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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.






Adoption = Loss (Part 1)

This post is in response to Writing101’s prompt, Write about a loss.

When you adopt, everyone talks about the amazing blessing and the newly created family and the happily ever after.

Nobody talks about the loss.

For some of my adoptive friends, the loss came in the form of doctors and tears and in vitro and devastation.

One of my friends chose to marry a paraplegic, knowing the challenges but not truly understanding the coming sacrifice. As we grew older, she ached for a baby, wanted to experience childbirth.

We watch other women grow roundly taut, put our hands over the round belly to feel the child kick, experience the miracle from the outside.

Five years ago this summer, two weeks before turning thirty-three, I helped decorate for a dual baby shower. My brothers’ wives were expecting. Baby girls, both. The desolation that washed over me as I placed pink…everything…around the room frankly shocked me. Unexpected.

I thought I was fine with this.

Hubby and I both had adopted family members. My oldest cousin, whom I adored and idolized, was adopted. Hubby’s oldest sister, with whom he was (and remains) close, was adopted as an infant. When we started dating, even before voicing ideas of marriage, we talked of adopting. It was always a foregone conclusion.

After we married, we decided to pursue adoption first. With naive best intentions, we wanted the adopted children to know that they were not a “last resort,” but our first choice. Deciding (like the innocent newlyweds we were) to wait a few years, then contact an adoption agency, we settled into learning to live with each other. As time passed, I began to feel the empty space in our home and my heart, to ache for a child.

Then I began to ache, in general. I started to sleep anywhere, anytime. We went to a classic car show (which I usually enjoy) and I had to go back to our car. I slept in the back seat, in the parking lot, for over six hours. On Saturdays, I rarely functioned before noon. I dragged myself out of bed for church on Sunday, then came home to sleep. On weekdays, I napped during my lunch break.

I didn’t really have other symptoms, so thought I was just tired. Hubby thought he must have married a seriously lazy chick. For two years, I mentioned fatigue and generalized pain to the doctor during checkups, but he chalked it up to being an adult with a job. After a while, he diagnosed the fatigue and pain as depression and gave me a Wellbutrin prescription. I never took the pills.

In 2005, during the daily phone meeting with a coworker I’d never met (I supported most of the east coast as a recruiter for a bank), I mentioned attending a wedding that weekend. “It was so weird; I was outside, and suddenly I felt horrible. I hurt all over, and I thought I was going to pass out. It was awful. I went inside and sat down for a while, and after a while it just went away.” He perked up. “Was the sun shining? Were you in the shade?” I told him I’d been standing in the sun. “Get an appointment with your doctor as soon as you can. Make sure you mention the sun.”

Thinking this was a little odd, I nevertheless did as he instructed. My physician reacted as usual when I mentioned my complaints of fatigue and aches, but when I mentioned the sun, he whipped around on his little stool and stared at me thoughtfully. “I’m sending you to a specialist. It might be nothing.”

A week later, I was on potassium pills and heading to a rheumatologist. I still didn’t know what was happening. Arthritis? At my age?

Not arthritis. Lupus.

Take these meds. Stay out of the sun; UV rays are a trigger. Wear protective clothing and SPFLatexPaint. Avoid stress. Oh, and no grapefruit; it reacts with the medication.

NO GRAPEFRUIT? Of all the inconveniences, this was the one that broke my heart. My favorite fruit.

And how in heck can I avoid stress? At the time, I had a driving commute of over an hour each way. Traffic was not New York stressful, but it also wasn’t a Sunday drive.

I began working from home. I took my medication faithfully. Usually happy to be nut-brown in the summer, I hid from the sun. Too bad the vampire craze was still ten years away.

Two years in, with my long dark hair, pale skin and purple-encircled eyes, all I needed was glittery body dust to start TEAM CASEY! The Cullen family would have accepted me as one of their own.

One other repercussion of Lupus: babies. The doctor said, “If you’d like to get pregnant, you definitely can. There’s a 50% chance you could lose the baby in either the first or last trimester, but we can monitor things closely.” So, wait. Let me get this straight. Even if I make it through 8.5 months of pregnancy, the baby might die.

For me, this was equivalent to saying, “Hey, send your toddler into that four-lane highway. She might get hit by a truck, but there’s only a 50% chance.” Both Hubby and I thought the odds were just too great. Some of my friends had a burning desire to experience a baby growing inside them, but for me, “having” a baby had never been important, and thankfully Hubby felt the same way.

The Lupus solidified our decision to adopt. Overall, the loss I felt was not that “we couldn’t” create a new life; the loss, for me, was that I could no longer say there was no medical reason we chose adoption. Although that was still technically true, for some reason I still felt a bit cheated.

And occasionally, as during the baby shower, I felt the loss of all of it. We had decided to delay—or even, possibly, to forego—a biological child, but having that decision effectively removed from our hands…

But our loss was nothing.

For us to adopt our children, they had to lose everything.

Children seem to be born with an innate ability to forgive the most atrocious behavior. No matter how badly someone treats a child, the child still feels an attachment. Our kids continued to see their birth parents on a weekly basis until they were five and seven, then…nothing. Social services cut off the visits (with no explanation to the children), knowing they were coming to us.

They lost their birth family. Extended family. Familiar surroundings. Connections.

I explained it to a friend (who was frustrated with my children’s behavior) this way:

Imagine you live with a husband who isn’t generally the nicest guy but you’re used to each other and you understand the expectations of your relationship.

Five years into your marriage, a complete stranger swoops in, announcing that he’s no good for you. You must move to a new home with a new husband.

You stay with this new man for a few weeks, but again, the stranger arrives, packing all your things into her car with no explanation. You move to a third home. After a couple months, when you’re almost settled, here she comes again to take you away.

You stay with this fourth husband for a year and a half. You begin to believe in stability. He’s fairly nice—nicer, in fact, than your first husband. Things aren’t perfect, but they’re okay. You think he likes you, and you start thinking this might work out.

But no.

The stranger reappears. As you drive away from your fourth husband, he smiles brightly and waves. How can he be happy you’re leaving? You thought he liked you.

Now, seriously…if this happened, would you be a well-adjusted, normal individual? Or would you spend the next years waiting for that crazy lady to show up and drag you off? Would you continue to try to make connections, or push others away? Would you have a grip on reality?

Because the above story is exactly what happened to my babies.

My children lost their stability, their ability to trust, their feeling of safety, their sanity.

We are finally making headway, after almost four years, but before we could begin to help them, our children experienced utter loss.

Adoption is a gift, don’t get me wrong. But before it all,

Adoption= Loss.

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