Category Archives: parenting

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.

Girl Meets World and RAD Part 1

If you grew up in the TGIF generation (USA early 90’s), you might remember that theme song. In our house, the TGIF jingle signaled time to crowd in front of our little TV for Boy Meets World.

 

Sometimes I feel like I’m in my own show, Casey Meets World.

For five years and four months, I’ve searched for a way to reach our girl. We’ve powered through a trauma counselor, a mentor, a play therapist, outpatient counseling and in-home counseling. I’ve read every book recommended by every counselor, friend or acquaintance…and then some.

We’ve utilized an occupational therapist, speech therapist, psychiatrist, psychologist, nutritionist, neurologist and several other “-ists.”

Three months ago, we descended to the proverbial bottom of the canyon to find rock. Rappelling without ropes, if you will.

She flat-out refused to do anything I asked, and in fact did the exact opposite of EVERYTHING. Her behavior was out of control in ways I won’t describe here, but if you’re experiencing RAD, know that you are not alone.

You’re not crazy, and neither is your child.

Primal need for protecting herself (or himself) runs unbelievably deep. However, when you find your family unraveling at the seams, underlying reasons for a child’s behavior don’t matter as much as the emergency of the moment.

By the time a family reaches the cold, dusty bottom of that deep, dark pit, all anyone can do is scrabble for purchase, trying to find a way back up crumbling walls.

We finally admitted to ourselves that our tween needed more help than we could provide and we had to consider a therapeutic setting outside the home.

Back to the beginning for a moment.

Upon the children’s arrival, I began re-reading books by a respected psychologist. As a teen (I was a little weird in choice of reading material for my age), several of his books helped me understand myself better. Nothing in the books worked for these kids. NOTHing. Finally, in absolute frustration, I emailed him, with a subject something like, “Help! We adopted two kids.”

I don’t remember the exact time frame, but shortly after I sent the email, my phone rang. His secretary asked, “Will you be at this number in twenty minutes? Stay by the phone.” And twenty minutes later, he called me.

I’m not one to be awed by position or title. I’ll chat up a CEO or a streetwalker with equal interest. Everyone has a story. Everyone is human. Nothing about who you are makes you more or less valuable than the person walking beside you.

However, I do recognize that people are busy. I’m a mom, a recruiter and a blogger, and I barely have a spare minute. As yet, I’ve never published, never been a sought-after speaker on radio and in person, never been the end-all authority voice about, well…anything. And I’m sure that’s not a definitive list of his responsibilities. I can’t imagine being that busy.

I was floored that he’d take the time to call a random individual, considering the hundreds of email he must need to sort.

He gave me some advice I’ve never forgotten.

Be clear with the child that you understand their motivation.

If you know they’re being disobedient so they’ll get the attention they crave, don’t be afraid to say,

‘Hey. I know you’re acting up because you need some attention. (Fill in the blank with behavior) will only bring negative attention. Do you want negative attention, or would you rather ask me to spend time with you for a few minutes?’

Be open. Let the child know you’re aware of their game. Explain cause and effect, and let them know where the behavior will take them.

Following the above advice, we explained residential therapy to our girl. We showed her pictures of RAD Ranch (not the real name, but if I ever direct one, I am totally calling it that), where children with attachment issues live on a working farm, attend school and have physical consequences for bad behavior. If you act like a poopie-head, you might get stall-mucking duties. (And for those of you not well-versed in ranch speak, that means you’re shoveling poop.)

She didn’t believe us.

With crazy-impeccable timing, the director of said ranch rang our home phone at that moment. While I discussed our situation with him, I heard Hubby ask her, “do you know who’s on the other end of that call? This is no joke.”

Returning from the call, I explained a few of the details to Hubby, in front of our daughter. She watched our conversation, head swiveling as though viewing a tennis match, as we took turns discussing pros and cons. Finally, we turned to her.

Continued…

 

 

 

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.

Try to remember to ACKNOWLEDGE GOOD DECISIONS AND GOOD BEHAVIOR

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.

BOOK AND RESOURCES

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.

www.ATTACh.org

WWW.Center4FamilyDevelop.com

Arthur Becker-Weidman, PhD
Center For Family Development
www.Center4FamilyDevelop.com
(c) all rights reserved

Help for an Adoptive Family near Cambridge

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photo credit: marc falardeau

We need adoption resources in Cambridge (UK). Urgent.

Support groups, services, mentors, counseling…specifically trying to find help for a child and support for the family. Experience with attachment, trauma and behavior issues would be helpful.

 

If you can help, please email me: Casey@hypervigilant.org and I’ll pass on the info to my friend.

Many thanks, in advance.

Blackbird

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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.

 

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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.

Writer/s: LENNON, JOHN / MCCARTNEY, PAUL
Publisher: Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
Lyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind

Winning

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Photo Credit: AwesomeSA

 

Every once in a while, we get a win. Today, I feel sort of like the kid in the picture. The one in the green shirt.

I’m not bragging, but so much of the time I write about the hard stuff, and today I’d like you to join me in a little happy dance.

Fourth grade has not been easy. Both kids have had frustrations (math for her, staying focused while testing for him). And of course, those frustrations have spilled over to home.

You JUST DID the SAME kind of problem. It’s the SAME process with different numbers. Simply DO what you JUST DID.

or

You knew all the answers last night. ALL. OF. THEM. How could you tank this test?

We worked this year. Double duty math practice. Extra spelling drills. Re-taking tests at home if grades sank below C-level. (Sorry, nerd joke.) And no, not for credit, just for training.

Their teachers have been phenomenal. The school is incredible. Anytime I ask for extra support, more worksheets, conferences…pretty much whatever we need, they provide. I’m so glad we have one more year with this super team.

And today, all the extra work, the collaboration—and yes, the tears—paid off. In spades.

Hubby and I sat in the crowded auditorium as children dressed in red, white or blue filed in behind jubilant teachers. When the principal began announcing names of children with elevated scores on year-end tests,

he called her name.

Hubby and I couldn’t hold back our whoops. And then,

he called his name. 

Both of our kids stood, proud, in line with other children who’d scored well.

She received an award for reading. He received awards for reading and math.

Five years ago, he was 5 and didn’t know the alphabet. Five years ago, she was 7 and couldn’t read three-letter words. 

We have come so far, the four of us.

SO far.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adoption Isn’t Pretty

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Photo Credit: Patrick

I get a little sick when I read articles about pretty families adopting a bunch of kids from difference sources (international, domestic, foster, birthmom, etc.).

The adoption isn’t what makes me ill.

Nor the number of children (usually very high, in these articles).

Not even how they acquired the kids.

The thing that really bugs me is how happy everyone seems.

Unsuspecting, good-hearted people read these articles and think, “Wow, they just adopted enough kids to have their own sports team. Look how happy they are. Everyone gets along. So cool!”

And then they find a real-life adoptive family and tell them how amazing they must be.

And then they sign up to be foster parents and can’t figure out why things aren’t hunky-dory.

What happened to amazing???

And then they think,

“If that family could take in fourteen and a half kids who now succeed in school and have fabulous manners, 

WHY DO I HATE BEING A FOSTER (or Adoptive) PARENT RIGHT NOW?

Preparation and expectations.

I know, I know, I keep going back to this like a monkey with a crack habit.

First of all, if you are in the middle of all the

C

R

A

P

many adoption (or foster) situations entail, please don’t give up. And also, when you read these joyous articles of how their children are together creating a solution to world peace, don’t be fooled.

Don’t get me wrong, there are probably a few really happy families out there who have created Shangri-La in their living rooms.

Let’s just look at the facts, though.

EVERY adopted child has experienced loss, or they wouldn’t be available for adoption.

EVERY adopted child has (or will have) feelings they can’t fully comprehend. These might include anger, grief, denial, abandonment and low self-esteem.

It’s almost impossible for a child to emerge unscathed from a situation that makes them available for adoption.

Traumatized kids need help learning to understand their emotions—and eventually, how to deal with them.

Let’s frame this in perspective.

Put the following adults in a house and make them live together with no prior contact:

  1. Two divorced adults whose partner cheated on them. Non-cheaters were still 100% in love.
  2. Two adults whose parents abused them.
  3. Two adults who had a great life and relationship with parents; both parents just passed away.
  4. Three adults whose spouses died.
  5. An adult who experienced physical harm at the hands of a stranger.
  6. A rape victim.

At first, they’ll all be civil and get along. After a while, it won’t be all sunshine and lollipops.

If you don’t believe me, watch any of the ridiculous (we all know they’re scripted) reality TV shows. Even adults without apparent trauma can’t get along for more than a couple weeks.

And yet.

  • We expect children with similar losses and abuses to move in with people they barely know (sometimes just parents; other times, with other kids) and surf along. No problem. Hakuna Matata.
  • We allow the fairy tale stories touted by the media to make us feel bad about how things go at our house.

 

Here’s the honest truth:

1. ADOPTION is the absolute toughest thing we’ve ever done.

2. There’s no such thing as an adoption fairy tale. Or if there is, I don’t know about it.

3. Adoption will not be anything like you expected.

4. Adoption will be MORE than you expected. More angst. More tears. More trauma. More grief. More celebrations. More relief. More joy. More “I’d do it all again for this kid.”

5. Adoption requires support. Asking for help does not equal weakness.

6. Adoption isn’t (did I mention?) pretty.

7. Adoption is HARD.

8. ADOPTION IS WORTH IT. 

Yes, it’s tough. If you’re in a rough spot, trust me, I get it. Some days, sinking under the bathwater and just…staying…can seem enticing.

I want to be the best mom I can be, so recently signed up to chat with a counselor. Parenting kids of trauma is no joke. Like I told the counselor, we’re in a really good spot right now, but I can’t fully enjoy it, because I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Because it always does.

We get to a point in which we can relax a little, breathe a little deeper, and then BOOM there goes the shoe. (Sometimes it’s more like a steel-toed boot, and instead of just dropping, it drop-kicks us in the Aston Martin…)

But I have to live in the moment, because we DO have “those moments.” The breakthrough. The understanding. The forgiveness. The clarity. The diagnosis.

If you’re in the same situation, I hope you’ll find a little peace here. Know that you’re not alone. We all teeter on the edge sometimes.

And if, like me, you’re waiting for that “next big problem,” let’s learn to forget about the other shoe.

Tomorrow has enough troubles.” Right?

Focus on today, and breathe. God will take care of tomorrow (or for that matter, the next five minutes).

I promise.

*Although I write from my adoption-related experience, one of my blogging buddies pointed out that much of this applies to biological children, as well. What are your thoughts? 


How about you? Feeling overwhelmed? Tell us about it below. We all feel better knowing it’s not “just us.” (Hey, even me…)  🙂 

 

 

 

 

Super Advice from an Adoptive Parent

If you haven’t checked out Reddit’s Adoption community, it’s time. Here’s an example of the amazing support you’ll find in the adoption sub. This post, written by a parent who’d like to be anonymous, is in response to a heartfelt plea from another adoptive parent. I’m telling you…go: Reddit.com/r/adoption

 

Dear friend,

As an adoptive parent, I feel for you and appreciate that this is incredibly hard. And hard in ways that are triggering. And hard in ways that are deeply despairing.

We fostered a 9 year old with the intention of adoption and finalized last year (2 years later). He had been through a lot – the adults around him have consistently failed him. Instability, violence, abandonment, inconsistent schooling, serious felony activity.

Our first months were actually very harmonious. As we built trust, it got very intense. Defiant. Screaming. Running out of the house. School refusal.

This is where I get you. Holy crap this is the hardest thing I’d ever seen or done. I’ve never been good at self-care, had some of my own unprocessed issues, and could not get a hold on how to help him. I was depressed and desperate. But a few things helped.

My suggestion is that you immediately need to embrace two thoughts.

  1. It is harder for her. Majorly. Exponentially. Crisis level. Imagine going through what you are now with fewer words available, less brain function, less history of what success looks like, no ability to reach out, no one to talk to who knows you well, little understanding of self, no books to read, nothing. Navigating all this. It’s major. It’s bigger than those of us who were not adopted can possibly understand. I’m not saying you don’t know this, but it’s gotta find a way in.
  2. Your self care now has a major goal. It’s for all of you. And it’s tough. It may be the hardest thing you ever do, but you all need this.

Ask yourself:

1. Am I mentally healthy enough to make this child a major priority – right where she is at?

2. Are my therapeutic interventions working? Are they focused on getting me and our family to a healthier place?

3. Can I get the help I need to get regulated and strategic enough in my response to create health?

4. What environment do I thrive best in? (Assume that is one that is relaxed, trusting, comfortable, where you can let loose and be real.)

5. Can I create that for her too?

The system really blindsided you in a sense. That is awful and they need a course correction, but the good news is there is a lot of information out there that will clarify what these kids go through. It’s always been there. You just have to go get it. Like now.


Please seek out adoption-competent and trauma-responsive therapy if that’s not who you are already seeing.

It may truly be that you need to let her go, but get a heck of a lot of adoption-competent and trauma-responsive help. Be an open book with therapists, tell them exactly what is happening – especially the hard stuff, even when you lost your $%&.

Her actions are absolutely to be expected.

I hear that you were surprised and unprepared. And I feel that big time. But this is heads up textbook for what she’s faced/facing.

She isn’t going to be able to verbalize it for a long time. But it has to come out somehow. All that sadness, and shame (misdirected of course). All that anger from being separated and disconnected from what she knew. The lack of control. The mystery and being rudderless.

She is using her body and voice to shout I AM HERE. I AM HERE. I AM HERE. I HAVE A RIGHT TO BE VERY MAD. I DON’T KNOW YOU. I’M IN PAIN.

It will not be logical or linear. Not her job. Not possible.

Our therapist early on told us our only job was “to be a soft place to land.”

This was a major shift for us. We are all told parents must be tough, disciplinarians, correct every off behavior, teach respect. I believed all of that. And it’s not without some merit, but so much is overridden here.

We decided we had to lead with “soft” and “soft place.” When we deviate from that, things get worse.

It was a slow start.

And we did that through self-care, tons of reading, getting our triggers 30% more in check, and remembering we were not parenting a typical child in most ways.

He is developmentally much younger. It sounds like she is, too.

Regarding consequences: she’s too young and too traumatized to learn that way. They (counselors) need to be helping you find other methods. She has not had agency. Things won’t land the same way.

I’d also do a lot of reading around auditory processing and trauma. Can she understand the countdowns you mention?

Are they working?

If they aren’t working, ya gotta pivot.

The pivoting is exhausting, but worth it. And some months, we suck at it. But now about 2 years in, we’ve learned several things:

-Isolation makes it worse; we only walk away to calm down or self-care and then we must come back. Time outs = no.

-Telling him he can’t go somewhere doesn’t work at all. He’s used to disappointment, punishment, disconnect. Not a help.

The pivot is almost always to getting to the calmest place possible.

Not reacting with intensity.

No raised voices.

No shaming (read everything you can on shame and consequences).

-Rigid thinking is a brain thing. Inability to self-regulate is developmentally appropriate and staying inconsolable, intense, etc. is both the reality of small kids, and also connected to trauma. Had to learn this over and over and over again.

This goes doubly for kids who have been exposed to drugs in utero and have had brain issues.

-Remembering it’s about him. It sounds weird, but remembering it is about him, his process, his need for love and trust where there had not been any, his growth, his stability shifted things for me. I have to be the adult. The one who either gets my !@#@ in check or finds another responsible adult to be regulated.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have and sometime have a lot of challenging thoughts and fears. I still screw up, and I still need to focus on me, but it’s freed me to get myself on my own track of learning how to parent a child who has been through adult-created hell and to have him on his own track of building ease and comfort and trust.

-Respite. I had to find ways to take breaks. Sometimes a parent handoff to my spouse, sometimes calling a friend, sometimes just breathing while he is watching a movie or at school.

-Read. I’m a moderately regular reader, but now read pretty much constantly. The information we need was not given to us. The books on trauma and care of kids whose adults have failed them weren’t relatable until I was deep in. Now they are a godsend.

And read everything you can by adoptees. The happy, the angry, the bitter. These voices may not be speaking directly from her experience, but over and over again, I get insight into his behavior and needs from listening to folks who have been there.

This is the big secret in the process that agencies still don’t get.

Adoptees who are sharing what life has been like for them are peerless as our educators.

Shifting our focus to read books by adoption therapists and adoptees has been essential. And focusing our reading on trauma and child development.

This is one of the very best.

Adoption Therapy: Perspectives from Clients and Clinicians on Processing and Healing Post-Adoption Issues.

There is a website called Land of Gazillion Adoptees. No, they are not writing for us, but their words and resources, to me are part of trying to understand what his voice might say were he not his age and still with so much fresh pain and challenge. Love me through it. Respect my story. My privacy matters. I’m not magically healed because I have a new pillow and home. It has to be ok for me to feel rage. (Please pardon the putting words in mouths of others – but these are what I have heard that have shifted how I parent).

 

I just want to say that walking away if you know you are going to have to fake a robust investment in her health, if you can’t parent this child, may be quite humane.

She needs adults who want to get on track ASAP and who can work on it literally every day. And it’s undeniably exhausting.

I wish you peace and for her, so much comfort and safety and health.

Diagnosis Redemption

Climb High

Climb High Photo Credit: Casey Alexander

 

When our children came to live with us, we learned about despair. Loss. Grief.

Theirs, not ours.

Our son, then five, woke up screaming between 3 and 4 am. Every morning.

I dragged my laptop (and myself) into his room each time, sending email and running searches. As long as I sat in the room—near the bed but not touching him—with lights on, he slept. Or appeared to sleep; if I left my assigned location, he screamed again.

We couldn’t touch him.

The rare exception was during the screaming fits, when he clung to me like an underfed, sleep-deprived monkey.

He never looked anyone directly in the eye.

He scooted himself underneath any cave-like spot. At our church, they learned to leave him there until he came out on his own. A children’s church volunteer sported a nasty shin-bruise after getting too close.

His first reaction when feeling threatened: lash out, duck under or climb high.

Boy, could that kid climb. High and fast. Still can, actually.

No bad people can get you if you’re thirty feet up a tree. 

He couldn’t wear any clothing with texture. Soft cotton, no tags. Couldn’t eat mashed potatoes without gagging. Anything soft or mushy? No way.

I told the social worker about my concerns. Could this be Autism?

If you’ve read many of my earlier posts, you probably know…our SW was a real gem. (Yes, that’s sarcasm.) She suggested that if we couldn’t handle the children’s issues, social services would kindly remove them from our care.

Threats of removal were, in fact, her only response to my requests that our situation be evaluated for additional training and support as a Therapeutic Foster Home.

At five, he knew only a few letters of the alphabet and exhibited delays in speech and gross motor skills. I contacted the local Children’s hospital about therapy. Ah, the waiting list.

He was so afraid of the other children in his Kindergarten class. Unfortunately, when threatened, his stunted social ability limited him to only a few options: fists, feet and head.

Finally, after six months of driving to the school almost every day to sit in his classroom (the Principal allowed me to stay, considering our situation), the SW approved psychological testing.

This concession came only after multiple attacks on other children in his class and several foiled attempts to escape the school caused the principal to recommend he attend only half-days.

The doctor spent about 45 minutes with him and pronounced his diagnosis as ADHD.

I listed the issues we’d seen in the last six months. “Do you think he could be on the spectrum?”

Nope.

Just traumatized. He’ll be fine in a few months. 

Finally, spots opened up in speech and occupational therapy. The therapists agreed with me. ADHD might be part of the problem, but wasn’t the whole story.

A few months before the adoption finalized (and over a year after they came to live with us), I received their full history.

He spoke about ten words when he was three years old. Most of his communication was nonverbal. His behavior was out of control. No one could work with him. 

For the next four years, every moment became therapy. We worked on speech, motor skills, interacting with others.

During the school year, they attended our local elementary school (with an IEP). He spent part of his day in the Special Education program. In summer, I homeschooled the two of them, reviewing previous learning and adding more skills. We took time for play and breaks, but most days they spent at least an hour on math and reading.

Beginning second grade, he read on a Kindergarten level. He won a book during our library’s reading program, The Family Secret. I knew the reading level was far beyond him, but the graphic novel nature of the book fascinated him. He became obsessed with the World Wars.

At my aunt and uncle’s house, he discovered war documentaries, mostly in black and white. His obsession expanded to include almost any war. In the bookstore, he begged for coffee-table size books about conflicts in Vietnam and Korea.

And his reading ability exploded. Now in 4th grade, his reading level borders between 5th and 6th grade. He draws elaborate representations of planes, ships and tanks. His attention to detail is unbelievable.

He hears music in his head and recently discovered Beethoven. He’s asking for piano lessons this summer, specifically so he can learn to play the 5th. My mom gave us a set of classical CDs; he vacillates between Tchaikovsky,  Schubert and Bach during the day. At bedtime, it has to be Beethoven. And if someone is rude enough to talk during the first movement, we get a rewound encore.

But his social skills are still far behind what they should be. He doesn’t “get” why certain things are inappropriate. He still can’t choke down certain foods or wear irritating clothing.

Once again, I asked his counselor.

Could he be on the Autism Spectrum?

And this counselor, too, who sees him once every two weeks for forty minutes, said, “I think he’s just OCD. And maybe a little eccentric.”

Right. Because “eccentric” is a word we use for nine year old boys. 

Finally, I talked him into psych testing. I am not a professional, but I live with the kid. If he’s not ASD, I’m crazy. (Which is likely still the case…)

After the first part, I met with the counselor.

He appeared a bit gobsmacked.

I don’t want to jump the gun, but it appears he could possibly be on the spectrum, based on preliminary testing.

No, really?

A second round, including feedback from his teachers. I asked him to call me with the results.

His secretary called instead; I think he’s mad at me. She was hesitant.

So, his tests show that your son has ADHD.

I almost laughed out loud in frustration.

And he has Autism. 

THANK. GOD.

Finally, a diagnosis.

I AM THRILLED.

Now, some of you may question my sanity. Several of my friends have ASD kids and aren’t very happy about the problems ASD brings.

However, for the last several years, I’ve been working more or less alone (as far as therapists and counselors), coaxing therapists into doing things that help kids with Autism even though “he’s not Autistic.”

Finding ways to help him learn.

Explaining to people that he “needs a little extra” when it comes to understanding others—especially other children.

PLEASE: Don’t corner him. Don’t force him. Don’t scare him. Don’t misunderstand him.

Last summer, he went to a basketball day camp and spent most of the week on the bench (I found out after the fact; he wasn’t forthcoming because he thought he’d be in trouble for acting out). They didn’t give him space to calm himself when he was agitated, which meant he ended up acting crazy.

They saw his ramped-up reactions as misbehavior, when he was just scared and overstimulated. Not their fault either; they’re not trained for special needs. But if we’d had a diagnosis, it might have changed their perception of his actions.

This summer, with the diagnosis, he qualifies to attend a camp for kids on the spectrum, with counselors trained to help him have the most fun possible. If he needs a minute, he can have a minute. No benching. SO. COOL.

And yes, I feel a little bit “told ya so.” I want to call that (no longer working) social worker and give her a piece of my mind.

Sure, lady, he’s just fine. He needs no special accommodations. It’s all in my head. I’m just being hypervigilant. 

And when it comes to my kids, I’ll be hypervigilant to my dying day.

Because after the start they had, they need all the help they can get.

And Hubby and I plan to make that happen.

We can’t wait to see how high he climbs.

 

 

Literal Child

Of late, our son is interested in making jokes.

He’s extremely literal and humor can be tough for him.

This morning he accosted me with yet another “joke,” sure this time that he’d come up with a winner. I’d just sent him to tame a cowlick, which triggered his idea.

He: “Why doesn’t it take a long time for a dog to comb its hair in the morning?”

Me: “I don’t know; why doesn’t it take a long time for a dog to comb its hair in the morning?”

He: “Because dogs don’t HAVE hair. They have fur!”(Wild grin.) “Get it??? Good one, right?”

He sauntered off, chuckling and muttering happily to himself, “How can they comb hair if they have fur? Good one. Good one.”

Ah, my literal child.

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