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!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Finding the joy

A woman on one of my support groups was talking about feeling overwhelmed to the point that she found herself having no patience for her child and yelling at him all the time.  She was no longer able to be a therapeutic parent like she used to be.  In my response to her, I realized that things really have changed for me over the years, and I don't think it's just because Bear is out of the house and Kitty is stable.  I really am in a better place emotionally.

I totally get it.  When my kids first got here, I was empathetic, calm and patient with them- maybe TOO patient.  I stuffed things down, let it roll off my back, and GAVE and GAVE and GAVE... until there was nothing left.  I was so burned out and overwhelmed that we were all miserable.  Here's what helped me:

1.  Understanding why they act the way they do.  
It helps me a lot to know that it's not personal or malicious.  It helped to understand that my son is a scared little boy acting out of fear.  A lot of times with my daughter I repeat my mantra, "She's only 6.  She's only 6.  She's only 6!" (Chronologically she's 17, but emotionally she's only 6). 
Why Won't My Child Just Behave?

2.  Lower my expectations.  
REALLY lower them.  Quit waiting for _______ to happen before I do _____________.   Stop expecting them to grow up and change, or be able to do all but the most basic of tasks.  I found I was mad at her for constantly demanding the privileges of a teen, but not being able to consistently do chores or other responsibilities.  I wanted to punish her and take everything away (special events, toys, my affection...). I finally realized that I had to forgive her, and let her know that I will no longer be expecting her to meet typical teen responsibilities nor will I continuously justify why she doesn't get typical teen privileges.  
Therapeutic Parenting Based on Emotional/ Developmental Age 
Explaining Age Appropriate Parenting To Your Child

3. Redefine Success. 
Like many moms, success for my children meant college, finding a career they loved and that supported them in a lifestyle similar to what they have now, finding true love, getting married, living near me (but not with me!), having children... preferably in this order!  Basically living "happily ever after." When I realized that this was not the path Bear and Kitty were on, or even capable of, I grieved. A lot. Then I took a deep breath and redefined success for each of my children individually.

  • Bear may never be capable of living in an unstructured environment and having a long-term relationship with anyone (employers, friends, girlfriends...), BUT he has found a structured environment that works for him (even though prison is definitely not what I'd hoped for him), and he got there without violence.  He graduated from high school, and college would not be helpful to him with the lifestyle he needs to survive. 
  • Kitty may never be capable of living independently, but she is happy living with us and has the option of living with her biofamily if she chooses to try independence.  If she lives with biofamily then her SSI money will be enough that she can live mostly independently (something she can't afford to do where we live because the cost of living is much higher). As long as she has someone willing to help her she should be OK.
  • Bob and Ponito are on the path I dreamed of for all of my children, but if/when they step off that path that will be OK too.

4. Grieve
Give myself permission to grieve for the loss of the children I had dreamed about, planned for, and the lives they should have had. If you haven't read the story Welcome to Holland, I strongly suggest taking a minute and doing so.

5.  Therapy and meds.  
I'm mildly bipolar and I've definitely suffered from PTSD.  I don't take meds all the time, but when I need to I take them.  I saw a therapist who specialized in trauma and did some EMDR therapy to help with the PTSD.  Learning about my own issues, including my own Adult Attachment Disorder, and accepting and dealing with them has helped a lot too.
Self-Care! Caring for The Caregiver

6.  Date night/ respite with someone who "gets it."  
We are incredibly blessed that my mom, who mostly "gets it," takes the kids overnight almost every Saturday night, keeping them through church ad=nd Sunday School the next day.  Honestly, Hubby and I rarely do much more than rent a movie and go to bed together, but it's a chance to recharge our batteries and remember that eventually the children will grow up and leave home, but our marriage, and each other, will still be there, but only if we prioritize our relationship.
Getting Respite
How We Keep Our Marriage Strong

7.  Discovered my Love Language.  
This was huge for me.  Knowing what I need (Words of Affirmation), made it possible for me to focus on getting it.  I tried to teach my family to give me what I need, and they do their best, but they are overwhelmed too and of course, some of them are RAD!  Hubby is the son of a "strong, silent type", I think my father-in-law said maybe a sentence a year to me, and while Hubby's not that bad, and is a really good listener, Words of Affirmation is definitely not his strong suit.  I went outside my overwhelmed family to get what I needed.  I went to the internet, wrote and read blogs, found support groups, went to seminars and trainings... I also helped and mentored others.  It made me feel good about myself, and they gave me the words of affirmation that I needed.
The Five Love Languages

8.  Set limits.  
Once I knew what I needed, I stopped giving so much that I had nothing left.  I’ve always been a rescuer, giving even beyond what I could afford to lose.   I had learned the hard way to stop doing it with others but had felt that shouldn’t apply to children, especially MY children.   I soon found that the kids not only NEEDED the structure and boundaries I set by saying “No,” but they also did better with them – they felt safe which allowed them to trust enough to feel loved.  (I strongly recommend reading the book, Stop Walking on Eggshells!  The first half helped me with empathy, but the second half gave great practical advice in setting boundaries.)   "Saying "no" is not being negative.  Negative is saying "yes" to things that are destroying you."  
Why Doesn't My Child Feel Safe?
Prioritizing Yourself, Your Marriage, Your Family, and Your Child - In That Order!

9. Find Support from people who "get it." 
You Are Not Alone!! It really helped to have the validation of others, and I sought it out constantly for a long time, before I finally felt OK about this path. I found a forum for those who had adopted special needs children and through that made friends in the blogging community (Life in the Grateful House and Welcome to My Brain), joined a local adoption support group (COAC), then BeTA (Beyond Trauma and Attachment), and finally Facebook groups. Now I admin a FB group called Parenting Attachment Challenged Children and try to help others. This is a good post reminding us that we are an AMAZING PARENT!

10.  Choose joy.  
Every day I try to focus on the positives.  It's hard as heck, but it is important.  I vent, but I try to limit it to a maximum of 3 vents, even less if I can.  I needed lots of validation that what I was doing was the right thing.  Over time, I eventually began to believe it, and that makes me feel better about myself.

I look back at the Godincidences (kind of like reviewing my blessings) that came out of what frequently seemed like tragedies at the time.  I try to focus on how many of these “tragedies” have made me a stronger, better person.  Most importantly, I focus on the positives and Choose Joy , like the little old lady in the nursing home.

A 92-year-old, petite, poised, and proud lady, who is fully dressed each morning by eight o'clock, with her hair fashionably coifed and makeup perfectly applied, even though she is legally blind, moved to a nursing home today. Her husband of 70 years recently passed away, making the move necessary.
After many hours of waiting patiently in the lobby of the nursing home, she smiled sweetly when told her room was ready.
As she maneuvered her walker to the elevator, I provided a visual description of her tiny room, including the eyelet sheets that had been hung on her window. "I love it," she stated with the enthusiasm of an eight-year-old having just been presented with a new puppy.
"Mrs. Jones, you haven't seen the room ... just wait."
"That doesn't have anything to do with it," she replied.
"Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn't depend on how the furniture is arranged... it's how I arrange my mind. I already decided to love it. It's a decision I make every morning when I wake up. I have a choice; I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with the parts of my body that no longer work, or get out of bed and be thankful for the ones that do."
"Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open, I'll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I've stored away ... just for this time in my life. Old age is like a bank account ... you withdraw from what you've put in. So, my advice to you would be to deposit a lot of happiness in the bank account of memories.
Her five simple rules to be happy:
1. Free your heart from hatred.
2. Free your mind from worries.
3. Live simply.
4. Give more.
5. Expect less."
Not easy, but Wonderful Advice....for all of us.

An amazing post about not letting grief steal your days, and one way a woman keeps mourning about the lives her RAD children could/should have had from stealing the joy in her life.

Grateful Journal - I know several people who post a "grateful journal." Every day, they write down what they're grateful for. It helps them focus on the positives, even when the negatives are overwhelming.

Related image11. Forgive myself.
Not only did I need to grieve that my children didn't have the life I'd hoped for them, but I had to acknowledge it was not my fault. I did everything I reasonably could. Sometimes more than I should.

Yet one of my children did not heal.

Deep down, I felt guilty about this. I knew I had never really emotionally bonded to this child. In fact, I didn't like to be around him. As a mother, especially as an adoptive parent, I was supposed to feel nurturing and loving toward this child, right? What kind of mother am I?

The answer is I'm a great mom! I'm doing the best I can under extremely stressful circumstances and I know you are too. Continuous Traumatic Stress 

Judging myself is not healthy. Allowing other's judgment and shaming to affect me is not healthy. 

I'm not perfect. Who is?! 
I make mistakes. Often!
I'm human. 

Looking back, I can see a million things I could have done differently. There are a ton of "If only"s in my life. The reality is that hindsight is 20/20.

I try to remember to treat myself as kindly as I do the other parents I mentor. 

12. You Have Not Failed!
In my case, for one of my children, healing did not happen. Whenever I start to feel guilty about being unable to heal him, I reread this post - You Have Not Failed

Unconditional Caregiving
In a seminar, one of my favorite RAD Gurus, Katharine Leslie, brought up these points about parenting a child with unhealed RAD (who was therefore not capable of returning any love or affection):

  • There cannot be a Secure Attachment when: The parent receives little or no positive response from the child, and often the child is neglectful of and abusive to the parent. Without either one's needs being met, and unable to "exit" the relationship, there can be little to no feelings of attachment (leaving resentment and apathy).
  • Providing unconditional love to a child without getting anything in return will make you physically and emotionally ill. (If this were a stranger or a celebrity it would be called stalking!). Instead we should practice unconditional caregivingRelationships 
Loving someone who doesn't love you back is not healthy. Despite what society says, not feeling attached to an unattached child doesn't make you a bad parent. Being expected to love your abuser is crazy. In fact, if this child were an adult significant other with the same abusive behaviors, society would be telling you to leave immediately.

My job as a therapeutic parent is not to love this child unconditionally, but to help my child learn how to be in a relationship
Once that happens, if that happens, THEN we can develop a loving relationship.

13. Ignore the "Should"-ers
Not only did everyone try to tell me what I was doing wrong but what they told me conflicted with the next person who thought they knew how to handle it (more discipline, less discipline, be more laid back, you're a helicopter parent, you're overbearing, focus all your attention on this child and he/she will be healed, boys will be boys, my neighbor's nephew's barber did __________ and his child was fine...). 

The worst part was that I was desperate to find a solution to "fix" my kids and I tried just about everything they told me I "should" be doing. I finally started to have faith in what worked for us, even though I was still told constantly that we were doing it wrong.

Why they Act Differently When They're Away From Home

My kids have what I call "Charming RAD" officially known as Disinhibited RAD. That means for my daughter, that she would literally rather die than let others see that they are not perfect --- because it feels like life or death to them.

Prioritizing Yourself, Your Marriage, Your Family, and Your Child - In That Order!

We have to remember that the "should"ers are only focused on the one child. 

  • They don't care about your needs or the needs of your family as a whole. 
  • They work with your child at most 8 hours a day and then go home to their own lives.
  • They are focused on the short-term and are not thinking of your child's future. Once your child moves out of their classroom, graduates high school, is no longer on their caseload... he/ she is no longer their problem. 
  • Most of them have no knowledge of your child's full range of issues and how they interact with each other. They focus on the one part of your child's issues that they have knowledge of and experience with. Yes, children with learning issues can do well in mainstream classes, but when you add trauma, processing issues, depression, brain injuries... Overlapping Diagnoses in Children 
  • They don't know what works with YOUR child. Even if they have tons of experience with kids "exactly" like your child (yeah, right!). What works for other children may not work with yours. My two adopted children are biologically half-siblings less than 2 years apart in age. They have almost identical diagnoses. Yet they require different types of parenting! What works for one may not work for the other.  Therapeutic Parenting, Structure and Caring Support, Level System vs Age-Appropriate Parenting, Using FAIR Club with Kids of Trauma... 

These are some things that helped me - 

Dear Adoptive Parents walking the hard, hellish, lonely road of trauma…THIS POST IS FOR YOU. And ONLY YOU.

Why Do They Act Like That? (If You Find Out I'm Not Perfect, You'll Leave)

Structure and Caring Support

New School Year LetterI give this to teachers to give them some understanding of my child and how to help them. It also establishes that I'm a concerned and caring parent (hopefully) before they decide I'm a bad parent who "should" be doing ______.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Why do adopted kids go back to birth families?

On a support board, a lot of us adoptive moms are dealing with newly adult children who are going back to biofamily... with some pretty severe consequences as the children discover that most of the reasons they ended up needing adoption in the first place.  One of the ladies asked WHY the kids go back to birth family.  My situation is a little different in that my children were not removed from the home for abuse and/or neglect, but were placed in foster care by biomom, for a lot of reasons I choose not to go into here.  The reality is though that my kids still FEEL the same way that kids who have been removed feel - abandoned, unwanted and unlovable.

Here's my response to: Why Do Adopted Kids Go Back to Birth Families?

1.  The biggest is that they want to negate the rejection/ abandonment.  They don't want to believe that the family didn't want them, because that means the child is unworthy and unlovable.  Going back "proves" that their family really loves them.

2.  Extreme denial.  My kids can dissociate from reality, and distort it to the extent that they rewrite history, and BELIEVE the new version.  They don't remember, or want to remember, the real past - good, bad and everything in between.

3.  My children have very black and white thinking.  People are either evil or on a pedestal.  The kids literally don't see the shades of grey that describes all humanity.  Most people are wonderful, caring, supportive, relationship possibilities (best friend, girlfriend, new mom..)... until Bear or Kitty flips a switch and ALL they can see is the person's flaws.  My son is especially bad about this.  He goes through girls like Kleenex, discarding them when they show the tiniest sign of imperfection (I believe my son thinks that love means they are instantly and totally devoted to him, anything less and he's afraid they will abandon him, so at the first sign of independence, he rejects them before they reject him) or they get too close (and he runs before they can see his flaws and reject him).

The kids have idealized many members of biofamily, and literally don't remember any of their flaws.  When Bear went to live with his bio Grandpa, real life quickly took over, BioGrandpa became human (worse, a human who had some authority over Bear), and Bear couldn't accept that.  In less than 6 weeks, he was ready to move on.

4.  Escape.   "My adoptive parents and everyone else are the reason things aren't going right.  If I can get away from them then my life will be perfect."  Hubby and I tell our kids that they have to work on their issues instead of running away from them, because the issues are inside of them, and will follow them everywhere.  They don't want to believe us.

Obviously these characteristics are all linked to each other.  

5.  One thing I firmly believe is one should never criticize bio family to the children, something I learned from my mother, who never criticized my father in front of me, despite a nasty divorce.  Knowing my children are idealizing their bio family doesn't change my belief, but it is a little frustrating to know that my lack of reality checks makes some of their fantasies possible.

I think they want to go back to biofamily to live the fairy tale/ fantasy they have used to escape over the years.  That little Orphan Annie reality that my "real family" is perfect, rich, will never make me do chores or be held accountable for anything I do (not that I'll do anything wrong, because it was everyone else's fault)...

We have to let them go.

It's hard, but I think we have to let our kids know that we understand this desire to reconnect with birthfamily, and let them go. I tried to make it very clear to my children that the door was always open... as long as they understood that the house rules haven't changed.

When the reality sinks in, a lot of these kids will come home.

Unfortunately they usually come home with the results of living this other life style:
pregnancy, drug addiction, off their meds, criminal records, health issues... feeling entitled to the freedoms they enjoyed (and suffered from).

For some children, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence - no matter which side of the fence they are on. We ran in to this with Kitty. Her perception of reality means the instant she walked away her memory of the other place become even more black and white. She instantly forgot all the good stuff (or bad stuff). When she lived here at home, she longed for the "freedom" of having no rules and structure - being treated like an "adult," without the responsibilities and accountability of  actually being one. When she was living with biofamily, she longed for the calm, supportive, loving environment (and the luxuries) of home.

Your decision is whether or not to let your child come back home - knowing they will bring this new baggage and possibly see your home as a revolving door or a way station.

We let our children know that very little has changed. They are expected to come home to mostly the same structure as when they left. If they can't follow the rules, then they will not come home. For our son in prison, he will need to go to a halfway house and get stable on his meds before we would even consider allowing him to come home.

It's not easy watching our children self-destruct, but I have to hope that when they get older and their brain is fully developed (about 25 years old?), that they will be happy, functioning citizens capable of healthy relationships with as few permanent scars as possible.

NOTE: When our kids approach times of transition (graduation, turning 18, moving out...) they tend to stress out and act out. This is a defense mechanism to distance themselves from us to try to make it hurt less. I try to remind myself of this, when mine are lashing out at me. 

More on Contact with Birth Family.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Bear Update

Bear will be accepting a... OK, I don't know what you call it.  A plea bargain I guess.  It's not ideal, but it's probably for the best under the circumstances.  He was a little confused, and I'll probably get this wrong, but basically he got 25 years.  5 in prison and 20 probation.  He only has to serve 15% of his sentence in jail (don't check my math... I got the numbers from him!).  When he signs the acceptance/ agreement next month, he'll have been in jail about 7 months.  He says because of his good behavior that counts double so he'll have technically already served over a year of his sentence. He thinks that means he only needs to serve about 9 months total.

When he signs the acceptance, he'll go through a medical intake at a hospital for 1-2 weeks (apparently all new inmates go through this).  At which point he'll finally receive a psychological evaluation and we assume get put on meds.  Depending on how fast the system moves, when the eval is done, he'll have been in the system for about 8 months.  Since he only needs to serve about 9 months, he and the system will have a choice at this point.

  • If it's only a couple of weeks until his time is up, they might just release him and add the missing time to his probation.  
  • He can serve the remainder of the 9 months in prison.  
  • He can go to boot camp, which is 6 months long, and the "extra" time will be reduced from his probation.
He's vacillating between completing the time in prison and getting it over with, and going to boot camp.  He thinks boot camp might look better than hard time (not sure to whom), but at the same time he's worried that he might get into trouble at boot camp (which is young adult offenders).

When he gets out he believes he'll be able to transfer his probation to another state, and he plans to go "home."  I had to ask him where home was.  I'll be honest, it hurt a little to have to ask.  Home is with his bio grandmother in Nebraska.  I'm OK with that.  

I did mention he might want to think about going to boot camp so he'd have more time to get stable on his meds before he goes to live with family, so he doesn't damage his relationship with them.  At that point in the conversation he was saying he didn't want to go to boot camp.  Maybe that will change down the road.  I think he'd benefit from the extra activity and extra time to get stable, but I can't make him.

I hope it works out the way he wants it to.  I'm really glad he'll be getting medical treatment soon.  After he's released, "someone" will help him get signed up for SSI benefits, and it sounds like he'll be willing to try to get therapy and plans to stay on his meds.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Books and Methods - Food/ Hoarding/ Diet

Atypical eating behaviors are common, especially in children with severe neglect and attachment problems.  

Many of our kids have food triggers (especially if there has been a time in their life when they didn't have enough food), emotional eating, depression... and the child can develop significant eating and body image issues. They may hoard food, hide food in their rooms, eat as if there will be no more meals--even if they have had years of consistently available foods.  They may have failure to thrive, rumination (throwing up food), swallowing problems and, later in life, unusual eating behaviors that are often misdiagnosed as anorexia nervosa.

My Child Doesn't Remember the Neglect as an Infant, But His Body Does by Foster2Forever
My son doesn’t have a memory of being hungry as an infant, but his brain does. That baby’s developing brain was hard-wired with a terrifying memory of being hungry, not knowing when he would be fed, and believing he was going to die!
The fear response of fight, flight or freeze would kick in – and my baby would fight! – the only way he could as an infant – by screaming. As he got older, his fear response from hunger escalated from screaming to actual fighting!

Attachment and Eating Disorders (ED) - 
"Research indicates that higher levels of attachment anxiety increase risk for severe ED manifestations and adverse treatment outcomes." ~A Place for Eating Disorders within Attachment Theory’s FrameKelsey N. Wallour, BSFCS

Avoidant Attachment

Primary caregivers of children with an avoidant/ dismissive attachment tended to be emotionally unavailable or unresponsive to them a good deal of the time. This child can develop a feeling that they have no value and expects that they will be rejected and their needs neglected. They may learn to "shut down" their emotions and ignore their needs. Their interactions with food may also be avoidant in nature. Their issues with food may come from an overwhelming desire to elude emotions and feelings of fullness. This might lead to issues with anorexia nervosa.
 (This study mentions that adult patients with this type of ED may not do well in group therapy, but have enormous potential for personal reflective functioning and awareness).

When Kitty first came to us, we found that some of Kitty's "anorexic" tendencies improved dramatically as she became more attached and allowed herself to feel again. Both her physical and emotional feelings returned and once the dissociations improved, I think she started realizing that she was hungry (or constipated, or had food on her face, or needed to go to the bathroom...).

Anxious Attachment
The anxious/ ambivalent child’s caregivers were often unreliable and unpredictable. These children may come across as “needy” because they seek constant validation from others. Instead of dissociating from their needs, they constantly mull over their past experiences and memories which keeps them "agitated" and self-focused. They often have difficulty recognizing the needs and emotions/ effects of others. Because they are highly dependent on external sources such as society and peers, the extreme fear of rejection from others worsens their desperate need for approval and high body dissatisfaction.

Anxious attachment patterns are more likely to lead to bulimic symptoms or binge eating disorders, because of their issues with interacting with others and their relationship with food. Their hyperactive/ hypervigilant awareness of stress can lead to a high state of reactivity. Their attempts at coping and self-soothing might be bingeing or engaging in the binge-purge cycle.
(This study recommends group therapy in a safe and validating environment for its adult patients with this type of ED).

Attachment Parenting/ Therapy

Dr. Karen Purvis, Ph.D. of TCU, author of The Connected Child, believes there is a strong connection between nutrition & healing the "kids from hard places."  She lists resources on her website: empoweredtoconnect.com

Control Issues -Oftentimes, trauma issues can lead to anxiety and control issues. Eating (or not eating) can be one of the few things our children feel they have control over. "Strictly regulating {their own} food and body weight offers a small sphere of control for people who otherwise feel out of control. When this is the case, unintentional weight gain may lead to thoughts of 'I’m losing control' instead of 'I’m fat.'"

Geraud said it’s common for eating disorders, substance abuse and mood disorders such as depression or anxiety to coexist.
“There are often pre-existing anxiety disorders in people who develop eating disorders, especially as children” she said.
Children tend to think in very concrete terms, she said, and when they have anxiety or other uncomfortable emotions and feel the accompanying physical sensations in their body, they may think that if they can change or control their body, they can prevent those emotions and feelings. Alcohol or drugs might be used for the same purpose. ~Lisa Geraud, senior clinical director at The Moore Center in Bellevue

Food Hoarding  - 

Trauma and Food Hoarding -

"Food hoarding is a common issue displayed by foster-adoptive children. Food hoarding can be central in a child’s world and resistant to change. Additionally, hoarding food behavior can bedevil and bewilder parents.

So why does a child hoard food? 

Often food hoarding is directly connected to significant neglect that the child has experienced in consistently having their basic needs for life sustaining food denied or inadequately met. As a result, the child is forced to become prematurely self-reliant in meeting their own basic needs. 

For example, in a situation where the parent is chemically dependent resulting in inconsistency in providing and having food available, it would be reasonable that when food is available that a child would view this as an opportunity. It would be logical that a “survival mentality” would be for the child to respond to the availability of food in self-reliant ways which could include over-eating and hoarding food in secretive ways. In neglectful situations, food hoarding is a wise alternative to ongoing food deprivation."

Emotional Eating - 

Trauma and Weight Gain -

Emotional trauma is a very painful experience that can lead to weeks, months and even years of emotional distress. People will turn to a variety of things to help them cope with their intense feelings relating to the trauma. For some people, food becomes a source of comfort as they try to — literally — push down their feelings with food. Trauma and weight gain go hand in hand when the person suffering begins to emotionally eat. Sometimes this emotional eating, combined with the mental effects of the traumatic event, can lead to a serious eating disorder known as compulsive overeating.

Human Connection — Our kids often crave sugary, comfort foods to fill the gaps in human connections. Why Comfort Food Comforts.
Marythemom:  Caregivers also frequently emotionally eat - we use comfort foods as a substitute for the love our children cannot provide.  The average RAD mom gains 10-15lbs a year working with a RAD child.
I cannot recommend SELF-CARE! highly enough for parents with kids with trauma issues. 

Distraction/ Dissociation — A way of changing the subject or avoiding dealing with a trauma triggering issue.

Marythemom: When my daughter was having a particularly rough therapy session she would often try to dissociate (flight/ escape) using food. She would suddenly feel like she was "starving" and the session would become all about her wanting to leave and go to McDonald's. When she gets upset she still turns to food. I often mention to her that this feeling is based on her emotions, not actual hunger, and sometimes I can get her to recognize it.

The Addictive Brain - 
Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It's how we get our satisfaction. If we can't connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find -- the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about 'addiction' altogether, and instead call it 'bonding.' A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn't bond as fully with anything else.
So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.
Marythemom - My son has an "addictive brain." We've seen evidence of it for years, and knew it wasn't the drugs themselves because the addiction shifted often and he could stop seemingly cold turkey (drugs, alcohol, tobacco, but also sugar, sex, adrenaline, chaos...). A large part of this is because of his attachment issues - the (in)ability to make human connections. 

Endorphins  — 

Your brain naturally produces these neurotransmitters in response to pain or extreme exertion to take the edge off and generally make you feel amazing. Really amazing. Experts actually compare endorphins to opiates because they deliver such intense pleasure, says psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., M.S., author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness.

We want to avoid drawing battle lines around food!


As with all behavior and emotional challenges, a child’s special needs and individual circumstances should be considered when designing interventions. Additionally, professional therapeutic assistance can offer help in the assessment and treatment of food issues. In an effort to understand the function of food issues, the following questions can assist in a parent’s understanding of their child’s food issues.

  • Could there be psychiatric or biological issues contributing to the hoarding/ food issue?
  • Does the child’s history reveal reasons for fixation on eating?
  • Does the child substitute a food fixation for a loving relationship with parents?
  • Are there things that trigger eating problems in the child?
  • Is the child displaying an emotional neediness in the way they eat?

Ways to increase endorphins (besides food):

Focus on increasing attachment. Here's some ideas - The Attachment Challenge
10-20-10 Each day, look for three moments of connection with your children.
     -10 minutes of closeness in the morning
     -20 minutes of closeness when you get home
     -10 minutes of closeness at bedtime


Not just running. Working out stresses your system, so your brain pumps out endorphins to cope.

Work out together:

In addition to being good bonding/ attachment activity, a small British study found that athletes who rowed together could tolerate twice as much pain (a sign that endorphins are present) as athletes who rowed alone. Working out with others can improve your endorphin flow.

Fewer meds:

A study took a group of children with ADHD, half of whom were on Ritalin and the other half did 20 minutes of exercise every morning that "bounced" their brains in an up and down manner (like jogging or trampolines). Both sets of children were sent to school and the teachers could not tell the difference! The exercise lasts a little less time than the medicine, but you can always repeat!

When you get a case of the giggles, your body releases endorphins that increase your pain threshold. So go ahead, laugh until it hurts.


Not only does playing with your child increase attachment - PACE (Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity, Empathy), but it's good for you as well! Don't forget to Play!

Kids live for when their parents step outside their comfort zone to join them in something fun.
Children with a history of trauma desperately need to play every single day. It is one of the ways they heal (write that one on your bathroom mirror and read it every morning). That is an area where I was painfully misguided when I first started therapeutic parenting. I took a stance of expecting them to EARN their play (AND I WAS WRONG!).
Now I know better, so I do better. -Christine Moers, Welcome to my Brain 
Make music:
Your brain spews out even more endorphins when you actively take part in creating music. If you're not a classically trained musician (just guessing here), tap, hum, or dance along to your favorite tunes. The sillier the better (laughing increases endorphins).

Eat hot peppers: 
Even if you love the taste of spicy foods, your body senses the heat and responds the same way it responds to pain. Enter, endorphins! Just be careful with this one - forcing a child to eat hot peppers (or anything) can be considered abusive.

Spritz lavender on your pillow everywhere. In a 2012 study published in the Journal of Caring Sciences, women who sniffed lavender essence reported less anxiety than women who sniffed a placebo. The study authors say aromatherapy makes nerve cells release a mix of neurotransmitters, including (You guessed it!) endorphins.

I'm not sure how this would work with kids
Why would anyone in their right mind want to be repeatedly poked with needles? Research suggests the pain sends a message straight to the brain, which releases endorphins as a remedy. I'm not sure how well this would work with kids!

Interventions focused on neglect-based food hoarding:

It is important to understand how the child’s food issues impact you as a parent. Become aware of your own food issues and explore if they influence your ability or willingness to look at the child’s problem with an open mind and creative flexibility. Also, study yourself to determine if the child’s food hoarding personally threatens your role as a provider/nurturer.

Attachment Therapy:
When children feel safer {Why Doesn't My Child Feel Safe?} the fear causing the hoarding behaviors decreases and therefore the behavior decreases.

Food Baskets:
Provide food baskets in the home that incorporate the child’s input in creation and consist of snacks that are healthy and appealing to the child. The child should be told the food baskets will be re-filled and are a “better alternative” than hoarding. If the child hoards the food basket; set limits but do not discontinue. Some schools will also cooperate with food baskets; especially if the child is prone to take other student’s snacks.  (Can also use a fanny pack or cabinet/shelf full of appropriate foods.)

When packing lunches for school or events, pack a “special container” of food that can be removed and is with the child. This provides a traveling sense of food security and food availability for the child.

"Super Snack Day" (suggested by an awesome Trauma Mama):
First thing in the morning, tell him, "Since I am such a super, awesome Mom, I have noticed how hungry you've been lately. So today I have 15 snacks ready for you! (Show him the pile of small! snacks you've prepared). When you feel hungry, just say 'Mom, may I please have a snack?' And I will say yes!" This removes the need for begging or whining for food. If the child doesn't say, "May I please have..." then he's probably letting you know he really doesn't want the snack, instead, this is more about being in control (fear and safety).

You stay strong in a loving way and redirect the child to something else. Fluctuate the number of snacks available each day until the child trusts that you really will always feed him/ her and have food available. I have found you have to surprise them sometimes with how amazing and generous you are (while still being in control)! Obviously, your goal is not to teach him to need 15 snacks a day, but rather how amazing and awesome his Mom is! :-)

Coupling nurturing with food:
Always positively reinforce any progress the child makes on hoarding behavior. If the child utilizes a food basket, nurture the child when they seek items from the food basket. Positively comment on how all family members are always fed. Weave this message into mealtimes and have this message commented on by various family members.

Some parents have the child request snacks, so the child equates the parent with meeting their needs.

Teach food regulation:
If the child has a tendency to gorge, set a “food time out” after a complete meal is consumed. Make certain this applies to all family members. The goal is to assist the child in learning to experience a sense of “fullness”. The “food time out” should not be presented as denying food but rather delaying additional eating for a prescribed period of time. Describe how the physical sensation of “fullness” feels. Fifteen minutes, after the completion of a meal, is an estimate of the time before fullness will be experienced.

Posted Menu:
Knowing when the next meal/ snack is and what it is going to be can be extremely comforting to many kids. Plus, it allows you to not have to answer, "What's for dinner?" a thousand times a day. Also, it makes grocery store trips a little faster because you have a menu! ;) It also saves arguments about what to have for snack or desserts. "It's not on the list, Sweetie."

There's a med used for alcohol and drug addiction that stops the cravings, Naltrexone (Vivitrol - a monthly shot of Naltrexone instead of a pill). If your child's issues are related to addictions, this might be worth speaking to a psychiatrist about it. Naltrexone could potentially be a game changer in terms of behaviors that stem from wanting food, stealing food, hoarding food, emotional eating...
{Marythemom: I haven't tried this, but it was recommended by a fellow trauma mama. It really worked for her son}

Non- Trauma-related Food Issues

Marythemom:  Sometimes it's good to remember that just because our kids have one or more diagnoses, doesn't mean they might not have other reasons for their behaviors and issues too!  Allergies, foods, and meds have caused constipation, unusual reactions to medications, and behavior issues.  Some people find that changing diet can help alleviate some of these as well.  A gluten-free/ casein-free diet is often recommended, especially for children on the autism spectrum.  No red dyes, no processed foods, all raw foods, vegetarian, vegan... so many options!

Medications - Another common problem causing food issues for our kids is medications. Many kill the appetite (especially stimulants for ADHD), and some increase the appetite dramatically (many anti-depressants).

Nutrition/ Allergies/ Supplements

Diet can significantly impact the impaired brain. Neuroscience shows the limbic system is a hot spot for traumatized children (and stressed out parents).  When overused (typical for people dealing with stress/trauma) we can “burn out” the stress receptors.  Additionally, we often crave the food(s) to which we are most allergic/sensitive.

Marythemom:  Sometimes it's good to remember that just because our kids have one or more diagnoses, doesn't mean they might not have other reasons for their behaviors and issues too! {Overlapping Behavior Diagnoses}

Kids with Food Allergies - Safe Eats® Allergy-Friendly Recipes! 
You can search to meet your special dietary needs, or you can browse by category. The "free of" boxes indicate that the recipe can be made without those allergens (it may require substitution to make the recipe safe for your particular needs).

Feingold diet.

Dr. Bernui of Hendersonville, TN was one of the recommended practitioners in Jenny McCarty's 2007 book Louder than Words: A Mother's Journey in Healing Autism. He and other holistic practitioners are investigating nutrition and require much more lab work than what we may be used to.

Dr. Daniel Amen (publisher of SPECT scans of addicted and recovering)

Gut and Psychology Syndrome - Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride –  Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAP Syndrome or GAPS) is a condition which establishes a connection between the functions of the digestive system and the brain. Describes how it develops and how to treat it effectively with a sound nutritional protocol. Natural treatment for autism, ADHD/ADD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, depression, and schizophrenia.        Videos

Is This Your Child? By Doris Rapp - In this breakthrough book, Dr. Doris Rapp offers a simple yet effective approach to handling "problem" children. Is This Your Child? shows parents how to identify the common foods, chemicals, or common allergic substances that could be the culprits that cause some children or adults to feel unwell or act inappropriately. If your child is always sick, hyperactive, a slow learner, or cranky, the first question you should ask is not "What drug should be prescribed?" or "What have I done wrong as a parent?" Instead, find out the cause.

Love Me, Feed Me: The Adoptive Parent's Guide to Ending the Worry About Weight, Picky Eating, Power Struggles and More by Dr. Katja Rowell - who is known as the feeding doctor. 

Our kids can be so complicated!!

Books and Methods Review - School!

This amazing chart can be used when meeting with teachers to explain attachment disorders.  Details on it's use and ways to make presentations about your child, including a free download, are available here.
The most important thing I've learned is that my children need relationships and emotional healing WAAAYYYY more than they need an education.  Think about it, do you really want to raise a well-educated psychopath?

I'm a firm believer that what happens in school stays in school.  We have enough problems with relationships at our house; I don't need to fight the school's battles as well.  Advocate to make sure they get what they needed, but leave the rest to the school.  Family relationships are way more important, and you're not able to work on that if you're fighting about school.


Homework is NOT your problem.  If I force my kids to do their homework then in their mind it becomes MY problem (meaning no longer theirs!).  Also, the school doesn't get an accurate picture of my child's issues

Like most kids of trauma, my children have severe executive functioning and memory issues, which means they canNOT get/stay organized. A lot of times my child understands the assignment at school but has forgotten it by the time they get home, or they can do something laid out very concretely, but in the homework, they are supposed to apply the knowledge they learned - which process to use - which they just can't do!). My son would act out to hide the fact that he couldn't (or didn't think he could) do his homework.

I need the school to grasp and acknowledge my child's academic issues, and they won't get that if I walk my child through the homework. I do give my child adequate time to do homework and offer support and help (if they ask for it and remain respectful), but I will tell my child to put it down and walk away if it's obviously triggering him/her.  Maybe I'd encourage them to come back later.  Maybe not.  It depends on what's best for the emotional health of the family as a whole. (Prioritizing Yourself, Your Family, and Your Child - In That Order!)

I finally had to force the school to add "no homework" to my children's IEPs. Yes, it meant my children didn't do as well in school as I wanted them to, and my son wasn't able to participate in some extra-curricular activities (because he was failing classes), but it just wasn't a battle that needed to be fought at home. The school did try giving my children "study hall," but it was designed mostly to babysit kids while they did their homework/ school work and my kids either didn't have any, or needed a lot more active help/ support to get it done.

A good resource for Adoption Awareness in School Assignments.

Some advice on Advocating for Yourself, Your Family, Your Family, and Your Child - In That Order

Advocating for Your Child

When advocating for your child in school you need to use key phrases, like 

"My child has a right to a  Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), this (issue) is preventing him from being able to access that education." 

"These behaviors are caused by my child's Disability. In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), My child cannot be discriminated against/ punished/ reprimanded/ denied access to his FAPE for symptoms related to his Disability."

"My child has a right to be in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). The LRE for MY child to be able to learn and receive an education is in a smaller classroom with more INDIVIDUAL (one on one) attention. My child cannot learn in a large, chaotic environment like a general ed classroom therefore that is a MORE restrictive environment for my child and as such not APPROPRIATE. 

Dear School: STOP calling me to come pick up my kid!  by 

pick up kids from school
We all know the feeling. Your phone rings. You look. It’s the school phone number.
A zillion thoughts run through your head as you answer.
Sometimes we’re actually wishing that it was vomiting. Vomiting I understand. Vomiting, I can take him to the pediatrician.
Hi, Mrs. Smith? This is ‘school personnel’ and we need you to come pick up Jacob. Yes, he had quite a tantrum today and he’s really inconsolable. Yes, it’s been going on for at least 45 minutes.”
I honestly would rather that my kid have an upset stomach and throw up, than have an upset heart and be inconsolable and alone for an hour.
But, it’s common, it’s really, really, really (type in a few more) common.
 First, let’s talk about suspensions and kids with IEPs.
And you say, “Oh no, they said he wasn’t suspended, I just needed to come pick him up.”
Wrong answer!
wrong suspension IEP
In the eyes of the law, if your child was asked to leave school, that is a suspension. 

The school personnel just either truly doesn’t know this, or they are avoiding regs and paperwork (as far as reporting how many times they suspend kids with IEPs!) by just sending him home. If you didn’t go through the formal suspension process, it doesn’t matter. Your child was asked to leave school and his/her peers were not. That’s a suspension.
Here is the code. It includes the phrase “For purposes of removals of a child with a disability from the child’s current educational placement.” That’s what they are doing, removing him from his current placement.
Why send him home instead of helping?
I don’t want to get into the well why do they do this? because we could talk all day. I think the main reason is this: Our public schools have been financially starved into failure. Plain and simple, they simply do not have the resources to staff appropriately and so this is a knee-jerk reaction. They don’t have the resources, the knowledge or the patience to deal with the situation, so they remove the situation. Problem solved!
Except that it’s a very short-term solution. Being out of school when a child is already struggling will only lead to more problems. If you do not identify and fix behavior problems, they will only get worse. And, at the basic level, the child was unhappy at school and was just rewarded for acting out about it.
Don’t like school—> act out —>  go home! Yay!
If you haven’t heard of Ross Greene and you are having this problem, you need to become a follower of his. He sums it up well, below:
Why are they asking you to pick up your child from school?
Why are they calling you?
99.9% of the time, I bet that it’s undesirable or inappropriate behavior. Right?
Well, then address the behavior! And not by sending the child home. That punishes no one except the parents!
Is your child diagnosed with a disability? Even if the school system is not deemed to have “knowledge” of a disability, parents can request an evaluation when their child is being suspended or expelled, which must be expedited. (§ 1415(k)(5)(D) In that case, however, the child must remain in whatever placement is determined by the school pending the outcome of the evaluation.
——————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————This also may help:
5 Things every Parent MUST DO in the IEP Process.How to write your Best Ever Parent Concerns Letter.A Parent’s Guide to FBAs, Behavior Plans and more.What to do when your child is suspended (with or without an IEP)

All behavior tells you something.
What is this behavior telling you? Without even knowing your kid, I can guess 3 things:

  1. Child does not have an IEP and needs one
  2. Has insufficient IEP
  3. Has appropriate IEP but is not being followed
Then it’s up to parents and the team to go back and revisit the IEP and adjust accordingly.
Other IEP items to consider:If the child has a 1:1 aide, where was this person? There is no “well, they were at lunch.” If the child is to have a 1:1 all day, that means all day.
So what should I do when they call me to come get my child?
First, know your child.
Do they have acting out behaviors? Crippling anxiety? (Acting In) Do you really think that you need to come get them? Go with your gut.
Is this a pattern? Is this the first time you’ve been called or the 50th?
Document each and every situation!
(Document! Document! Document!) 
Sign them out. Yes, go into the office just as if you were signing the child out for a doctor appointment. Sign them out. State the reason: ‘School called me to come pick up.
Things you should ask for:

Things mom and dad should do:
  • Educate yourself on IEPs and discipline. The rules are different and you need to know what to do.
  • Be solution oriented, beyond picking up the child from school.
  • Think long term. Behavior modification takes time. Be patient.
If you have time…you need to go down the rabbit hole. What I mean by that–read each of those bolded hyperlinks that I have provided you in this post. It’s a very complex issue. There’s not one IEP issue that can be solved in one blog post. All the IEP issues relate to each other and you have to educate yourself.
As I always say, “The knowledge base I wish I didn’t have to have!”
Exceptions: Sometimes there are exceptions to the discipline policy. These situations may include drugs, weapons, guns, extreme violence and/or bodily injury to another person or staff. In those cases, do not delay–do not try to handle this on your own, you need an attorney.
"Call the Police!"
There are times when you have to tell the school, "No! I will not come pick up my child."

I have gotten calls from the school saying, "Mrs. TheMom, we need you to come pick up Bear and please bring your husband." When I asked why I needed to bring Hubby, I was told, "Because he threatened to hurt you." Hubby and I (and the other kids since I had nowhere else for them to go) went and picked up Bear.

Looking back, I wish I'd told them, "No, if you feel he is a danger to himself or others. Call the police."

10 Smart Responses for When the School Cuts or Denies Services

Wrightslaw - go immediately to and become familiar with your child's rights!! 

Due Process - If the school is breaking the law then you can file a grievance or file due process - this is like suing the school. You may need an attorney for this. Most schools will offer mediation before it gets this far. Disability Rights Advocate

If the school is breaking the law then you can probably find a free Disability Rights Advocate 

  • If you Google (or Bing or whatever!) {Your State} Disability Advocate or Disability Rights you will probably find several state agencies.
  • You can also get free advocates through NAMI (National Alliance on Mentally Illness)
  • Your local MHMR (Mental Health and Mental Retardation agency) has changed its name to be more politically correct, but usually if you search {Your State or County} Mental Health and Mental Retardation you will find whatever they call it now and if you use their services (they usually provide doctors and psychiatrists that accept Medicaid) then they often provide family support - which can include an advocate
We have also used private Special Education Advocates/ Attorneys. Sometimes they will offer one free meeting.

Put EVERYTHING in writing. The school is required to respond. Keep it short (hard for me!) and stick to the facts. Tell them what you want to have happen. If you must speak to someone on the phone, document the conversation during or immediately afterward (do not delay - it's amazing how much detail you forget - and how much more readily people will accept a "transcript" over a "Someone said that my child couldn't be moved."  l  

A fantastic article about how to write a letter (or an e-mail) that will get your point across effectively.  
"When you write letters to a school, these letters will be read by strangers. Many important decisions about your child's education are made by strangers. What impression will your letter make on a stranger? Will the stranger see you as an angry, negative complainer? Or will the Stranger see you as a rational, thoughtful parent who is expressing valid concerns?When you write letters, keep this "stranger" in your mind’s eye." 

Get ORGANIZED and keep EVERYTHING! E-mails, school behavior reports, transcripts, psych evals, documents. Get letters from his doctors, caregivers, therapists... Get these Organized and keep them updated (you'd be amazed how many times the school will say, "Well we don't have access to, or record of, that, let's wait until it can be found..." When you open up your 3 ring binder and pull out a copy of your child's behavior reports, that medical report that you had put in to their records at his last IEP meeting, your list of topics you want discussed at the meeting (I usually send out a copy of this before the meeting and ask them to make a copy for everyone!)... it keeps them from slowing down the process. 


New School Year Letters.  I send a letter every year to my child's teachers telling them a little about my child and what works and what doesn't.  

Ask if you can make a presentation to all of your child's teacher or even the entire school about your child's disabilities in general.

Details on the use of the chart at the top and ways to make effective presentations about your child that teachers will actually read are in this awesome post written by an amazing fellow trauma mama at Serenity Links Coaching.

I have given a few school presentations, but have never actually blogged about them (working on that). I did, however, post the Spoon Theory which I think was helpful in making the teachers understand some of the difficulties with which my child struggles.

More Good Articles:

Trauma Informed Approach to Behaviors in the Classroom
About Parenting article - Preparing the School for your Child with RAD 
Nancy Thomas - Letter for Teachers
Nancy Thomas - Letter for Bus Drivers and Monitors
What Every Administrator & Educator Should Know: Separating
Difference from Disability 
Fostering in the Deep End Blog - Back to School with RAD
Attachment Disorder Maryland - School Interventions
Children of Trauma: What Educators Need To Know - good article to share with educators.
An Open Letter to Educators Who Work with Students Who Have Been Diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder or Have Suffered Early Trauma By Carey McGinn Ed.D., CCC/SLP
Children’s Mental Health Disorder Fact Sheet for the Classroom - Reactive Attachment Disorder

The Special Education System Really is Stacked Against Parents -

Why Texas parents have to fight even harder to get their child into Special Ed. 

Denied: How Texas keeps tens of thousands of children out of Special Education 

Did You Know?You absolutely can refuse to have your child be given State Standardized Assessments. 

IEP/ 504/ Disability  

What is the difference between a 504 and an IEP?

What are my child's rights without an IEP?
In some ways, your child has more rights without an IEP. Your child falls under the American's with Disabilities Act (ADA) which has stricter laws than an IEP or 504.

How do we get an IEP?

Requesting a special education evaluation for an IEP

Texas Project FIRST -  A project of the Texas Education Agency committed to providing accurate and consistent information to parents and families of children (ages 0 to 21) with disabilities. Including how to access ECI and the special education system.

What if my child is not old enough to go to school?
Getting an IEP for Your Very Young Child  by Kristin Stanberry
What to Do If Your Child Is Under Age 3
From infancy until age 3, children can receive help through early intervention services. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal law, requires that every state provide early intervention. You don’t need a referral. You can request a free evaluation from your state’s early intervention services program.If your child is found to have a disability or serious developmental delay, services such as speech therapy or occupational therapy will be provided in your home, at no cost to you. 
If your child qualifies for these services, you’ll work with a team of educators to develop an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) for your child. The IFSP is a legally binding document that specifies which services and supports the state will provide to your child.
What to Do If Your Child Is Between Ages 3 and 5 
IDEA guarantees that eligible preschoolers, ages 3 to 5, can get an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and special education services through the public school system. Like an IFSP, an IEP is a legally binding document. It spells out the services and accommodations the school district will provide to meet your child’s needs.If your child qualifies for an IEP, she’ll most likely be offered a free spot at a preschool run by the district.
Here’s how you can try to get an IEP for a child between the ages of 3 and 5:
  • Look, listen and list your concerns. Observe your child and keep a list of behaviors or other examples that make you wonder if there’s a learning or attention issue. Your list will help you present your concerns to people who can help.
  • Talk to the pediatrician and/or the preschool teacher. Share your observations and concerns with your child’s doctor and teachers (if your child attends preschool or daycare). Ask if what they see is typical for children that age. They may assure you that your child’s development is on track.
  • Get a referral for an evaluation. If the doctor or teachers share your concerns, you can ask for a referral to your state’s Child Find program. Child Find provides free screenings and evaluations for children who show signs of a developmental delay or learning issues. You also can send a letter to the school district’s special education director, requesting a (free) evaluation.
Your request for an evaluation can be denied. That’s why it’s important to describe in detail the reasons for your concerns. You also may want to include copies of any tests or doctors’ notes that support your concerns.After a complete evaluation, your child will qualify for an IEP if she meets these criteria:
  • She’s at least 3 years old.
  • The evaluation shows she has a disability or delay covered by IDEA.
  • She needs special education services to address those issues before she starts kindergarten.

My child has an IEP. How do I get them the services they need?

Always read the Procedural Safeguards. Legally the school has to provide them. 

{If we'd accepted every copy we were offered, we'd have enough to wallpaper our entire house!}

If your child has an IEP - the most important thing is DO NOT SIGN the IEP!!

  • You have proof that it says what the team agreed to (can't tell you how many times the school didn't include things agreed to in the meeting or added things in the "verbiage" that wasn't agreed to).
  • if you can't come to an agreement, 
  • the school disagrees and refuses to provide what you know your child needs, 
  • the school claims they cannot provide what you know your child needs.
  • If you don't understand the document. You have every right to take it home and look it over. 
  • If the document is not complete. A lot of times the school will pressure you into signing at the end of the meeting, saying they'll send you a copy of the document from the meeting. This final document may not accurately reflect what you thought was agreed to at the meeting. 
    Your signature states that you agree with everything being put into this document! 

Always insist on waiting until you have a chance to review the final document before you sign.
In Texas, if you don't sign your agreement at an IEP meeting (ARD) meeting, then they are required to hold another ARD within 10 days. 

Be Aware - Example: A school agreed to give a child an assessment to see if he qualified for additional services. The parent did not like one of the tools they were using to assess her child (an IQ test), because she felt it would not be accurate (the child had refused to participate in this type of testing before which skewed his score significantly). The parent informed the school she did not wish for them to use that particular assessment and revoked permission for that one test. The school documented this as the parent revoking permission for the entire assessment! Definitely not what the parent wanted! 

You can always refuse to sign/ give permission. 

You can also revoke permissions previously granted. 

When you're requesting services, accommodations, and changes -

  • Put it in writing! 
  • Stay calm and unemotional - this is not the place to editorialize. 
  • Stick to the basic facts. - Explanations and "backstory" can be discussed later. This is more like a police report - just the facts and nothing but the facts.
  • Know your child's rights and what they're entitled to (Get familiar with Wright's Law and IDEA).
  • State your expectations simply and plainly.
  • Give deadlines and consequences.  

If the school can't or won't provide a service (assessment, a one on one assistant, having a less/ more restrictive environment...), then you have a right to demand they pay for the service to be provided by an independent professional of your choosing. Unfortunately, you might need a Special Education or Attorney to back you up on this (it's often difficult to get money out of school districts!).

Defusing Phrases to Use in an IEP 

IEP/ 504 Strategies/ Accommodations 

Printable list of strategies for your IEP meeting  

IEP Goal Banks - 

Bridges4kids IEP Goals and Objectives Bank which includes pages and pages of goals, including 384 goals under English and 298 Social/emotional goals!!!
Behavioral Goals for an Individual Education Plan
IEP Behavioral Goals 

Developing SMART IEP goals for behavior problems.
Social Emotional IEP Goals
Writing Measurable and Meaningful Behavior Goals
Effectively Addressing Behavioral Concerns within the IEP

More sample goals:

IEP/ GOALS/ Accommodations for Reactive Attachment Disorder
Sample IEP for a child with Autism/PDD
Social Supports Handout- goal areas for friendship and employment skills (teens).
Measurable IEP Goals - includes goals excerpted from an article on Wright's Law, plus some interesting links.
Self-help goals for those whose functional skills are profoundly affected by autism.
Sample math goals.

When it's not working!

Top 10 Most Ridiculous Comments heard at an IEP meeting

Marythemom:  I've heard so many ridiculous things at an IEP meeting (including a lot of these!).  We've had the "professionals" on the team intimidate our advocates to the point they shut down; they even made one cry (and she was a big city lawyer).  An assistant principal (who the meeting before had compared the odds of our daughter - who had been hospitalized at least 4 times in the last few months for suicidal ideation - committing suicide-  to being struck by lightning indoors) ticked off our new special education advocate so much that her agency provided all their services pro bono, including the special education lawyer, when we filed due process - which is what they call it when you sue the school.  At school, Kitty tends to "act in" instead of acting out like Bear so we had a hard time getting her the services needed - even with written statements from 2 psychiatrists, 2 therapists, a skills trainer, social workers...

Special Education Advocate or Attorney

Be your own advocate -

Professional Advocates - There are many ways to find free or paid advocates.

  • Ask friends for help or referrals.
  • Look at local organizations or local branches of agencies and systems that you already work with. Ask if they provide advocates or Family Partners who can work as advocates.
  • Family Partner or Case Manager with your local MHMR. The term MHMR is no longer politically correct so all the MHMRs changed their names - unfortunately, they all got to pick what they changed it to (ex. Community Services, Integral Care...). The good news is that you can still search for "Your County's Name MHMR" and it will give you the name of your county's mental health and IDD service provider. You have to be a client, but they do accept Medicaid and sliding scale fees. 
  • Some school districts have Parent Liaisons and/or a special education parent support organization. 
  • Use a search engine and type Special Education Advocate and the name of your state, city or school district to find professionals.
  • Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates - COPAA is a community that works to increase the quality and quantity of advocate and attorney representation
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness - NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. We are an association of hundreds of local affiliates, state organizations and volunteers who work in your community to raise awareness and provide support and education that was not previously available to those in need.
  • Disability Rights Advocates 
  • ...

Filing Due Process/ Mediation 

When a dispute arises between a parent and the school in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting there are a few methods that can be utilized to work out the disagreement.  Most School Districts will have at least one Informal Dispute Resolution (IDR) system in place that can be employed to work out the dispute.

Mediation -A mediation is a meeting facilitated by a mediator used to find a peaceful settlement of the disagreement prior to starting costly litigation. If a resolution is reached at the mediation, a legally binding settlement agreement will be signed by all parties involved.  Once a settlement agreement is executed a new IEP meeting must be called to implement the services outlined in that agreement.  If a resolution is not reached the next step would be a Due Process Hearing.

Due Process -A due process hearing is typically held by the state department of education and presided over by an impartial hearing officer.  The Due Process complaint form must outline the complaint and the proposed resolution.   The other party has the right to respond and can file a Notice of Insufficiency (NOI) if they feel the complaint does not have enough information to proceed.  Since the School District will involve an attorney it is recommended that you consult with an experienced Special Education Attorney before filing for due process.

If the Parents file for due process they have the burden of proof and a resolution session must be held between the School District and the Parents prior to the hearing.  This resolution session can be waived if both parties agree and a formal mediation can be held instead.  If a settlement is not worked out in either the resolution session or formal mediation then the case would proceed to a hearing.  The hearing is similar to a court presiding and will include opening statements, presentation of evidence and cross-examination.

Hearing Officer Decisions are final unless appealed to either State or Federal courts.  You can’t file in State or Federal Court until after going through due process.  Hearing decisions shall be made on substantive grounds unless procedural violations impeded the child’s right to a free appropriate public education, significantly impeded the parents' opportunity to participate in the decision-making process or caused a deprivation of educational benefits.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

Least Restrictive Environment - Section 5A of IDEA 2004 (from 'To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.'

Almost everyone you speak to, especially schools, assumes the LRE means a child should/ must spend the majority of their time in a general education environment, possibly with some inclusion help, but the reality is the least restrictive environment for your child may be what the school considers to be the MOST restrictive environment.

A Diary of a Mom said it very well:

Many of our kids get easily overwhelmed. Many of them have language processing challenges. Many of them have sensory issues that can make a typical classroom nearly unbearable. For some (and for many years, mine), trying to be taught in a class of twenty some-odd kids is like trying to learn French while your house is on fire. It simply isn’t possible.
The best part about inclusion DONE RIGHT is that it’s never an all or none proposition. It’s flexible, malleable, creative. It is, above all, INDIVIDUALIZED so that the needs of each individual are seamlessly incorporated into the every day routine of the group. And the best part? When generalized, the accommodations of individuals so often benefit the whole. Predictability? Visual prompts and learning tools? Movement breaks? Tools for emotional regulation? Social skills teaching? A little more time to process information? GOOD FOR EVERYONE.
But back to this least restrictive environment thing. Well, based on my experiences in the past and recent conversations with friends, it seems that the assumptions that we’ve begun to make based on that language have become a little, well, restrictive. We assume that LRE means the room with the most typical kids (or even just the most kids) in it. Well, no. It doesn’t. It might. But it might not.

Getting Financial Aid for a child going to college:

Some good books about kids of trauma and the school system:

Lost at School: Why Our Kids with Behavioral Challenges are Falling Through the Cracks and How We Can Help Them - Ross W. Greene  

From a distinguished clinician, pioneer in working with behaviorally challenging kids, and author of the acclaimed The Explosive Child comes a groundbreaking approach for understanding and helping these kids and transforming school discipline.Frequent visits to the principal's office. Detentions. Suspensions. Expulsions. These are the established tools of school discipline for kids who don't abide by school rules, have a hard time getting along with other kids, don't seem to respect authority, don't seem interested in learning, and are disrupting the learning of their classmates. But there's a big problem with these strategies: They are ineffective for most of the students to whom they are applied.
It's time for a change in course.
Here, Dr. Ross W. Greene presents an enlightened, clear-cut, and practical alternative. Relying on research from the neurosciences, Dr. Greene offers a new conceptual framework for understanding the difficulties of kids with behavioral challenges and explains why traditional discipline isn't effective at addressing these difficulties. Emphasizing the revolutionarily simple and positive notion that kids do well if they can, he persuasively argues that kids with behavioral challenges are not attention-seeking, manipulative, limit-testing, coercive, or unmotivated, but that they lack the skills to behave adaptively. And when adults recognize the true factors underlying difficult behavior and teach kids the skills in increments they can handle, the results are astounding: The kids overcome their obstacles; the frustration of teachers, parents, and classmates diminishes; and the well-being and learning of all students are enhanced.

  "Trauma in the Lives of Children: Crisis and Stress Management Techniques, 2nd Edition" Johnson, PhD

Help for Billy: A Beyond Consequences Approaching to Helping Challenging Children in the Classroom by Heather T. Forbes - is a pragmatic manual to help guide families and educators who are struggling with traumatized children. Based on the concept of the neuroscience of emotions and behavior, Heather Forbes provides detailed, comprehensive, and logical strategies for teachers and parents. This easy to read book, with tables, outlines, and lists, clears the way for a better understanding of the true nature regarding traumatic experiences affecting the brain and learning. It is a must-read for anyone working with a child in the classroom.

Financial Planning (including college) for the Adopted Child

Changing Schools/ Getting Your Child to School

Going to school, whether it's starting at a new school or just coming back at the end of the summer, is a major change. For many children, it's also a Traumaversary. Changes in routine, or for that matter changes in general, can be terrifying and dysregulating (Handling Dysregulation and Meltdowns).

So what happens if your child doesn't want to go to school? 

Enlist help

If your child has an IEP, I would get the IEP team involved, her included (although I would probably talk to the school first so we were all on the same page). I know for my daughter, she found change terrifying. I would remind her that change can be scary and of times when she felt that way and it ended up being something she enjoyed.

The Carrot and The Stick

For my kids making changes in the types of classes they were attending like moving to a special education program or even a brand new school, I would talk about the benefits of that situation versus the previous arrangements, but I also held a stick behind the carrots (if you don't attend school and do well in the classroom then you could end up in summer school or at a school with mandatory attendance like RTC). Future consequences didn't always work with my kids though since they didn't really have a grasp on the future (or consequences in general).

Address Their Concerns

Mostly, I would try to figure out and address what was scaring them about it (beyond "the unknown" and "change"). For mine, it was loud, chaotic, noisy environments - so we arranged for them to have a quiet classroom with a teacher to go to after getting off the bus in the morning and during lunch hour, we even had one child escorted to each classroom (requiring leaving class a few minutes early) rather than having to deal with the chaos of the halls.

We also came early and met the teachers and behavior staff whenever possible, or just walked the halls of the new school to help them feel more familiar. We pointed out the benefits of the new school - like the library and classes available music/ art/ sports...

We'd talk about where they could go and who they could talk to if they needed support. Calming Techniques. Anxiety Scale. We made sure school staff was aware of these plans and had a formal crisis plan written into the child's IEP if needed.

My daughter was often returning to school from a psych hospital or RTC. We would talk about what she wanted to say to people who asked where she was. Usually, she would say she was attending a private school for a while (which is true, most hospitals and treatment centers have a charter school).

To get them actually into school, we tried a few things over the years -

  • Hubby took them (they were more compliant with him), but this often meant they got there early, so we arranged with the school for them to hang out with a teacher.
  • School staff came to the car/ bus and escorted them inside. We often called ahead and warned them the child was coming in "hot" (upset or angry).
  • Went to school in PJs  This worked a little better with kids you could carry or frog-march into the car. It's also best to let the school know what's going on, and have a change of clothes ready.
  • Carpooled with a friend. Mine were Disinhibited "Charming" RAD so it was amazing what they'd do to keep others from thinking badly of them.
  • Hot breakfast - kids up, dressed, and ready for school, got a hot, yummy breakfast - pancakes or something special. Slowpokes got cold cereal or maybe a protein/ granola bar (not a favorite flavor) shoved in their pocket to eat at school. 
  • Be prepared - Having everyone frantically getting ready for school was often overwhelming for my kids. So we got up a little earlier (and I'm SO not a morning person), did as much as possible the night before (laid out clothes, packed lunches, put shoes and backpack by the front door), and had Routine Checklists posted (Get up. Go to the Bathroom. Get Dressed. Put Pull-Up in Trash. Brush Teeth. Eat Breakfast. Put Dishes in Sink. Put Lunch in Backpack. Get in Car. Off to School!)
  • Escort them. There were times when we had to make sure they actually got on the bus and/ or walked into school.