3 am

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I sit up quick, anxiety stealing my breath. I take a second to gather my senses. I grab my phone; it’s around 3am in the morning. For months, I am ripped out of my sleep with terrible anxiety about 3 am every morning. There has been only a handful of nights over the past year that I have slept past this witching hour. When I wake I can feel the fear, anxiety, sadness, and isolation consume me as I lay in the dark. The only sound I hear is my fan oscillating. Sometimes I wake up crying; sometimes I lay just held with paralyzing fear, fear for my daughter, fear for her future, fear for all our future if she continues on the path she’s on.

As I lay awake at 3 am, I replay the video conference therapy session with Jill and her therapist yesterday. Jill was her usual. As Jill grabbed things on her therapist’s desk, tried to steal the mouse from the therapist hand to close the conference call, walked out of her office several times because she did not like what we were talking about; I just stared at this child I did not recognize anymore; this child stolen by mental illness; this child caught in the depths of her trauma. The therapist was having to fend off Jill’s octopus arms which grabbed everything. We were talking about things Jill needed to do in order to be able to come home. Jill did not like the conversation and wanted to stop it’s progress by any means possible. When something affects her, gets to her, makes her uncomfortable, or mad, she starts misbehaving to gain control of the situation. In watching this surreal scene on my computer screen, I say to myself at least she washed and combed her hair today. They tell you to stay positive, right? Jill plays this young, just out of grad school, not a mother yet, therapist like a fiddle. The therapist obviously has no understanding of Reactive Attachment Disorder, but Jill sure is giving her a crash course in it right now. This same young, inexperienced therapist tried to tell me I was too firm with Jill and needed to use more positive sounding “boundaries” instead of “rules”. She said my “one and done” approach was not giving Jill the opportunity to make the choice to behave. She was saying all this to me as Jill repeatedly tries to reach to her computer and end our video conference several times. She takes decorative things off her desk and threatens to break them. All the while the therapist is using her positive boundaries words to give her the choice to comply. Jill is straight up ignoring her and laughing at her. I sit there with a smile and nodding while the dark part on the inside of me laughs at how “well” her positive choices are working with Jill. I laugh not because I find it humorous; I laugh because I find it sad that no one understands how to work with a kid with an Attachment Disorder. I have often thought about going and getting a PhD in Psychology to help kids with Attachment Disorders because very few people “get” what works with them. The therapist says she took some courses on children in poverty and trauma informed therapy so she knows about trauma. That is like reading a book on gambling and then saying you are an expert at Poker. Kids can experience trauma through factors of poverty, but not experience complex trauma which can lead to Developmental Trauma and Attachment Disorders. Kids don’t have to be impoverished to have complex trauma. That is a very stereotypical school of thought. There are children who grow up poor, but do not experience abuse and have great attachment with their care givers. I countered her in saying how many courses did you have with subject matter on Complex Trauma, Attachment Disorder (A.D.) , and Developmental Trauma (DT)? Did they offer practicums in working with children who had experienced Complex Trauma and have A.D.s? She replied, “Well, there were a couple of courses where we discussed it, but none where it was the sole topic.” I just smile. It reminds me of a line from the Mary Tyler Moore Show that I watched on Nick at Nite as a kid. Lou Grant (Ed Asner) and his wife went to marriage counseling with a counselor that was not married. When Lou questioned the counselor how he thought he could be effective on giving marriage advice if he has never been married, the counselor replied, “You don’t have to be a whale to write Moby Dick.” This situation reminded me of that scene I saw on tv so many years ago. I shake my head, that is not enough when you are the sole counselor for a facility where 80% of your residents have Attachment Disorders.

People always say to you as the parent of a kid with an Attachment Disorder, “Why don’t you get them in with a therapist that specializes in Attachment Disorders?”, as if you are an idiot and never thought of that! Here is my answer, ” BECAUSE THERE ARE NONE!” They are not even present in facilities that are made to take children with A.D. You feel so helpless as a parent because no one seems trained to help your child. I wish I could go pick a good therapist off a tree like an apple, but the trees are bare in this area, people! Hear me!

As I lay awake at 3 am, I play in my head all the things I want to share with others about complex trauma. As I have stated in my other posts, children who have experienced Complex Trauma and have Attachment Disorders (diagnosed or not) need to control everything because their lives have been so out of control. They are amazing manipulators and can play even the most seasoned educator, therapist, or doctor because those people often make the assumption that they are just “kids like any other”. Wrong! A.D. kids don’t speak love like everyone else. Would you expect a kid who only knows Mandarin to become fluent in English just by moving him from a house in China to a house in America? No! He would have to learn the language over time if he was willing to learn it. (Change is a choice! Learning is a choice!) If he did learn it, he might be able to lessen his accent and become pretty fluent, but his native tongue will always be Mandarin. He will most likely always think in Mandarin and will always feel more comfortable speaking his first language. Parents, educators, therapists, doctors, whoever reads this, please understand, the language of love and caring is foreign to them. They do not understand it. They will not be native speakers of it. They will always have to put thought into it. Their ability to successfully “speak” love and attachment takes YEARS of intervention and even then may not be successful. First, it has to be specifically and explicitly taught, then taught again, and then taught again. They don’t learn from mistakes like other kids. They keep doing want they want regardless of the consequences. They have a skewed sense of social justice because their early life was so unjust. Their main purpose in life is survival by any means necessary. They see boundaries as threats to their control. However, that is exactly what they need most. This upcoming information is going to sound counterintuitive to your nature, but it is a MUST for kids with A.D. and D.T. You must speak THEIR language to reach them. You must explicitly define boundaries, have very firm rules with very firm and CONSISTENT consequences (not unfair or totalitarian, just firm) and YOU MUST DO WHAT YOU SAY YOU ARE GOING TO DO! They have not been able to rely on adults to do what they are supposed to do so you must be consistent to show them they are safe and can trust you. Their trust is not innate. It is a relationship that must be cultivated and tended daily. Gifts and physical rewards hold very little meaning to them because they do not harbor the attachment to the person who gives it to them. If you give them material things, then they will see you as someone to manipulate to get what they want. They will appear to attach to you, but they have not. You just become their “dealer”. What I do instead is quality time rewards. I go with them to the zoo. I go on a nature hike. I take them to the playground. It can be exhausting though because they are constantly pushing boundaries and they often intentionally embarrass you in public to gain control if you are holding on a demand. Do not engage in verbal conflict with them they are trying to gain control. Only give 2-3 word directives and do not respond until they comply. They will make a lot of noise and once they see they can get away with it once, they will double their efforts the next time. I have learned from my experience fostering children with A.D. and adopting a child with R.A.D. that unfortunately the best method with them is one time to comply or you get the consequence or one and done as I call it.

All this weighs on me at 3am every morning. I realize that my child’s future is on the line. My concern over what her future will look like and my fear of what the rest of my family’s life is going to be like permeates and marinates my mind and wears me out. I feel their is a mental and spiritual fight for my daughter, so I pray. I pray holding onto my weathered tether of Faith. At 3am, I hear the whisper that I was the wrong Mom for her. I think if another woman had adopted her, someone stronger, someone better, maybe she would be better off than she is now. I feel that I have failed her. I think maybe if I done it this way or tried this earlier she would not be at this place. I feel guilt when I do things with my son because she is not there. I also feel abundantly guilty because I have had to put so much time and energy into seeking treatment for Jill that he does not get the attention and time he deserves as well. Logically, I know my daughter suffers from mental illness. Logically, I know that the abuse she lived daily before she came to us caused irreversible damage to her brain structures. However, I keep praying because I know I am in what I call the Jesus Zone. That is the place He puts us when nothing of this world will change a situation so we know what does come is totally through His Hands! Though my soul is weary, I still believe! I praise Him for all good things He has given to me! God bless!

House of Usher

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I stared across at my husband as I sat on a love seat, reminiscent of what you found in hotels in the 90’s, worn, discolored, and creaky with age. He sat in a tired armchair with the same faded navy fabric and stared back at me. She rambled on about lack of progress and attacking and picking fights with peers. I stared at the stained ceiling tiles and cracking 1970’s wood door to the psychiatrist’s office behind my husband’s head. I guess it was made of press wood and the sheets of wood were separated and warped out at the bottom. If someone walked too close, then they could catch their leg on the splintered mess. Where is OSHA when you need them? I redirect my wandering mind to the conversation. The anger bubbles up. My husband and I nearly broke our neck driving 45 minutes in crazy traffic to make the 4:00 pm family session. The counselor finally shows up at 4:50 pm without our daughter and says she needs to reschedule. I wanted to blow up at her. I drove 45 minutes to wait 50 minutes for you to say sorry we are not going to have the family session. I screamed at her in my mind and could not look at her as hot tears of pure anger fought the weak dam of my eyelashes to stay put. “Offer grace, offer grace, offer grace” I chanted in my mind to control the storm.

She rambled incoherently about the mixture of Reactive Attachment Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder would never allow my daughter to make progress and this was her baseline. She said, “Insurance needs us to report progress to keep her.” Mumble, mumble, mumble as the buzzing in my ears disallowed me to take in the rest. I looked at her and said with uncharacteristic sharpness, “I need you to get to the point, are you releasing her because of lack of progress?” She started to beat around the bush again about how I have to understand how insurance works, how children with RAD and ASD’s brains are structured differently, and how they can’t form normal attachments. I looked at her and said, “Ms. Smith, I am not a novice. I have a psychology degree, have fostered 7 children with trauma/attachment related diagnoses, have taught children with ASD, plus I have done A LOT of reading in medical journals, educational articles, etc. Get to the point! Are you releasing my daughter?”

She responded, “Yes, but we are going to try to get another week or two from insurance, but we probably won’t be able to get approval after that.” She continued, ” I will help you put things in place at home to keep everyone safe.” I scream in my head at her! (I know it is futile to speak it out loud.) “Oh, you mean a security camera system, keyed locks on every door, combination lock box for those keys, door alarms, window alarms, a safe for our knives, and numerous other safety features and practices that rival prisons aren’t enough? Do you know how it feels to live in fear that your 11 year old is going to seriously hurt your other child, you, or your husband AND NO ONE CAN OR WILL HELP YOU?!?!?! Do you know how it feels for you and your husband’s job to be your place of respite? Do you dread going home to experience the fresh hell that night will manifest? Have you had a serious discussion with your spouse about you and your husband living separately, each of you taking a child and switching the child you have each week in an effort to keep everyone safe and alive?” However, I reply to her out loud, “Yes, we can have that discussion at our next family session. I expect you to be on time for it because every session save one, you have been 30-50 minutes late and we only get 10-15 minutes of family therapy, but I bet you bill for the full hour. You work at this facility. Your office is in the hall behind us. We need you to be on time or communicate when you are running late.” I felt guilty immediately after that for my rudeness, but this is my family’s life on the line.

Mark and I walked over to the dangerously slanting stone steps of the facility’s sunken lobby. The stairs showing signs of a shifting foundation that seriously needs to be addressed. They know the stairs are dangerous because the stones are painted a bright “WATCH OUT” yellow. We walk down the hall, past water stains and pealing wallpaper, to the aged front door that has a piece of paper taped to it. The paper instructs you that you must lift up on the door to open it. I sardonically laugh to myself, “My daughter is being treated in the House of Usher.”

My husband and I came straight from our jobs so we go to our separate vehicles. I get in my car and lay my arms on my steering wheel, drop my head onto them, and wail. I feel like all my hope is gone. The spirits of fear, depression, and desperation swarm on me to feast on my mind. I never considered myself Charismatic before this year, but I feel them on me regularly. I wept big, ugly, breath stealing, physically painful, convulsing tears. As if grasping for air, I cried a strangled prayer, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, I believe! Help me with my disbelief!” That is all I could find the strength to say, and then I wept some more.

My family needs your prayers! I don’t know how this is going to work out. We have to keep carrying on, but we are so very, very tired.

 

The Unseen Adversary:Why Can’t You Just Get Over PTSD?

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She started screaming again. This is the third night this week. I can hear her crying, pleading for help, pleading for “them” to stop. I go to her room. She is fighting off an invisible demon from her past. She is scratching and twisting. Tears streak her face. I go to help her and she mistakes me from the villain. She starts hitting and kicking me. No matter how many times I call her name or shake her, she does not wake up. She is locked in there. I can’t get her out. I hold her, absorbing the pounding because she thinks I’m the monster. I do it to keep her safe- to keep her from acting out her night terror. After a half hour of this, she wears herself out. She falls limp and finally plummets into a real sleep. I stare at her crying. I pull her close and pray. I pray that the Lord will free my child from the pain. I pray that one day she will have relief. So far relief has not come.

This is how my husband and I’s nights go about 2-3 nights a week. I can’t remember the last time either one of us got a good night’s sleep. This demon, this monster that attacks our child at night is called Post Trauma Stress Disorder or (PTSD).

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is when someone has difficulty recovering after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event(s). The symptoms can last for a few months or years. Sometimes symptoms may not show up until years later when symptoms are triggered from another terrifying event. PTSD cannot be cured. However, through therapy and learning of good self-help strategies the symptoms can decrease.

What are the symptoms of PTSD? Please note that symptoms can express themselves differently in children under 6 years of age.

-Nightmares or Night Terrors (Nightmares where they act out their dreams and cannot be awoken).

-Recurring, negative memories from the traumatic event(s)

-Reliving the traumatic event(s) (Flashbacks)

-Strong emotional and physical reactions to triggers (things that remind you of the trauma). They are individualized based on the trauma experienced. It can be a smell, a sound, an item, a person, a place, a time of day or year, etc.

-Since these thoughts and triggers are so distressing to someone with PTSD they may go out of their way to avoid the triggers. Example: I know someone who was sexually abuse by a man who wore a very popular cologne which is still produced today. She will not enter any store that has a cologne counter because that cologne is so triggering to her.

-Isolating ones self from people and places associated with the traumatic event(s).

-Sense of hopelessness and that it will never get better

-Pervasive negative thoughts about oneself and the world

-Difficultly with memory- it can also include forgetting details about the traumatic event(s). In young children, they may cognitively remember the events, but their body does.

-Difficultly maintaining relationships and feeling detached from family and friends

-Pervasive negative mood and feeling of emotional numbness

-Easily startled and hyper vigilant

-Difficultly with sleeping and concentrating

-Self-destructive behaviors: drinking too much, driving to fast, etc

-overwhelming guilt and outbursts of anger or aggression

-Children under 6 may reenact traumatic events through play and may have nightmares, but the nightmares do not always contain the traumatic event(s).

-Suicidal thoughts

(Mayo Clinic).

What I need you to understand about PTSD is that when you have met one person with PTSD you have met one person with PTSD. Yes, there are common symptoms, but the traumatic events they experienced and their triggers are as individualized as each person. Just because something does not threaten you does not mean that thing is not a trigger for someone else We must be sensitive to that fact, and try to unobtrusively find out their triggers.

People with PTSD cannot just “get over” their symptoms. You cannot love or discipline them out of existence. Trauma affects the biology of the brain and is a medical condition. As any other condition, it takes medical intervention such as doctor consultations, therapy, and sometimes medication to help decrease the symptoms.

Children sometimes will show anxiety, depression, aggression, suicidal/ self-harm tendencies, irritability, extreme guilt or shame, and self-isolating behaviors. Really young children may not remember all the trauma, but will show the symptoms. Educators, if you know a child you are teaching has been through traumatic events, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE ask what their triggers are. It will save both you and the child some potential difficulties and possibly improve communication.

If you find my blog helpful, please follow it and share the link with others. I pray that I am giving these children a voice. #MamasOfTrauma

References:

Post traumatic stress disorder. (n.d.) Mayo clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967

Mama Raising Children of Trauma

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I started this blog to speak on behalf of the children who have experienced prolonged trauma and the caretakers that raise them. I pray that this blog promotes understanding of the unique struggles of children of trauma and the VERY DIFFERENT ways they have to be raised.

What makes me qualified to speak out (or write) about childhood trauma, you may ask? I have fostered 7 children who have experienced various forms of severe and prolonged abuse and neglect. I adopted two of my foster placements. I also hold a degree in Psychology from North Carolina State University where I studied developmental, child, adolescent, and abnormal psychology. Thirdly, I am an adult that has 5 Adverse Childhood Experience factors as described in the Adverse Childhood Experiences study conducted from 1995-1997 by the partnership of the CDC and Kaiser Permanente. I will reference this study often in my blog posts because I feel it is an important study to help us begin to understand the effects of trauma on the developing brain. Here is a link to that study: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childabuseandneglect/acestudy/about.html

All this listed above does not make me an expert on trauma. If anyone claims to be an expert on trauma, then they are trying to sell you something. What it makes me is trauma informed and I hope to pass my knowledge and experiences onto you.

Please hear me on this! Love is NOT enough to turn a child who has experienced prolonged trauma life around. Love is an integral part, but it takes so much more! If there is one thing I have learned from fostering is that “love” is learned just as manners and tying your shoes are learned. Here is what I mean. If you don’t teach a child to say please and thank you, they won’t do. Heck, even when you teach them, they still don’t do it all the time. Hence, if children aren’t loved, cuddled, kissed, read to, sung to, fed, changed, and held since birth, then it affects their psyche, their development, social skills and behavior. They don’t learn to “speak” love. They can’t “read” love either. It is like a foreign language to them. Why do you think hospitals have volunteers in the NICU to hold the babies? Hospitals understand that it is detrimental to babies when they don’t receive the gift of touch and love from day one.

But there is hope…

Going forward with this blog, I want to help people understand the biological, emotional, social, and behavioral effects of prolonged trauma on children. I also want to discuss the toll it takes on the caretakers of these children and give them a voice as well. I want to expose the inadequacies of our current mental health system to address the needs of these children. I pray that this will help someone somewhere feel understood! Share if you like! There will be more to come.

God bless!

Observations of the Rare R.A.D. Girl

In looking at the behavior my 11 year old daughter, Jill, with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), I have compared her behavior to the stories from the hundreds of parents of RAD girls’ I have talked to, read their blogs, read their posts in forums about RAD, and with whom I messaged back and forth. I see a pattern from all the unofficial anecdotal reports for RAD girls behavior progression. Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, researcher, or psychologist. I am just a mom desperately trying to help her daughter and doing crazy amounts of reading and cataloging to find some answer. I often feel like it is a pipe dream, but I can’t stop researching and theorizing.

This is the pattern I see in the hundreds of anecdotal reports, girls with RAD from age 3-7 can appear like they have severe ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. They destroy property, are prone to fits of rage, are sneaky, their manipulation skills are far beyond their developmental age, they lie, steal, and are successful triangulators. They usually direct their rage, defiance, and physical attacks towards the caregiver that holds them most accountable and is not as easily played. They can be very passive aggressive in retaliation against that parent. Mothers are usually the ones who get the brunt of this treatment. Why? I think it is because mothers handle more of the day to day discipline. RAD kids are all about maintaining control so the person that exerts the most behavioral demands on them is the one who they are going to target to break their control. Whether by socialization or by nature, mothers usually fall into this role with their RADs. Around about 7-puberty, RAD girls behaviors seem to “get better”. They have transitioned into a period where they have learned to play the game perfectly. They take it from overt behavior to passive/aggressive behavior. For some this is when torturing of animals begin and some start fires. Many get misdiagnosed with Conduct Disorder. I believe RAD and Conduct Disorder can be co-diagnosed, but if a professional considers Conduct Disorder as a diagnosis, they should also look into a RAD diagnosis as well. From age 7-Puberty, they develop characteristics that can express themselves as high functioning Autism. The lack of or diminished social skills, communication issues, emotional regulation, difficulties in other areas of executive functioning, perseveration on certain topics of interest, need for routine, and a consistent schedule. This is when Jill received her diagnosis of Autism.

When Jill hit puberty, everything kicked up 10 notches. She became overtly physically aggressive especially towards myself and our 5 year old. She became extremely jealous of anything he got and often sought to take it as her own or destroy it. Jill has her own sense of “justice”. She rarely sees how her behaviors precipitate consequences especially socially, but other times she does things specifically to pick a fight.

The lying, stealing, and triangulation intensify. The property destruction includes windows, doors, walls, cabinets, flooring, HVAC ducts, etc. We have spent thousands of dollars on security cameras, security system, door sensors, window sensors, locks, replacing flooring, drywall, bedroom doors, etc. Eleven is when my daughter first pulled a knife on my husband, threatened to stab our son, and then turned the knife towards herself. She was moved from a general education setting to another school with an Emotional Disabilities Resource Program while I fought insurance to get her in a residential treatment facility. She flipped desks, went after students, threw things at the teacher, etc.

From puberty to 18, these kids start to get in trouble with the law for being violent towards parents or siblings, fighting, drugs, alcohol, unplanned pregnancy, and property destruction. The first time we had to call the Sheriff’s Department because she was physically out of control and attacking all of us was when Jill was 11. They responded with two members of the “crisis response team” from the Department of Mental Health who had never heard of Reactive Attachment Disorder. I told them, “Well, you better get familiar with it because I guarantee you, many of whom you respond to in this age bracket probably have an Attachment Disorder especially if they have been in foster care.”

If these children haven’t run away from home, then they usually leave right at 18 and don’t have much contact with their adoptive parents. If they do it’s because they want to “get” something from them.

Maybe this post will help to give a clue to an unanswered question for someone. Maybe other RAD parents will see you are not alone in what they are going through. I have been there too.

Teacher Lunch Challenge

One school year, I kept trying to work with this certain student that I could not get a handle on their behavior. They had a really rough background and I knew the behavior stemmed from their experience. I tried everything in my teacher tool bag and nothing worked. I decided to talk to my Spiritual Counselor about what would bring change to the situation. The conversation went something like this:

Me: “What do I need to do about this student?”

SC: “Change!”

Me: “Yes, exactly, I need the student to change.”

SC: “No, I mean I need you to change.”

Me: “Hold up! The student is the one with the problem. Why do I need to change?”

SG: “ Well, has anything you’ve done worked?”

Me: “Well, no…”

SC: “Well, exactly, so change!”

Then I went into my typical temper tantrum after He tells me something I don’t want to hear. It’s not fair. The student is the one with the problem, etc. I realize I must have sounded like a kindergartner whining.

SC: “When you’re ready to see some improvement, let me know.”

With my mental arms crossed and pouty face firmly planted, I begrudgingly say, “Ok, Ok…what do I need to do? (Insert teenage style eye roll)

SC: “Just read the book I gave you.”

I looked in the book he wrote and saw time after time that when He came across people who He wanted to connect with He asked to eat with them. They were always the ones on the fringes; the difficult ones, the misunderstood ones, the ones He saw potential in. He even called a short one out of a tree.

Me: “Ok, so you want me to have lunch with this student? Ok, I’ll try it…” (mumbling under my breath) “but it’s not gonna WORK!”

I started that Friday. I asked my student to eat with me. I told them they were not in trouble; I just want to learn a little more about them. They surprisingly smiled wide. The usually snarky, defiant student, who never showed me positive affect, melted into a normal laughing and talkative child. They talked about what they liked on tv, what video games they played, and they casually talked about what had brought them into foster care, every heart breaking detail. Right then, I CHANGED. I didn’t see the cold, difficult student. I saw a hurting child who had been from pillar to post. Their defiance was not aggression, but a desperate need to control something in a world that had always been so out of their control. I decided to give up one lunch every week or so to dedicate to a student I wanted to connect with that week. It wasn’t always the kids with behavior, one week it might be Jane, the quiet kid that no one really noticed, or Billy, the class clown. I learned so much about these students. All I did was ask them to tell me what they wanted me to know about them and then I SHUT UP! They talked, I listened. It helped both of us because I changed how I approached each kid based where each child was in life. I still have struggles, but it opened my mind to new strategies. It helped me see my students. I mean really SEE them. It built trust. It made me more approachable. It gave me a better rapport. It helped me better reach the “outliers” in my class.

If you are an educator and are struggling to connect with a certain student, perhaps you can follow my Spiritual Counselor’s advice and eat with them. Perhaps…perhaps it will change…You! I challenge you to take the TEACHER LUNCH CHALLENGE! We may not change the world, but we may can help a student feel they have an ally!

When Parents are in Crisis Stop Expecting Them to be Able to Parent Therapeutically!

“Do you have her in counseling right now?” “Have you tried counting to 3 when she doesn’t comply?” “Have you tried reading Social-Emotional Skills picture books to her?” “Do you use the times when she misbehaves as teachable moments instead of just punishing her?” (Yeah, sure I do. “Ok, Jill, you should not pull a knife on your Dad and I right now because someone could get hurt.” Yeah, great teachable moment!) “Do you have a sticker chart or behavior chart system in your home?” Then their is my personal favorite, “Just have her punch a pillow when she is angry instead of the wall!” (Really, if I could get her to punch a pillow I WOULD NOT BE HERE!) The answer is… “YYYEEESSS!!!! Stop asking! I have TRIED all of it! It DOES NOT work for children with DTD or AD! If there are any Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Counselors, Social Workers, etc reading this post, hear me—-“Parents, who are themselves suffering from PTSD, depression, anxiety, etc from the Hell they live through everyday, CANNOT parent therapeutically! THEY ARE IN CRISIS! They have nothing left to give! That is why they have turned to you! They are saying my WHOLE family needs help! They need competent respite care. They need intensive in-home support. They need understanding and compassion. They need to know someone is there because they feel so isolated and alone! Please see pictures at the end of this post.

Hear me on this as well: Sticker charts, behavior charts, and Positive Behavior Intervention Systems DO NOT work with children with DTD and AD! Those systems become just another thing for them to manipulate and do not result in changed behavior. You want to know how to “therapeutically” parent a child with DTD or AD. Here you go:

1. Set clear, consistent boundaries and do not vary from them. They will fight you on them at first because they feel they are losing control. However, eventually you will get a little more compliance (hopefully) out of them because they know what to expect and feel safer within those boundaries.

2. They must have a consistent schedule. Changes to that schedule can be threatening to their sense of control and safety, so you must address any known changes beforehand. Work on their skills to handle unexpected changes.

3. Don’t reward good behavior with physical rewards. These rewards hold little value to them and will probably end up destroyed within a few days anyway.

4. Get them to learn what they are feeling. Kids with DTD and AD sometimes honestly don’t know what they are feeling or what made them mad. When the kids are calm, talk with them about what their unnamed feelings are and what possible antecedents are for those feelings. It may not change their reactions or behavior, but it will help you as a parent be more prepared for “next time”.

5. You also MUST understand their triggers from the past. If the child has been in foster care, you may go ahead and assume that police and social workers may be a trigger for them!

6. Try to find respite care for your child for your own sanity. If there are no professionals in your area that provide the service, see if a well informed friend or family member will be willing to be trained in how to work with your child to give you a break.

7. Get a hobby. Take up photography, take up knitting, go somewhere and read, take up Yoga, work in your garden, attend a Bible study, do something for you that helps you reduce some stress. Trust me, I know how impossible this feels.

8. Speak up! If a mental health professional doesn’t get it, advocate for your child. If they still don’t get it, find one who does. They are unfortunately few and far between so it may take a while.

Why it is difficult for us as parents to therapeutically parent?—Here’s my family’s reason why: My daughter has been in a Residential Treatment Facility or RTF for exactly a month today. My husband, myself, and my 5 year old are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Anxiety, and Depression. It has been years since any of the 3 of us have slept a full night. Even now, the 3 of us can’t sleep through the night. My 5 year old wakes up with nightmares. He has dreams of him getting hurt. We have put him in counseling every week to help. I am on high doses of antidepressants and have been for years. I have nightmares and horrible anxiety which wakes me up because I can’t catch my breath. The doctor says these episodes are related to my anxiety and PTSD and have no other medical cause. It is so hard to socialize. It takes so much energy and drains us. I just want to go to work and home and then hopefully sleep. I doubt what I am going through is much different from other parents of children with DTD and AD. The families need therapeutic care as well!

However, I have hope! My hope comes from my belief that we are going through this for a reason. I believe I am suppose to speak out. I believe I will be given opportunities to do so! I have hope for all children with DTD and AD. I have hope of being able to advocate for intensive therapy, access to health professionals and facilities that are specifically trained in knowing how to work with these children, and building awareness and educational supports to help them be successful in a general education school setting. I have not forgotten them! I hear them! I understand they don’t want to be this way! I understand most importantly that they are children of the King and deserve compassion and to be loved! He will help them! I have faith in that! Please feel free to share this post! Help me spread awareness and compassion for these children and the families that raise them!

Here are a few pictures of what a parent who is raising a child with DTD or AD might deal with everyday. Could you parent therapeutically amongst all this?!?!?!?!

Broken drawer
Holes in walls made with a golf club they removed the head from.
The other side of that same door.
Hole from where my husband was pushed into a wall. Crazy how strong adrenaline makes someone.
Another hole in the wall and wall stained from soda shaken up and spewed all over wall.
Caught Jill with a knife trying to cut a hole in the wall. She said she wanted to get to the wires behind the light switch. Yeah, that’s normal! Yes, as I stated above, we kept hiding and moving the knives, but she kept finding them. Finally had to lock them in our safe. She broke our safe access panel trying to get in it.
Knife marks and hole where door was slammed into wall. Yes, again, we kept hiding and moving the knives, but she kept finding them. Finally had to lock them in our safe. She broke our safe access panel trying to get in it.
Door broken from repeated kicking and the list goes on and on and on…

What’s for lunch?

We waited outside the 9 foot tall black metal fence. The fence is palisade style with its black pointed tips pointing in towards its inhabitants. We have waited about 5 minutes with no response to our ring of the buzzer so my husband pushes it again. A couple of minutes later, a staff member who happens to be walking past us, sees us and calls out, “Who ya here for?” “Jill Smith”, we yell back between the pickets. “I’ll check the paperwork.” You see, we have to call 24 hours in advance to schedule a weekday visit and 72 hours in advance to have a weekend visit. After about another 8 minutes, we hear the click of an unlocking metal door across the way. Out from the door, emerges an obviously unkempt Jill wearing bedroom slippers, sweatpants and sweatshirt. I thought to myself, this must be what parents who’s children are incarcerated feel like. A myriad of emotions run over me, happiness at seeing the child I love, concern over her seemingly unkempt appearance, and nervousness over how she will act during our visit. Someone else lets us in the gate. As soon as Jill gets close enough, our 5 year old son, Peter, runs to her screaming in excitement,” Jill, Jill, Jill!” She smiles at his excitement and hugs him. Next, she smiles and says, “Daddy” and hugs him. The excitement settles when she sees me. “Mommy”, she says in a notably less enthusiastic voice. She gives me a mechanical hug and quickly pulls away. My heart crumbles, but we continue to a conference room for privacy during our visit.

I start,”How are things going this week?” She breaks in, “What’s for lunch?” I would usually make her answer my question before allowing her to redirect. She does that when she doesn’t want to talk about something. I just let it go to keep things light. She tears into the food, saying how much she missed outside food. She and Peter play with his kid’s meal toys. It almost seems normal, not our normal, but normal family normal. I ask her to throw her food away. She eyes me and wanders over to my husband and hugs his neck. “Thank you, Daddy for the food.” He replies, ” You’re welcome, but your mom asked you to throw away your trash. She drops her arms from around his neck and smiles at me. She wanders the room in open defiance. I know she will eventually throw it away, but she wants to control when she does it. I ignore her defiance and ask how school is going. A teacher from the school district where the facility is comes and teaches the kids every day. She starts playing with her brother’s toys to avoid my question. She gets rough with them and he cries out, “Stop!” She gets more animated with the rough play. I say firmly, “Stop!” She looks at me and smiles and plays with them rough for about 20 more seconds and puts them down. “It’s snack time. I want to go back.”, she says. It’s only been about an hour. We were approved for a four hour visit. We can’t convince her to stay. We call for someone to escort us out. She hugs us and goes back to her dormitory with no emotion. We watch her walk away with tears in our eyes as the employee unlocks the gate to let us out. We get in the car. My husband looks at me, “She’s as happy as a clam in there because she does have to love or bond with anyone in there.” We both know it’s true, and we cry tears of grief and loss as we pull out of the parking lot. I stare out the window. He focuses on driving. We sit in silence.

Insider Info: Jill blames me for all her hospital stays and for this long term placement because I have been the one present with her every time she has been admitted to Acute care. She even refused to see me several times when I came to visit and I would leave each time fighting back tears. My husband has been present at some of them, but she only holds that grudge for me. I am the bad guy. In the past, she would triangulate my husband and I against each other. She is extremely manipulative and has the abilities of a seasoned con artist to work people over. My husband is a “what I can see” kinda guy. He uses his senses to gather information and doesn’t naturally assume there is much past what his senses take in. He is a good balance for me except in these triangulation situations. Due to my background, I had to learn very early how to read what people weren’t saying. I learned to read micro mannerisms and body language that others don’t notice. I can tell when she is lying and I am not afraid to call her out on it. I know when she has stolen by the way she acts and I start a search of her usual “stash” places. Our different approaches to gathering information from the world around us, led him to think I was overreacting and me to him thinking he was blind. Over the years, we have learned how to talk about what we think is happening and come up with a plan that is right in the middle most of the time. That is what you have to do when you are parents.

Children with RAD want control of all situations and they try to get that control or maintain it through manipulation and behavior. They will appear to be affectionate and bonded with people they know they can pull the wool over on. Once you stop letting them exert this control, you become mortal enemy number one. You become the center of passive aggressive acts, stealing and destruction of your possessions, lying about you to make them look innocent and that is all your fault, guilting, and physical aggression. Sometimes when she is trying to work me over, I let her keep going for a little while because I can get a couple of hugs and some time spent with her. I want to keep trying to bond with her. I want affection from my child, but I know it all ends as soon as I say no to whatever she wants. It always leaves me broken hearted, but I have hope that one day, on some level, we can find our peace. One day…

Hope Floats

I am a big Sandra Bullock fan. Why not be, she’s awesome, right? Well, anyway, at the end of her movie, Hope Floats, Sandra Bullock’s character, Birdee Pruitt says, “Childhood is what we spend the rest of our life trying overcome. That’s what mama always says. She says that beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it’s the middle that counts the most…Just give hope a chance to float up. And it will…” (1998). Isn’t it amazing that even if our water is murky, gelatinous, and debris ridden, hope can still find a way to make its way to the top.

I love Jill. Her anger comes from a deep rooted place of hurt. I understand that. I can see past her behaviors to the scared little person underneath. However, I don’t know how to help her. I have exhausted most of the treatments for children her age in this area. Long term care is our last resort. I have hope though because she will have access to Neurofeedback also referred to as EEG Neurofeedback. This is a therapy that is backed by 30 years of research and literally works to reorganize the networks of the brain. Repeated experiences shape our brain and strengthen the networks therein. If we change the types of experiences the brain receives, then we change and strengthen those types of networks. The patient literally watches their brain waves on a screen and learns through therapy how to reshape their brainwave activity towards more desirable responses and better regulation of those responses. Kids (or adults) literally play a video game with their brain waves. When their brainwaves respond in the correct way, they gain points and move up levels. After repeated therapy, the brain is retrained in the activity it produces. The avenue of benefit is growing wider as it is being used with people who have experienced abuse, addiction, ADHD, Anxiety, Depression, and the list goes on. It is not an overnight fix and can take a long time, and therapy has to be consistently administered. Veterans groups are advocating for this therapy for all Veterans with PTSD. We shall see if it has any positive effects.

My prayers rise on the wings of hope that the Lord saved my little girl for a reason. I believe God uses all things together for His good. As South Carolina’s State motto states, “Dum spiro, spero”, meaning “While I breathe, I hope”!