Related to: Put on Your Armor, Part 1 and Part 2
Several times, now, I’ve “diagnosed” our children in the face of therapists who disagree…only to have a psychological evaluation support my assertion six months (or more) later.
This is not because I’m more intelligent or have higher qualifications.
I don’t point this out to brag.
There is a reason it happened:
NO ONE can be an expert on EVERYTHING.
Every therapist has specialties.
If you’ve been part of the Hypervigilant community for more than a year, you may have wondered why I sometimes write yet another “we have a diagnosis!” post. Since he came to live with us, I’ve asserted our boy is on the Autism spectrum. And every time a professional confirms Autism, a different therapist disagrees the following year.
Some people don’t want their kids “labeled,” but in our case, what I call a diagnosis-in-writing helps us obtain needed services. (A number of therapists agree, “yes, I see those traits, but I’m not ready to put the diagnosis in writing”)
In search of someone who could finally help him, we bounced through the counseling community for six years. When the yearly psych came due, his counselor du jour completed the process.
At the time, utilizing the counselor most familiar with his current behaviors seemed logical, but not all of them were adept. In some cases, he refused to complete questions or gave answers he thought they wanted to hear.
His fluctuations in participation, combined with the wide array of specific spheres of knowledge, created anomalies in his diagnoses.
In January, a psychologist at the residential center completed a psychological for our son. Her field of expertise is ADHD. Almost all of her recommendations centered around mitigating ADHD symptoms. She did not address any of our concerns about Autism, ODD or social behavior, nor did she delve into factors impacting his aggression level.
I requested (okay, demanded) the center pay for a new psych evaluation with a different individual (since insurance wouldn’t pay for another). They declined to provide a full workup but agreed to a specialist performing certain specific testing.
Here’s what I never realized until now: we needed a TESTING expert.
The individual who performed the second battery does not provide counseling, therapy or psychological services of any kind. He only handles TESTING.
Our son’s session with the tester ended up fielding even better results than I’d hoped and I learned a valuable lesson in the process:
For therapy, turn to a licensed therapist or counselor. For medication, seek a psychiatrist. For accurate test results, consult a testing specialist.
But I digress. My point here is that no professional will ever have full command of every possible issue. Have you seen the DSM-V? It’s a chunky little book. And some of the diagnoses it contains are the sole focus of entire Ph.D. degrees.
When it comes to the kids in our homes, it is OUR responsibility to be the expert.
Children who’ve experienced trauma are each unique, but parallels appear in symptoms and behaviors across the group.
Unless your counselor is well-versed in results of a traumatic beginning, you will likely be your child’s best advocate.
If you live with a child, you know the child better than the “professional” ever could.
Don’t allow fear of being wrong or less qualified stop you from speaking up about concerns.
The most important part of being a child’s advocate is preparation. We need to put in the time to learn and to research.
With this in mind, in the next few weeks I’ll be posting resources to help kids who’ve had tough beginnings.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 encourages study of the Bible, so that we can be “thoroughly equipped for every good work.” While not specific to kids who’ve experienced trauma, it’s a great resource for finding hope and fighting fear, both integral to healing.
The idea also applies to studying on behalf of our kids. The more we know about needs and behaviors related to trauma, the better equipped we are to help them and to fight for them.
Let’s get out there and do GOOD WORK.
Dear Miss Othmar,
You are about to become the third most important person in my son’s life.
You will spend more waking hours with him for the next nine months than his dad or I.
Your encouragement, understanding, creativity and enthusiasm for learning will impact my son’s life forever.
My son is intelligent, wise beyond his years, interested in learning about almost everything and unbelievably creative. One-on-one conversations with him will leave you amazed at the depth of his thoughts.
If you connect with him, if you play to his strengths, if you feed his love of science, math and reading, you will find he’s your most dedicated student. He will be your most loyal supporter. Your truest pupil.
His ADHD, high-functioning Autism (what used to be called Asperger’s) and traumatic background sometimes interfere with his ability to show others who he really is.
He hears every little tick, hum and buzz in the building as though it’s right behind his ear. The fly most kids easily ignore will capture his attention like a tractor beam.
Transitions may leave him confused. Keeping himself organized is an almost insurmountable task. Writing assignments in a planner takes him much longer than other kids, thanks to his sensory and motor difficulties.
Attempts to connect with his peers sometimes leave him reeling.
He craves—but doesn’t always understand the best way to procure—acceptance. He thinks making kids laugh is the same as being liked, which means he may act out to get a giggle.
Perceived unfairness blows his mind; he has difficulty ratcheting his emotions back if he finds himself or others being treated in a way that “does not compute.”
In an environment where he feels secure, encouraged and safe, many of these quirks minimize naturally.
Here are some suggestions for a smooth ride this year:
Be firm, fair and calm.
If he freaks out, give him a minute to calm down in a quiet space. Ask him how the situation could have been different—and what he can do in the future to avoid the situation.
Give him advance notice for transitions. “Five minutes until we leave for lunch. Have you finished your paper? What do you need to do next to get ready?“
Find creative ways to get him involved. Ask him to master a concept so he can help teach someone else.
Notice his interactions with others. Feel free to “interfere,” to take him aside and make recommendations for relating.
When his attention wanes, stand by his desk, tap his page, put a hand on his shoulder…small connections to bring him back to earth.
Encourage him to take notes and write down his assignments, but please text me a picture of the assignment board.
Be firm, fair and calm. (This is really the most important.)
I am so thankful for your dedication to a wonderful education experience for all the kids in your class. I fully understand that you don’t have extra time to dedicate to “special” behavioral needs.
One last however:
With this kid, an ounce of prevention truly is worth a pound of cure. If you can find a few extra minutes to pour in at the outset, the rest of your year—and his—will benefit. If you make a connection with him, he’ll be motivated to make you proud.
Thank you again, in advance, for everything.
Continued from Part 1
I’m not 100% comfortable with medication as a solution for attention problems.
I can’t deny the efficacy of certain prescriptions—last week, our son had his FIRST PERFECT WEEK at school.
Granted, we only had two days in class due to snow but this is still a first. Two days, back-to-back, with only green marks (given for helping, staying on task, getting behavioral compliments from teachers in supplementary classes, etc.)? Never happened before.
The potential for success is incredible.
Possibility of side effects, now or in the future, concerns me.
I can say, in good conscience, that we tried EVERYthing before turning to medication. Still, nagging guilt plagues me, an oppressive feeling we “gave in” to the road more traveled.
Some of my friends say things like
Drug companies are the devil
Pharmaceutical conglomerates care about making money, not about making kids healthy
and although I’m not sure they’re correct on the first count, I acquiesce on the second. Companies are formed and sustained for one purpose: to make money for someone.
Knowing this, why do we—as a nation—fall in line for the daily dose?
The unfortunate truth is this: other alternatives require more time and sometimes bring less direct results. In the world of mental health—mental health of children, in particular—we search for expedient outcomes. Medication is fast, and in some cases, immediate.
Research for alternatives led me to an option so easy it’s laughable. MOVEMENT. Activity requiring physical effort, carried out especially to sustain or improve health and fitness. In other words, exercise.
One of the article links cracked me up: “exercise-seems-to-be-beneficial-to-children.” No. Really?
According to several studies (see the links throughout this post), exercise can be just as beneficial as medication. Some claim prescriptions may be eliminated by implementing a consistent workout routine.
Why don’t we hear more about exercise as an alternative to drugs?
To be fair, our doctor did recommend exercise—not to replace, but to supplement the medication. After I explained our involvement in Karate twice a week, Scouts, family chores (yes, cleaning up counts as exercise) and treks through the woods, she agreed that no one could call our family sedentary.
CalorieLab even has a cool page for learning how many calories you burned vacuuming or doing other chores, if you’re interested.
She also recommended limiting screen time. Our kids watch about four hours of TV. Not per day. PER WEEK. Much lower than the national average, according to an American Academy of Pediatrics article. Where these kids find time to spend 7 hours a day (A DAY!?) entertained by screens is beyond me.
I have to agree with Yasmin; money seems the root of the problem; drug companies court pediatricians and other doctors constantly. I saw three reps during our 30-minute stay in the waiting area.
If you don’t know the answer to this question after years of watching Richard Simmons Sweat to the Oldies, I can’t offer you help. I mean, really.
Stop pretending you’re not overcome by memories. You know you loved it.
Okay, let’s get serious. Shake off your nostalgia.
This article in The Atlantic shows pictures of brain function with and without exercise. Due to the wording, I can’t determine whether the pictures are a representation of the study or genuine, actual slides. Either way, the visual difference is staggering. The article references children sitting in class with “blue heads” for nine months. Lost learning potential could be significant. An excerpt:
John Ratey, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard, suggests that people think of exercise as medication for ADHD. Even very light physical activity improves mood and cognitive performance by triggering the brain to release dopamine and serotonin, similar to the way that stimulant medications like Adderall do.
Exercise makes you feel good.
No small accomplishment for a child who tends toward a negative self-image. Many kids with ADHD feel “less.” Less able to do the work, less likely to succeed, less likable (due to their sporadic behavior) than their more focused classmates. Exercise can improve self-image in many ways—not just physical.
Exercise reduces “learned helplessness.”
ADHD kids are likely to quit before they start because they feel they won’t succeed regardless of what they do. ADDitude mag editors also quote John Ratey as a resident expert, but are more conservative. This article describes exercise as a supplement rather than replacement for medication.
I see “learned helplessness” in our children, both of whom struggle with attention (although our guy has a much more difficult time). Our daughter, in particular, would rather not try if she sees potential for failure.
Simple math problems take FOR-EVVVV-ERRRR because, instead of relying on her bank of memorized facts, she counts on her fingers before answering. This backfires, as she is often distracted while counting and ends up with an incorrect answer. This reinforces her idea that she won’t get it right. We’ve worked very hard with her, encouraging her to use the first answer that “pops into” her mind.
Exercise jump-starts your brain
Exercise turns on the attention system, the so-called executive functions — sequencing, working memory, prioritizing, inhibiting, and sustaining attention.
-John Ratey, M.D.
Working memory is the key for many ADHD individuals. Our son scored very high on psych evaluations in almost every area except this. Without working memory, we can’t perform two tasks at once—at least, not easily.
How much, how often?
- WebMD suggests 150 minutes of exercise per week in an article about adult ADHD
- According to an article in Inverse, some schools have implemented three 20-minute exercise sessions or use “time-in” instead of time-out: if a child acts out, he or she spends the “time-in” on an exercise/ machine
Exercises to try
- Push-ups, squats
- Sports/Martial Arts
Not all exercise must be physical, although aerobic exercise is an excellent strategy to focus that brain. You can also try the following:
- Try focus exercises geared toward ADHD.
- Train your Brain. The jury is still out regarding brain-training games, but it seems logical. If your brain is a muscle, and you engage in consistent brain workout, I conclude that it will be stronger and better. NeuroRacer sounds pretty cool, although they now focus on aging adults. I contacted the company to ask if the game is available to the general public.
- Learn something new. Khan Academy offers free classes; the site is amazing. Learning a new skill stretches your brain. Remember when you learned to read? C-A-T. Struggling to decode words. Look at ya now—reading is as easy as breathing. Always wanted to learn Chinese? Greek? Spanish? Learn to play an instrument, to cook authentic Italian food, to swim. Now you have a reason.
- Do math. I’ve seen exponential (see what I did there?) improvement in the kids’ focus as we’ve dedicated time to learning long division and double-digit multiplication.
- Write. (YAY!) The creative process, research, putting words to a page whether written or typed, editing—all of these contribute to better focus. I’ve never been diagnosed ADHD (except by all my best friends and Hubby), but I do have my suspicions. When I practice faithful writing, everyone can tell.
Our new routine started today. 30 minutes of sustained activity each day—that’s the goal. Hubby and I don’t often sit (we like to DIY, and we’ve been remodeling the kitchen for several weeks). The kids, however, would prefer to meld with the carpet, or couch, or whatever.
As I mentioned above, we all take responsibility for chores at home. Daily chores take a legitimate 15 minutes (for the 9 year old) and 25 minutes (for the 11 year old).
I’ve stopped counting their chores toward daily fitness because she, in particular, moves at a very slow pace. She’s admitted a hope that we will give up if she takes forever. So far, no dice. Sorry, honey.
During research for this post, I realized that our kids don’t participate in sustained physical activity every day. So, today, I instituted the first daily “30 Get Up and Move Minutes” session. 30GUMM for short, because I’m a nerd. If the weather is nice, out they go. If I look out a window,they should be walking, running, playing with the dogs, swinging, etc.
Our first day of bad weather, I plan to break out the Wii. Yes, it’s screen time, but at least they’ll be moving, so I think it counts. Sort of like tricking them into exercise. Bwah ha ha ha.
Do I have to forgo meds?
This post (including Part 1) is not intended to denounce medication as originating in brimstone.
Although I don’t like the thought of possible side effects, school and self-image are my main concerns for the moment. As long as the side effects remain only on the pharmacy document regarding “all the horrible things that will probably happen because now you are looking for signs of them,” they’ll keep popping pills. Responsibly and at the lowest possible dose. If side effects occur, we’ll re-think the plan.
And for the moment, we’ve had no issues.
On the other hand, I plan be more intentional about integrating physical and brain exercise. Getting them in shape, body and mind, can only benefit. If we’re able to phase out the medication, that will be a lovely added bonus. I’ll let you know how it goes.
How about you?
Are you a medical teetotaler or pill pusher? Is BigPharm the evil villain, or do you think alternative medicine is for hippies? Have you found ways to focus? What’s your strategy?
Of course, if you think freebasing Vicodin is a panacea, I recommend keeping that to yourself…
We’re all interested in what you have to say. Share below!
To medicate or not…that is the question.
Hamlet’s angst is nothing compared with the stress parents face in the decision of whether to alleviate ADHD symptoms with medication.
Everyone has an opinion to voice, including 95-year-young great-aunt Judith.
In myyyyy day, we just sent the kids outside to run around until they fell over. Worked like a charm.
Right. That’s helpful. The kid is in school all day, expected to be motionless and butt-in-seat for almost seven hours. A colossal task for a child whose small body vibrates with energy. There’s little time built into the school schedule for “running around.”
I agree that the issue of exercise must be addressed (another post) but changes in a public school drag out as only bureaucracy can.
While school officials and teachers are not allowed to recommend medication, parents of kids who fall under the “ADHD” banner can read between the wide-rule notebook paper lines.
We have tried all the strategies available to us but she’s still having significant trouble keeping up with the class. Have you talked with your pediatrician about sleep, diet changes…other…possible solutions?
And then there are the
meddlesome individuals concerned friends with opinions.
Have you read about the side effects? My friend’s brother’s girlfriend has a facial tic and hallucinates. She was on that Concertadderalin drug for fifteen years. I bet that caused it.
What is a parent to do?
When the kids first came to live with us, our girl was the picture of perfection in public. This byproduct of Reactive Attachment Disorder was a boon, because…the same could not be said for our little guy.
At age five, he unleashed mayhem and havoc with a talent Spiderman’s supervillain Electro would envy. Especially at school.
Electro, as photographed by Compulsive Collector
Finding the social worker to be less than helpful, I appealed to a local government agency and procured a behavioral mentor. Three quit, without ceremony, in quick succession.
The last one, a no-nonsense black Mary Poppins, worked magic. As they say in the South, she yanked a knot in his tail. While she was present, he managed to keep his behavior to a notch below “expel that kid.”
The bus ride home…that was a different story. I found myself in the principal’s office, “volunteering” to drive the kids to and from school (because bus behavior was a notch above “expel that kid”). The chaos on the bus was just too stimulating for his hyper little brain.
His behavior was not unlike a puppy with separation anxiety (freaking out, destruction, snapping and biting). And like said pup, once he could see us, he calmed.
By the end of Kindergarten, we thought we’d turned a corner. Maybe the pup was maturing. The behavioral aide told us she didn’t feel he needed her any longer.
What we didn’t realize at the time: he transferred his need for a parental figure temporarily to her during school hours. His ability to self-manage appeared to grow, but in reality, he simply allowed himself to relax when she was present.
Because he seemed to have made such progress, the agency deemed a behavioral aide unnecessary for first grade. Then he escaped school. And then the Assistant Principal tackled him to prevent a second escape. The behavioral aide was reinstated, but Mary Poppins was no longer available.
By this time, we had him in occupational therapy, were using ABA techniques at home and had an in-home counselor visiting several times a week in addition to the”office” counselor. I averaged three hours of sleep, because he woke up between 3 and 4 each morning, screaming. (The girl didn’t fall asleep until after midnight most of the time.) We tried natural remedies like melatonin and installed blackout curtains. I read every book and article available. Tried every behavioral modification. Rewards. Negative consequences. Bribes. Nothing worked.
While cycling through a parade of aides, I began discussing medication with his counselor, who referred me to a psychiatrist. Because the children were still in legal custody of social services, I had to fight with the Bat from Hell to get approval to try meds. Her level of hostile resistance reminded me yet again that she must have spent almost no time learning about these children. Even the school was (unofficially) on my side by this time.
We received grudging approval for a low dose of Concerta. His improvement was almost immediate but the effect was brief; the pill was too small to last through the day. Applying for permission to increase the dose margin, I could almost hear the social worker’s clogs dragging. She ignored most of my requests, but by the middle of second semester, we’d tweaked the prescription to a still low but more effective level.
In late Spring, for reasons unknown, he relapsed into mania. Glue poured over his desk. Crayons broken and thrown. Another child’s head slammed into the wall. Attempts to escape. The social worker suggested an increase in meds; we agreed while graciously gritting our teeth in a slightly we-told-you-so manner.
The higher medicine adjustment allowed him to stay in school, but he stopped eating and began a yawning tic. Dark circles appeared under his eyes. He looked like a patient of chronic illness. The school year ended and I worked with the doctor to remove medication for the summer. The side effects concerned us more than his erratic behavior.
At this point, we discussed home schooling. After that first touch-me-not year, he has always been most settled at my side. I understood the commitment, having home-schooled ten of my own school years. If we homeschooled, he’d have one-on-one attention and infinitely fewer distractions.
Hubby and the counselors and doctors all agreed—against me. He needed the social interaction; many of his issues began (and sometimes still stem) from his inability to handle interaction with others. Keeping him in constant contact with others is key.
When the school year started again, his psychiatrist suggested guanfacine. As I understand it, the drug was initially meant for blood pressure. Soldiers in a military hospital took it for heart health, but their PTSD symptoms were suddenly ameliorated. ADHD and PTSD can be related (and our son does, in fact, have a PTSD diagnosis). We’ve experienced a shift from insanity to relative composure, with no side effects.
The medication also helps him stay asleep. Lack of sleep exacerbates ADHD symptoms (in EVERYONE, right?) so the sleep aid is very beneficial.
For a short time she also prescribed Strattera, but I saw no improvement and didn’t like the possible side effects, so we discontinued the prescription.
Now in fourth grade, he communicates frustration brought on by his impulsivity.
I want to be good. But I do the wrong thing! It’s like I just can’t help it!
The psychiatrist asked our guy if he’d like some help being focused. With a pleading look on his face, he nodded. She described a dose of Vyvanse, so low that our pharmacist had to order it. He’s taken it for two days. Because it wears off throughout the day, I see very little change by the time he’s home. However, his teacher is enthusiastic in her praise for his new attitude. (She’s worked incredibly hard with us to help him self-regulate; we text throughout the day. I am so thankful for her.)
I tell you our story, not to support medication, but to give you my perspective. I am overjoyed that we may have found his perfect match. I am thrilled to see him so happy; it’s evident in both what he says and how he carries himself (he has had two days with no “bad marks” since starting the med, and he’s proud of himself).
I am weighed down by unbelievable, maybe-irrational, massive amounts of guilt for “giving in” and medicating. I am terrified that long term side effects, yet unknown, may plague him in his teen or adult years. I pray the list of already recognized side effects will not visit him. I feel like a failure. Maybe if I’d changed our diet, gotten up an hour early to take him for a run each morning, found an alternative, we could skip the meds altogether.
But at the end of the day, it’s about my boy. And at the moment, he’s moved from feeling that he’s the “bad” kid in class to knowing that he CAN succeed. He has a taste of what it is to enjoy school. To ignore the barbed words from his arch-nemesis. To refrain from throwing the lunchtime green bean back at its sender. To have control. To focus.
He no longer drags himself to the pickup line, weighed by the knowledge that we need to have yet another discussion about his behavior. He actually trotted to meet me today, a grin on his face.
I got EIGHT green marks today. Eight. And no red ones. Pretty great, huh?
Pretty great, indeed.
When the children first came to us, four years ago, our boy showed possible markers for Autism.
His records show he was mostly non-verbal and knew about 10 words at age 3. He couldn’t tolerate certain lights, noises, too many people, some textures (food and clothing). He couldn’t hold eye contact. We couldn’t touch him unless he initiated; he was very good at moving quickly out from under our hands. No hugs, no holding, no gentle pats. And he screamed. Oh, the screaming.
I’ve just finished Temple Grandin‘s book, Thinking in Pictures. She answers a question I’ve had for four years. “If kids are so sensitive to noise, why can they be so loud?” The key is the range of tones and frequencies; some just aren’t tolerable, while others are no problem. The child isn’t screaming in the intolerable frequency. Also (which I’d suspected), some of the hypersensitivity may be tied to the unexpectedness. A screaming child has at least a brief moment in which the brain knows “gonna scream.” External noise, however, isn’t pre-announced in most instances. Mystery solved. Thanks, Temple!
These days, he still has a few quirky moments but tends to be fine with all of the above. He’s very talented at building anything out of well, anything (and does so during every free moment), and he’s been obsessed with WWII for about a year. His teacher and I both sometimes wonder, but counselors say we’re seeing PTSD symptoms.
Regardless of “official” diagnosis, as I’ve interacted with these special kids, I’ve become convinced that we sell them short. In TIP, Temple makes several comparisons between children with Autism and “normal” children. Since she’s also Autistic, I guess she has the right to say it. As far as I’m concerned, though, there’s no such thing as normal (except as a setting on my washing machine). Every child is gifted in some way. Each one will struggle to overcome difficulty. Autistic kids are special, and I don’t mean special ed.
Autistic children have more challenges, I agree, but in this case milestones become even more of a celebration. You may read this and click the little red X to close the blog, angry that I’d suggest Autism is a blessing. Maybe it’s not. But the children dealing with it ARE.
On a day-to-day basis, as a parent, Autism may seem like an affliction, a punishment, a demon. And again, maybe it is. But the child isn’t. Even in the worst times, there are moments of joy. Back when I was convinced of his condition (he was 94% likely to be Autistic, per the psych evaluation, although it was not an “official” diagnosis), first thoughts were of his future.
We advocated and pleaded with school officials and
threatened cajoled social service delinquents workers to ensure his school services would not be diminished (due to behavior, the initial response from the school was “he’s not ready, cut him to half-day”). We tracked down and utilized every possible community resource (which ultimately provided us an in-home counselor and day treatment options). Every moment of every day was a lesson in reading, math and social skills.
It was exhausting.
The intervention (unfortunately not early, thanks to the incompetence of social services and either ignorance or apathy on the part of foster parents) continues, but he needs less each year. Thanks to great reading support at our current school (where he’s been for two years) and die-hard summer reading, we’ve seen this progression:
Age 5, Kindergarten: didn’t know the alphabet
Age 6, First Grade: couldn’t read simple 3-letter words
Age 7, Second grade: read on a pre-K level
Age 8, Third grade: reads consistently on a 4th grade level and can sound out 5th grade words, usually with comprehension once he “gets” it. Wants to know the meaning and use of any word he doesn’t recognize.
Temple mentions her ability to decode words thanks to phonics; I see the same in our guy. Once he gets a sound, he usually recognizes it elsewhere. “Weird” words that don’t follow the rules irritate him. I remind him that he doesn’t always follow rules, either…
So, per our current counselor, our guy is not on the spectrum. Maybe he’s right. I don’t really know how children with Autism progress. I’m not a professional. On the other hand, in the spectrum of light, some colors are invisible to the naked eye. I would not be surprised to find he’s on a similar end of the spectrum, but I’m not fighting for a confirmation. For now, we’re more worried about making sure we meet his specific needs as they surface.
This week, a friend learned his son has Autism, no question, so I pulled together a list of links for them. As of today, all of these links work. Click below!
If you have an child on the spectrum (or know one), I also recommend that you check out Thinking in Pictures on Audible.com; if you don’t already have an account, the first book is free (just don’t forget to cancel if you don’t want to pay for the subscription). The narrator is phenomenal.
So, tonight our in-home counselor suggested that in addition to ADHD, possibly our girl is a little OCD.
I said, “Maybe so. Or maybe she’s P-O-S-S-E-S-S-E-D.”
I was joking.
The counselor nodded seriously. “You might be right.”
“What?” I choked.
“Oh, I think you’re totally on the right track. She definitely is.”
“Are you kidding?” I asked.
She narrowed her eyes at me. “What, you don’t agree?”
“Um, I was sort of kidding.”
“I’m not. She’s totally pissed off,” she said. “You don’t think so?”
I laughed. “No, you’re totally correct, but that’s not what I spelled.”
Glad we cleared that up.
Image from RVANews
I’ve written an adoptive version of the alphabet song. Sing with me, now: O-C-D-P-T-S-D, A-D-D-M-R-ADHD. F A S, R A D, got a new I E P, now it’s time for therapy, next time won’t you come with me?
Our kids came with baggage, and each tote is packed with letters.
Our son has such severe ADHD that initially, several different therapists thought he was on the Autism spectrum, on the Asperger’s end. His PTSD caused night terrors, inability to sleep and unwillingness to leave me. His main concern: that Hubby and I, like all other adults who previously claimed to love him, would disappear.
Our girl also has PTSD and ADHD. Her hallmark, though, is RAD, or Reactive Attachment Disorder. RAD can occur when a child is denied early bonding experience with a caregiver. Children with RAD often fail to thrive, aim direct defiance at main caregivers, are awkward in social interaction and form very quick and superficial attachments to peripheral caregivers (teachers, Sunday School teachers, counselors). They may also act inappropriately close with acquaintances and strangers. The benefit to this disorder: she will never, ever, ever EVER be anything but an angel in public. Her number one goal, with almost pathological precision, is to be seen as “sweet.” I know this because she told me. The drawback: she has a love-hate relationship with anyone called “Mama.”
RAD has colored our relationship from the very beginning. She called Hubby “Daddy” almost immediately, but made a point of not calling me anything at all. Once, I reprimanded her and she said nastily, “You’re not my real mom.” I was actually prepared for that one, so while the disrespect was unattractive, the actual statement wasn’t a big deal. I wanted to say, “Wow, that’s the best you can come up with? Every adopted kid says that. Come on, I know you can find a more creative insult!” But, since she was seven at the time, snarky comments just weren’t appropriate. Lately, she’s been very obviously doing the exact opposite of everything I say. In general, if Hubby, her teacher, her coach, her therapist, or even a total stranger gives her a directive, she obeys with little push-back. If I, on the other hand, ask her to do something, she uses one of the following tactics:
1. Ignores me completely.
2. Does the polar opposite.
3. Completes the task as slowly as humanly possible.
She watches to see if I’ve noticed, which our in-home counselor pointed out. “She (does whatever it is) and then looks at you from the corner of her eye to gauge your reaction.” Since she mentioned this, it’s become something of a game. I pretend not to notice, because any attention to the bad behavior makes it exponentially worse, but I’m actually watching her watch me. The “game” makes things a little more bearable…she thinks she’s sly, and it’s actually pretty funny sometimes. It’s also a little heartbreaking.
Parenting a RAD child is exhausting. Talking with Hubby this evening, I noted that her mama-targeted disobedience is getting really, really annoying, but assured him that I’m not taking it personally. His response: “If you’re annoyed, you’re taking it personally.” As usual, he sees and understands. I should just be honest. Sometimes, I just want her to give me a break.
Earlier today, I picked up Thriving Family, a free magazine sent by Focus on the Family. The words, “Why Don’t You Love Me Back? Understanding why some adopted kids reject Mom…” leaped out at me. The article, by Paula Freeman, notes that what I’m feeling isn’t uncommon among adoptive mothers. In an effort to avoid more hurt, adopted children who have experienced a rift or loss of their birth mother may reject anyone in the Mama role. “The thought of losing another mother is simply too much to bear. Thus Mom becomes the target of her child’s rejection because she is the greatest emotional threat.”
Maybe it’s time for a mental shift. This kid isn’t going out of her way to make my life miserable; she’s keeping me at a distance (likely subconsciously) to guard her heart from being broken again. I need to find ways to connect with her (she’s girly, so…painting nails, window shopping, making crafts) and reinforce that THIS Mama isn’t going anywhere. Where she is, mentally and psychologically, happened over the course of seven years. Expecting her to be “fixed” in a few short months is ridiculous bordering on insanity. It’s going to take a lot of time, and about six tons of patience.
And eventually, hopefully, our girl will no longer be defined by RAD. Unless, of course, it’s the 1980’s definition.