This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

New School Year Letters

“The opinions expressed by this child are not necessarily those of his parents.” - note sent to teacher on the first day of school.


I've been telling people about the New School Year Letters I send every year to my kids' teachers (even Sunday School teachers).  I could have sworn I put them on my blog, but I could only find one year's http://marythemom-mayhem.blogspot.com/2010/08/better-letter.html, so I'm putting them here.

Main things to remember:
1.  NO MORE THAN ONE PAGE (this is incredibly hard for me!).  Teachers don't have a lot of time to read this stuff.  Yes, a lot of this is in your child's IEP (if they have one), but realistically not all teachers read these.
2.  Give enough detail about your child's history, diagnoses, trauma so that teachers know WHY? the child (and you) act the way they do, but they don't have to know everything.  Ask yourself why you're sharing that particular information.
3.  Tell the teachers what WORKS with your child (and you can mention what DOESN'T - especially if that's a typical first response).
4.  Make sure you give them contact information and let them know how and when to reach you.

{Biomom - I apologize in advance for some of the things written in these letters about you.  These were written quite some time ago}

Bear 2010:


Dear School Teachers and Staff,
My name is Mary Themom.  I am the parent of 11th grade student, Bear _____.  Bear is served by the district as a student with an Emotional Disturbance.   It is my hope that BEar will have a more successful school year this year.  To that end, I would like to share some information with you to help you understand Bear’s behavior, anxiety and issues, so you can better support him and provide a safe, appropriate learning environment.

Bear had a very traumatic childhood including abuse and years in foster care and psychiatric treatment before he was finally adopted as a teen (he is not always truthful about his past – feel free to confirm or deny stories with me).  He can be very charming and helpful, especially to those he considers weaker than he is.  He loves history and currently wants to be an underwater welder when he leaves home next year (we are working on getting him to finish high school with us). 

His current diagnoses:
·         RAD – a severe attachment disorder caused by his traumatic childhood that affects cognition, including cause and effect, memory, impulse control, and of course relationships.  Bear triangulates and manipulates (especially with “poor little me” stories) to get special privileges or what he needs to feel safe, while at the same time is terrified because he can’t trust anyone to control him (which he needs to feel safe).  Bear lives in a very black and white world.  Women are usually on pedestals and patronized, or totally reviled.   He doesn’t get that not doing something (like schoolwork) because he doesn’t like the person he’s working with (including teachers or the kid sitting next to him) is only hurting himself. 
TIP: Bear responds best when people enforce high expectations, but obviously care.
·         Bipolar – Bear is medicated for this, but despite his medications he still has major issues with irritability, “giving up,” withdrawal, sleeplessness, and distorted thinking.
·         Unmedicated ADD – unfortunately we have found no medications that work with Bear’s body chemistry.  TIP:  Keeping him active is the best way to help him focus and stay on task.
·         Cerebral dysrhythmia – brain injuries that affect his long term retrieval, memory, cognitive and processing skills - worsened by the many gaps in his education due to constant moving and trauma.  As stated in his FIE, he has great difficulty adapting and working quickly and efficiently when under pressure (which is always!).  He also will need projects broken down into small steps.
TIP: Bear has good communication skills, but his vocabulary and ability to understand things is often much less than he is willing to let on.  Be aware that he is very good at hiding this.
·         C-PTSD - Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – causes him to feel under constant emotional stress because he never feels safe, and causes him to overreact to things you or I might consider minor.  The majority of Bear’s issues and behaviors are caused by this constant fear, but he cannot admit that.
It is difficult to learn math and spelling when you feel you are in the middle of a war zone! 
If you have any questions or concerns regarding any of these diagnoses or his others, please feel free to e-mail me at  email@email.com  or call me at  (###) ###-####  .
WARNING:  Bear's history, treatment and diagnoses are incredibly complex, and staff and peers who are not aware of his issues giving him advice and support based on “normal” kids reactions and behaviors, often derail and set back his achievements and progress by allowing him to manipulate to gain privileges or sympathy, or avoid dealing with his issues in therapy.   In addition to structure, support, and therapeutic parenting from us, Bear has a therapist, psychiatrist, and team of trained professionals, including GOAL’s staff.
Bear requires close supervision due to his unpredictable poor choices and poor impulse control that have led to some serious and life-threatening consequences.

Bear REQUIRES a lot of structure and support to feel safe.   He NEEDS control of his environment at all times, and can go to extreme measures to get that control.  This is not always logical.  For example, if Bear is told he can go on a field trip if he has no attendance issues and behaves pleasantly with everyone for a week, but he doesn’t absolutely know for sure he can do that, then he might deliberately misbehave so he has 100% control over the outcome.  He might also sabotage himself because the trip actually scares him (he doesn’t feel safe in unfamiliar, uncontrollable environments).  If a connection is made at all, he will most likely say he didn’t want to go on the “stupid” field trip in the first place (sour grapes).  I have my suspicions as to why he is back at The Special School which is very structured and predictable with staff who watch out for him and keep him safe. 

Bear does not learn by watching others (modeling) and has great difficulty learning from his mistakes.  Due to his severe trust issues, he cannot ask for or accept help.  Bear is very skilled at “flying under the radar.” 
TIP:  Letting little things pass; giving multiple chances; allowing consequences to wait or build up; believing or appearing to believe his lies, triangulation attempts and manipulations … all push Bear’s already limited ability to understand the connection between his actions and the consequences, often causes him to disconnect and blame others – which further intensifies his trust issues and is teaching him that he can get away with dangerous behaviors.

Bear NEEDS consequences and to be held accountable for even small infractions, or he has shown repeatedly that he will continue to escalate until he gets what he needs. 

Please always notify Bear’s team regarding suspected or actual behaviors (ex. sleeping in class, cheating, inability to focus, lying, irritability, venting to others, drug and tobacco use, theft of small electronics, selling drugs and food, food issues, carrying weapons, psychosomatic pain, depression and withdrawal) and his ability to get out of classes (tardies, skipping, long breaks, walking out).  We need your help and input as we on various strategies to prevent this dangerous behavior, help Bear make better choices, and establish additional behavior interventions.  In addition to notifying Behavior Program staff, please e-mail his case manager Mr W ( email@email.com ) and Mr C with the Special School ( email@email.com ).

Again, please contact me for any and all concerns regarding Bear.  I need to be kept abreast of all situations, and I will do the same for you.  I am available 95% of the day.  I do work, but have flexibility on my job and can be reached by phone at almost any time.  I will return your call as soon as possible if I am in a meeting, or you can reach my husband, Hubby ______, at (###) ###-####
Yours in Partnership,    Mary Themom                    (###) ###-#### .                 email@email.com
******************************************* 
Kitty 2010:
Dear Teachers and Staff,
My name is Mary Themom.  I am the parent of 9th grade student, Kitty _________.  Kitty is served by the district as a student with an Emotional Disturbance (RAD, bipolar, C-PTSD), Other Health Impaired (medicated ADHD), and Learning Disabilities (cerebral dysrhythmia).  If you have any questions or concerns regarding any of these diagnoses or the others that she has, please feel free to e-mail me at  email@email.com  or call me at  (###) ###-#### . 
It is my hope that Kitty will have a successful school year.  Because she is quiet and a hard worker in class, Kitty tends to not always get what she needs to reach her full potential.  I would like to share some information with you to help you better understand Kitty’s reactions, anxiety and issues, so you can better support her and provide an appropriate learning environment.

Kitty is a former foster child, who was discarded into foster care at age 9, because she was “out of control.”   This was due to the lack of proper parenting provided by her mentally ill mother, abusive males, and Kitty’s untreated mental health issues.  It is rarely seen in her behavior at school now. 
Due to trust issues, Kitty’s reactions are often subtle at school, but believe me she is frequently under major emotional distress - at which point she “shuts down” (not learning or remembering!) and is extremely emotionally fragile and at risk.  Her Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – causes her to over react to things you or I might consider minor.  It’s difficult to learn math and spelling when you’re in the middle of a war zone!

 Some things to watch for:
·         Gentle teasing, constructive criticism, or even just the feeling of disapproval, is often perceived as yelling, accusing, and hateful.  Kitty has difficulty with teasing, (both peers and adults).  She “dishes it” (we are working on this), but she can’t “take it.”  Kitty’s usual response to this at school is to dissociate (freeze, change the subject, or tattle – based on her interpretation of events).
Tip:  Kitty responds best to caring structure.  If she doesn’t believe the person cares about her, she will attribute all sorts of negative motives to them (especially males).   
·         If Kitty’s speech or laughter sounds loud and pressured, she appears agitated, is overly sensitive, or she is popping her knuckles – she is very distressed and overwhelmed.
Tip:  A calm, quiet space so she can emotionally regulate, and a calm, supportive person can really help.
·         Although fairly stable now, Kitty has been both suicidal and aggressive.  Due to her attachment issues, the child you see at school is not the same one that lives with us.
Tip:  Please believe and support us when we tell you how Kitty is doing and notify us of any issues.
·         Kitty's distress frequently exhibits as physical illness (nausea, stomach aches, tiredness, ear aches, headaches…).  This feels very real to her, and occasionally it is real. 
Tip:  Ask her to rate the pain on a scale of 1 to 10, with over 5 or 6 allowed to go to the nurse.  (I believe this is in her BIP {Behavior Intervention Plan}).  Otherwise she will be in the nurse’s office frequently - days with substitutes almost guarantee this.   Calling me as needed is always fine
·         FYI, she has some bladder issues and may not be able to “hold it.”  I strongly recommend letting her use the restroom if she requests it.  We can keep a spare change of clothes at school if needed.

Please contact me for any and all issues with Kitty.  I need to be kept abreast of all situations, and I will do the same for you.  I am available 95% of the day.  I do work, but have flexibility on my job and can be reached by phone at almost any time.  I will return your call as soon as possible if I am in a meeting, or you can reach my husband, Hubby ________, at  (###) ###-#### .
Yours in Partnership,    Mary Themom                    (###) ###-####                           email@email.com  

******************************************* 
Kitty 2011:
Dear  Teachers and Staff,
My name is Mary Themom.  I am the parent of 10th grade student, Kitty _______.  Kitty is served by the district as a student with an Emotional Disturbance (RAD, bipolar, C-PTSD), Other Health Impaired (ADHD – currently unmedicated), and Learning Disabilities (cerebral dysrhythmia).  If you have any questions or concerns regarding any of these diagnoses or the others that she has, please feel free to contact me anytime (see contact info below). 
It is my hope that Kitty will have a successful school year.  Because she is quiet and a hard worker in class, Kitty tends to not always get what she needs to reach her full potential.  I would like to share some information with you to help you better understand Kitty’s reactions, anxiety and issues, so you can better support her and provide an appropriate learning environment.
Kitty is a former foster child, who was discarded into foster care at age 9, because she was “out of control.”   This was due to the lack of proper parenting provided by her mentally ill mother, abusive males, and Kitty’s untreated mental health issues.  It is rarely seen in her behavior at school now. 
Due to trust issues, Kitty's reactions are often subtle at school, but she is frequently under major emotional distress - at which point she “shuts down” (unable to learn or remember!) and is extremely emotionally fragile and at risk.  Her Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – causes her to over react to things you or I might consider minor.  It’s difficult to learn math and spelling when you’re in the middle of a war zone!
 Some things to watch for:
·         Kitty is often uncomfortable admitting she doesn’t understand something or is overwhelmed.
Tip:  Minimize Distractions.  Break down tasks into manageable parts.  Check for understanding often.  Peer Buddy or peer tutor.
·         Kitty has great difficulty with being organized and turning things in. 
Tip:  Have her check her backpack (sometimes the item is there).  Give gentle reminder to use organizers
·         Kitty often perceives gentle teasing, constructive criticism, or even just a feeling of disapproval, as yelling, accusing, and threatening.  Teasing and gossip (both peers and adults), are tough for her.  She “dishes it” (we are working on this), but she can’t “take it.”  Kitty’s usual response to this at school is to dissociate (freeze, change the subject, or tattle – based on her interpretation of events). 
Tip:  Kitty responds best to caring structure.  If she doesn’t believe the person cares about her, she will attribute all sorts of negative motives to them (especially males).  At school she wants to please. 
·         Kitty can be both suicidal and aggressive.  Due to her attachment issues, the child you see at school is not the same one that lives with us, unless the stress is so extreme she cannot hide it.
Tip:  Please believe and support us when we tell you how Kitty is doing and notify us, Ms. P, and Behavior Program staff of any issues, unusual behaviors, or concerns.
·         If Kitty’s speech or laughter sounds loud and pressured, she appears agitated, is overly sensitive, or she is popping her knuckles – she is very distressed and overwhelmed.
Tip:  A calm, quiet space so she can emotionally regulate, and Behavior Program staff can take her to Ms V (school guidance counselor) who is learning Kitty’s calming techniques.  It is difficult for Kitty to recognize signs of stress
·         Kitty’s distress frequently exhibits as physical illness (nausea, stomach aches, tiredness, ear aches, headaches…).  This feels very real to her, and occasionally it is real. 
Tip:  Per her Crisis Plan, contact Behavior Program staff who will ask her to rate the pain on a scale of 1 to 10, with over 5 or 6 allowed to go to the nurse.    Calling me as needed is always fine
·         FYI, she has some bladder issues and may not be able to “hold it.”  I strongly recommend letting her use the restroom if she requests it.  We can keep a spare change of clothes at school if needed.
Please contact me for any and all issues with Kitty.  I need to be kept abreast of all situations, and I will do the same for you.  Yours in Partnership,    Mary Themom                   (###)###-####                        email@email.com

2 comments:

Marigold said...

These examples were fantastic! i love that you not only gave a definition to the dx but that you gave your child's definition not just the dictionary! Thank you!

JillB said...

Awesome examples! I had a very similar student in my class this year, and had a similar letter provided to me before the school year started. I also met with the parents, grandparent, and student beforehand. I took it upon myself to research RAD, PTSD, and I was already familiar with ADHD, but brushed up on it anyway. Throughout the year, I kept communications open with those at home, and made sure I let her parents know about her successes, not just problems. As well, in my school, it's the teachers that create the IEP and Behaviour Plan, but I had the student (12yrs old) help me create her own Behaviour plan, which helped tremendously. At the end of the school year, I felt that I had really reached her, and I was thanked by her parents and grandmother. Sadly, this student lost her home to fire 3 months before school started, and her grandfather died 3 months after the school year ended, so she had bad upon bad happen this year. I was so proud of her and hope she continues to be successful in the future. I hope the same for your adopted children.