The one thing that struck me the most at the conference last weekend was the sensory issues that arise with kids from hard places. I think on some level, we all have some sensory issues with certain things. But statistically, 18 out of 20 of these children have some sort of sensory disorder. This is due to the fact, that a lot of them were not touched, held enough or exposed to sensory play.
SPD can be caused by a stessful pregnancy, difficult birth, prematurity, early hospitalization, abuse, neglect or trauma. Hmmm... I could check of a few of those with my littles.
When Lilah first came home and we would lay her down for a nap, she would push off any blankets and push away any stuffies. She wanted nothing touching her. Her self-comforting tool was to rub her (or our) eyebrow. For the first year and a half, she would scream when we washed her hair or brushed her teeth. Then Zoe came home, and it was like a lightbulb went off in Lilah's head, when she realized that Zoe didn't mind these things at all, she didn't scream like she was being tortured, maybe it was okay after all... I don't see any tactile sensory issues with Lilah at this point. The one thing though, that Dr. Purvis did say, was that some children are hyperaware of chaos and noise. Noise doesn't seem to upset Lilah, but she is definitely hyperaware to what is being said around her. We can be all the way across the house and she will hear what is being said, stop whatever she is doing and listen. Often, as soon as someone will speak, she automatically assumes they are talking to her or about her. If I ask one of the other kids to do something, Lilah will panic somewhat, jump down from where she is and do that job... she is listening, but not catching everything, just assuming everything said refers to her. I don't know what to make of this and will bring it up with the psychologist on our next visit.
Now Zoe... SPD children can often be mistaken as kids who misbehave. If they are given some control, they can handle their situation. Zoe will often lose control when in a situation she doesn't like. If someone comes to our door, she will start running up and down the hallway, showing off, laughing hysterically. We thought this was attention seeking, I am now thinking it is more of her going into panic mode. If we are in a large group of people, same thing. She starts to flip out. Most of the time it looks like she is having fun, but I can tell that it runs much deeper than that.
When a baby is in utero, the motion of the mother is constantly rocking and swaying them, which causes the vestibular fluid in their ear to swish around and remain liquid. (Remember here, I am not a professional, I am just repeating what I heard!). When a baby is born and in their parents arms, that parent automatically rocks and sways with that baby, again causing the vestibular fluid to move. When a baby is not held or rocked, that vestibular fluid can become thick. This can cause a child to then become unstable and uncoordinated.
Again, when we got Zoe, at the age of 3 1/2, she could not walk in a straight line. She would stagger like a little drunk. She could not do stairs. She would fall down a lot. She still falls down a lot and has a lot of trouble with balance.
Sensory play and sensory bins can be beneficial to all children. These bins seem to now be in every preschool and kindergarten room! I made my littles a rice bin with dinosaurs and they are loving it... me not so much. I am a little tired of sweeping rice! But really, what does it hurt? If it helps them, how can I say no? I also bought tins of shaving cream for them to play with in the bathtub. The girls come out smelling all masculine. But once again, they love squishing this foam between their little fingers. I let them play with their big tub of play dough, which always causes a huge mess as well. I really need to get over my OCD tendencies.
It has been suggested that I buy a weighted blanket to help them sleep. Not sure if I will invest in this or not, they seem to sleep as well as any of my other children do. Although, last night when I checked on Lilah, she was upside down, laying as straight as a board on the very edge of her bed.
Zoe often uses a weighted pet at school when they have carpet time, to help her sit still and keep her hands to herself. The thing I love about our school, is that there are all sorts of tools used for the children, so that no one child ever feels different. The teacher has open conversations with the kids about how every one is different and learns differently.
I also bought Zoe a fidget bracelet. It looks like a simple child's bracelet, but it gives her something to play with, instead of poking and bugging the children around her.
One last thing I learned from the conference:
Children with trauma can react in three different ways. When I was reading these out to Abby, she laughed and said I just got the whole gammet!
Fight response - this child gets frustrated, explosive, aggressive and acts out. (Zoe)
Flight response - this child is easily distractible, clowns around, easily bored and has escaping behaviour. (Silas)
Freeze response - this child is whiny, tearful, clingy, fearful, reluctant to try new things, withdrawing and say's I can't. (Lilah)
The good thing is that the type of therapy that I am learning about and doing with all three of my littles, works for all of these different responses. I was also glad to see that what I am learning with our psychologist here, is completely inline with what Dr. Purvis uses with her kids.
They all need touch, activity, sensory play, compassion, laughter, structure, discipline and most of all... LOVE.
The Connected Child by Dr. Karyn Purvis is the one book that is a must read when adopting a child. Any child. If you read it before you adopt it will benefit you. If you read it after you adopt, it will benefit you in a completely different way. I said to the girls I was with at the conference, that so much of what was being said is just common sense, yet we seem to continually need to be reminded of the simplest things. You see... every thing changes once a traumatized child is in your home and our human emotions just get in the way.
So here are a few points that I came away with...
1. You have to be willing to pay the cost.
Very few people are going to understand what you are dealing with. They don't understand why you need to make your world so much smaller. Why you won't come to their house for supper. Why you won't go to church. Why you won't let them hold or even touch your child. But we need to give 100% to our children who have come from hard places. They need 100% of our time to heal. They need 5X more attention then our healthily attached biological children do. It takes three years of mentoring and working and loving on a child for them to begin to mature. These children need to go back to the beginning, like learning to walk or talk after a physical trauma. Their emotional age is much younger than their actual age. We need to understand that they cannot give back what they were never given.
2. God's Love is a balance of structure and nurture.
As our's should also be to our children. Playful interaction will correct a behaviour in a traumatized child in about 12 tries. Harsh interaction will correct a behaviour in about 400 tries. Use time-in's, not time-outs (where the child is near you and can see you at all times). Bring the child close to you when discussing a behaviour. Come to an immediate resolution (a child will learn much faster when you praise or correct them within 3 seconds). Problem solve together (this gives them some control). Focus on the child's preciousness (this can be difficult when all you want to do is pull out your hair and scream!).
Action Based. Making a child re-do a negative action or re-do something negative they say.
Be direct. Be close and maintain eye contact. Plant your feet. Lower your voice. Show the child that you will not be going anywhere until the conflict is resolved.
Deep healing is relational and comes by building trust and feeling safe.
If you share the power it doesn't mean you are giving up power. You have authority by giving choices and sharing power. This seems to go against everything we were raised with. That the parent is the one in control and that the child should obey, often out of fear. This doesn't work with a traumatized child. And apparently, those from a German background have the highest rate of avoidant parenting.
Something I often say to my children is "use your words". This is something that Dr. Purvis says all the time. You also need to prove that their voice matters. Encourage them to express their feelings. When a child's needs aren't met, they lose their voice. We need to learn to excavate the "ugly" to get through to the preciousness.
Zoe is very good at expressing her feelings. We ALWAYS know what she is feeling. Lilah NEVER expresses her feelings. Silas is starting to express his feelings more and more.
3. Self Regulation.
Children will find a way to get the brain chemicals that they need without even knowing they are doing it. Examples: cutting, over eating, craving carbs, touching, chewing, etc.
Chewing gum releases serotonin. Zoe constantly asks for gum... so I have now started letting them chew gum when they ask.
Massage and loving touch releases serotonin. Touch is the most basic need ever. But for a child who has rarely been touched or has been subjected to harmful touch, it can take time. Competent holdings can build trust and build a "bridge" to the child. This would include doing activities such as colouring or playing games.
Walking releases serotonin. If you go on a walk with a child, they are more likely to open up to you and verbalize their feelings.
You can empower your child by keeping them hydrated. By feeding them every two hours (and for a child with food issues -- you feed them when they ask). Giving a protein snack before bed. Doing sensory activities every two hours. Feeding them nutrient rich foods and giving them LOTS of healthy touch, playing, laughing, hugging, etc.
Even kids without sensory issues benefit from sensory bins. They are developmentally beneficial for those who missed out on touch. I am going to do another post on Sensory Processing Disorder. This was something that struck me the hardest while at this conference.
4. Respond ALL THE TIME.
Give value to their voice and respond kindly... even when everything inside of you wants to scream.
Say, "Listen to your heart. What is it telling you?"
Say, "Are you asking? Or are you telling?" I think I have said this 100 times since coming home.
One thing I have learned as an adoption advocate is that it is very difficult to get your foot into the door of churches. I have talked and met many other people who are trying to start orphan ministries within their churches and they are being shut down. It seems to be just one more ministry that would take money from other ministries or from the church itself. The amazing thing is that it is usually the very large and "rich" churches that aren't responsive to this call of caring for the orphan. Even when these churches have numerous families within their congregations that have adopted children both locally and internationally.
I would love to hear from anyone in Alberta who is connected with a church, that would like to see us present Spirit of Adoption Alberta to their congregation. We speak to churches about how they can help us help the orphans, by bringing them home to families. We also speak at many information nights about how to go about adopting and what your choices are if you are considering adoption.
We are very grateful to those who have supported our cause. The churches that have allowed us to speak. The adoption advocates who have had us to their information nights. To Focus on the Family (End the Wait campaign) for printing an article about us and promoting us on their website. And to those who have published articles about us in numerous papers. And of course to Abba Canada, who is amazing to work with!
Without financial support from others we cannot do what we are doing. We need to spread the word about our cause.
Since starting in September, we have given out six financial grants to Alberta families. Two of those families have now brought their children home. Christian Adoption Services continues to promote us at their information sessions. We know that as more and more people hear about us, we will get more and more applications and that excites us! More orphans are finding homes in loving, stable, Christian families!
We do have some fundraising plans in the future. I recently had a lovely lady ask if she could help us plan a fundraiser for SOAA. We met and she showed up with her plans printed out. We brainstormed and found that many of her ideas were actually ideas that Susan and I had already considered, but felt very overwhelmed with trying to plan something so big. I am so grateful to Jennifer for helping us with this and we are now planning two fundraisers, one in Calgary and one in Edmonton, this summer. I will be announcing more details very very soon!
This weekend I am so excited to go to Calgary to see Dr. Karyn Purvis from The Connected Child. She will be speaking to us during the day and then there is an evening session on how to start an orphan ministry within your church. Spirit of Adoption Alberta will have a table set up before and after the evening session. I am always excited to go and see other adoptive parents that I know and to meet new people, some I know only through blogging and others who also advocate for adoption. Plus, it is a girl's weekend and so it should be a fun time with a bunch of great ladies!
People care about the orphans. And they care about adoption. I feel that God is going to move in BIG ways within North America in the next couple of years and that more children will find loving homes, where they will have parents who will tuck them into their beds at night and tell them that they are loved every single day.
Silas has been home for eleven months now. And it feels like we are at a bit of a stand still...
He seems to understand everything we say, but at times, I can see him standing there still trying to process what has been said. He is talking at a two year old level. Still with a heavy accent. Sometimes, we cannot understand what he is saying. I feel that he has gotten to a point, where he knows we can understand him and he thinks that is good enough. He will also stutter a little bit when trying to get something out, but this seems to be improving slowly. We are starting to make him talk in full sentences and are hoping for some speech therapy to start once he is in Kindergarten in the Fall.
He is a very laid back boy and very easy to deal with. He is always in a good mood. But we can see that he is now very comfortable here. He very often will ignore us when asked to do something. Blatantly disobeying us. He sometimes tries to be sneaky (like all my kids!) by putting his toys away where they don't belong, throwing clothes in the laundry when they've never been worn, lying about brushing his teeth, etc. I know this is pretty normal behaviour... I was really hoping I could train one kid to do things properly the first time though!
Silas will say things to me like, "I love you mommy" or "I sad at school, I missed you". And yet, he is very unaffectionate. I think this may be the way he was raised those first four years, I don't think he is attached yet the way he should be. We can try to cuddle him, to read him books, to hug him and he just wants down to play. He has no interest in sitting still, especially when his siblings are home. We have had to teach him how to hug us and we have to force him to sit for story time... and yet he is affectionate verbally.
Discipline doesn't seem to work with him. It is like he doesn't care. We took a long time to start with the time out thing for him, because he was very sensitive. Now we can put him in a time out, and he will sit, say sorry and move on. But there doesn't seem to be a lot of remorse.
He cannot entertain himself. None of my adopted children could. He doesn't play with toys, unless I tell him to, and then he will only play with that toy for a couple of minutes. When all the kids are at school, he will wander around aimlessly or sit down in a chair and do nothing. He has no interest in colouring or stickers or books. When I suggest he play with a toy, he will say "I don't want to." I am looking forward to better weather, when I know he will be outside, where he loves to be!
I can't figure out his food issues. I don't know what he was feed or how often, those first four years of his life. But the second I am in the kitchen he runs in and sits on a stool to see what I am doing, what I am making, waiting to be fed. This drives me crazy. This is something that Zoe used to do (and often still tries to do). I am trying to get them involved in the food preparation... I will give them a plastic knife, a cutting board and have them cut up fruit for supper. It keeps them busy and they are always excited to help!
His biggest fear...
Every time we go somewhere, we can tell he is worried he will be left behind. When we pack our suitcases for a trip, he will run and get his suitcase, take it to his room and shove clothes into it. I know he is not yet centred in our home. He doesn't know yet, that he belongs here forever. It breaks my heart... and at the same time, frustrates me.
His anxiety will come out as goofiness. If he is uncomfortable in a situation (such as walking down the aisle in his Spring concert) he will walk goofy and act goofy. Luckily, he has a great preschool teacher, who recognizes this and works with him in these situations, as we do at home.
So after eleven months home... this is where we are at. A stand still. I know it takes time and that there are many different factors for each child, personality, age, past experience, etc. Overall, Silas has adjusted amazingly well and has been our easiest adoption. We love him immensely!
I had hoped to blog a bit more of Easter Break but I forgot my laptop cord and my computer died... I took a lot of pictures and we had a lot of fun on our little trip away. So now it is catch up time.
We headed to my parents house for a few days and then into the mountains to ski. Friends lent us their amazing cabin and so we did a lot of swimming, walking and just hanging out. I went to the ski hill for two days while the little ones skied in the Wee Rascals program.
Zoe was tired of skiing before she even got to the hill.
But Silas and Lilah loved it. I will have to put them in a more intense program next year.
The instructors were so good with the kids. They played games with them and let them slide down a big pile of snow.
The big kids -- including Tim -- had a blast up on the mountain... I barely saw them. And I think the boys were glad for the last day when Abby and Micah decided to not to ski, so they could do all the double black diamonds.
Tim is trying to convince me to take up skiing -- I think I am way too old to start now! He is determined to sign me up for Heli-skiing, where you fly away in a helicopter, jump out onto the back of the mountain and die in an avalanche.
"Now let the heavens be joyful,
Let earth her song begin:
Let the round world keep triumph,
And all that is therein;
Invisible and visible,
Their notes let all things blend,
For Christ the Lord is risen
Our joy that hath no end."
-- John of Damascus
We had some sad news over Easter.
When we traveled to China to get Lilah in 2009, we traveled with another family to Gaungdong to get our daughters at the same time. We kept in touch with this family through Skype until about six months after we got home and then lost contact. I found out through Facebook, that in early 2010 this other little girl fell off of their deck and hit her head on ice, causing severe brain trauma. This past week she got pneumonia and died at six years of age. It breaks my heart. It is difficult to wrap my head around the fact that she had such a difficult life, even after being adopted by a wonderful family.
And yet, I know she is now with Jesus... this is why He died on the cross, so that we can live eternally with Him! Her pain is gone and she is home.
But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” -- Matthew 19:14