Tuesday, January 31, 2017

When A Little Girls Heart Breaks

Kiana was having a hard time accepting her past this weekend. At first she didn't know what was wrong, all she knew was that she wasn't feeling good inside. I asked her questions and slowly wormed the truth out of her; she was missing her birth mom. Poor girl, she was heartbroken over her loss. I affirmed her pain, listened to her talk and assured her we love her and it is okay to miss her mom, it doesn't hurt my feelings when she tells me she wishes she lived with her mom. 

Nothing I said or did was reaching her and I was silently praying for wisdom when God reminded me of some pictures I have stashed in a drawer. Several months ago I printed pictures of our children's bio parents intending to make them each a collage to keep by their bedside. In the busyness of life, it never happened.

Dean took Lia out to the shop with him so Kiana and I could have some uninterrupted mom and daughter time. I took out the pictures and got my scrap booking supplies. Together we made a collage of pictures, then I searched for quotes online and printed some of them out, others I wrote beside the pictures before framing the collage..

As we were scrolling through the quotes she found this one:

My mother gave me softest hair and moonlit eyes and skin so smooth,
She gave me life, her flesh and blood, a place to grow, and warmth and food.
But when I came into the world,
Her life stared deep into her soul,
She knew she could not give me all so she gave me up to make me whole.  
   You can find it here.

Kiana looked at me and her eyes filled with tears. She whispered, "That is just like what my birth mom did," then she broke down and sobbed. No one ever prepared me to help someone through such raw grief. Sometimes Dean and I feel wholly inadequate to fulfill the task God has called us to, that of parenting children who have experienced tremendous loss at such a young age. 

$11.50 for 15" sensory/teething necklace's now until February 14. Go to my FB page to see colors/designs and place an order. https://www.facebook.com/Sensory-Beads-By-Sandra-1042788929151191/

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Triggers, Tantrums, Meltdowns & Rages - Life With FASD

Triggers, tantrums, melt downs, rages...all one and the same, right? Wrong!

Triggers: a trigger is something that arouses the fight or flight response. It can be a sight, sound, texture, smell or any number of things. Confrontation is my trigger. It goes back to the day we sat around the table with various people from CPS and listened as they named our faults, accused us of abuse and said I was mentally ill. Why? Because we sought help for our son. Now when someone, no matter how kindly they ask, questions me or down plays my concerns about a situation, I panic. My heart begins racing, I feel light headed and all common sense flees. The feeling of panic can last for hours or days. I have coping techniques in place for when this happens and I am teaching them to my children but when they are triggered they do not have the ability to rationalize like I do. They go into all out fight or flight mode and there is no reasoning with them until the adrenaline has worn off and they are able to take in the coping skills I am sharing with them. Don't even try to "talk sense" to someone who is in full battle mode, they can't process what you are saying much less implement it. I know what triggers me but many times our children don't know why they feel like they do. Can you imagine panicking but not knowing why? That would be terrifying.

Tantrum's: Everyone knows what these are. They are the all out kicking, screaming fit's a toddler throws when you tell her she must wear a coat to play in the snow. When parenting a child with FASD, you face these tantrums pretty much daily. It is winter so Joseph's eczema is worse due to the cold and stress of the school year. Over the summer we seldom use "cream" as he calls it but during the winter we use it daily. He hates it with a passion, not that I blame him, the stuff is greasy and slimy but it is the only thing that works. He stomps, screams and get's mouthy with me every time I put his cream on. I have offered to forgo the cream but then he yells at me because, "My skin will hurt and bleed if you don't put it on!" I usually let him throw his fit and eventually he lets me apply the cream and he goes to bed as though nothing ever happened. 

Meltdowns:  - Over stimulation. Too much noise, activity, smells, people and meltdowns are called out in force. I understood the reason behind meltdowns but I never really understood how awful over stimulation is until I began weaning from my antidepressant. Now I know. The best way I can describe it is feeling like your brain is going to explode. My brain hurts, noise makes me my skin crawl, light hurts my eyes and all the requirements of being a mom are just too much. As horrible as this experience is, it is also a blessing because now I know why Joseph simply shut's down or begins crying and screaming. Too much sensory input and the circuits in the brain go hay wire. For someone with FASD, day to day life is overstimulating. Too much information is coming in, going down the wrong pathways and being stored in the wrong places due to the damage done by alcohol. Is it any wonder these people need rigid routine and structure? 

Rages: These are tough. Children with trauma rage for many reasons. Because of sensory overload, too much being required of them, not getting what they want (and they view it as life or death) an upcoming event, not being in control of their surroundings, which makes them feel unsafe... The hard part for the parent is deciphering what set them off, do they have a legitimate cause for such behavior, are they manipulating you or are they scared. Then you have to deal with the rage accordingly. Sometimes they need love and a comforting hug, sometimes they need consequences, sometimes they need you to help them find words for what they are feeling. Those with FASD misinterpret their world frequently, through no fault of their own. Rages are the result of that. For instance, I can tell Joseph to do something and he hears only part of what I said or else, misinterprets my words and promptly begins shouting and banging around the house. If I can get him calm enough to repeat what I said, the storm can be over that quickly, other times the battle is on. This happens frequently on his tough days. We have learned (or are learning) to take the kind of day he is having and use that information to figure out why he is raging.

Caring for someone with FASD requires a great deal of insight but we have found that being able to figure out what is behind the behavior/reaction and responding properly makes all the difference. Usually Joseph cannot tell us why he is acting in a certain way. We have come to be pretty adept at figuring out what is behind his actions and if we can walk him through why he is doing something, he can sometimes change his ways. Other times, we have to say, "This is FASD, it is unintentional," and let it go. Teaching his siblings to let it go is another matter entirely, one we haven't mastered.

One mom shared how she asks her child, "What do you need from me to help you feel better." Sometimes asking in that way will help the child verbalize what they really need. The other evening Kiana was having a tough time so I asked her, "What do you need to help you feel better?" Her reply? "Chocolate and a horse!" Umm, totally missed the point there!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

When Our Sand Bags Are Heavy

Our family has gone through some tough times over the past years and naturally there are times when we struggle with bitterness, frustration and the good old, "Why me's?"

 Dean and I have talked for hours and hours about the situations we deal with daily. We have each other to use as a sounding board. When one of us (usually me) collapses under the load, we revamp our parenting, pray, remind each other of the call we felt from God to pursue adoption and begin fresh the next day.

Tristan is the one who has perhaps sacrificed the most. Our family isn't like other families, we stay home the majority of the time because that is what our children need. There is daily screaming and raging going on while attacking me and he feels responsible to protect me, which naturally creates a rift in his relationship with his siblings. He watched another sibling nearly tear our family apart, seen us agonize under a CYS investigation and finally disrupt an adoption. 

That is a lot for a child to go through in a few short years and he struggles with it, who wouldn't? 

Last night he had a good talk with his dad. A talk Dean and I have had hundreds of times, the "Why is my life so hard when my peers seems to sail through life," talk. 

Dean told him, "Everyone's bag of sand feels heavy to them. You can lift a 90 pound bag and I can lift 130 pounds, those amounts feel equally heavy to us even though mine is heavier in reality. That is how it is in life, other people's burdens feel as heavy to them as yours does to you. We can help each other carry our sand bags but we can't dump our whole load on someone else and expect them to carry it besides their own because then they wouldn't be able to carry their burden. We need to help each other but we must each be responsible for what God has given us. This is going to be your "sand bag" for life, maybe God is making you strong by giving you this bag so that you have the strength to help other families like ours someday. Maybe he wants you to go into the mission field and what you are learning now will be invaluable, maybe it is neither of those things. We don't know why God gives us the "sand bags" he does, but we have to trust that he is doing it to fulfill his plan."

   I needed to hear that again because like Tristan, I sometimes wish life wouldn't be so hard both for my sake and my children's. I am human and it is easy to look around and wish our family could be like other families.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

It's Hard Being A Trauma Mama

One of the hardest things I have had to come to grips with in this journey of trauma parenting is being to one who causes the most pain in my children.

 I know, deep down they love me and it isn't my fault that my being mom brings them sadness. But knowing that doesn't lessen the pain.

When they lose a friend, many times due to their own negative actions, it triggers the abandoned feeling they felt when separated from their bio mom. Guess who took the place of bio mom? Yup, me. Guess who is the recipient of all those big feelings? Me again.

When they read a scary story and dream about it during the night, they come running to me for comfort. Next morning the fear caused by the dream is still very real, but rather than seeking comfort from mom, they react in the way they know best...acting out....against mom. 

When I buy them something, their thoughts go to their birth mom. Receiving things from me is okay but what they really want is for their birth mom to care for them. Guess what happens? They usually come after me spoiling for a fight because they don't understand the conflicted feelings inside.

I get the anger and tears when they have a test coming up, a substitute or even a special celebration at school because change in routine is hard. 

They get upset with me when I tell them it is time to leave a friends house because saying good bye triggers them. In their minds, their big feelings are all my fault.

When I tell them to do something the foot stomps and I hear, "You aren't my mom, I wish I lived with my birth mom!"

They have zero ability to know when enough is enough. I remember getting frustrated with my parents, as every child will do but there was a line that I did not cross. I knew when to back off, my children don't, they scream, run away, slam doors in my face, hit and kick and say anything that comes to their mind. It used to look like a lack of respect but now I know it is trauma that causes these intense reactions. Even knowing that, it is hard not to become discouraged when you face such acting multiple times a day.

The other evening I wailed to Dean, "It is just SO hard being on the receiving end of all this, when all I wanted to do was be their mom and help them!"

When things get to hard God graciously gives me a peek into their hearts and shows me that they really do love me, their pain is just hindering their ability to express it.

I have a chest cold/fever this week. The children's concern was touching, they all prayed for me and asked me several times, "Are you feeling better mom?"

I know their real concern was for themselves, if mom is sick who will take care of me? Will I have food and clothing? If mom is sick, then the world is even scarier.... But rather than dwell on that aspect of their concern I will instead focus on the cards and extra hugs they gave me. Knowing that the fact that they were able to look beyond their fear and offer me comfort means they are healing from their trauma, one teeny step at a time.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Does FASD Affect A Child's Ability To Bond?

From time to time I get the question, "If B's attachment problems are from early childhood trauma, why doesn't Joseph have the same struggles?" Since both boys experienced the same living conditions and came into care at the same time, this is a logical question.

For a long time Dean and I wondered the same thing. It is true that B was a bit older than Joseph was when he came into care, but attachment disorder happens in early childhood versus as an older child. A child can and will develop similar symptoms if he is in an unstable environment but having had a bond previously, he will generally not struggle to the same extent as a child who has never bonded with anyone.

I think Joseph escaped full blown RAD partly because of B, he had someone with whom he connected. Even though it was not a healthy bond, his brain was still exercised in that area. The boys had what is referred to as a trauma bond. They bonded on trauma and kept recreating that trauma to experience the connection.

Both boys have FASD but Joseph is affected more severely than his brother. It is common for each consecutive sibling to be more affected as the birth mom's alcohol consumption is often directly related to the amount of stress/responsibility she faces. We feel Joseph's degree of FASD is part of his saving grace. We may be wrong but it seems that his inability to differentiate between fact and reality somehow protected him. FASD has affected his ability to feel both physical and emotional pain. Thus things like hunger, didn't give him the same sense of panic it would give another child. The flip side is that his body kept score of what he was enduring and we have ongoing food issues because of it.

Because of his FASD, Joseph lives in a black and white world. When we are "nice" to him (doing what he wants us to) he loves us with an adoration that warms our hearts. But when he is angry with us, usually over some preconceived wrong that we have done, his brain abandons all common sense and any attachment to us is out the window. He is all fight or flight. So in many ways he acts like a child with an attachment disorder, requiring us to parent him as such because of the damage done to his brain by alcohol.

If I were to fill out a form listing the criteria necessary for the diagnosis of an attachment disorder, it is quite possible Joseph would meet many of the requirements. If we never has experience with RAD, I think we would probably feel Joseph has an attachment disorder. As it is, we know that these children are manipulative, love to triangulate and do anything they can to keep a wall between them and their parents. Joseph does some of these things but not consistently. His rages are interspersed with times of deep love and a connection with us, something a child with a true attachment disorder does not do. He can be manipulative but it is usually because he is trying to meet a need he cannot or didn't think to verbalize, rather than actively trying to get people on his side. He rages when he is faced with a situation that overwhelms him although the rages would be better described as meltdowns. The hard part is figuring out what is overwhelming. Because his brain functions at various capacities, what is fun and enjoyable one day may well cause an all out yelling match complete with him running away, the next.

So does Joseph have an attachment disorder? No, but he has many of the symptoms, and needs to parented as though he does. His difficulties stem from brain damage that causes an inability to bond, brain damage that cannot be "fixed" with any amount of therapy or medication.

Please do not assume that a child with FASD cannot bond, because every person is affected differently. On the same note, those with FASD can also have RAD, and many of them do. Each and every person is different due to genetics, when and to what they have been exposed as well as the amount of care they receive in their young years.

like my fb blog page: Tales From Our House to see new posts, as well as the links I share about trauma, adoption, RAD FASD

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Gifts, A Detriment To Building A Bond - Life With Attachment Disorder

Today's post is about gifts, be it a piece of candy, a card, note, toy or key chain, book or snack.......

As anyone who has parented a child with RAD, or a lesser form of attachment disorder knows, the subject of gifts is a touchy one.

The reason is as simple and complicated as this: A healthy well attached infant views the world and those who inhabit his world as safe. He assumes everyone is out to make the world a better, safer place for him. The child who has no bond, or an unhealthy one, is quite the opposite. His world is a scary place where he has to outsmart and manipulate everyone before they have the opportunity to hurt him. He views people as "things" objects to use to fulfill his desires rather than people with whom he can have a close and loving relationship.

As the parent of a child with RAD, it was scary to watch the manipulation and triangulation in progress, what was even more terrifying was how easily he could do this and the adults didn't even know they had been had.

Children with attachment disorder as well as those from hard places, as we adoptive parents refer to the difficult situations our children came from, find gifts to be one of the ultimate tools to use against their parents who are trying their best to form a bond with the child. These children prefer gifts over other forms of bonding that may encourage a relationship with their parents. The only thing better is receiving something from someone other than mom and dad.

Why would they value things given to them by someone else over what is given by their parents, you ask. Because, and this is especially true for the child in therapy who knows that good things are only supposed to come from mom, they assume the giver is on their side. 

As parents, we have to work very hard to teach our children that things do not equal love. I am not sure if this comes from deprivation, or if things just feel safer because they don't require a relationship. Two of our children struggle with this, one because of the whole relationship thing and the other because FASD prevents him from forming a strong bond.

Then there is how the parent feels....when you have a child with attachment issues, by necessity, you have to parent them differently. This includes what looks to many like a very deprived life. A life devoid of over stimulation, a lack of opportunities to manipulate people and few possessions. The latter is because of their penchant for wanting stuff over relationships as well as the fact that this "stuff" is often destroyed either in a fit of rage, used as a means of manipulation or as a way of portraying their feelings of lack of self worth.

When you limit your child's possessions to a few items that are safe for them and they acquire new things from other people it makes it hard to be sure your child is safe. We have to be very careful with Joseph because he can and will turn any object into something with which he can hurt himself or others. 

While we realize most people mean well, it is hard when they give our attachment child special attention and gifts. This child who has made life so hard for you, who is actively pushing you away is now putting on his charm and using it to gain not only possessions, but is secretly getting people on his side. Whether or not the giver realizes it, the child is using them to put up another layer between him and his parents. While we yearn for our children to be able to give and accept gifts like emotionally healthy children can, we know they must first develop the crucial bond with their parents, everything else comes in second.

One of our children is a master at getting things from other people. She uses various methods and then Dean and I have to try and figure out where she got an item, if the story is as she told it and then work on repairing the damage to our relationship. She naturally doesn't feel safe if she can do things under our noses and not get caught. We have become very adept at deciphering what will encourage or hinder the bond building process that is in progress all day, every day. 

So if you know a child who has either full blown RAD or struggles with attachment and the parents have rules in place that may seem unnecessary or even unjust, remember these rules are implemented to help the child build a bond with his parents, something that is vital to his well being.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Working Through Trauma Triggers

  Poor Kiana has had a rough couple of days, her trauma was majorly triggered and she lost it. She had been doing so well and then she got a cold. Her doctor thinks she has PANS versus PANDAS. PANS has the same symptoms, but is triggered by stress and infections instead of strep. Just what a child with early child hood trauma needs on top of everything else they have to suffer because of their past. Anyway, she got a cold and all those neuro/psychiatric symptoms raised their ugly heads.

So when her behavior went even further down the tubes we were left to figure out if it is trauma, PANS or just typical 9 year old drama. 

  She was trying to get out of going to school yesterday by dawdling, being defiant and raging. A symptoms of PANS is separation anxiety and she has been known to pull some pretty clever tricks in order to stay close to me, however trauma triggers can do the same thing.... but she wouldn't talk so I couldn't help her. I got her out the door and didn't hear anything from school so I hoped all was well, it wasn't.

She came home and went into a wild rage. I decided come what may, I am going to get to the bottom of this. She kept saying, "I just want a good life!" 

"How can you have a good life?" I asked.

"I have to obey and make good choices, but I hate doing that!"

"Think of it this way," I said, "Think of a person who is in a burning building and yelling, "I want out!" So someone comes and gets them out. Then the person runs right back into the building and begins throwing a fit and yelling that they want out. That would be silly, right?"

Kiana agreed so I continued, "You are acting a lot like that person. You make bad choices then beg for help, so mom and dad help you out. But as soon as you are out of the situation, you run right back in to it. You need to work on continuing to make good choices when mom and dad help you get your things straightened out."

I didn't go into the psychology behind why she tends to get herself back in a bad situation when we get her out, but this is why: many people with trauma/attachment difficulties feel safer when they are in trouble. When all is well in their lives, the door to attachment is open. When there is chaos and pain, they can dwell on that and ignore the attachment aspect of life.

After Dean came home, we talked about it some more and she told me what was really going on. I realized this was about a trauma trigger not PANS, so I felt I knew how to address the issue. We talked about why some things give her big feelings such as being separated from her birth mom and feeling abandoned. 

"Other children who haven't had that happen, can do things that you can't. They don't feel the same pain and fear you do," I explained. "What you are feeling is called trauma, you were triggered by what happened," and I went on to explain what that meant.

She burst into tears, "Why does my life have to be this way, it isn't fair!" 

Poor girl! "It isn't fair," I agreed. But knowing I had to help her I told her that everyone has triggers, "We all have things that happen in life that give us big feelings," I assured her.

I told her to tell me the whole story about what had happened once more and afterward her eyes cleared a little but she said, "I am still going to dream about it."

"Tell you what," I said, "Get a tablet and pen and instead of helping to do the after supper chores, I want you to write everything down."

She was sure that wouldn't help at all, but I assured her writing is one of the best ways to get big feelings out of our hearts and minds. I didn't have to do much persuading because getting out of the supper dishes is a pretty big deal when you are 9 years old!

  She wrote and wrote, afterwards her happy smile was back again. Another battle down, the war is by no means won but we will rejoice in this victory.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Meeting Our Children At Their Level

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to speak with an adoptive parent about some of the things the children who come into our home's via foster care and adoption may face. He made a profound comment, one I have been pondering ever since. He said,

"We must meet the child at their level, too many parents expect the child to come to their level before they can work together." 

Many of the struggles people with FASD and their parents have is due to the caregiver expecting more than their child can give. We have a standard of behavior that we expect everyone to meet and when someone fails to do so, we become frustrated. Before I learned about FASD and attachment disorders, I never thought about the frustration endured by those unable to meet the unspoken rules of society.

In Joseph's eyes everyone is a friend. He knows that he is not supposed to talk to strangers but that didn't stop him from doing just when we were out grocery shopping. For a long time that used to annoy me, why did he always disobey? We would go over the "rules" before going in to the store, he seemed to understand them but without fail he did exactly what I told him not to! I finally realized "don't talk to stranger's" is too complex a command so I broke it down to, "You may not talk to anyone unless mom speaks to them first." Joseph does best as a follower, when all he had to do was follow my lead, he was fine. I had to meet him at his level of understanding.

When B came to live with us, we parented him just like we parented Tristan. We thought all children can "handle" love, we didn't know love can be scary and painful. B cringed when we put a hand on his shoulder and acted out if we praised him. His therapist told me we need to give love in smaller doses to avoid  triggering a reaction. I couldn't thank him for picking up his toys without a rage, so I said to no one in particular, "I am glad I have a boy who picks up his toys," that was still too intense so I backed up even further and said, "Daddy, B picked up his toys today." I said it when he was in the vicinity so he heard me say it but it wasn't directed at him. The poor child was terrified of love. We needed to meet him where he was emotionally even if it was a long way from what we envisioned when we brought him into our home.

Kiana has trust issues which have been multiplied by PANDAS. I look back on all the talks and all the therapeutic parenting we have done and sometimes I am tempted to become frustrated. Why aren't we making more progress, things should be better by now! But I must remember, this is where Kiana is in her healing, I must meet her there and work from that point, not from the place where I think we should be, nor from the place a child who has never endured early childhood trauma would be.

Sometimes as parents, we look at all we have poured into our children and despair when we see how far we have to go but you cannot hurry healing. It will come at it's own time and pace. There are some things that will never be like you envisioned them when you began fostering or adopted a child but creating a child who fits into your family seamlessly, isn't what this is all about. It is about healing, about meeting the child where they are and providing the love, nurture and teaching in ways they can grasp and internalize. It is about a love that may look very different than anything you envisioned when you opened the doors of your heart and home. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Parenting Accordingly - Life With FASD

Joseph and I are having a tough day partly because I haven't figured out where he is cognitively. Like many afflicted with FASD, Joseph functions at a different level every day. It is our job as his parents to figure out where he is at cognitively and emotionally and parent him accordingly. He has four basic types of day's and we can usually see what kind of day he will have within moments of his waking.

Exceptional Days:  On exceptionally good days, I can give him a job out of my line of vision and know he will be safe. Jobs such as taking the trash to the basement can be dangerous because I cannot see him to redirect him if he would say, see the tote of empty tin cans and decide to play with one. He can go outside with Tristan and help him with his chores or ride his bike. The only hard thing about this kind of day is that Joseph is aware that he has disabilities and he tries hard to relate appropriately with his peers but still falls short.

Good day: On these days, I can give him a command and expect that it will be followed through. On good days, he can play with Lia, dress himself correctly, empty the dishwasher and play with all of his toys at once. He is happy to play house with Lia and has all kinds of ideas of things he could make. He is happiest on these days and we treasure them.

Medium Functioning Days: On these days Joseph needs to be prompted to keep his mind on eating, I may have to help him "find" his clothing and remind him he needs to wear a coat to go outside. He can follow a simple command 50 percent of the time but I need to be sure and follow up with him. I need to give commands in as few words as possible and be ready to counteract a meltdown at any moment. Rages happen on these days but he is able to rebound and come out of them well enough to continue on with his day.

Tough Days: These days aren't easy for anyone. Joseph can't do much of anything without constant redirection. I keep him in line of vision ALL the time. We have to remind him to chew his food, to use a spoon to eat soup and if he has a large water glass we fill it part full and remind him to use two hands. These days are the ones when we see the most rages, Joseph cannot understand his world and he is totally overwhelmed by life in general. His usual favorite pass times frustrate him and we all breathe a sigh of relief when bedtime rolls around.

Then we have days like today where he is all over the place emotionally and physically.  His mouth is nasty but I cannot figure out if it is because he is functioning so well he is aware of his limitations or if he is not able to process what is going on around him, leaving him angry. I am guessing he is anxious about going to school tomorrow after 10 days of vacation but he won't or can't talk. He gets into trouble the moment I turn my back and nothing I suggest is a good idea. He is cross at me because he views me as the source of all his problems. If I would let him do whatever he wants, he would be happy, at least that is his reasoning.

This variation of abilities used to frustrate us. If he can clean his room one day why is he unable to pick up the papers on the floor the next? Sometimes I could tell him to get dressed for school and other days I had to monitor him every step of the way. When we learned this is typical for those with FASD, we adjusted our expectations to his ability and we were thrilled to see his tantrums lessen. We realized he throws most of his tantrums when he is frustrated and overwhelmed with life. Many times when he acts out, it isn't because he won't do something but because he can't. Keeping that in mind makes all the difference for me. 

Here is an awesome link for behavioral symptoms and accommodations for Fetal Alcohol Sprectrum Disorder. Thanks to a friend on one of my support groups for bringing it to my attention.