Wednesday, 28 March 2012

How Many Sleeps Mommy? Lots and lots darling...

Before we adopted Girl we had these mindless daydreams of counting down sleeps with our child until holidays, Christmas, birthdays but the reality of this with a child with attachment disorder is very different.

We all get excited about lots of different things but for Girl it can all be too much for her to bear and can cause her actual real heartfelt anxiety. For instance the thought of behaving for Santa and being on a 'good girl' list is like an invitation to sabotage any good behaviour that we may normally expect, the very idea that that there is any chance at all that she may not be good enough to get gifts from Santa is enough to make her behave badly enough so that she knows she won't get hurt when she doesn't. It's like trying to have some sort of mad control over something she can't possibly control.

The whole commercial build-up to everything must be a nightmare for most parents but for us sometimes it feels like its a hundred-fold, Halloween decorations in September, followed immediately by Christmas decorations and on January 1st out roll the Cadbury's Creme Eggs and I really wish I was exaggerating. My little Girl went off the rails in September when she realised Halloween was approaching (only 8 weeks away) and only really got back on in February. Girl has been asking us for weeks how long until Easter, my reply is always "a long time away darling". I would love to be able to tell her exactly, to share the excitement of an upcoming event with her but I know that as soon as she knows how soon it is the behaviour will go on a downwards slope.

We have learnt to keep very quiet and low key about anything that might cause too much excitement, unfortunately we cannot impose this on every single person we know so where we are trying to be fairly non-committal about events, family and friends can unintentionally hinder our efforts and this week I have been spotted behind Girl flapping my arms, shaking my head, jumping up and down to attract attention and waggling my eyebrows in a desperate attempt to stop the words 
"...only 5 more sleeps until Legoland..."

which was then quickly followed by the words
"...and then a few days after that it's Easter!"

Thanks heavens that when this happened Girl was in one of her sullen-and-not-listening-to-adults moods and I dont' celebrate that mood often!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

It's Not All Bad!

Adopting both Girl and Boy has had it's rewards and I certainly don't want my blog to be all gloom and doom because that's not our life! When we adopted Girl we did so with her developmental future being uncertain, with a little nurturing she has progressed in leaps and bounds.

This year she started Reception year at school and after a shaky start and a gentle nudge to the teacher about her attachment issues Girl is now reading as well as any of her classmates. We quietly praise and celebrate every single achievement.

As for Boy? We had a few worries about speech delay but I have this theory that when a baby or toddler has to deal with a traumatic event such as a totally new life some normal developmental milestones have to be put to the back of baby's brain while they learn about their new home, new smells, new environment. The paediatrician we saw was concerned about Boy's speech (initially we weren't until she put the thought in our heads that there might be an issue) but now Boy is chattering all the time and stringing words together like any other child his age! I would highly recommend the use of Makaton and Baby Signing for any child, we used this to great effect with both kids.

My First Signs: BSL (Baby Signing)

Monday, 26 March 2012

The Poker Face

So we have officially become the Neighbours From Hell. The sort of family that people in adjoining houses bang on the walls at at 4.30am. To be fair I don't blame them at all, I would hate to live next door to us.

Last Monday Girl was having one of her 'must be in control' days. Bedtime is one thing she can easily take control of and has become a bit of a battle of late, though I have been tempted at times we can't exactly chain her to the bed and force her to stay there (and yes, I am kidding about being tempted).

So back to Monday, at bedtime we went through her usual routine and read her story and right as I finished out came the dreaded words that have been so frequent of late 'I don't want to go to bed now so I'm not going to.' I'm sure there is a little sound that resonates around the room as my heart sinks, my stomach flips over and my brain rattles into gear ready to find some quick way to deal with the situation.

Always my first response is to appeal to Girl's better nature and try and jolly her along onto the correct behaviour, unfortunately by the time she has had the thought process of 'I'm not going to bed' it's far too late for any of my silly negotiations (though ever the optimist I live in hope of this working one day) and it is sadly usually followed by a physical attack as the negotiations just make her more angry.

This is where my radical parenting comes into play (well I think it's radical anyway) and I call it the Poker Face manoeuvre and I mostly credit it to my PASW (Post Adoption Social Worker) after something we were chatting about. All along like most other parents I have had the belief that if a child is naughty a consequence or other action such as a time-out or thinking chair should be taken immediately, before the behaviour is forgotten. In my own experience and of talking to other parents and social workers, time-outs do not work for a child with attachment disorder. It is like reinforcing their belief that they are not attached to the caregivers, that they are being further rejected. Time-outs actually make Girl violent with rage, we learned that a long time ago.

The best way to deal with Girl's anger is to manage it before it happens, unfortunately this is easier said than done. Reward charts and consequences do not work for us so to manage the behaviour  we have to be aware of triggers such as an exciting event, mothers day, christmas or a noisy or busy place. So where does that leave us?

Obviously smacking and corporal punishment is a total no-no. I am not perfect and have shouted at Girl, threatened consequences (no TV for a week, no visits to nanny and granddad) and be honest, who wouldn't lose their cool with a child who is gnawing on their leg, kicking, spitting, thumping, pinching? None of us are perfect.

So the Poker Face for me is a new triumph and I hope a long-lasting one. It is hard work mentally and physically but worth the effort. When Girl goes into one of her violent rages I do not react. No shouting, no immediate reprimands. Any words out of my mouth are clear and to the point. You can adapt to suit any situation but I will talk though how it works for us at bedtime. 

I place a stool by Girl's bedroom door and sit firmly on it so she cannot escape the bedroom, it helps if you have someone to rally round and support you with anything you need (like fetching a stool) but not to get involved. If Girl hits me, I may flinch with pain but I do not reprimand. I give clear instructions in as gentle a voice as I can possibly muster (difficult but necessary), like 'Girl, go to bed' or 'No hurting, go to bed'. The key things to remember are:
  • Stay calm
  • Use as few words as possible
  • Don't respond to questions with an answer just state something simple like 'we can talk tomorrow, go to bed'.
  • Do not show any emotions whether it be sadness, hurt or anger, save it all up for later and sing yourself a song in your head  - (or hum quietly to yourself if you want, oddly Girl actually seems to respond well to the humming). I find the song Poker Face works brilliantly!
I can usually guarantee that within four-five minutes Girl has stopped any physical attack on me, she may still be trying to goad me other ways but again she gets no reaction. Within a few more minutes amazingly she will be in bed, still trying to get a reaction by making lots of silly noises and pretending to be asleep, I still don't react. Usually when I hear the pretend snoring I know that actual sleep is not far away. However I do not move until I can guarantee that she is actually deeply asleep, I have made that mistake before and it just starts the whole cycle over again.

The first time we  tried this new routine it took two hours, the next day it took 45 minutes, now consistently I can be back downstairs within 20-25 minutes and most  of those minutes I will have spent reading my kindle software and listening to classical lullabies that Girl has on loop in her room. This is great news for us, previously Girl could rage for hours and hours an I would be covered in bruises and barely anything we could do would stop the immense anger she was feeling stemming from her insecurity.

As for the neighbours? They are moving out soon, not because of anything we have done but hopefully by the time we get new neighbours we will have a grip on Girl's night time insecurities and the dog's snoring and late night barking (a whole other story!).

Thursday, 22 March 2012


I was halfway through writing about why Girl has attachment disorder and decided that actually it doesn't need a lengthy breakdown the simple facts speak clearly for themselves. At birth Girl was removed from her natural mother, The Primal Wound: Understanding the adopted child (which is well worth a read if you are interested in attachment and adoption) describes this as her first home, where she lived for nine months before entering the world. She was then placed into a foster home that inadvertently failed in their care of her and then just before her second birthday she was again torn from everything she knew and placed with us for adoption.

As well as the basic requirements of food and cleanliness a baby needs nurturing, stimulation, attention and the ability to create an attachment with her main care provider (usually the mother but in Girl's case this should have been the foster mother) and unfortunately this did not happen as it should have.

The best way I can describe Girl's attachment difficulties is that her brain went into meltdown and created this barrier to protect herself from further hurt. Removing a child from everything they know is deeply traumatic and further impacted when they have not been nurtured correctly. My little fox cub is amazing. Her fight comes from her survival instinct to protect herself. I might not like her fight/flight/freeze responses very much but I do appreciate why they happen and I have to learn how to manage at the very least the worst of the unwanted behaviours.

The behaviours that can come with an attachment disorder are wide-ranging and I couldn't possibly list all of the things we have had to battle with over the last three years but the biggest puzzle we face is to work out what is normal childhood behaviour and what is a direct response to her early traumas.

Girl has the mental abilities of any child her age but the emotional age of her toddler brother which means she is not equipped to self-regulate so violent outbursts can be a regular occurrence even over something so mundane as not having the correct pyjamas available.

Every day Girl faces difficulties of one sort or another. Sometimes even a simple task like brushing her teeth can be a massive challenge, she is fully able to do this task but her lack of self-belief and low self-esteem make her believe she is incapable. As I write more I will describe some of the difficulties we face and how we have overcome them (or not as the case may be!).

Just a quick note on the book recommendation above, parts of the book have given me a much deeper understanding of Girl and her issues and it is for those parts I have recommended the book. However, it was written for an American audience where adoption is very different to the UK so you do have to bear this in mind and you might not agree with everything the book suggests, which I certainly didn't but it is still definitely worth a read, pop to your local library and read it for free if you are unsure. Some books I have read are definitely worth shelling out for as you can dip in and out as you need to but this is one I probably won't go back to.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The beginning

Where do I start? At the beginning I suppose. Just over three years ago we became the proud adoptive parents of a little girl. A little girl who was two weeks away from her second birthday so you can imagine what a massive impact the first little fox cub made on our lives. For reasons of protecting her identity I will refer to her as Girl.

Girl was removed from her natural parents at birth and placed with foster carers who clearly did care for her in some respects but with family and personal issues of their own they failed in their care of her. Girl's adoption was delayed by almost a year due to concerns with her development, mostly we believe now caused by lack of stimulation and interaction and a certain amount of neglect of care. After many tests and consultations with experts we took Girl on knowing that she had an uncertain future, that she might catch up with her development or she may need to attend special school, nobody could say for sure but when we saw that first photo of her we could see a sparkle in her eyes and we fought tooth and nail to go ahead with the adoption. Three years on and outwardly Girl displays as being quite 'normal' whatever that means, inwardly though that first two years of care has made quite an impact, both emotionally and developmentally and we are currently working with post adoption support workers to help us cope with her issues.

Being suckers for punishment, last year we adopted a little boy, our second fox cub (I shall call him Boy) and he is now also weeks away from his second birthday so you can imagine the chaos in our house at times.

With this blog I hope to offer an insight into what it is like to live with a child with an attachment disorder, adoption issues and good old fashioned parenthood. I don't pretend to be any kind of expert on any of the issues, I talk regularly with other adopters, I have read a lot of books (which I will tell you about), picked up a lot of tips, tried a lot of things (some have worked some haven't) and if anything I can share can help you then that's good enough for me.