Signs of Hope


A Journey through Complex Trauma (Reactive Attachment Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is usually difficult and has far more ups and downs than any roller coaster. Several families who have children with Complex Trauma have agreed to share some of the large and small Signs of Hope that have encouraged them in the hard work they've had to do. We hope these provide some signs for other families to look for and celebrate.


My daughter was adopted at 9 months, and by age 2 she was eating a wide variety of foods. But by age 3, when her RAD was at it's worst, she was only eating about 4 things, Ramen noodles, rice, milk and fruit. Her lack of trust was reflected in her ability to take nourishment from mom.

Recently, after about a year and a half of therapy, we were at our favorite restaurant, which has a huge salad bar with many delicious items, and my daughter was refusing to eat anything. But I told her that she had to try one bite of what I offered her (bread pudding). She refused. I said "You have to try one bite," so she did. She was AMAZED that I was giving her a delicious treat! From then on, she has been willing to try just everything I ask her to, and eats a wide variety of foods that she never ate before.

She brings me a tissue every time I sneeze. She is able to talk about her feelings now to explain why she was in a rage/panic. For instance "I thought you were in the bathroom and then I saw grandma's slippers outside the bathroom door and I thought that she was inside and I didn't know where you were".

My daughter has just turned 5, and I realized that until about a week ago, for the past 2 or 3 years whenever I've asked her to do anything, I've gotten "no" for an answer, either directly or indirectly by passive aggressive means: fooling around, doing something else or just standing there. Our old theme song was the Beatles' "Hello, Goodbye": "I say yes, you say no, I say stop and you say go, go, go" instead of being totally oppositional, she says "Yes Mommy" or "I can help you do that". Now, after 2 years of therapy, she volunteers for chores and washes her hands, face and teeth without complaint.


Our signs of hope developed gradually over a 2-1/2 yr period. My child had anxious attachment and deep grief issues.

  • started to play with me
  • smiles and makes eye contact when I walk in the room
  • wanted to sleep with me
  • gripping with legs while carried (after I taught and requested it)
  • teasing me playfully
  • sought me for comfort--DH had to call me from grandma's one day so I could talk and sooth her over the phone
  • accepted bottle feeding
  • prefers me to all others
  • wants to please me, complies with my requests
  • separation anxiety is much less; I can leave the room for brief periods


Over a 3 mo. period, tantrums changed to just sitting on the floor and protecting her own head a few times a day, instead of laying down-head-banging tantrums several times a day. Two years later, at age 4, tantrums are no longer a daily occurrence. Here were our signs of progress:

  • Our daughter could relax in my arms, instead of being rigid or tense, and could rest her head on my shoulder...this took many months.
  • Our daughter could sleep through the night peacefully.
  • Our daughter began to hold on when we held her.
  • Our daughter began responding to voices, and to her name.
  • Our daughter began to react appropriately when I left her at church...she was sad to see me go but easily distracted with play, and was happy when I returned. (I was unable to leave her for well over a year...she would scream in terror, and would rage when I returned, pushing me away.) Our daughter began to interact and enjoy her siblings. For many months, she didn't even acknowledge their presence.
  • The biggest sign of progress was when I realized that she was a happy child. For a long time that is not how I would have described her!


The time frame in parentheses indicates how long this child had been home before she began to show these signs. The child was adopted at 16 months of age and was severely malnourished.

  • She developed more than one cry--so I could tell if the cry meant angry, sad, scared, hurt. (4 months)
  • I could pick her up off the floor in the middle of the night and her body was relaxed instead of straight and stiff as a board. (about 6 months)
  • I could carry her in from the car when she was sleeping and instead of awaking and crying she continued sleeping when I put her down in her bed or on the sofa. (about a year)
  • She actually wanted to sit beside me while I watched a movie on TV. (I don't watch much TV, but she'd been home over 4 months by then.)
  • She wanted to hold my hand when we were on our walk. (16 months--prior to that time she'd hold the strap on my key chain or hold my finger if I was wearing a glove).
  • First unsolicited hug (5.5 months)
  • She began coming to my room and climbing into bed with me when she awoke in the night (prior to that time she had refused to sleep with me and screamed when I put her in bed with me--even if she was sick). (14 months)
  • She would crawl into bed with us in the morning and play for a few minutes. (14 months)
  • She fell and scraped her face on the sidewalk. After I washed her face and put on some salve, I was holding her like an infant, and she asked for a bottle. (18 months)


B. is a little over 2 1/2 and has been home from Korea for almost exactly one year. We began attachment therapy when he had been home 4 months. I have been frustrated because the eye contact, though somewhat improved, still isn't always there. We are still working on him gripping me when I carry him. And he is still resistant to being tickled and having laughs with me, though sometimes I can surprise the giggles out of him. But the truth is, he has been making loads of progress.

  • He has begun molding in to my body when I hug him (around 6-8 months after arriving home)
  • He yells "mommy!" and comes for a hug when I get home (around 10 months)
  • He says, "MY mommy!" in a tone of ownership and pride (around 8 months)
  • He has begun to speak much more clearly--He wants to CONNECT using words (11 months)
  • When I am in another part of the house, he searches me out to chat. My husband noticed this also and said "he seems more tuned in to you these days." My heart soared! (10 months)
  • He has become MUCH more tolerant of being held in a cradle-hold.
  • He surprises me with an unexpected hug. This has happened probably 10 times since he came home--beginning a couple months after attachment therapy began. Each time this has caught me totally by surprise. Hopefully this will become so normal that I'm not even startled. Then again, I suspect I will always be hyperaware of every hug from him....


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My daughter O. was adopted March 12, 2000, at age 10 mos. Parentheses indicate how many months she had been home when these behaviors began occurring.

  • Placed my hand on her cheek. (9 mos.)
  • Looked into my eyes upon waking in the morning. (10 mos.)
  • Laid quietly beside me in bed with our sides touching, without kicking, struggling, or squirming to get away. (10 mos.)
  • Let me hold the bottle while simultaneously holding my hand. (10 mos.)
  • Bit a Cheerio in half and offered to share the remaining half with me. (10 mos.) Licking her finger to try and remove a blemish from my face this morning. (10 mos.) Thank goodness for makeup.


This child was adopted at a reported age of 22 months and showed many symptoms of PTSD and RAD even during the first week with her new family. These signs of hope occurred during the period from 10 to 16 months after joining her new family.

  • She didn't rage when a shaft of sunlight hit her face like she did previously.
  • She started saying "Bless you, mama" when I sneezed.
  • I told her to stop an inappropriate activity/behavior and she did.
  • I could carry groceries in from the car without her screaming in rage every time I went out to get some bags and every time I returned to the house.
  • She began running to me for a hug and a kiss when I returned home for lunch or returned at the end of the day.
  • She and her nanny had to come to my workplace to get something from me, and she cried because she didn't want to leave me.
  • She let me tuck her arms beneath mine and enjoyed a hug instead of raging because her arms weren't on top
  • She let me hold her and did NOT maintain a space between her front and mine.
  • She asked me to put some of my perfume on her arm so she could still smell me while I was gone.
  • She touched my face the way I touch hers.
  • She saw us in a mirror and for the first time said, "Look. Mama. Baby."
  • When she was hurt, she recognized pain and came to me for comfort.
  • She wanted a kiss and hug at bedtime.
  • One of the buckles on her seatbelt hadn't fastened and she let me know.
  • She could eat a meal without deliberately spilling things.
  • I could put my cheek against hers without it sending her into a rage.
  • She could sit on her little rug to get herself reorganized and avoid the rage she'd been headed toward.
  • The BIG ONE: She was willing to lie on my tummy and chest and relax almost to the point of sleep. She still won't synchronize her breathing with mine, but I think we'll get there.


My daughter began a peculiar behavior shortly after we began attachment therapy with her last fall, and it has evolved in such a way that I see it as sign of her bonding to us. She began by asking questions like "If I was squished by a car, what would you do?"--then evolving to "If I was eaten by an alligator and squished by a car, what would you do?"; then finally to the current version: "If 44 dinosaurs, 44 alligators, 60 coyotes and 15 crocodiles ate all my parts, my eyes, legs, nose, and hands, what would you and Daddy and my sister do?" For a while, she was asking this 10-15 times a day, and I always gave the same answer, that we would do whatever it took to get her put back together again. She seems to be wanting affirmation that we really are her parents, and will do what parents are supposed to; that is; take care of her! The queries have now dropped off to a few per a week, but she still asks, with great seriousness.

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