Friday, October 12, 2012

A bit of Psychology: {Part I}


Just let me say here... I am not a psychologist! This post is just about our struggles and processes to healing trauma in our girls lives. If anyone can read this, and relate with their child, I hope that it can help them.

So last week I went to see a psychologist regarding Lilah's behaviour and how best to deal with it all. This is the second psychologist that we have seen. The first one I did not click with, she seemed really aloof and opinionated, not so compassionate... This was a psychologist who works with a foster/adoption organization. I just have to say... trust your instincts.

The second psychologist is amazing! She has thirty years experience with attachment and behavorial issues with adoptive children. She believes that there are no non-special needs adoptions, as all these children have dealt with loss in their lives and that 98% of children will have developmental, behavorial or attachment issues at some point in their lives. Especially once they hit puberty.

I found this example recently on this blog and even though I may not understand the complexities of the human brain, it made total sense to me. A child attaches within the first 8 months of their lives. For Lilah, she changed caregivers four times in her first 8 months of life. And by 24 months old, she changed once more when she was taken from her foster family and placed with us.

We had a very difficult time with Lilah from Day one and in the first few months with her, we knew she was suffering from post traumatic stress.

1. She clung to my husband and refused to come near me the first couple of weeks. She would actually scream and panic if I came near.

- I always thought that this was because I was the one to take her from the nannies arms, the one who took her from the family she loved and wanted to be with, the one they told her was her Mama, when in her head she already had a Mama.

- The psychologist said she doesn't believe these were the reasons for her choosing my husband over me. She believes that Lilah wasn't attached to her foster family as strongly as we thought. She clung to them, out of fear and anxiety. The same way she clung to my husband.

2. She was hyper vigilant. She would not sleep alone and woke up every 20 minutes for the first few months, to make sure we were still there. She physically clung to us while sleeping.

- This just about drove us over the edge after awhile. But we took our time and gave Lilah what she needed in this area and eventually she would stay asleep longer and then was also willing to move into her own room and crib.

- We have learned that Lilah never feels truly safe. She is always on guard. She is a restless sleeper and although she never wakes up saying she has had a nightmare, it is very likely she is having them.

3. Food Issues. Not your typical food issues with most children that come out of an orphanage. Lilah was in foster care and we believe was given everything she wanted and that she didn't have to do anything she didn't want to. Lilah was very skinny when we got her and her hair was unhealthy, showing us she wasn't getting the proper nutrients. She refused to eat fruit and vegetables. She would only eat meat and starches. We took our time with this issue, but after awhile slowly started getting her to eat the foods she needed to be healthy. This was a constant battle. There were times she would sit and refuse to eat for HOURS. She would SCREAM. We persevered and eventually (seriously-- this means years) she was willing to eat almost anything and now even asks for fruit and veggies. Now she will tell me all the fruit and veggies that she loves.

4. The screaming. For three years now, we have listened to Lilah cry and scream for every little thing. You would think we were torturing her. If she has to clean up toys... she screams. If she has a time out... she screams. If she has to go to the bathroom and has to wait... she screams. If she is too hot... she screams. This is finally starting to get a bit better as she is maturing, but we have gotten to the point that when she does cry, we feel nothing. No compassion. We are just so tired of it.

- Lilah withdraws. She is a very anxious child. Waiting for the next bad thing to happen at any given time. Losing her control. She bottles all of these feelings up inside, and then will suddenly lose it when these situations arise.

- She shuts down. You can talk to her and look at her and see that she is not there. She cannot concentrate on what you are saying. She cannot repeat what you are telling her. The psychologist says that her brain is likely going into her past. And not that she will ever be able to verbalize what she is thinking, just that she is going back to the traumatic times that she encountered.

- The screaming is her way of finally letting all these emotions out the only way she knows how.

So after meeting with the Psychologist for our first meeting (me alone) she has come to the conclusion that Lilah has an Anxiety Disorder due to trauma.


5. Anxiety. I can now see that Lilah is a very anxious child. I can say something to another child and Lilah instantly comes to attention to see if I am talking to her. When she comes to say sorry (a rule in our house is that you come and say sorry to whoever you have wronged, and say what you are sorry for) she whispers and fidgets with her hands and clothes. You can see her fear and nervousness. And yet you do not see true remorse. Her emotions are blunted (dissociation) and she really doesn't care, she just wants to get out of this situation.

Just let me say here, that she is also a very stubborn and intelligent child. A lot of her behaviour comes out of her stubbornness and refusing to cooperate, just because she doesn't want to. We can battle over something for hours, and when I finally get her to tell me why she refused to do what was asked of her, she will shrug and say, "I just didn't want to."

There are other situations where I see her anxiety rise. When she is put on the spot. When she is asked to do something by someone she doesn't really know. When she is asked to do something she just doesn't want to do.

- Lilah needs control in her life. She is very smart and has learned to manipulate people, controlling her surroundings. She always has to know what is going on and what is coming next.

I need to say that although life with Lilah is very up and down, she usually is a happy and joyful child. People who do not live in our home have no idea how she usually behaves. She is outgoing, she makes friends easily, she does well in school, she loves to sing and dance and learn her violin. But I see that these only occur in situations where she feels in control, when she makes the decision that it is okay and when I tell her that she will be okay.

As a mother, I have often asked myself why can't I help her, why can't she trust us? What am I doing wrong? It was reassuring to hear the psychologist tell me that we have done a great job so far!

So how do we go about changing all this behaviour? Part II will explain the techniques we are starting to use with her (and Zoe too!) to lower her anxiety, build attachment and trust and to relieve some of the physical pain she is in.


Dixie-Lee said...

Thank you for this posting -- it helps me to understand more. You were right about me not seeing this when I spent my week there in May and also will help me when I am there in November. You are very articulate when you are explaining the situation and this was VERY WELL written. I did not experience this or was not able to recognize this during my stay with the kids but this definitely will make me more aware.

Looking forward to my visit in another month :)

Take care.

Dixie-Lee said...

Forgot to mention in the above post how beautiful those 2 pictures are -- very touching :)

Marie said...

Very precious pictures!

I love hearing more of your story and appreciate your openness and honesty. In many ways it is very similar to ours and I love hearing what others do to build trust, etc. Looking forward to your next post.

Kennedy and Jaida's mom said...

Thank you for sharing this Paige. I can see some of those issues in our children as well. I look forward to hearing more on the techniques you will use for bonding, attachment and trust.
Beautiful pictures.

Danae said...

Thank you for being so willing to share this part of Lilah's (& your)journey. What a relief it must be as a Mama to finally have a diagnosis and to be on a path to restoration and healing.

As mentioned above this is very well written and I look forward to reading Part II.

Blessings, Danae

Patrick and Christina said...

How wonderful that you found a psychologist that understands these issues so well and that you are moving forward on your healing journey with Lilah. Thanks for posting this as I am sure it will help others!

Looking forward to Part II!


arnie&bekah said...

THanks so much for sharing, I am excited for part two... I'll be taking notes!!

Denise said...

I'm so glad you are writing about this! It is hard because we want to protect our kids, but other adoptive families need to know they aren't alone. And when we share about the hard stuff, we can all learn from each other. You wrote this out very well, and I am really looking forward to your next post, and those that follow. I'm SO glad that you persevered and found the help Lilah needed!

The Drinkwaters said...

What a GREAT post Paige. I am sending this to Cory to read as well. I can very much relate to others looking in and thinking/assuming everything is fine and not seeing the little signs that are like blaring, neon lights to Cory and I.