Development Assessment

Development Assessment

Reflection – Friday evening.  I’m sitting here with a Smirnoff’s Ice – Raspberry and listening to Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy.  I recount the day’s events, as well as the dreaded child development assessment. 

I had one of those days today when I wake up and get the three kids out the door to their three different schools.  Then I get to have my time.  My time to fall apart.  It’s ok to cry.  And it happens.  A day when everything yucky comes to the surface.  Like the children’s book by Judith Viorst.  I had a crappy, weepy, awful day.  Could anything go well to lift my spirits?  My week started with a few appointments Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday afternoons for my daughter.  The child with special needs.

I endured a three hour interview on Monday at a children’s hospital’s development and rehabilitation unit.  My daughter got to draw, eat a snack, and answer a few questions, like:  Who lives in your household? Do you have friends?  I got asked all the other questions filling up the remainder of the three hour time. Questions like:  Could you talk more about that? Could you describe situations?  Could you talk more about that so I can visualize how that looks?  This was precisely the reason why I had dreaded this appointment, I was wiped out that evening. 

I will receive a detailed report in a few weeks.  But at the end of this interview, the psychologist offered a brief assessment:  Most likely, my kid was deprived her first year in life and also in her foster home of three years.  She didn’t get her emotional needs met.  There was likely a food scarcity in BOTH homes.  I interrupted to point out that several of the people in the foster home were morbidly obese…

The clinician reported that food scarcity is common with obesity — the unstructured meal times, the ups and downs of food amounts.  She went on to tell me that my child received little to no structure and stimulation in the foster home which would explain the simplistic play behaviors, the lack of coping skills and the obsession with food and tv.

I thought to myself while she talked: I know, I have heard this, why were we on a six month waitlist to be seen here?

The psychologist said to lower my hopes and expectations as she won’t be changing anytime soon. “You basically need to lay down a different foundation, as you slowly remove the old one.”  Really? I said, somewhat sarcastically.   She continued, “Yes, expecting her to change quickly would be like letting your original foundation just crumble and fall apart without any support in place.”

Somewhere I hear my sister and brother-in-law laughing.

She said my kid CAN change over time, a long time, if the parents and every teacher is consistent each and every time with the same rules and repeated direction of adaptive coping skills.  Wow, I thought. Long time. Each and every time. Every single adult at home and school. Yeah! No problem.

Perhaps my depression is now better understood. Tuesday I informed my child’s therapist after another play therapy sand table session what was discussed at the children’s hospital.  She had more to say on this matter.

Friday rolls around and I couldn’t stop crying.  Every time I thought I had gained composure, I looked at myself in the mirror to get cleaned up. And every time, I saw my puffy eyes and eyelashes coated in Kleenex dust.  And every time, I whimpered: is she ever going to change?!  

I picked up my child at dismissal time at her school.  She tossed her name badge to her teacher when she saw me.  I waited for her teacher to make eye contact with me and to call out my child’s name.  Then my kid turned to face her teacher and pestered:  Did I have a good day? Did I? Did I? Did I have a good day? Did I?  Her teacher continued to dismiss the other twenty first graders, but stopped.  “Well, let’s talk to your mom about what happened.”

As I hustled closer so that Ms. T could tell me how my child stole a dinner roll from someone, I bumped into another mom’s arm.  I looked back and apologized.  The woman was wincing and rubbing her right shoulder.  Yup.  That was the finishing touch to my sh*tty day.

Explaining Adoption to a Young Child

Explaining Adoption – Her Adoption Story

Our First Year of Adoption – Part 4

I received advice on explaining adoption and telling our child her adoption story. One suggestion was to let her tell her story when she is older and ready. Another was to say to others, “It’s personal.”  Another was to provide just simple facts when asked what happened to her… ? Does she have attachment issues?  What about her real parents, what happened? All of the professionals involved in the foster care to adoption program stressed the need to accept the past rather than deny it. I wonder how to preserve the past and protect her from damaging details. Whether she was planned or unplanned, her birth parents messed up repeatedly and she suffered.

It’s such a different inquiry from any line of questioning I had related to my biological kids. With them, I voluntarily commented on my labor experience or a teething issue in a moms playgroup. Others would contribute a personal anecdote. We’d laugh or gasp in response. Whereas, with any curiosity related to my adopted daughter, the questions are:  “Did you meet the birth mom? Do you still have contact with her? Was there abuse?” It’s so different.

I have struggled with the concept of her story. It is entirely up to me to inform her on her past. It is up to me to go over the events and turn them into memories. Do I want her to know what happened to her when she was a baby? What about the foster family and their child caring practices? How about the first three years she has been in our care. Do I recount the turmoil and exhaustion we have experienced? The weekly sessions in therapy?

One counselor we worked with kept reviewing all the parental figures. Mommy number one grew you in her tummy. Mommy number two was your foster mommy.  And now you are with your forever mommy, Mommy number three. Seriously? In my view, it goes more like this. First lady went through a pregnancy and delivery. She made a number of poor decisions which got the State involved; she neglected her baby. The second caregiver chose to foster only and to pass on adoption. She let her teenagers help out often with childcare. So what numbers are the teens? Mommies three, four, five and six?

I feel like my role as forever mommy trumps the others. I am the Mother of moms. I deserve more credit than they do for what I am doing here. I have worked really hard to parent her. I’m not denying their roles in her life, I needed the others to get my child adopted. I just don’t understand the necessity to call them mommies. They were people in her life. The counselor working with her to prepare for adoption called the birth mother “sick”. Another concept that is troubling to me.

explaining adoption to young child

A mother bear wishes for a cub, who loves hearing his adoption story.

I have told my daughter that her first mommy had a lot of problems. The caseworker took her away from her first mommy and daddy because they did not know how to take care of a baby. The foster family took care of her while the judge made a decision– it was a very important decision. The judge took a very long time. The foster mother and the foster family gave her a place to live, food to eat, and a bed. They hoped that the judge would make a good plan for her. The judge decided that S should be with us because we know how to take care of children. We do not have any problems and we will be able to take care of her forever. The judge knew that we wished for a little girl and we wanted a third child.

That is a brief version of the story I tell her whenever she asks, which is often. I feel her need to hear that she was wished for.  I feel the yearning for being wanted. I just don’t know how to reconcile her early beginning from my tale.

Part 5 – How Old are You?!

Therapy for Us

Therapy for Us – Off We Go!

Our First Year of Adoption – Part 2

When our child first came to us, she was in therapy with a counselor. She was assigned to our child when the judge changed the permanency plan to adoption. The counselor’s focus of therapy was to “prepare” for the adoption. Now, I don’t know what exactly was covered in those sessions from January to June. I know that the biological mother made an appearance and said goodbye. After our daughter moved in with us, we continued with weekly sessions. The counselor inquired how things were going? were there any new problems? did she have any accidents? was she eating? sleeping? were we following her advice on talking about first mommy, second mommy, and me as the third mommy?

The counselor did a certain weekly exercise with my daughter. She got out a floor mat that had 12-15 faces with different facial expressions. She piled rocks on the side. She said to my child: put rocks on the faces you have been feeling this week. Sometimes S piled them all on the happy face. Other times each face received a stone. Another time, a different arrangement. I had to reach down deep to hold back my smirks. During one session that my husband and I both attended, the counselor was persistent on addressing the timeline of parents for our daughter. She went over Mommy number one and Mommy number two. She asked several questions and reviewed the actual answers with our child: your first parents were so-n-so, do you remember? and your next parents were the foster parents and their names are such and such. She kept drilling this information to which our child started grunting in response. She regressed before our very eyes, letting out non-verbal gutteral sounds. It was painful to watch. My mouth went dry. I looked sideways at my spouse– his mouth and eyes open, frozen like. I endured these sessions for a few months, then I insisted to our caseworker that WE needed help.

therapy for us

This should be read by all forever mommies

We were blessed to get approval to transfer to a counseling clinic in our part of town. There, the therapists are trained specialists in the areas of foster care and adoption. The first few sessions, our new therapist Beth observed S and myself interacting in the playroom office.  She then interviewed my husband and me. Another time, she interviewed just me. Finally, after weeks it was time. In that session, she informed me that she had read over the case records and previous mental health assessments. Then she started talking of why my daughter behaved, reacted, and responded the way she did. I can only say that the best analogy is having a translator interpret a small provincial dialect. The fog lifted. I heard words that made sense. There was finally clarity.

 

 

Forming Attachment

Forming an Attachment is Hard with Adopted Children

As a foster and/or adoptive parent, you will use this word endlessly. Attachment. I remember in college viewing black and white videos on Margaret Mahler. She was a psychiatrist who originated the two year process of separation-individuation between mothers and babies. This is significant to forming one’s sense of identity. There are two things that have stuck in my memory. One is that when you heard her voice in the voice over, in her East European accent, she repeatedly made a little whistle sound. I remember thinking that’s an unusual speech impediment. The other key recollection is how young the subjects were in this classic study. Babies.

“The attachment needs to come first and be strongly established,” our therapist Beth informed us. Until then, there is anxiety around the following:  will I be accepted, will I be loved always? will this last? is there a trust? She told us that working on the problematic behaviors now is ok, but most changes will occur once the attachment is strong.

forming attachment is difficult

attachment

Our adopted daughter is tight with my husband. I see the beginning of an attachment to him. I hear it in her requests to have him make her lunch, to take her to school, and in her sobbing when she watches out the window as he backs out of the driveway to run an errand.  I know it’s hard on him that she is this way, it’s actually not as gratifying as it should be. He feels badly and a little guilty that I don’t have IT yet. Our therapist explained it is more complicated with me, the female parent, the primary caregiver. Our daughter has formed relationships with not one, not two, but now a third mother figure in her short lifetime. She knows that I am the keeper of the household. Beth tells us that more is at stake in investing feelings with me. I’m a strong person. I’ve worked in mental health. On a logical level, I get it. But it does hurt. And sometimes I let out a sarcastic remark: You really want to wait for Daddy to get home to make your lunch…? Ok! Whatever!

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Traumatized Young Child- What does that look like?

Traumatized Young Child

I embraced my new position of soon-to-be adoptive parent. I was educated on her early trauma by professional mental health workers.  My kid was removed from her biological parents as an infant. She was placed with a few different relatives, all of whom could not be long-term resources. She was transferred early on in her first year of life to a foster home, where she lived for over three years. We welcomed her into our home when she was 3 years 8 months. I anticipated several months of adjusting to our home. Three years later the storm has still not calmed down. 

traumatized young child

Peeling off the layers

Understandably, she has emotional issues because of being removed from her biological parents.  She may not remember her first year and what that entailed. But I am sure that somewhere in her psyche is this primitive response to not getting her meals on time and not being soothed when in distress. She is still aching for that satisfaction. She is like a bottomless well with us. It does not matter if we just spent two hours interacting — playing, cuddling, singing, reading, eating– she will turn to me and ask frantically what are we going to do now? and often with tears, she will ask: will you play with me now?  While leaving the children’s museum, she whined when are we going to the zoo? we haven’t gone! I let her pick out a decoration for an upcoming holiday, her response was why can’t I have three? The give me, give me, gimme syndrome. If you ask her thirty minutes after a huge feast if she is hungry, she will nod emphatically and say yes. It is never enough, she does not feel satisfaction or a state of content.  Continue reading

Post-Adoption Contact with Foster Family

Post-Adoption Contact with Foster Family

We adopted from the state foster care system. It was risky, the outcome unknown. We found our child from a single page narrative written by her caseworker. The first paragraph was about what had brought her into the state system– a few sentences about neglectful parenting. The second covered her placements. The next had a brief description of her foster household. Then, a few statements about the current lack of medical conditions or developmental concerns.  At the end, there was a descriptive sentence of a preferred permanent home. The caseworker was hoping for a loving, non-violent home where the caregivers are willing to provide to the child’s needs.  

Any child removed from their initial environment and placed in another home is likely to have an adverse reaction. A kid with multiple placements is more likely to be traumatized.  The age of the child can be an additional major factor. Our child was removed from her biological parents when she was an infant. She was placed briefly with a relative, then lived in the same foster home for 3+ years. When we read that she had been in this one home I figured we were getting a less traumatized, less problematic child. I was wrong.

When you adopt from the state foster system, you are adopting a child that will be susceptible to emotional disturbances related to the disruptions in their home life. You are also adopting a kid that was raised by others. Yet, no one tells you in detail about the nurturing and child caring practices used in the foster home.  I made assumptions about them.  No one told us what we had to do or should do or what is expected when it comes to contact with the foster family. I was not prepared for how different we could be.

Soon after we were informed that we were matched to our child, the foster mother emailed us. Mrs. Foster informed us of their daily schedule of activities– wake up time, breakfast, one tv show, outdoor time, lunch and so forth.  I was told by the caseworker to try and follow the schedule as closely as possible when she was in our home.

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