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Three Things Every Kid with RAD Needs

There is NO silver bullet and NO easy way to overcome Reactive Attachment Disorder.
Kids exhibiting RAD symptoms have endured deep loss and continue to grieve.
As I understand it, their brains have rewired to compensate. They may experience low levels of emotion or pain. Our daughter was able to turn off her emotions at will, but some of her lack of emotion was not intentional and concerned her. She used to ask me if there was something wrong with her because she didn’t always cry when she thought it would be appropriate (e.g., funerals, pet loss).
Our son’s pain receptors don’t work properly; at the treatment center, our guy broke his hand by punching a wall in a fit of rage. When I confronted the nurse on duty after seeing his hand (swollen three times normal size), she said they’d checked it earlier and assumed he was ok because he went back to activities with no complaint. He played basketball with a broken hand all afternoon.
He had to have an MRI for something else and I mentioned this to the neurologist. She said lack of response to pain is typical of kids who’ve been through trauma.

Kids with RAD need three things:

  1. True belief that you will not abandon them and will never give up on them

  2. Motivation (external or internal; sometimes related to #3)

  3. Definite realization they want to stay with you 

Finding ways to help them accept #1 and identifying #2 are equally difficult. When you’ve been abandoned by the people who should have been your rock solid forever protection (bio family), you have a hard time understanding why anyone else would stick with you. When everything that matters has been stripped away, you cease to put value in anything because it will likely be taken as well.
It is impossible to create #3, although this often grows from #1 and #2.
Seven years of CONSISTENT love, positive and negative consequences and promises kept worked for our daughter. About two years ago, we openly discussed the fact that we needed to consider residential treatment for her (because if your kid has cancer and you’re not a doctor,  you go to the hospital…we’re not psychiatrists and nothing was working). This shocked her into realizing that she did want to be with us. She asked us to give her time to try to change her behavior, and we gladly agreed.
That same amount of time has not worked for our son…YET. We had the same conversation with him last August, but he had a different reaction. He’s been in residential treatment with wild swings in his behavior and very little progress until last month. The one thing that does motivate him externally is television; he’ll do anything for TV time. Unfortunately, the treatment center hasn’t been the most cooperative with behavior modification; it’s “too difficult” to tie TV time to behavior. We’re looking at moving him elsewhere due to many factors, and as a part of that process our post-adoption social worker (whom he’s never met) needed to visit him. I asked her not to introduce herself as a social worker or as from social services because every time a SW showed up at our house during the foster years, he freaked out.
I was sure he’d assume she was there to take him, because I know he still doesn’t believe we’ll keep him.
The center therapist wasn’t aware (I didn’t realize she was going so soon and didn’t have time to prep him or our son) and introduced her to our son as “from DSS.” Our guy immediately went there.

They’re sending me to a new family?! I knew it!! 

The therapist said he morphed to scary-angry on the spot. Once they calmed him down and explained, he relaxed a bit. We called later that day and reinforced that we are not going anywhere and neither is he.
I think the misunderstanding shocked him into realizing that he really DOES want to be with us. Since her visit, he’s had a completely different tone with us, both on the phone and in person. His behavior is suddenly better; he’s like a different kid. We are praying that this will be his turnaround.
RAD is a roller coaster that never fully ends. I never get completely comfortable or expect things to be wonderful forever, because ridiculous expectations = death to healthy relationships. Expect that things may sometimes be rocky, and know that you’ll survive.

To anyone parenting a kid with RAD symptoms: ENJOY the quiet ride while it lasts, and just know that the crazy ups and downs are all related to their pain. As they heal, things will get better. Keep in mind that they’ll likely never be “over” the hurt, but they can move past it in many ways.

 

 

 

 

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A Letter to My Son

My dearest boy,

This year has been one of the most difficult I’ve ever lived. Let’s speak with honesty: you created most of the mountains and valleys.

Some people say hindsight is 20/20 regarding past mistakes. This phrase means that when we look back at the past, we have a clear picture of the choices we made, as well as the ability to see how the present might be different if we’d made other choices.

I see so many mistakes in our beginnings, due in part simply to ignorance. In some cases, these mistakes were coordinated by individuals trying to cover their wrongdoing. Sometimes, our vision was clouded by the possibilities. Other times, we were just too exhausted to see the right path.

In almost every case, the mistakes were not your fault. Unfortunately, those mistakes are partly responsible for your current location, in residential treatment—which doesn’t excuse your choices to be violent and oppositional, but provides some explanation.

Mistakes – in Hindsight

1. Ignorance

I read almost every adoption book available in this hemisphere in preparation, but don’t have any memory of advice to procure a liaison. We met you through friends providing respite care for your foster family. Rather than working through an agency, I called Social Services directly.

We ended up with the worst social worker on the planet. She wrote you off as problem kids, destined to continue the cycle begun by your birth family. She made clear her feelings that we were not qualified to be parents and threatened to remove you anytime I suggested you needed special services. As a result, I was hesitant to fight for the services you truly required. I was unaware of the many supports available to us.

2. Intentional Misinformation

Only a few months ago, I noticed the name of a therapy group mentioned in your paperwork. Searching my files, I found nothing, so contacted them. They sent me the original intake and notes from the six month time-frame they worked with you and your sister.

The documents outline clear recommendations for special handling due to your trauma situation and attachment issues. These same documents list the many times therapists attempted to involve the social worker, the consistent lack of interaction, the outright resistance to attending to your special needs.

The case is noted as closed out because they were unable to get necessary paperwork signed by the social worker, which prevented moving forward in treatment for attachment issues. These documents were sent to the social worker to be included in your file, but they were either never included or she removed them.

Reading documentation of the extent of your abuse and seeing with clear hindsight how we could have made your transition to our home so much less traumatic makes me physically ill. The room spins around me and I want to throw up. I want to scream, to weep, to track down this irresponsible human being and somehow make her see the damage she’s done to you.

3. Indomitable Belief

Your dad and I fit together like two pieces of a puzzle; together, we can accomplish almost anything. He is the logical, realistic, creative piece. He sees both the potential and the pitfalls. I am the dreamer, the visionary. I see what CAN be, but not always what IS. We both look for the good, but he recognizes solid truth, while I choose to believe the best, even if it means ignoring the obvious.

When you arrived, you were five. You did not know all the letters of the alphabet, but when I started helping you match letters to words (a, apple) I found that you knew curse words for letters A, B, C, D, F, G, H and more. In hindsight (there it is again), I should have realized the glint in your eye as you said, “S, sonofabitch,” meant you were testing my mettle with intent indicative of things to come.

I was determined to help you read; reading—and writing—was and is my survival. I knew that reading would help you heal. Would take you places far away when your reality became too heavy to bear. You were determined to learn. Within a year, you were reading full sentences. Less than six months later, you were reading a full year ahead of your grade. Every visit to the store, you brought me a book, pleading for a purchase. (I could easily reject a toy, but always bought a book.)

Your choices amazed me. Precocious. Intelligent. Many were beyond your reading ability, but you sat sounding out words, absorbed. From the beginning, I believed you and your sister were meant for big things. I saw this as confirmation of your special abilities.

You were obsessed with World War II, with military vehicles and aircraft, with the social injustices brought about by hate. I celebrated your intensity. One day, you carried an enormous coffee-table book about Vietnam toward me. My mom and aunt, with us for the shopping trip, were amazed at your choice. You were disappointed when I replaced the book (a documentary including pictures of dead bodies, which was a rule-out).

Upon returning to her house, my aunt found a black and white military documentary and asked me if I thought you’d be interested. No dead bodies filmed; I approved, and you watched it for hours. They began purchasing old war documentaries for you to watch during our visits. Everyone was amazed at your focus regarding all things war. I saw a savant. Imagined the leader of a nation forming in front of me, rather than a mind obsessed with violent images. And I still have hope.

4. Incredible Exhaustion

I do not blame you, truly, for what you had become by the time you arrived at our house. A wild animal in the body of a malnourished, neglected little boy. Like a modern-day Mowgli, you howled and screamed and struggled to communicate. You fought and snarled and ate with reckless abandon.

The foster family who kept you for eighteen months gave up long before they requested release; they had a limit. Consequently, they did little more than house you, missing important opportunities for early intervention.

Unfortunately for us all, when you arrived, there was no transition plan, no gradual acclimation to these new adults and new surroundings. During the first five years—and especially the first two, when the social worker still worked for the department—we found little support.

Some of this was our own doing; afraid that any glitch might cause the social worker to yank you from our home, we did not reach out to some of the people who might have provided strength. Of the few people we involved through necessity (people we saw each week at church or work colleagues covering for us), many walked away after a few interactions. You were too wild, too disrespectful, too dangerous to their children, too much work.

A few people continued to hold us up, but we were never comfortable leaving you with anyone untrained. Respite care workers were few and far between. We had no reprieve for almost six months, when we managed a weekend away while a trained mentor stayed with you. Watching you dismember and disembowel your teddy bear while staring at her menacingly was her breaking point. She stayed until we came home, but she never returned.

We didn’t have time to ourselves, not a date night, not a moment of true rest, for almost a full year. Even when we finally managed to coordinate a respite weekend, we were not able to relax because the caregivers constantly called us to ask for over-the-phone intervention.

When your behavior was horrible, we our only recourse was survival—you were unmoved by carrot or stick. (Actually, for the first twenty months, a literal “stick” was illegal since we were still fostering…but you get what I mean.) NOTHING worked.

Although frustrating, we also understood the lack of concern for consequences. If you’ve lost everything in your life, a redacted dessert for kicking your classmate means nothing. Understanding, though, is one thing. Finding relief is another—trying and failing to find a way to guide your behavior tested our limits. We found that prevention was the only option. We could never rest; scanning the environment constantly and guessing your next move consumed my day.

After the adoption, we felt more secure in pursuing options for support and finally received approval for in-home counseling, mentoring services and even more respite (although this was still limited). Even so, moments of true rest were few and fleeting.

Every parent makes bad decisions sometimes; exhaustion compounds the problem. I fully accept the responsibility for the times I raised my voice in frustration beyond acceptable decibel levels. The times I screamed when I should have walked away. Losing my crap completely over stepping barefoot on Legos.

I’m sure that our exhausted reactions in the first five years contributed to some of your angst.

If I could travel back in time, there are many things I’d do differently, in hindsight.

For the record, bringing you to live with us is NOT something I’d change.

I know these are not the only mistakes made in your short life. The list of people who’ve failed you is extensive, beginning even before the first moment you breathed Earth’s atmosphere.

You have a difficult road ahead, but from here, the opportunity to make (or avoid) mistakes becomes yours. You hold your future in your own hands.

As you told your therapist, you live with a Protective Grizzly Bear and a Pit Bull who Never Gives Up. Unlike that first foster family, no matter what happens, we will always call you ours. We will always love you.

Moving past the mistakes, releasing the desire for retaliation, opening your mind and heart to others…this will be a lifelong process. And it will be YOUR choice.

I pray that you will be able to see your way, clear and straight, to healing—and to HOME.

I love you.

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