Category Archives: mental health

Boy Meets Osmosis, Part 1

Photo Credit: Immanuel Brändemo

Photo Credit: Immanuel Brandemo


Several times in the last few months, our boy has mentioned that he seems different from other kids his age. He feels they think in a different way than he does.

He isn’t wrong, since he’s on the Autism spectrum. If the DSM-V hadn’t changed everything (okay, not everything), he would be diagnosed as having Asperger’s. In fact, his earliest diagnosis listed him as an Aspie.

We have never told him, concerned that it might make him feel different, or that he might use it as an excuse. “Well, I just act that way because I have Autism.”

However, since he already feels “different,” we’ve been thinking that maybe we should tell him.

A couple weeks ago, the kids and I were watching Girl Meets World, a spinoff/sequel to my childhood favorite, Boy Meets World. In this particular episode, one of the characters had testing because the adults in his life suspected he might be on the spectrum. He was agitated and concerned over the idea that he might be Autistic. I didn’t really like the way they portrayed that part because the tone made a diagnosis sound a little scary. Test results showed the young man does not have Asperger’s and he seemed relieved. However, one of his close friends was disappointed because she is an Aspie and was hoping his diagnosis would make her feel less different. The show ended as the kids assured the girl that they all love her just the way she is.

Overall, the episode does a pretty good job of showing kids how to be inclusive. The portrayal of nervous tension about the testing, both for the parents and for the child, seems fairly accurate.

I wouldn’t really know, because we didn’t tell our boy we were getting him tested (yearly psychs are run of the mill here, so he didn’t even notice) and I was ECSTATIC to receive the diagnosis.

Still, I felt they could have done a better job of portraying the diagnosis as something less scary—or even cool, because truly, Spectrum Kids are gifted.

As the show closed, our boy stared me square in the eye and asked,

What do I have?

Not quite ready to have the conversation, I hedged. “What do you think you have?”

He thought for a minute, then said, “I think I have the illness of aaaaaaaaaaaa(thought he was going to say it)aaaaawesome!”




I’m Going In…Part 2

I didn’t get what I wanted last week.

(Click on the “last week” link to go back to Part 1.)

I marched into the meeting armed with a thick file of psychological testing, neurological testing, notes I’ve taken through the last five years and a box of thirty-odd adoptive parenting books. I wanted to show the team we’ve done due diligence and our homework. Our daughter’s in-home therapist accompanied me.

A few days prior to the meeting, one of the lead therapists in the assessment company spent several hours on the phone learning about our situation. I’m sure she’s also thinking of the financial gain of a new client but she seemed very dedicated to helping our girl get what she needs. She even offered to join the meeting by phone. However, the night before the meeting she called to let me know the community services rep told her not to call. I thought it was a little strange; using every resource seemed like a good move to me, but I figured this wasn’t the rep’s first rodeo. She must have her reasons.

As the meeting started, I explained our situation, laid out the path we’ve taken to try to find answers and explained why we feel having an assessment (which is a large expense) would be helpful for our daughter. Several companies nationwide in the U.S. provide the service; some appear to have better results than others and many are very far away. This company is our closest option and has received great feedback from former clients.

The meeting facilitator asked for additional information about the company. I began handing out the company brochures as the community service rep spoke up. “Unfortunately, no one from the company was available to join us for this meeting, so we don’t have additional information.”

Wait, what?!

Mid-reach over the big oak table with a brochure, I locked eyes with the rep.

“Actually, she was available. She called me last night stating that you told her not to call in.”

The rep flushed, then said, “Well. Yes. I did. I have to say, the behavior discussed here is nothing like the sweet young lady who sat in my office.”

For half an hour. She saw my daughter for thirty minutes. She thought I was making this up?

The facilitator’s eyes flicked back and forth between us, possibly concerned I’d jump across the table.

I gritted my teeth and

sat down on my inner WWF wrestler* alter-ego,

who really wanted to pound the rep.

*Her name is Tai-Chi-Mama and she wears a cape. 

Our girl’s therapist told the group she’s familiar with the program and thinks this partnership would be very helpful. Unfortunately, she was a young newcomer and many of the team members were…seasoned. Although they were mildly interested, her words held no sway with the group.

Another team member spoke up just then, explaining that she’s seen excellent results from the assessment with some of her own young clients. I’m not sure why she didn’t say anything earlier; maybe she was waiting to see if I needed help. Her testimony turned the tide from good-luck-getting-that-approved to we’re interested but not sold. 

I still didn’t get what I wanted.

The facilitator told me I’d need to go back to our adoption district and request the funding in a process that can take up to two months (color me not thrilled) by going through the social work team (double not thrilled).

When we adopted, the head social worker in the original district was horrible and the director wasn’t much better. If you’ve been reading a while, you’ve probably seen a few of those painful posts. Telling me I’d need to work with them again was tantamount to directing me to attempt firewalking.

I left the meeting somewhat discouraged. Thankfully, the meeting facilitator offered to call ahead to the social worker. Since the request came from the team, the social worker couldn’t completely shut me down.

Let’s stop here for a quick sing-along: 
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you might find
You get what you need

Today, I got what I needed.

The social worker called. She said,

We’ve had trouble building trust with a lot of our older families because of what happened in the past with other social workers. I want to let you know that things are very different now. I’m here to help you and I want to get your daughter what she needs. I’ve sent you information about the process and some paperwork to get it started. Oh, and let me tell you about a few other resources that may be helpful…

Several of the options she suggested weren’t even on my radar. And to think, if we’d been approved in the beginning, I would have never talked with her.

Sometimes, we think we aren’t getting what we want.

Maybe we aren’t.

And maybe, just maybe, not getting what we want is…good.

I am Dying


Photo by Jon Bunting

I am dying.

Scary words, until you realize that from the moment we are born, we begin to die.

I am dying. So are you. Dying is a part of living.

As Benjamin Franklin possibly said,

…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

In most circles, death is not an oft-discussed topic, at least publicly.

I’m a bit of an odd duck when it comes to picking friends; most of mine are eligible for the senior coffee discount at McDonald’s.

With age, I suppose, comes a certain awareness that while the end may not be near, it is inevitable. At least once a week, one of my silver-tressed friends tosses out a phrase like,

if I’m still here next year,

or even,

we both know I won’t be here much longer.

Recently, a close friend confided,

I came across a picture of a family reunion. Of at least forty faces, I’m the only one in the photo who is still alive. The realization shook me. 

I often wonder whether other people my age feel the imminence of death in the same way, or if my musings are influenced by the input of my elders, their consistent reminders of mortality.

I want my life to count for something.

I wish to leave my children with good memories.

I hope Hubby can honestly say these were the best years, the most fun he ever had. That he could always tell I love him deeply with every bit of my soul.

I’d like to accomplish something amazing before I die.

All of this is constantly in the forefront of my mind. 

Also, I really don’t want anyone to hate me because they end up with my unfinished business…all the things I was going to use “later,” millions of papers to scan, the mess of notes on my computer, the parts of the house I always plan to clean but end up forgetting they exist (like wiping the top of the refrigerator or under-the-couch dust bunny removal).

Speaking of the mess of notes…will anyone even read them? Maybe Hubby, or the kids. But unless I buckle down and finish a book, they don’t even make sense. Will they think I was crazy, or just disorganized? Maybe I should create a “destroy computer upon my death” note to save everyone from embarrassment (ok, mostly me).

I want to do something. Something real. Something big. Something that matters.

It’s not like I sit around and do nothing. Today, I worked a half-day for my job, changed the sheets on my bed, washed laundry, steam-cleaned two couches and the carpets in two rooms, made meals and helped the Boy organize his room. (He has picked up my “but-I-might-need-this-later” habit…we are both striving to overcome hoarding random objects that might be useful for creating.)

But of the list above, only two of those items have any real meaning (although it’s nice to be clean…and it’s also nice to eat). I am a recruiter, so the time I spent talking with candidates could ultimately pay off in a changed life if they find a job match. And most important of all, the time spent with my son helped solidify a bond.

While we worked, we talked about trust and how Hubby and I work very hard to keep our word even when it means we’re not happy (think promised consequence for certain action). The Boy expressed how difficult it is for him, even after five and a half years, to trust.

Later, when I put him to bed, he hugged me hard and—with a fervor I don’t often see—thanked me several times for helping him. Definitely time well spent.

Especially since I’m dying.

Only one breath stands between me and eternity. One distracted driver. One stray bullet. One disease. One heart attack. One robbery gone wrong.

It’s probably better that I don’t know how I’ll go, or when. I read a story once in which the characters all had a time stamp to let them know when they’d “expire.” If I knew, I might obsess about it (will it hurt? how long will it take?) instead of living. If the date wouldn’t arrive for another 50 years, I might not live with urgency or try to make each day count. After all, 50 years is “plenty” of time.

I just read an article by Ray Stedman called, “How, Then, Should We Live?” encouraging us to “live supportively, live generously, live thoughtfully!” With Georgia mortality on my mind, his writing resonated deeply. The article tends to wander, but I highly recommend you read it—if you do, let me know what you think.

Since I obviously don’t have info regarding the Big Date, I’ve decided to live this upcoming year as if it were my last, with the goal of living supportively, generously and thoughtfully. 

I want 2017 to be the year thinking about death causes me to make a difference, live fully, love absolutely.

Am I crazy? (Wait, don’t answer that…)

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Take the poll.

RESOURCE: An Overview of Reactive Attachment Disorder for Teachers

Many thanks to Art Becker-Weidman for allowing me to copy directly from his website. This is one of the most thorough descriptions of RAD I’ve found online.


An Overview of Reactive Attachment Disorder for Teachers 

If a parent has given you this to read, you are teaching a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder.  The family of this child has apparently decided to share this information with you.  That sharing is a big step for this family and one you have to treat gently and with the respect it deserves.

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is most common in foster and adopted children but can be found in many other so-called “normal” families as well due to divorce, illness or separations.  Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) develops when a child is not properly nurtured in the first few months and years of life.  It is causes by early chronic maltreatment such as neglect, abuse, or institutional care.  The child, left to cry in hunger, pain or need for cuddling, learns that adults will not help.  The child whose parent(s) are more involved in getting their next drug fix than they are in nurturing the developing child learns that the child’s needs are not primary to the caregivers.  Children born of drug or alcohol addicted parents learn even in the womb that things do not feel good and are not safe for them. In severe cases, where the child was an abuse or violence victim, the child learns adults are hurtful and cannot be trusted. The child with RAD may develop approaches or “working models” of the world to keep the child safe.  The child may try to control a world the child experiences as dangerous if not controlled by the child.  Without therapy child with RAD may not develop the attachments to other human beings which allow them to trust, accept discipline, develop cause and effect thinking, self-control and responsibility.

Children with RAD are often involved in the Juvenile Justice System, as they get older.  They feel no remorse, have no conscience and see no relation between their actions and what happens as a result because they never connected with or relied upon another human being in trust their entire lives.

What you may see as a teacher is a child who is, initially, surprisingly charming to you, even seeking to hold your hand, climbing into your lap, smiling a lot, you’re delighted you are getting on so well with such a child.  At the onset of your contact with the child who has been reported from prior grades as “impossible” you will wonder what those previous teachers did to provoke the behaviors you have not (yet) seen but which are reflected in the prior grade reports. A few months into what you thought was a working relationship the child is suddenly openly defiant, moody, angry and difficult to handle; there is no way to predict what will happen from day to the next; the child eats as if he hasn’t been properly fed and is suspected of stealing other children’s snacks or lunch items; the child does not seem to make or keep friends; the child seems able to play one-on-one for short periods, but cannot really function well in groups; the child is often a bully on the playground; although child with RAD may have above average intelligence they often do not perform well in school due to lack of problem solving and analytical thinking skills; they often test poorly because they have not learned cause-effect thinking.  In addition, having experienced at an early age that nothing they do matters, they do not “try” or put in effort; why try when what you do has not effect?

A child with RAD may climb into your lap and pretend to be affection starved.  Children with RAD may talk out loud in classrooms, do not contribute fairly to group work or conversely argue to dominate and control the group.  Organizational abilities are limited and monitoring is resented. There may be a sense of hypervigilance about them that you initially perceive as no sense of personal space and general “nosiness”. They seem to want to know everyone else’s business but never tell you anything about their own. There is no sense of conscience, even if someone else is hurt.  They may express an offhand or even seemingly sincere “sorry,” but will likely do the same thing again tomorrow.  They are not motivated by self or parental pride, normal reward and punishment systems simply do not work.  

They may omit parts of assignments even when writing their names just so that they are in control of the assignment, not you.  This stems from a deep feeling that adults are not to be trusted, so the best strategy when you don’t trust someone may be to not do what that person asks you to do.  When assigned a seat they may choose an indirect, self- selected path to reach the seat.  When given a certain number of things to repeat or do, they often do more, or less than directed. They destroy toys, clothing, bedding, pillows, and family memorabilia.  They may blame parents, siblings, or others for missing or incomplete homework, missing items of clothing, lost lunch bags, etc.  They may destroy school bags, lose supplies, steal food, sneak sweets, break zippers on coats, tear clothing, and eat so as to disgust those around them (open mouth chewing, food smeared over face).

They may inflict self-injuries, pick at scabs until they bleed, seek attention for non-existent/miniscule injuries, and yet will seek to avoid adults when they have real injuries or genuine pain.  These children have not learned how to seek and accept comfort and care from caregivers because their early experiences have taught them that adults don’t care.  Children with RAD may have multiple falls and accidents and frequently complain about what other children have done to them (“he started it!”, “Suzy kicked me first”).  Children with RAD can walk around in significant physical pain from real injuries and may minimize the injury until it is detected.  They may not wipe a running nose or cover a mouth to sneeze or conversely will overreact or exaggerate a cough or mild illness.  They often have not had experiences of being taught in a loving responsive manner how to wash, bathe, brush teeth, and engage in other self-care activities. 

They are in a constant battle for control of their environment and seek that control however they can, even in totally meaningless situations.  If they are in control they feel safe.  If they are loved and protected by an adult they are convinced they are going to be hurt because they never learned to trust adults, adult judgment or to develop any of what you know as normal feelings of acceptance, safety and warmth.  Their speech patterns are often unusual and may involve talking out of turn, talking constantly, talking nonsense, humming, singsong, asking unanswerable or obvious questions (“Do I get a drink any time today?”).  They have one pace – theirs. No amount of “hurry up everyone is waiting on you” will work – they must be in control and you have just told them they are. Need the child to finish lunch so everyone can go to the playground.  Need the child to dress and line up, the child may scatter papers, drop clothing, fail to locate gloves, wander around the room – anything to slow the process and control it further.  Five minutes later the child may be kissing your hand or stroking your cheek for you with absolutely no sense of having caused the mayhem that ensues from his actions.  Again all these behavior are NOT intentional.  The behaviors are the result of having experienced significant early chronic maltreatment.  These early experiences have created an internal working model of the world and relationship that mirror those early experiences and which are projected onto current relationships. 

You can begin to understand what this child’s parents must face on a daily basis.  The parents are often tense; involved in control battles for their parental role every minute they are with the child, they adopted the child thinking love would cure anything that had happened to her before the adoption. They have only recently learned that normal parenting will not work with this child; that much of what they have tried to do for years simply fed into the child’s dysfunction. They are frightened, sad, stressed and lonely. Many feel unmerited guilt for their perceived “failure” with this child. The mothers often bear the brunt of the child’s actions.

It takes a tremendous amount of work and therapy to turn these kids around so that they can experience real feelings and learn to trust. Parents who have embarked on this healing journey for their child need support and consistency from other adults who interact with the child.

What can you do as a teacher?  CALL THE PARENTS. Have them in to talk with you about this issue.  Call them and talk about what you see in the classroom and ask if they have any other strategies for managing things. Parents who are in counseling and therapy with this child will eventually open up to you and you’ll all be able to help the child get healthy or at least not contribute to his dysfunction.

Parents will tell you if time is precious on a particular occasion due to ongoing therapy, or whatever, don’t feel put off or shut out.  They will talk to you when they have time and time is one of the things parents often run out of as they work desperately to save their child’s future.  The therapy and home parenting techniques are exhausting and time consumptive. Try to respect that if it seems they are not focusing on your goal of home or class work. Do not trust schoolbag communication or expect things sent in a “communication envelope” to be as complete as when they left the school with the child.  Use the phone, e-mail, and regular mail – it works.

Don’t feel you need to apologize if you have believed this child and blamed the parents. If they have given you this information they already trust you and do not blame you for not having the information you needed – likely they only just recently got it themselves. Make it perfectly clear in your interactions with the child that you will take care of the child and the classroom or activity.  Remind the child, unemotionally but firmly, that you are the teacher, you make the rules.  You can even smile when you say it if you can get the “smile all the way up to the eyes”, just remember to get the child to verbally acknowledge your position.  Do it every day for a while, and then use periodic reminders. Insist upon use of titles or prefixes (Miss Jane, Teacher Sarah, Ms. Philips), they establish position and rank. Structure choices so that you remain in control (“do you want to wear your coat or carry it to the playground?” “you may complete that paper sitting or standing”, “you may complete that assignment during this period or during recess”). Remember to keep the anger and frustration the child is seeking out of your voice. Try to “smile all the way to your eyes” if you can, otherwise simply stay as neutral as you can. Structure and control without threat.

YOU ARE NOT THE PRIMARY CAREGIVER for this child.  You cannot parent this child. You are the child’s teacher, not therapist, nor parent.  Teachers are left behind each year, its normal.  These children need to learn that lesson.

Establish EYE CONTACT with this child.  Be firm, be consistent, and be specific.


CONSEQUENCE POOR DECISIONS AND BAD BEHAVIOR.  Poor decisions and choices like incomplete homework, wrong weight jacket for the weather, also need to be acknowledged (“I see you didn’t complete work from this activity period.  You may finish it at recess while the other children who chose to finish their work go outside and play.”)  Nothing mean or angry or spiteful – it’s just the facts.  Remember they have difficulty with cause and effect thinking and have to be taught consequences. Normal reward systems like treats and stickers simply do not work with these children.  Standard behavior modification techniques do not work with this child.

Consequencing is a good teaching technique– there is a consequence associated with each good behavior, each poor behavior – teach them what those consequences are – they will not think of or recognize them without your direction.

BE CONSISTENT, BE SPECIFIC.  The child with RAD may be “good” for you one or two days or even weeks and then fall apart.  This is normal.  No general compliments like “you’re a good boy!” or “You know better.”  Be specific and consistent – confront each misbehavior and support each good behavior with direct language. “You scribbled on the desk – you clean it up”, “You hit Timmy, you sit here next to me until I decide you may play again without hitting.” “You did well on the playground today, good for you!”  “You completed that assignment, that’s a good choice!”  Be positive when you can.

This NATURAL CONSEQUENCES thing is important.  Do not permit this child to control your behavior by threatening to throw a tantrum (let him, out in the hallway or in another room -“You can have your tantrum here if you choose to”),  “I see you’ve wet the rug, here is a rag and bucket to clean it up”, or puttering around doing his own thing when it delays the class’ departure for a planned activity (“I see you’ve not gotten ready to go, you can wait here in the supervisor’s office until we get back”).

Time-outs do not work for these children – they want to isolate themselves from others.  Bring the child near the activity he has had to be removed from and have them stand with or sit in a chair along side you. It’s called a “TIME-IN.”  If you can take the time, speak quietly about how much fun the other children are having and how sad it is that she cannot join in right now. No raised voices, no anger. Don’t lose your temper if you can avoid it; remember he is manipulating you to do just that. If you are going to lose it, seek assistance from another adult until you are back in control of yourself.

RESPONSIVE, ATTUNED, EMOTIONALLY ENGAGED INTERACTIONS with this child.  It is very important that this child experience positive regard and that the child is good, even is the behavior is not acceptable.  This helps the child move from feeling overwhelming shame to experiencing guilt. 

SUPPORT THE PARENTS.  The child who is losing control at home and in the classroom because folks are “on to him” will get a whole lot worse before he gets better. Listen appropriately. Absolutely redirect this child to parents for choices, hugs, decision-making and sharing of information you believe is either not true or is designed to shock or manipulate you.  Follow up with the parents.

REMAIN CALM AND IN CONTROL OF YOURSELF.  No matter what the child does today.  If the child manages to upset you, the child is in control, not you.  Remove yourself or the child from the situation until you are able to cope.  The child may push your “buttons.”  But remember, these are YOUR buttons and it is your job as a professional to disconnect the buttons so that pressing them has no negative effect.

If your classroom is out of control because of this child, get help.  Many school counselors and administrators have not had exposure to the RAD diagnosis or how to handle it in schools. There are many resources available. Don’t give up. These children are inventive, manipulative and very much in need of everything you can offer to help them get healthy. Remind the child you will be speaking with her parents on a regular basis. Report to the child’s home as often as you can without feeling burdened by the effort. Expect notes to be destroyed. Use the phone. If you do not get a response to written communication and the parents seem to be out of touch with general information, do not blame them. Chances are they never got the message, never saw the right number of papers and have no clue what is going on because that is just how the child likes it. It takes control from the parent. Give it back by communicating directly whenever possible.

This child can and will be helped to get healthy and you can be a part of that process with the right tools. Keep in touch with the family. Remember that what you see in school is only the tip of the iceberg – family life is terribly threatening to these children and what the parents have to deal with every day is nearly unimaginable to other uninformed adults. Blaming the family or failing to communicate with them adds to the dysfunction and puts the child at greater risk of never getting healthy. This child is learning in therapy to be respectful, responsible and fun to be around. It will take time, it will be an effort, if in the end it is successful it will be because the adults in her life were consistent and the child decided to work in therapy. Your contribution as his teacher cannot be underestimated or undervalued – his parents will be grateful for the support and the therapist will have fewer inconsistent venues to sort out while helping the child to heal.


Creating Capacity for Attachment, Edited by Arthur Becker-Weidman & Deborah Shell, Wood ‘N’ Barnes, Oklahoma City, OK, 2005.

Attachment Facilitating Parenting video/DVD.  Center for Family Development, Arthur Becker-Weidman, Ph.D., 5820 Main St., #406, Williamsville, NY 14221

Building the Bonds of Attachment, 2nd.  Edition, Daniel Hughes, Jason Aaronson, NY, 2006.

Arthur Becker-Weidman, PhD
Center For Family Development
(c) all rights reserved



Photo Credit: Casey Alexander


Yesterday, I sorted through paperwork accumulated since the kids arrived. Every medical document, communication with social workers, school form. Each piece of art or writing I thought they might like to have later.

All dropped into boxes in no particular order, for five years. 

Hours after starting, I accomplished my goal: a box for him, a box for her, a box for documentation (school/medical/legal). In the process, I found a picture he painted.

I’d forgotten “The Blackbird.” Although his artistic leanings often surprise me, a blackbird is out of character. His illustrations tend to be technical (buildings, vehicles, maps, stars in the sky, landscapes, World War battle tactic representations), with many details. Representation of anything living (other than “military guys”) is rare.

Blackbirds...symbolize freedom and the link between the the temporal and the eternal in many cultures…they tend to symbolize secrets and mystery, and…being a highly intelligent animal, can also symbolize the human soul, specifically human intelligence as well as wisdom.

Whether he intended it or not, the description fits him.

He’s a ten-year-old mystery we’ve spent the last five years understanding. Rare revelations of the secrets in his heart and mind give us glimpses of the trauma he endured. He’s highly intelligent; in spite of five years of neglect in every sense of the word, he’s reading two years ahead of his grade.

He’ll bring you to tears when he prays. It seems he has a direct connection to God that everyone around him can feel. He’s a paradox of impulsive behavior and wisdom beyond his years: attempting to corral him leaves adults frustrated, while a one-on-one conversation renders them utterly floored by his deep thought process.

Picking up the paper to add to “his” box, I noticed a flap folded behind the page. As I straightened the piece, two words changed everything.



Self Portrait.

My initial perception of his artwork was completely off.

You don’t have to be an Art Therapist to figure out this one. 

We’ve known for some time that his self-image is a little blurry. It’s difficult to like yourself when you know the people around you think you’re “bad.”

Until third grade, every time I walked into his classroom (even for a class party), children approached me—in front of him.

“Do you know what he DID today?”

“Can’t you make him behave?”

“Why is he so crazy? He never listens. He distracts the class.”

Pickup from the children’s group at church usually involved a monologue of his exploits and interruptions. Babysitters kept lists (and quit). Parents and children complained after play dates. And honestly, interactions with us weren’t much better. His behavior was so out of control, many of our conversations the first three years centered around discipline or instruction.

Looking at his painting yesterday, my heart broke. Realistically, he probably drew a self portrait and didn’t like it, got frustrated and painted over it in black. I can tell the piece didn’t begin as a black smudge. But still.

The art is an accurate expression of his recent testing, which showed some depression. When we received the results, I was surprised, but perhaps I just haven’t been looking.

He’s heard from everyone in his life (whether they intended to communicate this or not) that he is less.

“I’m not good enough” is a message many kids internalize.

Growing up as a fairly “normal” kid, I felt as though all my friends were better at everything, that I wasn’t good or pretty or thin enough, that I was less talented. It left me hesitant to try new things, this desire to be perfect coupled with the knowledge that I was not.

He’s at an even greater disadvantage:

  • abandoned and neglected by family
  • misunderstood by untrained foster parents
  • dragged from home to home by inept social workers
  • deposited in a school system with little understanding of special needs
  • rejected by children who assumed his ferocity stemmed from meanness

Finding a solid self-perception is an enormous task for our little guy.

I found myself drowning in the overwhelming need to do something.  

And then, my perception shifted once more.

His picture started out fine but didn’t turn out as he wished. 

So he changed the artwork to something else.

Something beautiful. 

When we looked through a scrapbook of my art from high school, I told him that some of my favorite pieces were the ones that started as mistakes.

What I wanted didn’t materialize, my art seemed ruined, but then I saw a way to make the piece even better.

Maybe he wasn’t thinking of that conversation when he created The Blackbird. Regardless, he created something amazing out of what he considered an error.

It gives me hope for our remaining years together.

Yes, he had a rough beginning. Horrific years before he arrived with us.

Difficult years with us, learning to behave like a human child.

But the last two years have been better.

This summer has been the best yet. 

Hubby and I have been intentionally focusing on the things he and his sister do right, rather than the negative behavior.

We’ve encouraged reading, art, karate and physical movement.

We’ve noticed the improvements and celebrated.

Together, we are all painting over the original masterpiece; broad strokes creating wings for a broken boy. 

He’s already learning to fly. 


I can’t wait to see how high he goes. 


**How have you helped your child overcome difficulty? Share it below. 


Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free.

Blackbird fly Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.

Blackbird fly Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

Publisher: Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
Lyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind

I’m Thrilled about This!

Yesterday my 11 yr old daughter (if you’re new here: she came to us 5 years ago & has Reactive Attachment Disorder), hugged me almost ten times of her own volition. Normally it’s tough to coax one hug.

Either she’s confused me for a barely-known acquaintance 🙂 or we’ve made some serious headway! Sooooooooooo excited.

Now I just have to figure out if there’s a trigger I can replicate. Most likely not, but if there is, you better believe I’ll find it.

Suicide is Not a Solution


credit: steve hanna


He is eight years old. Skinny and awkward and adorable. We sit at the kitchen table, coloring.

His dad is one of my favorite college professors, fascinating and intelligent. His mom is the woman everyone in the girls’ dorm wants to be when we grow up: wise, soft-spoken, graceful.

Sometimes I babysit. Today, I dropped by to see his mother and play with my little buddy.

“Draw Toby again,” he pleads.

Toby, the multicolored, furry creature I created just for him. Toby is talented, musical, always smiling. Also, he has a chronic habit of leaving his high-top sneakers untied.

I pick up a marker and begin to draw.


He is nine years old. We sprawl on the floor, watching monochromatic terror and insanity crescendo on the screen. The original Frankenstein. I listen for his little sister, napping in the next room.

I am a little shocked that this movie, his favorite, will not give him nightmares. Pretty sure I’ll have one.

I glance at him as the monster comes to life.

His smile is wider than the sun and twice as bright.


He is ten.

I sit in the Florida autumn sun, absorbed in test preparation. I ignore the tiny berries sailing by my head.

Sauntering past my chair, he tosses my notebook into the bushes and takes off running.

He’s fast, but I’m still faster.

I catch up and toss him over my shoulder.

I carry him toward the pond, fabled to be frequented by a large alligator. He screams with laughter, pleading for his life. I agree to give him one more chance.


He is eleven.

He rides a large pony. I walk with him, showing him how to keep heels down, how to communicate gently through the reins.

He’s brilliant.

I grin at his parents, thrilled with his quick success.

I snap a picture of his adorable little sister sitting on a Shetland.


The family moves out West. I leave Florida. My life moves on, as does theirs. Other than intermittent communication, we lose touch.

The picture of his sister remains on my dresser through grad school and three moves. I love those two kids with all my heart. The distance devastates me.


He is twenty-something. He writes a beautiful letter, thanking me for the time I spent with him during his childhood. He writes about Toby. I had forgotten.

We lose touch again, until he mails a picture. He’s married a beautiful girl.

I am happy, so happy for my boy.


He is thirty.

I read his sister’s message, stunned.


He’s gone.

None of us knew how deeply he was hurting.

We are so thankful that he trusted in Jesus to give him eternal life, and now he isn’t hurting anymore.



We never saw this coming. I’m heartbroken.


I imagine his parents’ devastation. His family’s deep loss. They were close. Having practically lived with them for several years, I can vouch his parents were some of the best in the business. Not perfect, of course, but amazing. And still, this unexpected tragedy.

Once, I heard a slogan, something along the lines of “Suicide is Not the Solution!” Unfortunately, for many teens and young adults seems to be a solution. And in some cases, the solution.

They think it’s the final solution to a life too overwhelming to comprehend, too hopeless to navigate.

Over 800,000 people die due to suicide every year and there are many more who attempt suicide. Hence, many millions of people are affected or experience suicide bereavement every year. Suicide occurs throughout the lifespan and was the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally in 2012.

-World Health Organization (bold mine)

And I think of our two children, with their insane start to life. The neglect, abuse and resulting depression they’ve both experienced. Hubby and I were naive and fully untrained when they arrived. We made tons of mistakes. We still do. Although we do our best to learn and grow, both of us are far from perfect.

Children who’ve survived the foster care system are at even higher risk for suicide.

• Adolescents who had been in foster care were nearly two and a half times more likely to seriously consider suicide than other youth (Pilowsky & Wu, 2006).
• Adolescents who had been in foster care were nearly four times more likely to have attempted suicide than other youth (Pilowsky & Wu, 2006).
• Experiencing childhood abuse or trauma increased the risk of attempted suicide 2- to 5-fold (Dube et al., 2001).
• Among 8-year-olds who were maltreated or at risk for maltreatment, nearly 10% reported wanting to kill themselves (Thompson, 2005).
• Adverse childhood experiences play a major role in suicide attempts. One study found that approximately two thirds of suicide attempts may be attributable to abusive or traumatic childhood experiences (Dube et al., 2001).

-Helen Ramaglia, Suicide and the Foster Child

If this tragedy can happen in my friends’ family, it can happen to anyone. There’s no way to guarantee our world’s children will discount this solution, be willing to consider other avenues, when it seems so easy to simply fall asleep. Forever.

I’ve experienced depression. Desperation. Futility. Bleak future. No chance things will improve. No way out.

One way out, it seems.

There is no single cause to suicide. It most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition.

– American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

And just as someone who is depressed may believe the untruth that suicide is the only door to relief, we have some myths of our own.

Common Misconceptions

The following are common misconceptions about suicide:

“People who talk about suicide won’t really do it.”

Not True. Almost everyone who commits or attempts suicide has given some clue or warning. Do not ignore suicide threats. Statements like “you’ll be sorry when I’m dead,” “I can’t see any way out,” — no matter how casually or jokingly said, may indicate serious suicidal feelings.

“Anyone who tries to kill him/herself must be crazy.”

Not True. Most suicidal people are not psychotic or insane. They may be upset, grief-stricken,depressed or despairing. Extreme distress and emotional pain are always signs of mental illness but are not signs of psychosis.

“If a person is determined to kill him/herself, nothing is going to stop him/her.”

Not True. Even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death, and most waiver until the very last moment between wanting to live and wanting to end their pain. Most suicidal people do not want to die; they want the pain to stop. The impulse to end it all, however overpowering, does not last forever.

“People who commit suicide are people who were unwilling to seek help.”

Not True. Studies of adult suicide victims have shown that more then half had sought medical help within six month before their deaths and a majority had seen a medical professional within 1 month of their death.

“Talking about suicide may give someone the idea.”

Not True. You don’t give a suicidal person ideas by talking about suicide. The opposite is true — bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do.

-Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE)

That last point is important. Ignoring the problem or the symptoms will not “make it go away.” We have to talk about it. We must. Below are suggestions for beginning the conversation.

Ways to start a conversation about suicide:

  • I have been feeling concerned about you lately.
  • Recently, I have noticed some differences in you and wondered how you are doing.
  • I wanted to check in with you because you haven’t seemed yourself lately.

Questions you can ask:

  • When did you begin feeling like this?
  • Did something happen that made you start feeling this way?
  • How can I best support you right now?
  • Have you thought about getting help?

What you can say that helps:

  • You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.
  • You may not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change.
  • I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.
  • When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold off for just one more day, hour, minute—whatever you can manage.

Preventing Suicide, Helpguide


In my deepest depression as a teen, suicide crossed my mind. It never became an option because I had too many nosy adults in my life. And that was a great thing.

In the minds of the hopeless, suicide seems to be a solution. We need to help them see that although suicide may appear to end the problem, it doesn’t solve anything.

Be the nosy adult,

especially if you’re in the life of a child who has been in the foster system or experienced some kind of abuse.

Kids are dying for someone to care. Literally.


If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or visit their website: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Care for Disrupted Families: Part 1

“If we sweep disruption under the rug, will anyone notice?”


Photo Credit: uni multimedia

Adoption disruption is an unfortunate—and often glossed-over—part of the adoption narrative.

Like mental illness in the 1950’s, stories of disruption are minimized, ignored and even hushed. If you’ve been involved in the adoption/foster community for any length of time, you likely know of a failed placement.

The failed placement may even be your own.

We’ve experienced disruption. If our two adopted children had voiced their initial thoughts (wishing death and destruction on us), they might have found themselves in another home.

Thankfully, we were oblivious. About a year ago, our son described his daydreams of the first few months: locking us in the house and burning it to the ground. Our daughter fantasized about bashing our noggins. “But we didn’t know how much we would love you, back then.” Charming.

Parents and children alike need care after a disruption. Both sides need healing.

On arrival in our home, our two were reeling from their own recent disruption. In their minds, two families kicked them out in swift succession (they didn’t fully understand the second family was a temporary situation).

As they dealt with the grief, we (uneducated and ill-prepared) muddled through. Often, we reacted to their behavior instead of responding to the underlying pain. Had we been better equipped, we could have handled the situation with more understanding. We received very little up-front information and didn’t grasp the situation in entirety until much later.

Here’s some information I wish we’d seen earlier. Knowledge we would have been thankful to use. Feel free to pass it on! 

Healing after Disruption: the Parents

 1. Normalize the wide range of strong feelings experienced in a crisis that, like a death in the family, rocks the souls of parents and immediate family members. Feeling raw for a long time is a normal expectation after living through a disruption. Families who experience a disruption are survivors of chronic trauma and need interventions that address more than grief and loss.

Our disruption happened during a temporary respite situation; even so, I saw myself as a failure for months afterward. I can’t imagine the stress and loss after a longer-term placement. Encircle friends or family members who’ve experienced disruption. If you’re a personal survivor, seek out a support group. You can even tell your story here. 

2. Because parents in a disrupted adoption come in conflict with personal, public and cultural beliefs about parenting, they may be blamed and misunderstood. Try to avoid seeking validation from those who may not have the knowledge nor the capacity to understand.

This applies to foster and adoption situations across the board, not just disruption. Individuals with no foster/adopt experience may, on occasion, provide insight. However, they don’t have the understanding another foster parent or social worker possesses. In general, we’ve learned not to ask for advice from other non-adoptive parents—no matter how experienced they seem—because most of the time, their wisdom just doesn’t apply.

For instance: child with bio-mom has tantrum because she won’t give him candy in his bedroom. Bio-mom leaves room, shutting the door. “Call me when you’re done.” 

Foster child, traumatized, has similar tantrum, apparently about candy. Tantrum is actually about grief and loss. Child needs to be held and assured of security.

3. Join with parents who have experienced disruptions to validate and honor your efforts. When others you expected to support you withdraw, build a new support system with those who are in the know.

When we adopted, some of the people we expected to support us (mostly because we’d supported them and cared for their kids) vanished from our lives as soon as they realized these kids aren’t perfect. On the other hand, a family we barely knew called, visited, checked on us and made certain we knew we weren’t alone. Let go of expectations. Try not to be hurt or angry when someone doesn’t “come through” for you. Plenty of people care. Join a support group or form one of your own. It doesn’t have to be official.

4. Pay attention to the impact of the disruption on children within the family. Help them find their voice and grieve what happened to them.

We thought the kids were ecstatic when “monster baby” (their name for the loud creature invading their space) left. And on some level, they were thrilled. In a deeper place, they worried. Could they be “bad enough” for us to kick them out, too? What if they screamed and cried?

5. Couples will need to spend time on rebuilding the foundations of their marriage that may have been rocked by the disruption experience.

Thankfully, in our case, this didn’t happen. However, if our adoption had disrupted, I imagine we’d need time for ourselves. If you’ve experienced disruption, seek a counselor familiar with loss and grief. Give yourselves time. Work together.

6. Put words around the pain of disruption as a first step in reclaiming your lives in a healthy way.

Speaking about pain can diminish the enormous blackness. We use this tactic with the kids often: “you’re worried, I can tell. Say it out loud. What’s bothering you?” Writing helps, also. Keep a journal. Start a blog. Get it out of your head; the longer we hold pain inside, the stronger it becomes.

7. Practice describing how you personally were affected, telling your story with a focus on yourself rather than on the child or on the adoption.

Find your voice, whether writing or speaking—for YOU and for THEM. As you draw strength from the telling, others will find connection and the knowledge they aren’t alone.

8. Don’t get stuck blaming social workers. Rather, practice reclaiming yourself through giving up the role of teaching others until you feel healed enough to advocate for change in a way that you may be heard.

I used to cringe when I called the social worker who placed the baby in our home. Will she think I’m incompetent? Does she roll her eyes when my number appears on her phone?  Researching disruption has been therapeutic for me. I now know I’m not the only foster parent to call her, frantic. I also realize Hubby and I are not the only adults with regrets; she probably felt responsible/guilt for the disruption since she talked me into taking the baby.

9. Move towards honoring and paying homage to the memory of your relationship with the child.

Remember the good moments; savor the memory of what you did right. Although permanence wasn’t attained, you made a difference in the life of a child. Even if it ended in unfortunate circumstances, the child will be impacted positively by some of the time in your home.

10. When you are able, make a list of the good you found inside yourself around your heroic efforts in raising this child.

“Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…” it’s cliche, but true. Even when it doesn’t work out, every placement is an opportunity to learn something about ourselves.

For me, our disruption was the moment I knew for certain that the two kids we adopted come first. I’d love to assist every child in the world. And up until that time, I tried to help as many as possible.

Hubby and I worked with the youth in our church. We volunteered with a fabulous child development organization, Compassion International. All of our friends’ kids saw us as extra parents.

The day we agreed it was no longer in the best interest of our children to keep any other foster children, I found focus. We still volunteer on occasion and we still love the other kids in our life, but they don’t come first. The two kids who live in our house are priority.


As you or your friends recover from disruption, know that you’re not alone. Our disruption was “mild” in the sense that we hadn’t had time to attach, and it was never intended to be a long term placement. My examples don’t come close to the depth of loss others have survived.

If you’ve experienced a more difficult disruption, look for others with similar life trauma. Find a counselor with disruption experience—and keep in mind that to seek counseling isn’t an indication of weakness. Getting the support we need enables us to be healthy enough to continue providing help and healing to others.

Feel free to share your story below. We’re here to support, not judge.

Up next: Care for Disrupted Families: Part 2 (the Kids)


*All quotes directly from the Fact sheet.

Preventing Adoption Disruption, Part 2

Continued from Part 1

  • Keep Sibling Groups Intact

In general, keeping sibling groups together helps prevent disruption, although there are a few exceptions.

According to‘s fact sheet about sibling groups, children placed separately are at higher risk of emotional problems; siblings placed together are less of a disruption risk.

One study listed in James Rosenthal’s paper followed 47 children placed as part of sibling groups. None disrupted.

  • Be Reasonable in Your Expectations

Forget the Brady Bunch, June and Ward Cleaver, and Andy Griffith. Think CSI, NCIS, Law and Order.

There IS no perfect family. Adoptive situations tend to magnify imperfection. Everyone is stressed. After the honeymoon phase (six months if you’re lucky…three days if you’re us), kids with trauma are black holes waiting to implode, behaviorally speaking.

The most sobering finding in this study* concerned the prevalence of behavioral problems…Children often experienced behavioral problems many years after placement.

Therefore, parents adopting a child with behavioral problems should anticipate the possibility of continued problems rather than a marked decline following an initial adjustment to the home.

Behavioral problems are the single largest source of stress for families who adopt older and special needs children

James A. Rosenthal, Outcomes of Adoption of Children with Special Needs (Emphasis mine.)

*Rosenthal, J.A., and Groze, V.K. Special-needs adoption: A follow-up study of intact families. New York: Praeger, 1992

Get ALL the information ahead of time. Request pre-adoption education beyond just the home study process. We got a taste of possible issues during that 10-week course, but in-depth classes, suggested/required reading material and workshops about RAD, mental illness, behavior and PTSD would have been invaluable. Demand copies of all paperwork (medical, info regarding previous placements, etc.) BEFORE the adoption is finalized.

Our social worker balked at sharing background information because she didn’t believe we would “last;” therefore, she kept vital information from us regarding behavior, number of placements, nature of reasons for removal from foster families, etc. I was fairly certain our kids required occupational and speech therapy, but the social worker blew us off. When I received the full file, I found that another foster parent had the kids evaluated but never followed through. Had we known, we could have started therapy much sooner.

  • Find an Advocate

If your social worker isn’t supportive, request someone new. Our first worker left us feeling inadequate and ill-prepared. The second worker helped us finalize adoption less than six months after she took our case.

Advocates don’t have to be social workers. A family at our church became one of our greatest supports. We barely knew them when the kids arrived. The husband is a now-grown adopted child; he had a greater understanding for our situation than most people. He and his wife continue to show our family kindness at times when we need it most.

An ally in your corner is essential.

(Rosenthal’s study) found that social workers’ ratings of parents’ capacities were highly predictive of an adoption’s outcome.

If they had doubts about parents’ ability to deal with an emotionally nonresponsive child, the adoption was more likely to disrupt.

Practice Notes, Vol. 21

  • Plan for Respite Care

Respite care is time (hours, days) away from the children. This is not negotiable. You must have time to yourself. Yes, this is one of the “two most important” points.

We all want to be Superparent. None of us is. Take time away from the kids, for everyone’s sake. A few hours to recharge or even to grocery shop without hearing “Can we get this? Or this? Or this? Are you buying this? Why? Are you getting that? Why not?” can give a whole new perspective.

Finding group support is another great way to recharge. An agency near us provides once-a-month support services. Parents meet in one room; activities keep the kiddos busy in a separate location.

Put respite care and childcare into place before adopting. For single parents, create a “tag team” support system. – –MN Adopt Fact Sheet

Another adoptive mom and I occasionally “trade” kids. It gives her adopted son a chance to shine, as he’s on his best behavior outside their home. For parents of RAD kids, chances to encourage their children can be few and far between. I make sure to praise him in front of her at drop-off, which gives her the opportunity to give him positive feedback. It’s good for everyone.

Parenting traumatized children can be traumatizing.  So we need to work on our own “stuff”.  This means finding (and doing) what sustains and heals us. This can/should include seeking your own therapy; finding times to retreat/get away from your family and stressors; exercise and healthy living; doing something just for fun; connecting with your partner and friends.  Many of us may view this is selfish or a waste of time.  But remember that you are the greatest catalyst for your child’s healing.  That means that your child and your family need YOU to be strong, energized, healthy.  You can’t give more than you have — so replenishing, refreshing, and regulating yourself needs to be a top priority.

Attachment & Trauma Clinic, Therapeutic Parenting

  • Don’t Give Up

This final point is most important. So many others have counted these kids out. Some days are hard. Some weeks are difficult. Some years are exhausting. With determination, though, we have seen improvement. It’s a roller-coaster, for sure, but hang in there. Nothing worth having comes easily.

Finally, have you or your system given up on any children? Given up on finding a permanent home? In other words, how many alternative planned permanent living arrangements are you overseeing? Are you absolutely sure that the young person doesn’t know anyone that he or she wants to develop a close caring relationship with? Have you asked them lately? Are you sure there aren’t adults who have known or know the young person that would not be willing to develop or strengthen a caring relationship with the young person? Have you asked them lately?

David Sanders, Casey Family Services, delivering plenary address at the Third National Judicial Leadership Summit in Austin, Texas. (Emphasis mine.) 

Your turn!  I’d love to hear your ideas for eliminating disruption. Add your voice below.

She’s Driving Me Crazy (Reactive Attachment Disorder)

How I feel on the inside.         Photo Credit: Greg O’Connell

Reactive Attachment Disorder SUCKS. (Sorry. Feel free to substitute another word that means “is horrible in every way and makes me want to shoot myself in the face.”)

So, we’ve made some progress in the last few weeks. I was already making some minor efforts (mostly guilt-induced) to connect with our girl before posting about my commitment to do better.

In the five days since, I’ve stepped up my game. Some of my tactics:

  • Look straight into her eyes when speaking with her (this is harder than it sounds)
  • Hug her or touch her shoulder every time she walks by
  • Hug her every time I feel like shaking her (this is harder than it sounds)
  • Listen to the nonsense chatter (this is a RAD thing)
  • Attempt to craft a conversation from the nonsense chatter
  • Spend time explaining homework that I know she can do alone
  • Be extremely clear and repeat directions
  • Make food she likes
  • Immediately praise/encourage when she does something right
  • Try to ignore negative behaviors or react as little as possible
  • Smile and remain calm

And it’s working.

It’s working because

  • she’s become incredibly rude to me
  • she disobeys me at every turn
  • she pretends to be sick
  • she spends time screaming

In the past, rudeness was subtle; muttered words or nasty glances. Now, she’s turned it on full-force. Previous disobedience was generally minor or “forgetting.” Now we have outright defiance. Sickness and screaming are behavior regression; I haven’t seen them at this level in a couple years.



During the month before arrival at our house, they lived with a respite family. I talked daily with the mother. This conversation happened several times each week:

Experienced Respite Mom: “Well, last night she screamed herself into a fever and threw up.”

Naive Casey: “Is she in bed with chicken soup?”

ERM: “Nope. She’s at school.”

NC: “Doesn’t the school have a rule about no school with a fever?”

ERM: “Uh, yeah, that’s if the child is sick. She’s not sick.”

NC: “But she had a fever. And she threw up.”

ERM (chuckling): “Yes, she did. Her temp was up because of the screaming. She threw up on purpose. She’s at school. You’ll learn.”

NC (thinks to self): Dang, that’s harsh.”


When the kids came to live with us, our girl told me that at their last placement (prior to respite), the family made her clean up her own puke.

What horrible foster parents, I thought.

NAIVE NAIVE NAIVE Casey: “Oh, honey, I promise you, that will never happen in this house. Every child throws up. Parents should clean it up.”


Then I found out she could hurl on command.

Yes, I know about bulimia. This was different.

She didn’t like a consequence? Regurgitate

Didn’t want a certain food? Toss the cookies. (Ok, not cookies. She likes dessert.) 

Hoping to skip school? Upchuck.

Have to do homework? Do the technicolor yawn

Holding to my promise, I never made her clean it up.

New foster/adoptive parents: promise NOTHING. “Probably” and “maybe” are your new favorite words.

On occasion, she took a break from chunder tactics. During refusal to perform a simple homework assignment, she began to scream.

I picked her up, carried her to her room and deposited her upon the bed. “You stay here. Let me know when you’re done screaming AND ready to cooperate with homework.”

She screamed for half an hour. I thought for sure she’d lose her voice.


As she became more comfortable with the routine at our house (and learned that consequences can be positive or negative—her choice), screaming and barfing waned, then disappeared altogether.

For the last four years, she’s directed her anger at bio-mom toward me. Like a laser beam.

She’s terrified of connection and is afraid that if she lets me in I’ll fail her, too. 

Once, when she first arrived, she spat,

“You don’t KNOW me. And you WON’T know me because I won’t LET you know me!”

Self-fulfilling prophecy.

She pushes me away, hoping I’ll leave her alone. And hoping I won’t.

I admit that she wore me down. For a while, I didn’t even want to be around her (although I tried very hard to never let it show). Over the past months, I’ve been working harder to connect and bond.

This week, I turned on the fire hose. She’s getting all kinds of love from me.

Here’s the thing.

RAD kids really DO want to connect, but are scared that if they allow themselves to be vulnerable, the adult will fail them. 

The unfortunate truth: most adults fail most kids at least once. I have failed both our kids, at times.

Since I’ve increased my intent to communicate love, her defenses are dropping. And rocketing skyward.

She wants to connect. She wants to let me know her.


But for a RAD child, connection = DANGER.

So, instead of returning the hugs like a typical child, she stands rigid. Sometimes she puts her arms around my waist, barely touching.

And she fights in every way she can.

Last week, she became “sick” when she didn’t want to do something. Her head ached, stomach hurt. Finally, I told her to stay in bed. Or, she could choose to join us but must stop complaining.

Because I wasn’t 100% certain she was faking, I took her temperature. Normal.

Five minutes later, she began calling me. The first time, I dropped by her room. “My head hurts,” she whined.

I told her to close her eyes and try to rest. Three minutes later, she was yelling again. I opened her door. “My stomach!”

Explaining that I had chores to finish, I told her to come get me if she needed something. I went upstairs. She started yelling.

I called down to remind her that she could come get me if she needed me, but I wasn’t coming back downstairs for a while. She started screaming. I shut my door.

Several of my RAD-experienced friends might say I missed an opportunity to bond with her by showing my availability to meet her needs. Unfortunately, we’ve found that whatever behavior gets attention becomes her “thing.”

If I ameliorate imagined aches, they become worse. Much worse. We’ve worked with several counselors; they agree we have to be vigilant about what behaviors receive attention

Half an hour later, she still screamed my name, which told me two things:

  1. She’s determined.
  2. There’s no way she has a headache.

I heard the clothes dryer stop. As I walked down the hall, I called, “Had to come downstairs to get the laundry. If you need me, come get me.”

She called, “My legs don’t work!”

This was new.

I bit.

Opening her door, I asked, “What?”

“I wanted to come get you, but my legs don’t work right now.”


“That’s too bad,” I said, “but you still may not scream. If you need me, come get me. If it’s an emergency, your legs will work.”

I went back upstairs. She started screaming. I put a movie in for our son, to drown it out.

When she finally stopped, I ran downstairs. “Hey. Just checking on you, now that you’re quiet. How are you feeling?”

She groaned. “Horrible. I think I’m very sick.”

“Oh.” I paused. “Too bad. You have that event tonight. We would need to leave in half an hour. But if you’re sick, you’re sick.”

She sat up. “I forgot!”

I started to close her door.

“Wait,” she said, “I think I’m better! We’re going to eat before we go, right.” It was a statement, not a question. I didn’t like her tone, but ignored it.

“Sure, if you’re hungry.”

She hopped out of bed. I went to the kitchen, heated ravioli and put about a quarter-cup in her bowl.

She sauntered into the kitchen and wrinkled her nose. “I can’t eat.”

I reminded her she’d “asked” whether we’d eat before leaving. In a petulant tone, she informed me she simply wanted to know whether we were going to eat; she didn’t want to eat.

I smiled (not on the inside) and said, “Well, that’s why I only gave you a little bit. Since you’ve been sick.”

“If I eat too much, I’ll throw up,” she said.

Oh, geez. This again.

“Okay, well, if you don’t think you should eat it, don’t. I have to run upstairs.” And I did.

Five minutes later, our son yelled, “I think she’s puking!”

Sure enough.

I put her back to bed.

“But we were going to my event!” she wailed.

“Right,” I said, “but you felt sick, and now you threw up. Sounds like the flu to me, and we can’t risk it. Stay in bed.”

She began to argue, but I stopped her.

“I’m not accusing you of anything, but you and I both know that you can choose to puke. I’m not asking whether you did, because it doesn’t really matter. If you didn’t, and you’re sick, you need to stay in bed. If you did make yourself throw up, you’re still staying in bed as a consequence.”

She huffed and flipped over.

Hubby arrived home, already aware of the situation. When he opened her door, she acted sick for about thirty seconds. Then, wrapped up in their conversation, she dropped all pretense. (Surprise: she wasn’t really sick.) He bade her an early goodnight. We didn’t hear another peep.

The next morning, she “had a headache” before school.

Hubby can always see right through her. “If you complain to your teacher even once, or if you go to the nurse, your afternoon activity is cancelled.”

I worried a bit that she’d be truly ill and try to power through instead of asking for the nurse. I imagined her passing out, falling out of her desk.

Those concerns? For nothing.

That afternoon, she bounced out to the car. “I had a great day! I didn’t feel bad even ONCE!”


Here’s the thing. RAD kids use negative behavior to push the “dangerous” loving adult away. When they start to feel connection, they push even harder in reaction.

When I told the counselor about our week, she said, “Congratulations! We’re making progress!”

And then she reminded me that this will probably continue for the next four years. It might get worse before improving.


I have to go…I think I feel a headache coming on. And I might throw up.

But in the meantime, I know you have a thought to share. How would YOU handle this? What’s worked for you?

If you want more information about RAD, the very first link in this post is a great place to start. 

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