Brenda over at Living with RAD wrote that she would like other parent bloggers thoughts on RAD, attachment, and healing. I read about it on Essie's blog and I left a comment. But I have a lot more to say. So, I am offering up my thoughts. And it is not all pretty. I do not regret bringing our boys home. I would have done it no matter what anyone had told us about the boys. I am fully committed to them. I love them and somehow we are a family. Having said all that, I do not believe adoption is all sparkily cupcakes, happiness, and love fixes everything. Although, that is what I used to think.
What I am going to write might make some people angry. It will scare the hell out of some people. Some people might choose not to read any further. Some people might write me off as bitter and unhappy. Some people might say what I would have said-what I did say-when I read things like this 5 or 6 years ago. "I'm so sorry that this happened to your children and that they are struggling so. But-those things are not going to happen to my boys." I said that to a lot of people. Life has humbled me since then.
No one--not one person involved in the adoption process--said the words "mental illness" to me or my husband. We were told everything that was known. We were told about PTSD, RAD, Anxiety Disorder, Depression, ODD (oppositional defiant disorder--which I admit, I thought was a totally made up diagnosis). All these diagnosis were described to us as "emotional disturbance". Older Kid's diagnosis were called "mild emotional disturbance". Younger Kid was described as "moderate". We were told kids would need therapy. Since we knew nothing about mental health or emotional disturbance, we believed therapy was the answer. We believed the professionals when they told us "kids heal every day" and "kids are resilliant". We believed them when they said therapy and structure and willingness to stick with the kids was enough. We believed the kids when they said they wanted to be adopted. They thought that was what they wanted. That is what someone told them they wanted. The kids believed too. Our kids were 14 and 11. Old enough to have their opinions recognized in court. Old enough to make choices like "do I want to be adopted or not?" We were all big believers.
We were all clueless. None of us had any idea what we were getting into.
Now, I am not saying people lied to us. Not on purpose. They were all good people. They gave us the information they had. I am a firm believer in three things about the adoption of an older child. #1) No one can predict how a kid will react once they are at home. #2)Kids do as well as they can. And #3) Parents need a whole lot of support.
I promise you that I am not angry. I am not bitter. I am realistic. Life has made me that way. And it makes things a whole lot easier, once you get past the grief, to be realistic. And being realistic, to me, means that not all kids heal. Not all kids have enough resilliancy to bounce back from the trauma they endured. But, all kids do the best they can.
Kids change over time too. More illness can develop. Depression can morph into Mood Disorder. RAD, if it is not "healed", becomes a Personality Disorder in adulthood. That's right. That has been my experience. There is no medication for Borderline Personality Disorder or Anti social Personality Disorder. There is some therapy called DBT and I am way to new to it to describe it in detail. What I can say is that I am grateful, yet again, for Dr. Grey's forsight to put both my boys in DBT as soon as he met them. That is the one thing that has been helpful for Older Kid. At least he isn't learning all of DBT right now. At least he had some exposure to it before it became the only thing that would help him. And, at least, we can beef up Younger Kid's DBT therapy right now because he will likely need those skills to function as an adult in the world.
Neither of my kids will live independently. At least not right now. They need supportive housing and a supervised structure. Some days they do just fine and some days they need far more than we can provide at home. That is something I did not anticipate. When my Younger Kid went to the hospital on August 3, 2008, I never dreamed he would never come back home to live. Yet, here we are. I still can't believe that one. And right now, we are going through a similar crisis with Older Kid. In my experience, the best I can do is not enough.
These are the truths that are going to set some people off. I expect it. Some people have said, "Well, Advocate Mom, your kids are extreme examples." Are they? I don't know if they are or not. I don't have other kids to compare them to. They are just kids, extreme or not. What happened to them was not their fault. They were true victims.
So here is what has helped me. I love Dr. Daniel Hughes. I know others have cited him as well. On his website, he has a parenting model that is just fantastic! I print it off and give it to teachers and other professionals so they can understand RAD a little better. Dr. Hughes says, "The adults must constantly strive to have empathy for the child and to never forget that given his history, he is doing the best he can." How I love those words.
And I love Dr. Ross Greene. I heart him. He is brilliant. And not necessarily all about attachment, just troubled kids in general. He has a system of communicating with kids called CPS or Collaborative Problem Solving. He says, "Kids do well when they can." It is great stuff and it really works. Go buy his book, Lost at School. You will love it. And, in my experience, if you e mail Dr. Greene with a specific question about your kid, he will e mail you back. In a world where you can hardly beat an opinion out of a professional, it is great to have someone say, "try this and maybe it will work." or "Let me know how I can help." Dr. Greene rocks. Love. Him.
The other thing that was helpful to me was to find the support of other parents. I found that at NAMI. Every state has a NAMI. Look yours up and see if they offer parent to parent support. If they don't, ask them to help you start it.
I choose to focus my energy on helping other parents. I work to educate professionals about how to support our families. How to bring parents to the table. How to engage them in their child's recovery and treatment. As a parent, I have experienced so much judgement. It makes me tired, truthfully. Just this past week, I had a well meaning professional tell me that he has to listen to everything I say and sort out what is a "valid concern" about my kid and what is "just an emotional sensitivity". Yeah...I will let you sit with that for a minute. I am still not sure how I feel about having my concerns about my son's more dangerous traits being described as an "emotional sensitivity". And this professional is one of the good guys. Parents are exposed to a lot of judgement and a lot of insensitivity. That is for sure.
But, I can talk about it and use our family's story to help people understand some of what parents go through and where they are coming from. And I can talk to other parents and offer my support. I have experience that was really hard to get. So, I am so thankful for the opportunity to use it to help others.
So, that's what I've got. Dr. Hughes, Dr. Greene, parent to parent support, and NAMI. And we could not have made it without our great doctors, Dr. Grey and Dr. Steele, and support from county social services, our family therapist, Rachel and all the other professionals I have mentioned along the way in our story. A friend of mine says, "it takes a village to support a parent." He is not just a whistlin' dixie!