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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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X-Files and Erik Erikson

During college, a bunch of us gathered around the ancient donated television every week to watch Mulder and Scully try to catch each other—I mean, try to catch aliens. Anyone who watched the show knows the tag line…

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Photo Credit: Snailystitches

Unfortunately, wanting to believe is not the same as having the ability to trust.

Our boy has had a rough time, both at home and at school, since Dad passed away.

His Asperger’s (don’t tell me Asperger’s is not a thing…it’s a thing, DSM-V be darned) daily rears its head with tics and social ineptitude and difficulty communicating. Our ten-year-old is impulsive beyond belief and often behaves like a five-year-old. A five year old with moments of clarity in which he communicates like a forty-five-year-old…

 

Children who have missed certain phases of life may regress, especially in times of emotional upheaval. Remembering a college psych research paper on Erik Erikson, I found an article by Claudia Fletcher on the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) website. The site itself is very basic but presents excellent information.

The information isn’t new to me, but sometimes I need a refresher…and the best way to learn is sharing with others.

If your kid appears to suddenly lose his mind, perhaps he’s experiencing a missed stage. (Or, alternately, he’s simply lost his mind.)

Stage One: The First 18 Months
Ego Development Outcome: Trust vs. Mistrust;
Basic Strengths: Drive and Hope

“[E]mphasis is on the mother’s positive and loving care…[using] visual contact and touch. If we pass successfully through this period of life, we…[can] trust that life is basically okay and have basic confidence in the future. …[I]f our needs are not met, we may end up with a deep-seated feeling of worthlessness and a [general] mistrust of the world.”1

Our kids did not have any of the above in their first eighteen months. Both have low self-esteem, and our boy in particular has an ingrained mistrust of every human he knows.

Research has shown us how important it is for children to attach. Even so, in the first year after placement, we new parents still make the mistake of dwelling on behaviors instead of attachment. Things can change if we view a newly placed children of any age as a newborn:

  • Expectations. Can a newborn give back emotionally? Do chores like everyone else? Know how to have a reciprocal relationship? Of course not. Neither do older kids in a new family.

  • Response. If expectation changes, so does the response. Instead of thinking a child is refusing to comply, assume she is unable to complete the task. This nurturing, teaching approach often nets better results whether a child is being oppositional or is truly incapable.

  • Realizations. Until a child is attached, behavior will not change. If the child cannot bond with anyone, why would he want to please anyone? Too often adoptive parents expect compliance outside the context of a relationship. Without that relationship, however, a child has no incentive to behave better.

Our kids are not newly placed (we’ve had them over five years now) but our girl has not attached appropriately due to Reactive Attachment Disorder. Although our boy seems to have attached fairly well to us, he often seems unable to control his impulses.

To help children attach, learn to gently correct behaviors without over-reacting. Picture yourself as a new husband or wife trying to please the other and be genuinely attractive and worth attaching to. Long lists of rules and consequences that require consistent behavior management should not be the focus of this first stage.

As much as possible, create good feelings for the child whenever you are around. Use lots of laughter, pop a Hershey’s kiss in her mouth when she sustains eye contact, and give as much affection as she will allow. When the child misbehaves, stay calm and point out that the behavior is not appropriate while redirecting her to a new activity with you by her side. Actions and reactions like these promote bonding between parents and children.

Honestly. A Hershey’s Kiss, really? Not for either of mine, especially him…sugar sends him over the edge (yes, I’ve read the articles proclaiming that any perceived reaction to sugar is all in my head…and deemed those articles inaccurate per my in-person observation). 

One of the most significant pieces of this stage in understanding hurt children is Erikson’s definition of hope: “enduring belief in the attainability of fervent wishes.”2 Recognizing that many children who enter care do not believe they can get what they want provides insight into their little hearts. With no hope and no belief in their own abilities, they are victims in a dim dark world. And, according to Erikson’s theory, the only way they can develop the ego quality of hope is to attach to another person.

This last bit hit me hardest.

Too often, our son can’t quite believe in hope.

He wants to believe but is certain that eventually the adults in his life will fail him—as they always did in the past. Birth parents, social workers, extended biological family members, foster carers…all eventually abandoned him, left him or outright abused him.

A few weeks after Dad died, our boy told me outright,

Sometimes I still can’t believe that you and Daddy won’t get rid of me. I want to trust you but…trusting is hard.

 

He wants to believe.

We just have to find a way to help him get there.

 

 

 

The Globe

My response to Writing 101 Assignment, Day 4– be inspired by a picture. Sourced from Unsplash, no photo credit listed.

A Globe where I reside

My globe is fragile.

I live inside, among the green. I peer out at the world around me, held by a force I do not always understand. I look past the thin blue line to the infinite space beyond.

I try not to be concerned about what will happen if something collides with my globe. How we will live if the supply of water is not replenished. And yet, it is.

Unseen eyes follow my movements around the globe. I think I see a face in the sky, feel the hands holding us above destruction below, protective.

What choices should we make to ensure the survival of our generation, and the next? What if we allow another colony of ants to join us, only to find they are bigger, stronger. Should we trust them? They speak of peace, but I worry.

My globe is fragile.

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