make it more accountable and transparent. “If we are to have torture,” he argues, “it should be authorized by the law.” Notwithstanding that falsification of sealed birth records, and adoption itself, have never been deemed “constitutional” or democratic, Dershowitz seems to be missing the point of our profiling people who are victims of adoption abuse, not as an “excuse,” but as a “reason” for the prevalance of sociopathology and violent crime among those whose lives were forever manipulated by adoption politics and lawyers “in their best interests.”

In 1953, Jean Paton, MA, MSW, a social worker and adoptee, conducted the first studies on families involved in sealed adoptions under the name “The Life History Center,” in Philadelphia. In the June 1955 edition of the Western Journal of Surgery, Paton described “passive, hostile and dependent behaviors” in an adopted boy–behaviors she later defined and which would later be more widely known as “Adopted Child Syndrome.” Her studies revealed confused, damaged children and families due to this secrecy based on ever-changing social work theory and political expediency. Subsequently, terminology such as “slave psychology” was applied to the adoptee “because he feels he must submit to the will of his adopters as a reflection of what they have done for him.”

In 1978, Dr. David Kirschner coined the term “Adopted Child Syndrome” as underlying “Dissociative Disorder,” in his paper, “Son of Sam and the Adopted Child Syndrome,” Adelphi Society for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy Newsletter, 1978)… and in the same year, the Indian Child Welfare Act (Public Law 95-608) was amended to provide adult adoptees of Native American heritage “different rights” than non-Indian adoptees.

In the 1980s, adoptees who exhibited “Attachment Disorder” were further categorized as a “sub-set spectrum” of adoptees who, to varying degrees, exhibit eight specific antisocial Adopted Child Syndrome (ACS) behaviors — according to noted psychologists, Kirschner, Sorosky, Schecter, Carlson, Simmons, Work, Goodman, Silverstein, Mandell, Menlove, Simon, Senturia, Offord, Aponti, Cross and others. However the “spectrum” is never defined, so it is argued that all adoptees are at risk due to the complexities of adoptees’ dual identities and secret pasts. Although Brazelton referred to ACS as “malarkey” in the press, psychiatrist David Cooke said “Adopted Child Syndrome is simply a new name for a phenomenon that has been observed since the 1950’s” (by Paton). The ACS behaviors most commonly referred to are:

  • conflict with authority (for example truancy);
  • preoccupation with excessive fantasy;
  • pathological lying;
  • stealing;
  • running away (from home, school, group homes, situations);
  • learning difficulties, under-achievement, over-achievement;
  • lack of impulse control (acting out, promiscuity, sex crimes);
  • fascination with fire, fire-setting

By 1982, in children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) for hyperactivity, a 17% rate of non-relative adoption was found, –or eight times the rate for non-adopted children — and it was estimated that 23% of all adopted children would have ADD;. Today that percentage is much higher. As Jean Paton pointed out, “Do you have to be truant, or drop out of school, steal, get into juvenile detention homes, in order for people to realize that you need to have someone tell you about your origins?” Apparently the answer is still YES.

Years laters Kirschner still maintained:

“In twenty-five years of practice I have seen hundreds of adoptees, most adopted in infancy. In case after case, I have observed what I have come to call the Adopted Child Syndrome, which may include pathological lying, stealing, truancy, manipulation, shallowness of attachment, provocation of parents and other authorities, threatened or actual running away, promiscuity, learning problems, fire-setting, and increasingly serious antisocial behavior, often leading to court custody. It may include an extremely negative or grandiose self-image, low frustration tolerance, and an absence of normal guilt or anxiety.” (“The Adopted Child Syndrome: What Therapists Should Know,” Psychotherapy in Private Practice, vol. 8 (3) Hayworth Press, 1990)….

Kirschner concludes his paper with “Finally, I believe that most adoptees have the same emotional vulnerabilities that are seen in dramatic form in the Adopted Child Syndrome, and that all adoptees are at risk.”

In 1992, David M Brodzinsky, Marshall D Schechter & Robin Marantz Henig, authoredBeing Adopted: The Lifelong Search For Self.” Using their combined total of 55 years experience in clinical and research work with adoptees and their families, the authors use the voices of adoptees themselves to trace how adoption is experienced over a lifetime. Studies have shown that being adopted can affect many aspects of adoptees’ lives, from relationships with adoptive parents to bonds with their own children.

On September 23, 1992, Attorney Donald Humphrey, himself an adoptee, called attention to the Syndrome as a factor in cases where children murdered their adopters in Violence in Adoption,” a talk he gave at a conference of the American Adoption Congress.

In 1993 and 1994, the Syndrome was used as a defense in two cases of juvenile adoptees who murdered their adopters. Kirschner, a child psychologist, identified the Syndrome as a contributing factor with regard to Patrick DeGellecke who was 14 when he killed his adopters by setting fire to their home.

In “Heikkila,” Courier News (NJ, front page story, 10-12-93), Laurence Arnold added that the Syndrome is further characterized by “an absence of normal guilt or anxiety about one’s deeds” and newsstories that characterize young adoptees who killed their adopters as displaying “no emotion” or having “no remorse” support this. TheNew York Times account of Matthew Heikkila’s crime, “How the Adoption System Ignites a Fire,” by Betty Jean Lifton (3-1-94, p. 27), cites Kirschner as well as psychiatrist Arthur Sorosky, who helped set the precedent in the DeGellecke case with the Adopted Child Syndrome defense.

Adoptees including Larry Swartz (Maryland), Patrick Campbell (Connecticut), and Tammy and Kathryn Tomassoni (Arizona), now adults, were tried and convicted “as juveniles” for the murders of their respective adopters but also are among the very few adoptees who, having served their sentences, were released from prison. They never killed again and were reportedly living “normal” lives. Swartz, who married and had a child, was well liked by the community who called him a caring person; he was only 37 when died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 2004. His compelling story is detailed in “The Second Life of Larry Swartz: Friends Remember Murderer as ‘God’s Gift to Life,'” by MarylandMissing, Websleuths forum at: Other adoptees, such as Heikkila and Marty Tankleff, who were juveniles when they murdered their adopters (in Connecticut and New York, respectively), were neverthless convicted “as adults” and remain in prison.

One of the most intriguing and probably the most accurate assessment of the psychological dynamics of adoptees–particularly adoptees who commit violent crimes–has been advanced by many incarcerated adoptees themselves. They suggest that adoption, whether legal or illegal, is a dysfunction of kinship, and that the adoptee perceives many people in his world as “strangers.” What is seen in many adopted children is the beginning of a cycle of violence against adopters, or strangers, or both, as supported by AmFOR’s pages at and There may be a reaction experienced by the adoptee in childhood that is the most primitive wound to the psyche — a theory shared by many adoption researchers – and that this wound is re-experienced at the very essence of his/her humanity even in adulthstory which, when focused, may find its end as predatory violence.

On 12-26-00, David Kirschner posted to the Internet newsgroup, alt.adoption:

“Rather, I have repeatedly emphasized the Syndrome describes a sub-set of adoptees at the end of a spectrum–and not ALL adoptees.”

Not only does it appear that Kirschner has acquiesced under pressure to be politically correct via AdoptSpeak, but also, in that moment, he contradicted decades of his own research, beliefs and published statements. And, again, he does not define “the spectrum of adoptees,” who have ACS, a point not lost on Kay Russell, anti-adoption activist, who posted a response to Kirschner under the screen name Saxon War Lord, as follows:

“Dr. Kirschner, is the spectrum a graduation of these symptoms? Would ACS be the end of the spectrum you’re talking about, like the MPD end of the Dissociative spectrum? What I mean is, I would not expect ACS to be at the end of a spectrum of all stable unaffected people, then suddenly a sub-set of affected adoptees. So the next sub-set on your spectrum would be ‘pretty disturbed’ but not ‘as disturbed’ as those with ACS — and next to that sub-set and other sub-sets affected, but to a lesser degree, and on and on down that spectrum….clear on down to the other end of the spectrum where we’d find adoptees who ‘fair pretty well despite being adopted.'”

Kirschner never responded.

Until the 2002 book, Chosen Children, and AmFOR’s web page at made this information available, free on Internet, no one work had linked the majority of serial killers and others by the abnormality of their adoptive status. Increasingly, profilers, psychologists, sociologists, educators, journalists, script writers, defense attorneys and other researchers understand and explain adoptees’ behaviors in the context of their adoptions.

Interestingly, in 2007, David Kirschner, PhD, announced his new book, “Adoption: Uncharted Waters,” resurrecting his nearly abandoned “Adopted Child Syndrome” terminology; and his new book finally acknowledges cases of adoptees who committed homicide. Kirschner even goes so far as to suggest how to treat and prevent Adopted Child Syndrome. A browse of this website more than suggests the best way to prevent Adopted Child Syndrome is to prevent adoption.

A Casey Family Programs/Harvard Medical School study finds “rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] among foster care alumni are up to twice as high as for U.S. war veterans!” Adoption has also produced an epidemic of disturbed kids, as hundreds of “examples” on this page beg the question: (1) WHY is the number of known Serial Killers, who are known to be adopted, disproportionate to the general population who are Serial Killers? and (2) WHY are there twice as many Adopted Killers who are known to be in the category “Adoptees Who Killed Their Adopters?”

On 9-17-07, after years of political waffling on his own theory of Adopted Child Syndrome, New York Psychotherapist David Kirschner, MD, finally acknowledged “The Connection Between Adoption and Murder,” but targets sealed adoptions, at,0919-7.htm. This was five years after Lori Carangelo’s revealing statistical and anecdotal research on the subject in her book, “Chosen Children,” (originally published in 2002 by scholarly book publisher, Schenkman Books, now a free download at Carangelo finds that competing interests of parents, adopters and adoptee, and how the adoption itself is perceived and handled in the adoptive family, even in so-called “open” and stepparent adoptions, is crucial to the child’s outcome.

In “MY ARMENIAN GENESIS: The Last Survivor” at – author Mary L. Foess (Judith Movsisian) exemplifies the adopted individual’s dilemma of a dual existence — one that demands suppression of pain from actual or perceived rejection while accepting as “normal” the abnormal status of one whose origins are secret — and one that compels a search for normalcy of familial relationships. Mary’s book lays bare not only her own feelings and admissions, but also the complexities of those who hold the answers to family secrets and who fear the proverbial “knock on the door” from an adoptee so obsessed by her need to know and to be accepted.

In “FORBIDDEN FAMILY” at – author Joan Wheeler (Sipple), an adoptee who is a social worker, adoption reform activist, advocate for donor offspring and a suicide prevention and crisis counselor who has, for years, suffered clinical depression and battled thoughts of suicide, reveals how being adopted by strangers as a “half orphan” created the emotional abuse that has dominated her life ever since.

Chronological List of Psychopathology Studies

1937 David M. Levy, “Primary Affect Hunger,” American Journal of Psychiatry 94 (November 1937):643-652.
1937 Sydney Tarachow, “The Disclosure of Foster-Parentage to a Boy: Behavior Disorders and Other Psychological Problems Resulting,” American Journal of Psychiatry 94 (September 1937):401-412
1938 Edwina A. Cowan, “Some Emotional Problems Besetting the Lives of Foster Children,” Mental Hygiene 22 (July 1938):454-458.
1941 Robert P. Knight, “Some Problems in Selecting and Rearing Adopted Children,” Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic 5 (May 1941):65-74.
1942 Elsie Stonesifer, “The Behavior Difficulties of Adopted and Own Children,”Smith College Studies in Social Work, vol 13 (November-December 1942):161.
1944 Houston McKee Mitchell, “Adopted Children as Patients of a Mental Hygiene Clinic,” Smith College Studies in Social Work 15 (1944):122-123.
1952 E. Wellisch, “Children Without Genealogy�A Problem of Adoption,” Mental Health 13 (1952):41-42.
1953 Portia Holman, “Some Factors in the Aetiology of Maladjusted Children,”Journal of Mental Science 99 (1953):654-688.
1953 Bernice T. Eiduson and Jean B. Livermore, “Complications in Therapy with Adopted Children,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 23 (October 1953):795-802
1954 National Association for Mental Health, A Survey Based on Adoption Case Records (London: National Association for Mental Health, 1954 est.).
1960 Marshall D. Schechter, “Observations on Adopted Children,” Archives of General Psychiatry 3 (July 1960):21-32.
1961 M.L. Kellmer Pringle, “The Incidence of Some Supposedly Adverse Family Conditions and of Left-Handedness in Schools for Maladjusted Children,”British Journal of Educational Psychology 31, no. 2 (June 1961):183-193.
1961 Bruce Gardner, Glenn R. Hawkes, and Lee G. Burchinal, “Noncontinuous Mothering in Infancy and Development in Later Childhood,” Child Development32 (June 1961):225-234.
1962 Betty K. Ketchum, “An Exploratory Study of the Disproportionate Number of Adopted Children Hospitalized at Columbus Children’s Psychiatric Hospital” (Masters Thesis, Ohio State University, 1962).
1962 Povl W. Toussieng, “Thoughts Regarding the Etiology of Psychological Difficulties in Adopted Children,” Child Welfare (February 1962):59-65, 71.
1962 Frances Lee Anderson Menlove, “Acting Out Behavior in Emotionally Disturbed Adopted Children” (Ph.D., University of Michigan, 1962).
1963 Michael Humphrey and Christopher Ounsted, “Adoptive Families Referred for Psychiatric Advice,” British Journal of Psychiatry 109 (1963):599-608.
1963 Jerome D. Goodman, Richard M. Silberstein, and Wallace Mandell, “Adopted Children Brought to Child Psychiatric Clinic,” Archives of General Psychiatry 9, no. 5 (November 1963):451-456.
1964 Marshall D. Schechter et al., “Emotional Problems in the Adoptee,”Archives of General Psychiatry 10 (February 1964):109-118.
1964 H. J. Sants, “Genealogical Bewilderment in Children with Substitute Parents,”British Journal of Medical Psychology 37, no. 1964 (1964):133-141.
1964 H. David Kirk, Shared Fate: A Theory of Adoption and Mental Health (New York: The Free Press of Glencoe, 1964).
1965 Frances Lee Menlove, “Aggressive Symptoms in Emotionally Disturbed Adopted Children,” Child Development 36, no. 2 (June 1965):519-532.
1966 Nathan M. Simon and Audrey G. Senturia, “Adoption and Psychiatric Illness,”American Journal of Psychiatry 122, no. 8 (February 1966):858-868.
1966 H. David Kirk, “Are Adopted Children Especially Vulnerable to Stress? A Critique of Some Recent Assertions,” Archives of General Psychiatry 14 (March 1966):291-298.
1966 Alfred Kadushin, “Adoptive Parenthood: A Hazardous Adventure?,” Social Work (July 1966):30-39.
1968 Shirley A. Reece and Barbara Levin, “Psychiatric Disturbances in Adopted Children: A Descriptive Study,” Social Work (January 1968):101-111.
1970 Marshall D. Schechter, “About Adoptive Parents,” in Parenthood: Its Psychology and Psychopathology, eds. E. James Anthony and Therese Benedek (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1970), 353-371.
1975 Arthur D. Sorosky, Annette Baran, and Reuben Pannor, “Identity Conflicts in Adoptees,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 45 (January 1975):18-27.
1988 David Kirschner and Linda S. Nagel, “Antisocial Behavior in Adoptees: Patterns and Dynamics,” Child and Adolescent Social Work 5, no. 4 (Winter 1988):300-314.
1990 David Kirschner, “The Adopted Child Syndrome: Considerations for Psychotherapy,” Psychotherapy in Private Practice 8, no. 3 (1990):93-100.
1990 David Brodzinsky and Marshall Schechter, eds., The Psychology of Adoption(New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).
1993 Nancy Newton Verrier, The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child(Baltimore, MD: Gateway Press, 1993).
1995 Katarina Wegar, “Adoption and Mental Health: A Theoretical Critique of the Psychopathological Model,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 65 (October 1995):540-548.
1998 Joyce Maguire Pavao, The Family of Adoption (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998).

1 Comment »

  1. The book Forbidden Family by Joan Wheeler, has been pulled from publication, by the publisher, because it contains libelous materials against the birth family. It was pulled in May of 2011…see web sites…gertmcqueen.wordpress. com and for all information about the behavior of Joan Wheeler towards her birth family and anyone who is pro-adoption.

    Comment by gertmcqueen — June 28, 2012 @ 2:40 am | Reply

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