It all started innocently enough. I have wonderful memories of rafting on the creek as a child and I wanted my children to have the same experience. Joseph was soon ready to bail out of the raft. His weak core muscle's made it difficult to stay sitting upright and he grew more and more disgruntled as we floated along. The girls were having fun until we got hung up on one to many rocks and the sun slipped behind the mountains leaving us in the dusky twilight. Kiana was worried about bears, Lia was scared of the rocks and Joseph wanted out, NOW!
Eventually Dean and I got out and pulled the raft through the shallow spots, I tripped on the moss covered rocks and nearly ripper my toe nail off which further traumatized Joseph. As it grew darker, it became colder and the children were shivering and begging to go home. Since the water was so shallow, we made very little progress.
After a while we gave up, and decided to walk to the rest of the way. Joseph refused to get out of the raft, he just sat there and wailed. When I finally got him out of the raft, he refused to walk. He stood in the creek, frozen in place and screamed. I knew he was shutting down because he was cold, tired and scared. When he enters this state of mind, talking is useless as he can't process what is being said, so I took his hand and pulled him along. He woodenly, stumbled after me, wailing as we went. We saw a flash light come bobbing down to the water, people were obviously wondering what was going on at that hour of the night!
My brother in law was out looking for us and he came walking up the creek with his flashlight, further scaring Joseph. He froze in a panic, "There is a man up there and he is coming at us! Who is he, what is he doing?!" I told him it was his uncle coming to help us, but in his state of mind, he was sure it was another threat to his safety. We eventually made it back to the cabin where I got Joseph calmed down. He sat wrapped in his sleeping bag, hugging his stuffed animal until his meds kicked in and he was able to sleep.
Due to FASD and trauma, Joseph typically freezes in a situation that his brain perceives as dangerous. He suffered significant neglect and frequently felt powerless to protect himself, thus when he feels threatened by something whether real or imagined, all those memories of helplessness come rushing back leaving him overwhelmed and he freezes. Typically someone with such a trauma history will seek therapy but due to the particular brain damage Joseph has, therapy isn't an option at this time. FASD has affected him in such a way that he has difficulty distinguishing between reality and imagination. What he hears, see's or reads, has in his mind happened to him. All these "false" memories only compound his trauma. He also perceives his world differently than you or I, because he processes information through his unique point of view, leaving him with distorted memories. All this, along with a myriad of other things, makes therapy ineffective.
Knowing this, when Joseph freezes we don't bother trying to talk him into cooperating, we don't rationalize, nor do we try bribe's. Instead, we do whatever it takes to get him moving and out of his frozen state of mind. This article does and excellent job of explaining trauma and the freeze response.
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