When you get “that” phone call…

It took about two weeks most years for me to have the phone number of August’s school memorized so that when it appeared on my phone I knew who was calling. And you all know that feeling. You may be shopping, working, at the gym, anywhere when you get “that” phone call. And your breath gets tight and your skin crawls and you think just a bit about whether or not to answer. Right?

I confess, I have not answered more than once. Just to have a couple minutes to collect myself. And then called back and apologized. Because I just couldn’t get hit with whatever “it” is. Maybe I’d go sit in my car if I was somewhere in public, just in case. But I didn’t want to be blindsided always by whatever was on the other side of that phone.

So what could happen when you get “that” phone call? Well it could be anything like the simple, “Your child forgot their lunch” or, “Your child isn’t feeling well.” But with our RAD kiddos there is an equal likelihood that it’s something way more complicated. With August it was the interesting things he chose to bring to school like the pocket knife and the water bottle full of vodka. Or the behaviors like looking in the women’s restroom or run-of-the-mill anger. Then there were some bigger issues like the stolen cell phone or when he ran away from the residential treatment center.

So what do you do when you get “that” phone call? I think there were days when we immediately would have sided with our child and blamed the teacher. Or sided with the teacher and blamed the child. But those of us with RAD kiddos know that nothing with our children is that clear cut. Ideally, you have established a close relationship with your child’s teachers so that when situations occur, communication is easy. And hopefully, your child’s teachers have an understanding of their behavior and can put the incident in that context.

The key here is this is where all your work at the beginning of the school year pays off. And if it hasn’t been done yet, now is the time to get it done. For example, I was working as a substitute teacher a couple of weeks ago in a high school social studies class. There was a student who was giving me a lot of back talk from the moment I walked in. Now I’m not saying he was a RAD kiddo, but he did remind me a lot of August. This kept up until he asked to go to the bathroom. I said yes at which point he took all his books and left. I asked the class if he was coming back and they said probably not so I notified the Dean who let me know later they had him.

At the end of the day he came back to the room and apologized. He said he knew he wasn’t doing well so he left. He apparently has medication that he takes and he knew he needed some. I told him I understood and that I had a son very much like him. What I wish I’d been able to suggest but couldn’t is why didn’t he have a behavior plan that gave him the opportunity to leave without the chance of getting into trouble. The class knew him as a trouble-maker. There was no information from the teacher. He didn’t have any “out” to help him. I was pleased he knew himself enough to remove himself from the situation but I wish he had some support to make it easier for him.

Hopefully when you get “that” phone call you will already have the relationship that will allow you to process whatever prompted the call in the context of RAD and your child’s unique behaviors. If not, consider this your open door. One of the reasons we moved August between third and fourth grades was that he was labeled in his prior school by a teacher who wouldn’t work with us. Getting teachers informed and knowledgeable about RAD generally and your child specifically is critical to a successful partnership in handling behavior.

Of utmost importance is for the teacher to understand that you know RAD doesn’t excuse your child’s behaviors; it explains them. And you’re not using this illness to let your child get away with anything. Here’s a very good article for teachers on how to deal with a traumatized child. It may be a good reference for starting a conversation with your child’s teacher. Don’t be afraid of the phone…it’s all part of the process.

Until next time,

Shannon

What Does Anxiety Look Like In RAD?

School anxiety is not unique to just RAD kiddos. Unfortunately with the ramped up focus on standardized testing and college entrance getting more and more competitive, school performance is more intense than ever. Even the most psychologically together child can feel the pressure. But our RAD kiddos feel anxiety on multiple fronts so adding school to the mix can create a whole new level. So, what does anxiety look like in RAD?

Our RAD kiddos live in a constant state of high alert. They are of the belief that they must stay vigilant because their very survival depends on it. Try adding to that the pressures of school. Navigating social interactions can be hard because RAD kiddos aren’t always good at picking up on social cues appropriately. A full school day is tiring and many RAD kiddos have sleep issues. The demands of school work during the day plus homework at night is rigorous and many RAD kiddos also have a learning disability. All of this on top of the anxiety already innate in RAD is the perfect storm.

What teachers and school staff may see is anxiety and other behaviors that seem “extreme” to the situation. What does that mean? With August it was simple. And I had to explain it again and again. And again. His anxiety came out as anger. He absolutely boiled over with anxiety. And to those not familiar with this reaction it would make no sense in context with the situation.

RAD kiddos have so much anxiety they can’t always control it and don’t know how to manage it. And their “fight or flight” primal instincts will kick in. As well as their basic needs to control their circumstances. These will always win out whenever they feel anxious. And again, in a school situation, this will not always be known or apparent to the random choir teacher or substitute in science class.

What is the way to handle the overload of anxiety our RAD kiddos bring to school? How do we explain to educators what anxiety looks like in RAD? These aren’t easy questions to answer. The answer starts when they first wake up in the morning. If you are one of those families that lives in a constant state of chaos, making your morning routine as calm as possible will help lessen the anxiety that starts the day. I have had mixed success with that! Some easy things like a good breakfast with protein are important. Protein is great for brain function. We have gone through massive amounts of pre-cooked bacon over the years!

Now that I’ve been substitute teaching, I know that every child with an IEP or Behavior plan has a write-up with their primary teacher regarding important things to know about their conduct and any considerations that are important for their safety. I don’t know if these are given to every teacher who has that student (I imagine so) but I know that as a sub it’s not called out very often. Some teachers I fill in for will, most do not. And I know the chances are extremely rare that this information will be necessary. But August’s anxiety got really ramped up when the rest of the class got excited due to having a substitute so knowing this would have really helped me as a substitute in his class.

If your RAD kiddo has exceptional anxiety issues and they don’t have a Behavioral Intervention Plan, inquire about getting one set up. It gets on paper some goals for them but it also outlines their options for getting out of anxiety-producing situations before they get in trouble or things explode. They are great ways to define the relationship between your RAD kiddo and the teachers to handle their anxiety.

In August’s case, just knowing he had options was enough. He didn’t use his “outs” for when he gets overwhelmed much. Just having the options eased his anxiety well-enough in most

I think it’s important that your children know their options and they feel confident in what they can control. Because as we all know control is key. Getting a check on their emotional state in the morning maybe at breakfast would be a good idea. See where they are on a 1-10 scale. Is there a test that day? Maybe if they’re already sitting at a seven, a call to the school might be in order.

All children deal with some kind of anxiety. School is rough! I wouldn’t want to be a student these days. For some other ideas on how to help your child with school anxiety, here is a wonderful article. Here’s to having a great-and CALM-school year!

Until Next Time,

Shannon

What’s in the News?

As I started searching for this month’s appearances of reactive attachment disorder in the news, two items jumped out at me. One a column from a man named John Rosemond. In it a couple who was turned down for approval to adopt asks him for his opinion on the agency’s decision.

See Mr. Rosemond has some particularly pointed theories on child rearing which go against the adoption agency’s and the couple agreed with his ideas. You can read the story here. He mentions in his answer that he is somewhat suspicious of reactive attachment disorder and that his experience has shown that children who are parented with firm boundaries never exhibit any of those behaviors. A “Nancy Thomas” type camp but even a little more extreme in that it can include spanking and other fairly harsh punishments.

I remember when we were preparing to adopt August we had to sign a piece of paper promising we would never spank him. As any parent of a RAD kiddo can attest, that can be a hard promise to keep. They can push all the buttons, be the last straw, whatever cliche you need to use to mean getting you to your breaking point and keeping you there. Mr. Rosemond disagreed that RAD kiddos or adopted children in general should be treated differently because of any past abuse and that his parenting styles would work just fine. Not sure I’m buying that.

The second article was shocking because it happened right here in Terre Haute where I live! And I’d heard nothing about it! I applaud the family for being able to keep it quiet in my sleepy little town where everything seems to make the news…this morning National Potato Day was part of the morning drive bulletin.

But the summary is a couple’s biological children were grown so they decided to adopt. One boy through an agency then two more over time through a different agency. When the first and third boys started having behavioral and physical problems they started to investigate and came to find that the middle boy had been molesting them. You can get the full story here. The couple had been misled by the adoption agency regarding the boy’s sexual history and even his age (he was several years older).

So now they have two boys with PTSD, have had to leave Terre Haute to try and help them heal and the other boy is a ward of the state. All because the adoption agency lied. Haven’t these boys been through enough?

I’m sorry that the first couple wasn’t approved to adopt, I’m sure they’re lovely people. But there’s a reason corporal punishment isn’t recommended with adopted children. August wouldn’t have been able to tell me if spanking him triggered some horrible memory of something he’d endured with his birth family. He didn’t speak English for the first few months.

And as for the second family, those boys who were hurt had finally gotten the chance at a happy, normal life only to have it stolen by a greedy adoption agency only focused on numbers and profits. They should be ashamed. These children have enough hurdles to overcome without adding unnecessary ones on top.

Until Next Time,

Shannon

RAD Self-care Sabotage

As parents of trauma-affected children, we live in a constant state of awareness. All our efforts are focused on taking care of them, their siblings, our partners, our jobs, the house and often last and least, ourselves. But what are our RAD kiddos focused on? Sometimes it seems like they have one goal and only one goal: sabotage. 

I know this sounds like an evil plan hatched by a demented Dr. Frankenstein. But there were occasions when August was little where it seemed just that devious and planned out. And  yes, I know it wasn’t. But when you’ve waited all day for a bath and a little quiet and that’s the time he chooses to pee all over the plastic kitchen set in his room, you just have to wonder!

So I want to talk about RAD self-care sabotage. What it might look like. What it might mean and how we can react to it when it might feel so personal to us. 

  • Does it feel like they only need you when you’ve gotten on the phone?
  • Do they talk to you through the door while you’re going to the bathroom?
  • Do they refuse to eat what they ordered at a restaurant but your food looks awesome?
  • Does the one sound they know drives you nuts get louder as soon as you ask them to stop it?
  • Has your favorite shirt, sweater, necklace, scarf been ruined by an “accident”?

I’m by no means implying that all RAD children are lying in bed plotting and planning. However, two of the most recognizable characteristics of reactive attachment disorder are that these children are control freaks and manipulative. They want to push our buttons. They want us to react and explode and get mad. Because that reinforces their beliefs that we don’t love them and we don’t want them. And to sabotage the self-care moments that we most treasure in our chaotic lives is pushing a very big button, don’t you think?

So why do our RAD kiddos choose these moments to inject themselves into our lives? Why are they so skilled at finding the times that we need the solace and relief of our daily grind and pick that time to ramp up their behavior? Because it’s when we’ve let our guard down. Our defenses are weak. Think about it. When is it easier for you to respond to your child having spilled a gallon of milk on the floor, when you are loading the dinner dishes into the dishwasher? Or when you have sat down for the first time all day to read a book for 30 minutes?

Now again, I can’t say for sure that all the times that August did those things that made my head explode, he’d waited in the tall grass for me to relax and look the other way. But there were more than enough examples for me to think it was more than a coincidence. And I think if you look back you might find the same is true for you.

So what do we do? Self-care is vital to our well-being as well as the success of our family. So not doing it is not an option. But making sure it happens even if your children are home might mean making some changes. Here are my ideas:

  • Tag team with your partner. Make sure one of you is covering the kids so the other can get in the needed self-care time and then switch. This may not be an option for everyone but caring for special needs kiddos needs to be a team sport as much as possible.
  • Depending on the age of your children, try and help them understand your plan, your timeline. Just a warning, sometimes this can backfire. But try to phrase it like, “I’m going to relax for 30 minutes and then we’ll go to the park so what would like to do until then?” Because this way you’re giving them control over that 30 minutes (within reason). Not just go away until I’m ready for you.
  • Let them self-care with you. Again, this is one of those that could backfire. But maybe you and the girls could all paint your nails or do mud masks. Or you and the boys could all go for a walk. I know the real point of self-care is time away from the children but the main point is that it is stress-free time and these are activities that for the most part shouldn’t end up in arguments and yelling (I hope!)
  • Confront them with the truth. If they’re old enough, they may know exactly what they’re up to. They know you can’t talk to them or help them when they’re on the phone or in the bathroom. They know how little time you take for yourself. Sitting down and having an honest conversation about your needs and the benefits to the relationship between the two of you and the entire family might just clear the air and get a different attitude going forward.

So take some time to think on whether your RAD kiddo is doing some self-care sabotage in your family and think on some ways you can intercept those efforts to make sure you’re getting the quality care you need. Please feel free to share your stories and ideas. I don’t know everything and we all benefit from everyone’s input!

Until next time,

Shannon

Feeling Like A Failed Parent

This was not the post I had planned for today. I started writing it Saturday after a very long week last week. Some things happened with August and I ran out of antidepressants and I wasn’t sure I’d make it out of bed. And for the first time last Thursday I said these words out loud, “My son is a psychopath.” And now I’m feeling like a failed parent

Not my proudest mom moment.

I suppose this needs some explanation. The last couple visits with August had made me uncomfortable. I know Reactive Attachment Disorder inside and out. I have read and studied it for years and I understand what it looks like. This wasn’t RAD. I talked to him about various things some of which dealt with his behavior and how it affected people in his life. He said outright he didn’t care if he hurt people. He didn’t care if he used people for what he could get from them. Maybe it was for show. Maybe it was to look cool or strong. But it seemed all too real.

He talks about life after prison. His clothing, his lifestyle, how much money he will have. It’s all the best of everything. That is what he looks forward to. Nothing is about relationships with his family or friends. Nothing is about making a better life or repairing the damage he has done. He is not missing being separated from us at all. He says, “I love you” at the end of visits and phone calls but it’s always to hard to believe. 

I am still trying to piece together what has happened but near as I can tell he’s pulled some friends and friends of other inmates into some scheme that has gotten him and them in more trouble. He obviously didn’t care that he knew what he was doing was illegal and also illegal for them because he did it. Though I’m not completely sure he knew what he was doing. And it might mean extended time for him. I don’t know. Our conversation today revolved around his anger that he was in solitary and that maybe those he got caught up with might say something that would get him in trouble. 

Here’s the thing. July 5th. On July 5th he was six months without a conduct issue and was going to be eligible to get into a program which would get him moved to another dorm with stricter regulations which would help him stay more focused, and the program completion would get him reduced time and the possibility of a sentence reduction. But here we are instead.

Psychopathy isn’t the actual psychological term. It’s actually Antisocial Personality Disorder. For information about it, you can check it out here.  It is distinguished from sociopaths by severity and contrary to made for TV movies, they are not always violent serial killers.

But now I am sitting here wondering what validity I have as a parent to be writing to you all. I know my child is wounded from harm that I didn’t cause. That his brain is physically damaged. But it is also harm I couldn’t heal. And he harms others with seemingly no concern for their well-being. I started writing because I thought I had something to give to parents to help them avoid some of the mistakes I made. To provide a resource where parents could come together and learn some tools that would help them along the road to healing their children.

But I sat in that visiting room and listened to him. And now this has happened. And now I feel like such a fraud. 

Taking care of ourselves also means knowing when we’ve done all that we can for our children. His father has been much better at that. I keep wishing and fighting and hoping. Maybe in vain. Looking for that spark of empathy that I hope will magically appear maybe when his brain fully develops. My therapist years ago said that maybe August sabotages his progress in there because he feels safe in there and he doesn’t really want to get out. In there he doesn’t have to make choices of right or wrong where he has repeatedly made the wrong ones. Maybe when he voluntarily decides to take the medications that will help his brain function better things will change. Or maybe it won’t and I will finally have to realize I’ve done all that I can. Can a mother ever do that? 

Pondering the next time,

Shannon

 

Top 10 Signs of Reactive Attachment Disorder

Way back in the beginning of writing this blog, I posted the DSM-IV criteria for Reactive Attachment Disorder. But that was a long time ago and in psychology speak. So I thought it would be helpful to do a more plain spoken list of what behaviors children with RAD exhibit.

Kiddos with RAD don’t even know most of the time they are doing some of the things they do. It’s all reaction to the very early trauma they suffered and how they protect themselves now from further hurt. Here are some signs your kiddo might display:

  • Failure to smile and avoids eye contact – This may make your child seem like they are angry all the time but it is part of the resistance to connection. They aren’t unhappy but they are constantly stressed and on edge. So it is hard to ever relax.
  • Becomes agitated when adults try to comfort them – They may recoil when they are upset and an adult tries to hug them or comfort them. They don’t want to think of a caregiver as someone they can depend on or someone who will make them feel better. They don’t trust anyone and they resist any attempt to count on someone for assistance.
  • Doesn’t seem to notice when parents or caregivers leave them – Separation anxiety is something that parents face regularly with their children. RAD kiddos don’t notice or care when their caregivers leave because they don’t see them as needed. The connection and bond isn’t there so there is no fear they won’t return, no anxiety about who will care for them.
  • Spends a lot of time rocking or comforting themselves – RAD kiddos firmly believe they can only count on themselves. They are control freaks. They develop incredible skills in self-soothing because they do not trust that anyone else can do it for them.
  • When distressed, they may calm down more quickly without the attention of an adult – You’d think an adult would be helpful when a child is upset but for RAD kiddos it’s anything but. An adult or caregiver getting in their face most times will only make it worse. They have learned coping strategies from their past traumas and they know how to help themselves.
  • Unaffected by the movements of others – RAD kiddos tend to seem very stand offish. They do not want other people in their lives. They do not feel that people affect them no matter how close the relationship. So they will not usually be rattled at all by what other people do.
  • Doesn’t reach out to be picked up – Because RAD kiddos don’t need affection they will not seek it out. For parents that can be one of the most heartbreaking aspects of having a RAD kiddo. It isn’t something they will seek from any adult in their life, no matter how close the relationship.
  • Isn’t interested in playing interactive games or playing with toys – Group games like tag or hide and seek will not be popular with RAD kiddos. They are not great at playing with toys that are “group” toys. Because they aren’t good “joiners” this isn’t something they will ever be drawn to.
  • Cries Inconsolably – Because RAD kiddos are not able to process their emotions in a healthy way, sometimes when they begin crying, the tears won’t stop. And because they won’t allow anyone to help them be consoled, getting a handle on their emotions is even harder.
  • Withdrawn Appearance – There is often a mix-up between RAD and autism. RAD children are emotionally and developmentally stunted in a way that mimics autism. They might appear not to be “with it” to what’s going on around them. Again, it’s not that they are unaware, it’s just that they are in a constant mode of protection.

Hopefully this can be a reference guide for friends and family to understand why your child may not look or act like they might expect them to. And knowing may help in not judging your RAD kiddo unfairly. I would love to hear your comments on what you see with your children and which of these behaviors have caused you the most stress!

Until next time,

Shannon