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Reddit.com/r/Adoption

If you’re part of an adoptive family (or know one), I highly recommend checking out https://www.reddit.com/r/Adoption. The community has almost 4500 members (birth parents, adoptive parents and adopted children are all welcomed).

This is a recent interaction I had with one of the members. If you have experience with RAD, please chime in!

How long did it take to bond with your child before she started to really see you as parents? What are your current struggles?

Join the conversation on Reddit!

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Photo Credit: Martin Lafrance

To Be or Not to Be…Medicated Part 1

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.

3893839842_2547318233_zElectro, 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.

 

 

 

 

 

Adoption = Heartbreak, Part 2

Watching the process of healing—especially when progress is slow—can bring molar-grinding frustration. Last night, I was incredibly discouraged. Our little guy has been doing so well. We’ve come so far from the “insane hyena” stage in just a couple years. I couldn’t help thinking, “Why tonight?” as he struggled to explain his desperate sadness and anger.

Their counselors said the amount of time needed for healing will likely be at least twice as long as the trauma (so depending on whether years in foster care count–and I have a feeling they do– he’ll be able to hit a good level of healing by age 9 or 15, and hers will be either age 15 or 21). On one hand, that’s a little discouraging, but on the other, it gives us a good level of expectation and keeps us from getting frustrated with lack of immediate progress.

If it had to happen, the timing couldn’t be worse as far as I’m concerned. His entire school is in full throes of end-of-year testing. I understand that the event was probably triggered by the stress radiating from every little body in the building (and from some not-so-little bodies, as well).

A wise man once said, tears last for the night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

This morning, he was still a bit out of sorts, unfocused, spacey. But his face no longer held anguish. Of all things, he forgot his glasses and I didn’t notice until I dropped the two of them at school. “Where are your glasses? You need them!”

Ever the sage, he nodded. “Good point.”

I zipped back to the house and brought the necessary accessory to the office. Since testing was beginning, they called him to the office rather than let me walk to the classroom. In general, he’s not open with his affection in public, but when I handed him his glasses, he hugged me tight, then tipped his toes up to kiss my cheek. Twice. I can count on one hand the number of times he’s kissed me outside our house.

“You’re gonna do great, buddy. Just remember the patterns we studied last night and decide if you need to add or multiply!” He’d called the patterns requiring the same number added between each number “adders,” and then we had a discussion about snakes called adders (because it’s totally relevant to math, of course). He grinned up at me. “Add the snakes!”

***

This afternoon, I picked them up; both kids were cheery. Right now we’re at therapy (occupational for him, speech for her, back-to-back appointments). He asked if he could go sit outside in the grass. Since half the building is glass and I can see most of the front and parking lot, I agreed. He keeps looking back, giving me the ASL sign for “I love you,” and every time the door opens, he calls in, smiling, “Love ya, mom!”

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Some nights are incredibly hard, but joy shows up each morning. If you’re dealing with ongoing night (as we did the first few years), know this…morning is coming!

***

Image belongs to Casey Alexander.

Video from Jesus Culture. I assume the Spanish subtitles are correct. 🙂 I’ve been brushing up on my Espanol…

Adoption = Heartbreak, Part 1

High stress situations trigger our little guy’s PTSD.

In the beginning, high stress was pretty much anything other than staying home with Mama. I spent hours at the elementary school, trying to convince the administration not to cut his day in half. Many days, I sat directly behind him in class, ready for intervention, until social services finally gave approval for a behavioral aide. In a constant state of alert, I watched for any possible cause for concern at home, at school, at church and in public.

Three and a half years later, he is a fully functional member of third grade. Last semester, the Special Education (SPED) staff felt he might be ready for full classroom inclusion. *Side note: the SPED staff have been an incredible addition to the team of people working to support his success. We are so thankful for them.* They allowed him to choose whether he’d rather head to the small group room for part of the school day or remain in the mainstream class the entire time. He decided he was ready for full-time inclusion. Putting it in his hands was the most empowering thing they could have done–and it worked wonders.

He’s asking and answering questions, interacting with others and starting to care what others think.

Of course, now “peer pressure” conversations have come into play, which I didn’t expect. He’s done his own thing, off by himself, for so long—the necessity of this talk didn’t immediately strike me. A few weeks ago, I realized my mistake.

Climbing into the truck, he announced, “Mama, I ate a worm today. J dared me to do it, so I had to. But don’t worry. I made sure it was alive, so it’s okay.”

Right. Because it was alive. 

After questioning, I found out he was under the impression that bacteria only lives in dead things, so it’s okay to eat live critters. We nixed that idea super quick. One of my favorite childhood books was How to Eat Fried Worms. Never thought I’d be living it.

End-of-year testing began a couple weeks ago, and I noticed he’s been a little…off…for the last week. We also spent almost 10 hours playing hard at a friend’s house this weekend, so I thought he was just over-tired. Tonight, as I leaned in to pull covers around him and get my goodnight kiss, he squirmed away. I had a momentary flashback to the days when we couldn’t touch him, when he refused to look us in the eye. “You okay?” I tugged on the blanket, now pulled over his head.

From the depths of his fluffy cave, he said, “Come back after you tuck Sis into bed. Please.” When he requests space, he’s usually about to drop some kind of emotional bomb. Prodding him doesn’t help. A few minutes later, we both sat on his bed. He leaned back and put his head on my knee, a good sign. If he’s really upset, he doesn’t want to be touched.

I tried to be nonchalant. “So, what’s going on? Want to tell me?”

“I want to go hoooooooooome!” he sobbed against me. I was stunned. He hasn’t mentioned his biological family in months. Discussing them is always a difficult conversation. On one hand, although they were pretty horrible, we don’t want to demonize the bio family to the children. On the other, we can’t create a fantasy that everything is hunky-dory and they will have a beautiful reunion when he turns 18.

I mean, it could happen. People change. I’m not incredibly optimistic, though.

We talked through what going back to “that place” would mean. Leaving me, leaving Daddy. Leaving the dogs, the cats. Leaving the cool bedroom, the backyard playground and the trails through the woods. And unless the bios had a recent meeting with Jesus, it might mean getting locked in a room all over again.

He admitted to feeling sad and mad and wishing he could see his birth family. “It’s why I don’t smile, not even for pictures.” This is the hardest part of adoption for me. Family is always family, especially for an older adopted child. Seeing them deal with the conflicting emotions of love and hate, as well as the loss, is so difficult. In our case, safety comes first and there’s absolutely no possibility of contact.

Hubby walked in and our guy scooted over to make room on the bed. We sat, the three of us, all tangled. My legs draped over Hubby’s, our guy snuggled between us. We talked about going through hard times, and how God sometimes takes us through difficulty so we can be strong or help someone else in a similar situation.

Finally, the conversation drifted to helicopters, a signal that he felt better and was done talking about deep, dark feelings.

Before we tucked him into bed for the night, we took turns praying; Hubby and I included his birth family in our prayers. To my surprise, our guy did not. However, he prayed for all the children who do not have clean water, and the ones who do not get to go to school because they have to work, and the ones who live in war zones. For all the children who—in his view—got an even worse deal than he did.

He’s going to be okay.

PTSD is awful; I would not wish it on my worst enemy (well…maybe my worst…). However, I’m so thankful for the opportunity to see healing take place. If you’re dealing with PTSD, please know you’re not alone. If you’d like some information about coping, start here.

Have experience with PTSD (yourself or someone you know)? Share here. You never know who you might help.

https://caseyalexanderblog.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/adoption-heartbreak-part-2/

Adoption = Flashback

Pre-Note: Something I learned from a counselor this week: if a child experiences trauma, it typically takes twice as long for the child to recover. If a child was abused for three years, expect six years of recovery; five years of abuse equals ten years necessary to heal. As she explained this, she said, “so, you can expect improvement, but total recovery is unlikely until your daughter is about age…huh. Well, right when she hits adolescence. Good luck with that.”

***

Our little guy gets sick with a horrible, croupy-barky, goose-honky cough every fall and spring.

This year, I thought we’d escaped the scourge, but it turns out things just happened later. Last year, he started with a minor cough in the morning, and by the time I managed to get a work-in appointment with his pediatrician in the afternoon, he could barely breathe. After oral steroids and starting a third nebulizer treatment to open airways, the doctor said, “if this doesn’t work, we’re sending you to the ER.” Not the words I wanted to hear. Thankfully, he was able to breathe by the end of the treatment and they sent us home to several weeks of breathing treatments and a follow-up to check on asthma.

This year, I didn’t wait; he started sounding like a waterfowl around 8 am. The pediatrician didn’t have a work-in until late afternoon, so we went to an urgent-care facility. The doctor was matter-of-fact. “Son, you are much too old to have croup. How did you manage this?” My boy just shook his head, coughing.

She gave him an oral steroid and a saline-only nebulizer treatment, explaining that he’s not asthmatic; the noise isn’t bronchial–it’s from a swollen trachea. I was happy he wouldn’t have the albuterol jitters. He was happy to have a doctor’s note to stay home. Two days into the steroids, his cough simmered down. He was sad to go back to school; I was actually a little sad to send him.

I picked up the kids from school and noticed that he seemed a bit listless. He rested his head on the table during homework and dinner, then asked if he could go to bed around 7:30. I noticed his light was on and assumed he was reading a scientific journal (okay, actually thought it would be “Captain Underpants”). Walking into his room, I focused on stepping over Lego pieces and Kinex shrapnel strewn across his floor (“at least make a path from the bed to the door, dude,”). I didn’t look at him right away, as I scraped a walkway in the toys with the side of my foot. “You reading?” No answer. I glanced up to see tears streaming down his face. “What’s wrong, buddy? Are you feeling sick again?” I reached for his forehead. Clammy and cool. He looked pitiful, terrified and desperate.

“I just remembered it all, Mama. I remember the day they separated me from my other family.”

I barely made it to the bed in time; he dove into my lap, wailing. His sister came flying down the hall. “Is he okay? Is he hurt? Is he sick again?” Hubby was working late, and I knew I couldn’t handle both of them melting down at the same time, so I fibbed a little. Well, fibbed a lot. “He’s fine. Fine. He just needs a minute. Go ahead back to your room and play; I’ll be there in a bit.” I heard her slowly move back down the hall, then begin talking to her stuffed animals. Thank goodness.

He sobbed for almost an hour, angry and devastated. This was the first time he’d ever mentioned memories of the day they were removed; he was not even three. “Why did they take us? What made social services do it? How could they do this to me? I want to go baaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!” I had no answers, so I just held him and tried to think of all the answers I learned in class. Suddenly, the “unused” counseling degree became abundantly more relevant.  “It must really hurt your feelings. I know this is hard for you. Can you tell me more about what you’re feeling?”

Spent, exhausted, he finally calmed down. He lay back on his pillows, almost lethargic, face turned toward the wall.

“Is there anything I can do to help make this better?” I asked. He closed his eyes and shook his head, the movement almost imperceptible. I held his little hand, hoping he’d squeeze it the way he usually does, but…nothing. He was so deflated, it scared me. I looked around the room, hoping for something to distract him, break him out of his malaise. “Hey, look. Pumpkin is checking on you.” His funny little hamster was indeed plastered against the side of the cage, eyeing him. My boy rolled over, away from the hamster and me.

I was getting desperate. “Would you like me to read you a book?”

He rolled back toward me. “About adoption?” I couldn’t read his tone. Did he want a book about adoption, or was he just expecting me to try to use it as a bandage? I stalled, flipping through his bookshelf. I found one we hadn’t read yet. “How about this one, about a mama and her son? It’s not about adoption, though.” He rolled closer. “Okay.”

The book begins as a mother holds her newborn son. “I wish I could have been there the day you were born,” I said, trying to forestall another hurricane of bio-mom memories. “Me too,” he answered, sitting up. Each page showed the son growing up and the mother growing older, “but as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be,” the mother tells the son.

The book actually gets a little weird, showing the mother crawling across the bedroom floor to hold her teenage son in his sleep. The book mentions that her son bought a house nearby. Later, she drives across town with a ladder, climbing through her grown son’s window to rock him in her lap while he slumbers, unaware. Yep, creepy.

Finally, the mother is old, and asks her son to visit. She is too old and frail to hold him, so he rocks her. By this time, my little guy was almost in my lap again. He looked up at me, interested. “When you’re old, will you look like that?” Laughing, I said, “I sure hope I’m prettier, because that lady, well…” “She’s kinda ugly,” he finished my thought, smiling at me. The next page showed the young man walking up the stairs of his own home, then singing to his own baby. I looked down at him. “Someday you’ll probably have a baby, and I’ll be very proud of you. No matter how old you get, you’ll always be my baby boy.”

He threw his arms around my neck and then we both had tears running down our cheeks.

“I love you so much.” “Me, too.”

“I know you are sad about the people you lost, but I’m so glad you’re part of my family.” “Me, too.”

After a few minutes, he sat back. “Mama?” He looked at my face and wiped my cheeks with his little hands. “Yes?” He thought for a moment. “Let’s never read that book again, okay?” I laughed. “No problem. Anyway, the mama crawling across the room sort of creeped me out.” He started laughing. “Yeah, me too.” I started to stand up, but he grabbed my hand, squeezing tight. “Mama, when I grow up, I’m going to buy a house next door to you, okay?”

Sounds perfect to me.

Adoption = Acronyms

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.

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