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, August 15, 2017

Retired? Homebound? Bored? Things for Adults to Do to Stay Active


Looking for something to do now that you're retired, homebound, or just plain bored? 
Here's some ideas.

GAMES
Board games don’t have to be boring. From games played with others - Bingo, Scrabble, card games (Cards Against Humanity, strip poker?), Jenga, Apples to Apples, billiards/ pool, bowling... to games that can be done alone - like solitaire, Mahjong, crosswords, Sudoku, online computer games, and jigsaw puzzles... 

Some games can actually improve your memory (for example, seeing several pairs of cards for ten seconds and matching them up again). Improving your memory can also improve your concentration as it helps your mind to become more alert.

Games are also a great way to keep from resorting to hours of mindless TV-watching
 
EXERCISE

You can exercise by yourself or in a group. Playing systems like the Wii, work out videos, bicycling, or just going for a walk on a regular basis (you can walk at a local mall if it's too hot outside or the weather is bad), all can be a wonderful way to stay physically active without having to join a gym. 

If you have access to a gym or club, you might have even more options - water aerobics, tennis, volleyball, weight lifting, golf, Zumba classes... Join a sport rec league. 

Think you could never run a marathon? This year 88 people over the age of 75 ran the New York City Marathon - Here's how they did. http://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/nyc-marathons-oldest-runners-howd-they-do/

Not only does physical activity help you feel better physically and emotionally, it can also help keep your brain active too!


CRAFTS/ HOBBIES
Do something creative or learn something new. Crafts and hobbies can all be done at home, in a class, or with a group of like-minded individuals. They can be for your own enjoyment, to sell (check out Etsy.com), or donate to charity. You can take classes or even teach others how to do a craft or hobby that you enjoy.
  • Crafts - knitting, crocheting, cross stitch, embroidery, scrap booking, making cards, pottery, tapestry, sewing, dress making, collages.  (Ex. Some ideas for Crocheting and Knitting for Charity (https://www.craftsy.com/blog/2014/03/crocheting-and-knitting-for-charity/  ) Project Linus - gives homemade blankets to children in need (https://www.projectlinus.org/)
  • Artistic - Drawing, painting, calligraphy, coloring in adult coloring books, working with modeling clay, woodworking/ carving, jewelry making, glass staining.
  • Creative writing – This can involve writing in a journal, creating poetry, or writing a book/ stories. If you want to have a wider platform for your writing, you can publish it online in a blog. Some authors have been “discovered” through their blogs. Or you can self-publish a book, which is becoming more and more popular these days - Self-Publishing a Book, 25 Things You Need to Know
  • Cooking and Food Appreciation - Try new recipes. You can learn or teach others how to cook and enjoy different types of food: Basic beginning, gourmet, gluten free, vegan, multi-cultural, dessert/ pastries... Become a wine connoisseur or just learn the art of wine tasting. Make your own cook book with pictures and everything.
  • Research your family / Make a family tree. Check out Ancestry.com https://www.ancestry.com/
  • Gardening - Gardening can be enjoyable and a great way to stay physically and mentally active, whether your garden is a cactus on your desk, a few potted plants on your balcony, a small garden in your backyard (herbs, flowers, and/or vegetables), or a large garden with excess produce to sell. To learn more about how to start a garden, you can research online. (Ex. Basics of Gardening
  • Other Hobbies - This can be whatever you're interested in or interested in learning about - weather watching, ham radios, bird watching, small appliance repair, photography, furniture refinishing, interior decorating, 


WORK/ VOLUNTEER
Whether it’s making follow-up calls or providing advice to businesses or tutoring students, many jobs can be done from home these days. Learn more in this article from AARP: Work from Home Jobs for Retirees

It's usually pretty easy to find volunteer work, you can check out some local non-profits in your area and contact them to see if they need any help. Guidestar - Directory of Charities and Non-Profits

Look for work in an area you enjoy: 
  • Children - babysit, respite, foster care, Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for foster children (volunteer position that does not require any particular experience), run a home daycare, sitting with newborns in ICU, read story books at the library or book store, tutoring...
  • Animals - Dog walking, pet sitting, volunteer in an animal shelter. Check out places that offer services involving animals, like equine therapy, to see if they have volunteer positions. Train animals as service dogs or therapy pets.
  • Elderly/ Disabled - Caregiver or just spend some time with a senior citizen. You can volunteer at places like hospice providers, nursing homes, drive elderly and disabled people to church services...
  • Office work - reach out to local non-profits and see if they need any help with filing, answering phones, writing thank you notes... 
  • Tech/ Design/ Media - If you have skills in these areas, many non-profits and other agencies are always looking for talented designers. Ex. PeaceGeeks - build the technological, communications and management capacities of grassroots organizations who work to promote peace, accountability and human rights.  
  • Food - work at a food pantry, cook for a soup kitchen, 

PETS
Get a pet! Pets can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, increase social interaction and physical activity, help you learn, and can reduce depression and lessen loneliness. 

Learning about animal care and training can be fun and rewarding. Going to dog parks and meeting others, can keep both you and your pet entertained and active.


LEARN!

Keeping the mind active can improve your memory, improve your health, ward off dementia... To help your mind stay young and flexible, continuing education or informal classes (learning something new just for fun), can help the mind stay active. 

You can check out your local community college - there are online courses for just about everything and a lot of them are free. it might take a little research to find some good ones, but good news! There's often someone that has already reviewed the type of courses you're looking for and posts the best options. 

CHANGE THINGS UP!
Change can be fun. Redecorate, decorate for the seasons, change out pictures. rearrange the furniture, DIY some fun projects, sell some clutter on sites like Craigslist (https://geo.craigslist.org/iso/us), LetGo.com (https://us.letgo.com/en), or ebay (https://www.ebay.com/). 

READING

Any place, anywhere, any time. Books are awesome! Start or attend a book club, book stores, libraries, book carts, start a little free library (https://littlefreelibrary.org/), the possibilities are as endless as the worlds that books can take you to.

ENTERTAINMENT
For low cost concerts and plays, check out a local high school for live entertainment. Check out senior day care facilities for special activities or just visit once in a while. 

MUSIC
 
This could be listening to music, learning a new instrument, and/ or joining a choir. Go dancing! Take a Dance Class! Attend a concert.
concerts and plays at your local high school for low-cost/low-stress live entertainment

LAUGH!
Laughing doesn't just make you feel better, it can make you physically better. Laughter has been clinically proven to strengthen your immune system, activate and relieve your stress response and stimulate many organs.
Watch old TV shows on DVD like "I Love Lucy" or the "Marx Brothers" for a laugh.
Play! - 40 ideas to experience childlike playfulness as adults 
The Importance Of Laughter In Long Term Care Facilities

PAMPER YOURSELF
Have a spa day, even if just in your room. Invite some friends over and do each other's nails. Manis, pedis, facials, experiment with makeup and hair styles, skin treatments, impromptu fashion shows. Check out an online makeup or hair tutorial online, and try something new. Host or attend a makeup, jewelry, or fashion party - you don't actually have to buy anything. 


GET OUT OF THE HOUSE

Attend worship, travel, outings, and shopping trips (this can be window shopping!). Go for a walk or a drive. Visit a museum, place of interest, go antiquing. Travel to faraway lands (even if just in your imagination). Explore new cultures and learn new a new language. You'd be amazed at how much you can learn from the internet nowadays. 

FRIENDS and STRANGERS YOU DON'T KNOW YET
Clubs are a great way to meet and keep in contact with others. Check out computer clubs, sewing clubs, golf clubs (Sorry! just had to throw that in there). Lunch groups and social groups, singles groups. Hang out an activity center, YMCA, senior center... Join a support group online or in real life.  Plan a dinner party, trivia night, movie or other event party.





Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Parenting Biokids and Adopted Kids Together

See also this post, Biokids with Adopted Siblings

Adopting Out of Birth Order

My adopted children were older than my biokids, and that caused some extra issues, because the bio kids were able to handle tons of things the adopted kids couldn't.  Here's a good post I did for a lady adopting a RAD child older than her bios (different age, but kids of trauma are often younger developmentally, emotionally, and/ or socially).

Adopting Children Developmentally, Emotionally, and/ or Socially Younger
This could also apply to parents with kids who are not technically out of birth order, but are close in age or younger (for example giving birth to biokids or adopting a child(ren) younger than the older adopted child(ren) but with fewer issues). The problems come when this younger child(ren) pass up the adopted child(ren) developmentally, emotionally, and/ or socially. Parenting often appears to not be fair, like you're choosing favorites, and/ or that you're criticizing or punishing the delayed child.

{My adopted children were both delayed and older than my oldest biochild (Bob, biodaughter). Bear (adopted, 3 1/2 years older than Bob) was very aggressive and intimidating to everyone and Kitty (adopted, 1 year older than Bob) was aggressive toward Bob (jealousy, pushing to get kicked out like everyone else has done to her in the past, delayed emotionally and socially - so tended to be more like a toddler who uses her hands not her words...).}  

All Children are Not Created Equally - Nor Should They Be Treated That Way
For a long time, we tried to treat the children equally, especially the girls who were close in age and in the same grade at school, but we finally figured out that was not going to work. Life got smoother when we started using age-appropriate, therapeutic parenting.
Post:  Chap. 1 Parenting based on Developmental/Emotional Age

Here's some of the things we did (or I wish we had done sooner!):

* Explain Why They're Treated Differently - We sat the adopted children down and tell them that they were being treated differently because of their trauma, not because we loved them less or loved biokids more. They absolutely did not understand this or believe it, but it needed to be said, if only so we could refer back to the conversations.
Posts: Trust Jars/ Love Jars post;
Choosing Joy - Explaining Age Appropriate Therapeutic Parenting to Child(ren)

          The younger biochildren did not have the same childhood and there were going to be areas where they got to do things the adopted kids didn't, even though they were older.   None of this solved anything by the way, but it gave us a reference point that we could keep pointing back to,

"I know it doesn't feel fair that your sister gets to spend the night at your friend's house and you don't, but you're not at a place to do that right now, because it's hard for you.  Your sister didn't have the trauma that you did so she can handle it.  
You'll get there!  Just not today."

*Stop treating them equally.  They are not equal! They have different life experiences, different interests, different abilities, different needs...  My mom always emphasized that with my sister and I.  We both got a Christmas present, but it wasn't matching dresses (which is one thing my dad liked to do)!  Neither of us would want what the other wanted! Our gifts were chosen with our unique likes and dislikes in mind.

^This is actually how the FAIR Club got started.^  http://marythemom-mayhem.blogspot.com/2009/03/how-to-discipline-your-difficult-child.html My kids were constantly whining, "That's not FAAAIIIRRR!!!" I needed a way to discipline and structure their lives that was appropriate for each of them.  Structure for the adopted kids, but not really punishing them for things that were out of their control (fight/ flight/ freeze reactions for example) - while avoiding letting the biokids feel that the adopted kids were "getting away with" behaviors that we didn't want the biokids to start thinking was OK for them to do!

* Emotional Age - Remember that develomentally (emotionally and socially) most kids of trauma are a LOT younger. http://marythemom-mayhem.blogspot.com/2011/04/developmental-stages.html  If we expect them to "act their age," we're all going to be disappointed.

*ABSOLUTELY no touching of other kids!  None.  Ever. The violent one especially, literally had to be out of arm reach of the other kids at all times.  If I had to be in another room then that child came with me or was in his/her room alone. They weren't allowed to sit next to each other on the couch or in the car.  They were NEVER allowed to be alone in the same room.

* Separate rooms. Originally the girls shared a room.  BIG mistake! We converted the playroom to a bedroom to separate them.  When I was a kid, my bedroom was the breakfast nook with some slatted closet doors bolted in to make a wall.

*ABSOLUTELY no parenting.  The adopted kids felt they had a right to boss the other kids around. The biokids just handled it.  Kitty expected it and was terrified of Bear so she often tried to anticipate his wishes.

EVERY time we heard it, we reminded everyone that WE are the parents and that was not their job.  We NEVER put the kids in a position where they got to tell the other kids what to do.  Not even relaying a message, like, "Mom said to come downstairs and do the dishes." At most, they were allowed to say, "Mom is calling you."

* Individual parent time.  Just me (or Hubby)  and the child doing something together.  Could be making a meal, going shopping, a "date," sitting next to their bed and chatting, telling a story or singing... I tried to make it fun, even when they were being obnoxious, awful, or in trouble.  It was an attachment activity and necessary. I did this with all the kids- adopted and bio. Try to squeeze in a combo of activities -  If you're at the school for an IEP meeting, have lunch with a biokid.

* Family and individual activities. Don't skip that family vacation because one child can't handle it. Find an alternative for the child having issues (preferably something fun for them), and GO! Make time for each child's school events and activities. Go to your biokids' art show, soccer game, whatever. Sign them up for dance classes that their adopted sibling isn't a part of (this is when it really comes in handy to have a spouse so you can divide and conquer!).

Try to find ways that all the kids can participate without overshadowing the other's fun. While watching your son play T-ball, let the other kids play on a nearby playscape or spread a blanket behind the bleachers and play with toys they don't always get to play with. Have a Letter Party and each child gets to do something different to help (pick the letter, shopping, helping cook, pick the movie, set up the picnic area...).

* Individual Time - Give biokids a break from their siblings and family life sometimes. There were summers where Bob went to live with her grandparents. She remembers them as some of the best summers ever.

* Provide structure and reduce overwhelm.  Our adopted kids needed LOTS of Structure and Caring Support.  Their insides are so chaotic that we had to make the rest of life as calm and simple as possible. That means stripping their rooms of all but a bed and one toy.  It means for them, chores that biokids could handle with ease, have to be simplified and fewer.  Multi-step directions were overwhelming and impossible.  They usually triggered Dysregulation and Meltdowns.

* Make it OK for biokids to complain and vent. Living with mentally ill siblings is HARD. It is for parents too of course, but there are rarely support groups and people teaching Self-Care for kids. As long as it wasn't in front of their siblings, and they didn't share it with friends who knew their siblings, then I made sure that they knew it was even OK to resent/hate their sibling. I probably let it go too far and let the biokids feel that it was OK to be totally negative about their siblings without encouraging them to look for the good stuff too.

* Avoid over sharing. I'll admit that as Bob got older, it was easy to confide in her and sometimes vent or bounce off ideas. She knew the people involved and the situations, much better than any other friends and family members outside of our immediate family. She often had great insight, and I knew she wouldn't judge me for being upset/ angry with the adopted child or the situation. I often worry that I laid too much on her shoulders, because she seemed like she could handle it. I forgot that she's still a kid and going to have to have and/ or establish some kind of relationship with this sibling for the rest of their lives.

* SELF-CARE!! Self-care!! Self-Care!!! This is a tough life and if you're "bucket" is empty, then you're no good to anyone.
Advocating for Yourself, Your Family, and Your Child - In That Order**

Biokids with Adopted Siblings

See Also - Parenting Biokids and Adopted Kids Together



I rarely blog about my adopted children on here any more. Mostly because Kitty (22) and Bear (24) are now out of the house, although Kitty will probably be moving back home in the next 6 months or so.

So I'm going to talk about Bob and Ponito. If you just started reading my blog, then here's a brief summary. Bob (21) and Ponito (18) -- obviously not their real names-- were 7 (bioson, Ponito) and 10 (biodaughter, Bob - if you want to know how she got the name, Bob, click here) when Bear (13) and Kitty (11) joined our family. Kitty and Bob were in the same grade at school and there were a LOT of clashes between the 2 girls.

Bear was a very squeaky wheel, and it wasn't until he went into residential treatment at 14 that we realized how loudly Kitty was squeaking too. Between the two of them, I'm afraid all other squeaks were pretty much tuned out.

Bob was the next squeakiest. I'm pretty sure she still struggles with not getting all her needs met after the adoption, and I'm also pretty sure it's why she's such a strong, independent, young woman.

Ponito didn't squeak at all.

Bob - Biodaughter (21)



Bob is starting her 4th year of college and just turned 21 - no longer a teenager. She's an amazing young woman now. All those years of her making me crazy and pushing my buttons, living with  severely mentally ill siblings, being incredibly smart and incredibly stubborn... have turned her into a strong, capable, responsible young woman.

Bob's finally stopped pushing me away, and we have a pretty good relationship. I probably talk to her a little too much about what's going on with her siblings and asking for her advice, especially with Ponito.

She tends to be pretty honest with me about her opinions, whether they hurt my feelings or not. I know that's a good thing, but of course it still hurts to hear her say that she understands how Ponito is feeling and that she too wanted to leave home the minute she graduated high school.


Independence and Separation from Family - Teenage Developmental Stage
I know this is a normal developmental stage. Teens are supposed to be working on becoming independent from their parents, and pushing their parents away at this time is developmentally appropriate. I did it too. It wasn't until my mid to late twenties, that I started going back to my mom for advice and support. I remind myself of this every day. It still hurts. 


Ponito - Bioson (18)

Ponito was always a sensitive, laid-back, little kid. In a family of strong female personalities, he took after his dad. His Love Language was obviously Physical Touch, and he was always climbing in our laps, or plopping himself down between Hubby and I.

He was small for his age, so I was even able to carry him around - which he loved - long after the age I had to stop carrying Bob (she was 5'1" by the time she was 10, and 6 foot tall by age 14).



Ponito was very active, incredibly coordinated, and social. When we weren't calling him Monkey, we called him the Energizer Bunny. In 7th grade, he was in band, football, soccer, drama class, and had an adorable, little girlfriend (I say little, because she was petite). At 5'5" and thin as a rail like the rest of the boys in my family, we encouraged him toward soccer rather than football, He loved soccer and it came easily to him, but he never had a real drive to win.

Then things started changing. In 7th grade, he started failing classes. He seemed to just stop caring. He started getting stomach aches (after years of specialists, we finally figured out it was most likely anxiety - Prozac helped a lot, but quickly thereafter, he refuse to take it). When it came to makeup work, he wouldn't ask for assignments and wouldn't do them when he got them (he said he didn't understand them, but he wouldn't ask for help).

When he started high school, Ponito dropped out of band and football (which made sense as he was going to need more time for academics with his advanced math classes). Within a year, he had dropped out of soccer and all extracurricular activities too. Starting in 8th grade, he did little besides play on his gaming system (unfortunately, Hubby and I couldn't come to an agreement on how to handle this, so he was pretty much able to play anytime he wanted - which was all the time).

He barely ate, and kept losing weight. By 14, he was only 5'6" and weighed less than 120lbs. At that point, I found some protein bars he was willing to snack on. Within 6 months, he'd shot up to 5'10". Then 6ft (made Bob crazy when he passed up her 5'11 1/2"). By the end of high school, he was 6'3", but still barely ate (he'd stopped eating protein bars after a year).

At the end of junior year, I finally talked Hubby into getting him a psych eval. We'd tried several therapists and even a few anti-depressants, anti-anxiety meds, and ADHD meds. Some of them worked, but he quickly refused to take them.

We'd always known he was smart, but the academic part of the psych eval was even better than expected. In math, he tested post-graduate level (from college!), in English, college level. He was also diagnosed ADD with almost no "general fund of acquired knowledge."

His other diagnosis was Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood. According to Ponito's therapist, this is kind of a junk drawer diagnosis for "we have no idea what it is, but something is obviously wrong." The therapist recommended DBT therapy, but that Ponito had to "buy into it," which wasn't going to happen. So we agreed to stop therapy.

Now a high school graduate, Ponito plans to go to college out of state. He found one that was willing to accept him, despite his abysmal GPA. He spent the whole summer on his PS4 all night, and sleeping all day. I pretty much despair that he'll do well in college and end up dropping out, but who knows? He may surprise me.

My hope is that this is that independence phase, and that when Ponito is in his 20s, he'll come back to the family and get his act together. I do still think there's something fundamentally wrong (mental health wise), but I've never been able to figure out what or how to help him.

I will always feel a little guilty that we didn't catch the ADD sooner, but like Kitty's issues were hidden because they were overshadowed by Bear's, Ponito, my least squeaky wheel, was overshadowed by them all.



Adopted Siblings Falling Behind Biokids

Our adopted kids' issues meant they were emotionally and developmentally delayed in a lot of ways (like most kids with trauma issues). The younger biokids quickly "passed them up" and were able to do and handle things that their siblings couldn't. Because the girls were basically twinned (in the same grade), the differences were usually VERY obvious which caused a lot of extra issues.

For example, both my biokids are now able to drive. My adopted daughter is not. In her mind, the fact that I won't let her drive is because I "love them more." Of course, the facts are that she is easily distracted, has difficulty with processing her environment, can't multitask, frequently has issues with esophoria (eyes crossing when she's tired or stressed),..



Adopted Siblings Resenting Biokids

The adopted kids resented that Ponito was getting to have the happy childhood they didn't, and we had to protect him from their sabotaging that. I'm 95% positive our adopted kids were doing it subconsciously, but they actively made his life miserable whenever they could. Since he was younger and smaller, he needed more protection than our biodaughter. He was a very laid-back little guy, and as the least squeaky wheel, I now realize he got a lot less attention than he needed/ deserved.



Helping Siblings Cope with the Child of Trauma Not Having Consequences

It was difficult for the other kids to understand why Kitty and Bear rarely had consequences for their "bad" behavior (they cussed, lied, stole things, hit and bit, broke things...). When they complained it wasn't "fair" (which was rare once we started the FAIR Club), we mentioned that they didn't always see the consequences, but that didn't mean they didn't get them (True! Having to live life like this is a consequence all it's own - The adopted kids had a lot more Structure).

To help the biokids understand their adopted siblings' differences, we tried to give them examples and explanations (at their age level).

  • "You know your {developmentally delayed} cousin and how she's older than you, but she has trouble with reading, writing and understanding things? Well, your sister is kind of the same, but she also has trouble with dealing with her feelings."
  • "Think of how we treat {my 7yo niece}. We don't expect her to be able to do all the things you can do, right? Your sister needs to be treated that way because the stuff that happened to her when she was a kid kept her from growing up in some ways."


No Triggering Allowed

We also had to explain that if any of our children teased or triggered their sibling, especially if they triggered him/her on purpose, then THEY would be the one getting in trouble.



Biokids Mimicking Behaviors

The biokids did try mimicking siblings behavior, and we had to squelch it pretty hard. They wanted to see if they could get away with it too. They usually only tried it once or twice before they "got" that our expectations of them were different. We held them to a higher standard that was age-appropriate for them.


Would We Do This Again?


I don't know.

There were some advantages -
  •  I don't think Bob would have become as much of  the mature, responsible woman she is today without the challenge of being the opposite of her sister. 
  • My relationship with Bob would have been a lot more antagonistic without the invention of the FAIR Club. She and I were so much alike (she was as stubborn and "spirited" as I was as a kid), that we butted heads all the time. The FAIR Club was the first and only discipline method that worked for us, and I wouldn't have invented it if we hadn't desperately needed the structure it provided. 
  • I think I'm a calmer, better parent for all of my children. I was "forced" to focus on Self-Care so I think I am a calmer, better person in general. 
  • It helped me set better priorities that benefited my family as a whole - Advocating for Yourself, Your Family, and Your Child - In That Order**


There were also some disadvantages -

  • It took me quite awhile to Find the Joy, and in the meantime, the whole family suffered from not having a stronger mom/ wife/ person. I was often depressed and easily triggered because my "bucket" was empty.
  • Biokids and adopted kids both felt like I loved the other one more. Biokids because they suffered from my focus on the needs of the adopted kids. Adopted kids, because they were jealous and felt that I favored the biokids, especially when the biokids got to do things the adopted kids weren't socially/ emotionally/ developmentally ready for. Age-Appropriate Therapeutic Parenting
  • Bob lost her position as oldest child, but still get a lot of the higher expectations expected of a first-born. Now that she's older, I probably rely on too much and overshare with Bob.
  • Especially when the girls were in puberty (and therefore insane and hated me). I probably relied a little too much on getting my "bucket" partially filled by Ponito, since we shared the same Love Language - Physical Touch. I loved cuddling with him (although since it is his love language, it helped fill him up too).
  • Ponito, my youngest, was often targeted (sometimes physically) by the adopted kids, because he was having the happy childhood they didn't get. 
  • Some of Ponito's issues went unnoticed or didn't get the attention they needed (ADD, anxiety disorder, failing grades, avoidance of emotional situations...).
Do the Kids Wish We Hadn't Adopted?
Probably.


Monday, July 31, 2017

Choosing Joy - Explaining Age-Appropriate Parenting


Today after Kitty had been in her room pouting for awhile I went upstairs to talk to her.  I woke her up from an escapist nap.

Evil Parent or Therapeutic Parent?
I told her that I'm either an evil parent who is torturing and treating a normal 17yo like crap, or I'm a therapeutic parent who is treating her child the way she needs to be treated because of her mental illness and trauma history (BTW, I think I'm a good parent).

Then I apologized for not being fair to her. I've succumbed to the pressure from others (social workers, teachers, others who just don't "get it," and of course, herself), to offer her levels and priveleges I know she is not capable of achieving right now, and acting like they are realistic options; therefore she assumes the reason she's not getting them is because either she's a failure or I'm an evil parent.

Enjoying the Small Achievements
I reminded her that a reason we've been more restrictive is because we're trying to get her stable before we start adding potential stressors, especially since the baby steps we've taken lately haven't been so successful.

I talked about how frustrating it is for me that when we offer her a baby step, she immediately demands something bigger and is so angry when I won't give it to her that she can't acknowledge or enjoy the smaller step.

Example:
We're going to Nebraska to visit Hubby's side of the family (13+hours in a car each way! *eek!*). Since Kitty's biofamily also lives in NE (although hours away), we were going to stop at a hotel with a pool, and take a day to hang out with Kitty's biograndparents (we'd hoped for Kitty's biosisters too, but couldn't get it to work).  before we go on to my MIL's house.  
Rather than be happy that she gets to see biofamily, she's chosen to focus on what she wants that she's not getting.  (She wants to be able to go to her Grandmother's house and stay all week, and maybe stay through her last 2 years of high school and junior college...). 
Choosing Joy
I tried to gently explain that by choosing to stay stuck and angry, she is forcing me to be even more restrictive (Structure and Caring Support) to help her get and stay regulated. She's losing out on what she wants. Also, if she decides to just "give up" (a frequent threat), then she's definitely not going to get what she wants.

Kitty was getting obviously depressed and defensive.  She was feeling that I was taking away  everything she wanted and she had no reason to keep trying.

So I talked about a friend of the family who is going blind. She was a great artist, and when she found out she was going blind, had every "right" to be depressed and angry, and to give up. Instead, she chose to become a sculptor, and continued producing beautiful art that made her happy.

{Finding the Joy! - a post for parents about choosing joy for ourselves.}

When talking to Kitty about "Choosing Joy."  She was listening.  She saw that it was in her best interest, but she just can't maintain it.

Future Changes
Most of the friends we make and the goals for the future that we make when we're young, change a lot as we get older.  We don't even know what all our options are when we're younger (How many kids want to grow up to be a digital media user experience engineer with a specialty in animation? Which is my admittedly confused understanding of what Bob wants to be when she graduates)

My point was, we don't know how things will change.  Some things we learn by trying them or just from experience.  We could work hard to achieve our goal, and still fail. If we give up because we don't get what we want, we may never find the awesome thing around the next corner.

Example:
A couple of years ago, Kitty's goal was to be a brain surgeon.  That wasn't a viable option for her (memory, processing issues, IQ...) and she needed to choose another option. {Dreamkiller post - a post about telling kids that their current dream is not going to work}

I'm sorry that she has to make some difficult choices because of her issues, but if she continues to blame me and be depressed and angry she's making herself miserable. 


+++++++

SHE'S ONLY 6!


Parenting Based on Developmental Age 
I apologized to Kitty for not being fair. Because of her trauma and "issues," she missed out on a lot of the normal kid stuff that Bob and Ponito got to do, and had to focus on and work hard at handling her life. This left little time to learn some of the lessons that kids who didn't have to handle all that stuff learned when they were younger. Emotionally and socially she was a little behind.

By expecting her to be able to do all the things that kids who didn't have to deal with all the stuff she has (and she's done great at dealing with it!), I was making it impossible for her to succeed, and I was also getting frustrated and angry with her when she didn't do things other teens could handle - like chores. I ended up not letting her do any of the "fun stuff" because she hadn't "earned it."

"Level Chart" vs Age-Appropriate Parenting After receiving a ton of pressure from staff at the hospital and school to give Kitty all the privileges that normally go with being 16, I decided to create a new chore chart with the responsibilities and privileges done in levels. Mostly to get them to understand WHY Kitty was not being allowed to have unsupervised dates or have a cell phone or whatever they felt she was entitled to based on her age alone. Kitty was so dysregulated that she was not able to handle even the most basic responsibilities. 

Emotional and Social Developmental Delays
When Kitty first came to us at age 11, she was "stuck" at age 4. Not intellectually!  She's smart, but emotionally she was much younger. She needed time and to feel safe to grow up / and mature in certain areas, which she did! She's grown a lot in so many ways! She's no longer stuck at age 4 - she can access her physical feelings and a lot of her emotional feelings as well.

When we ask her to do something, she can do it as long as I break it down in to smaller pieces ("Empty your trash can. Now, put your dirty clothes in your laundry. Now,..." vs "clean your room"). At first, she could handle only one task at a time. Now she could handle a short list with only a few reminders. Before, she was so close to the edge, that if we had said, "Who left the butter out?," she had a HUGE meltdown. Now she can admit it was her, and clean it up! .

Learning Disabilities
I told her this was like her learning disabilities. Yes, she has trouble with certain parts of reading (like spelling), but she's reading on grade level. She is NOT stupid! She just needs some extra help with certain things and someday she will probably get to a point where she doesn't even need that help.

While in a lot of ways she was a normal teenage girl, there were some things she still needed help with. She knows that she struggles with a lot of the "responsibilities" of being a teenager. I can't hand her a list and expect her to do everything on it (or better yet, do them without needing a list!). When she's stable, she can be left home alone for a short time. There have been some issues (fighting with Ponito, putting a metal cup in the microwave, a lot of things having to do with attempts to cook!) that mean she's not ready to stay home alone for a long period of time, yet.

Now the hard part to explain.

As a good mom, it is my job to parent her where she IS, not where someone says she SHOULD BE. 

Expecting her to act like a teenager when she's not ready yet is not fair to her. In the last few years, when she is stable, she has grown emotionally from 4 to about age 10! and she's growing all the time. When she is not stable/ dysregulated, she needs extra help, about what a 6 year old might need.

Concrete / Black and White Thinking
This is where Kitty's Concrete/ Black and White thinking made things super difficult. I had to repeat a LOT (and it still didn't stick) that I didn't think she was stupid or 6 years old. I felt that she needed the emotional support that a 6 year old needs.

THIS IS A GOOD THING!!

I let Kitty know (repeatedly!) that change is a GOOD thing! Yes, it meant that she wasn't going to automatically get a lot of the "teen privileges," but she also was no longer going to get in trouble for not meeting her "teen responsibilities."
I wasn't going to be upset with her all the time, and she would have a lot fewer chores and expectations. Life would be a lot easier.  
PLUS, she still got to do the fun stuff.  


Even if she'd had a rough day (ex. meltdowns and threatening herself). She would still get to go out to eat with the family. She'd still get to watch TV (although the shows would be more "age appropriate").

Most importantly, we wouldn't be frustrated with her all the time. 

If she felt like Hubby was getting upset with her for not doing something she was "supposed" to do, then I would run interference. If she saw me getting upset with her, she could remind me of this conversation. (And I would chant my mantra in my head, "She's only 6!  She's only 6! She's only 6!").

Example: 
Kitty started picking a fight on the way home from a shopping trip I'd let her go on even though she didn't "earn it" or do her chores. The trip was my way of letting her know that I know she tried and my expectations for her really have changed.  The fight was probably because: 
a) she didn't get to buy something she wanted,
b)Bob did, and
c)the trip took a long time.


We had a discussion about the fight, and I definitely pointed out that the shopping trip had been a treat she hadn't "earned," and she was not getting in trouble for the fight. I did NOT tell her that because of this fight, we wouldn't be making trips exactly like this anymore. We'd try to find ways to get things like this without triggering her (shorter trips, but her something small, don't take her on trips where she's not getting something but Bob is....)


Acceptance Not Required
As I mentioned, this didn't go over well with Kitty, but it wasn't about her accepting it, it was about me explaining why I wasn't going to keep trying to keep treating her the same as the other kids, and how that meant I loved her MORE not LESS.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Attachment Disorders vs Autism Spectrum


Clinical Observations of the Differences Between Children on the Autism Spectrum and Those with Attachment Problems: the Coventry Grid by Heather Moran (11/2/2010)

When a child has experienced a very difficult early life or serious abuse or trauma, it can be hard to tell whether the child has attachment problems or is on the autism spectrum or both. The problems they show may appear very similar on the surface.

The Coventry Grid discusses the similarities and differences between children on the autism spectrum and children with attachment problems and their response to interventions. 

The child's response to therapeutic interventions and strategies, can reveal whether or not the child's issues are ASD or attachment related, or both. The danger of misdiagnosis is that the child might be excluded access from services or interventions that might help. The diagnostic process is subjective and there aren't any definitive tests, so there will always be some children who are inappropriately diagnosed.

Differences noted by therapists - working with children on the autism spectrum and children with
attachment problems

Therapeutic Relationship
One of the key differences noted by clinicians was the way a therapeutic relationship was used by the child. Professionals described a much more ‘emotional feel’to therapeutic relationships with children with attachment problems and a more ‘matter-of-fact feel’ to therapeutic relationships with those on the autism spectrum.
  • Children with attachment problems
    Therapists reported that relationships with this group often developed quite quickly, but that they had to work hard to develop and maintain more appropriate relationships (dependence and maintaining appropriate interpersonal boundaries were very difficult).

    The children often emotional challenged the therapists and were resistant to the relationship boundaries the therapists were trying to establish and maintain.

    The children generally arrived with some ability to make a relationship with another person (although usually in an idiosyncratic and inappropriate way). Part of the therapeutic intervention was to directly address these issues:
    * helping the youngsters to understand their how they built relationships,
    * why the relationships may have become unhealthily skewed, and
    * how they might change things so that their future relationships could be more successful and healthy.

    The relationship between the child and therapist was the vehicle for therapy
  • Children on the autism spectrum
    Therapists working with youngsters on the autism spectrum described making great efforts to make the beginnings of relationships work in order to get the child to engage in therapy.

    The children needed the therapists' active assistance to make a relationship with a professional. This involved helping the child to view contacts as being relevant and useful to him or her.

    The maintenance of appropriate emotional boundaries was far less of an issue because the children were not usually setting out to test those boundaries. The issues were more focused on appropriate behavior for the room or for the situation.

    The task was to make therapy relevant, often by involving children’s interests or obsessions because the relationship with the therapist was unlikely to be a significant motivator in the early stages of therapy


The group worked through the symptoms of autism, identifying the day-to-day, real life problems reported by parents and carers. Then, the group considered how those symptoms presented in
children with attachment problems.

Eating Issues Example:
Problems with eating are often mentioned in regards to both groups of children with temper tantrums and rigid, obsessive behaviors around eating. However, careful evaluation of the nature of these problems showed considerable differences in how, when and where they occurred.
  • Children on the autism spectrumThe problems related to eating in children on the autism spectrum were often about the strong preferences related to physical sensations (such as texture and taste), the way food is organised on the plate, or its place in the child’s daily routine.

    Problems with food were pervasive, occurring wherever the child was invited to eat, regardless of who was offering the food and where it was being eaten. Denial of offered food seemed to be related to taste and texture preference and not to who was offering it.
  • Children with attachment problemsThe provision of food often had strong emotional significance and was associated with relationships. Problems were most evident in relation to parents or carers, with more typical eating habits in situations with other adults.

    Parents and carers often reported concerns about abstinence and gorging and these behaviors tended to be associated with deliberate (and planned) deceit such as throwing or giving away food, or hiding food and wrappers. Denial of offered food seemed to be with the intention of emotional hurt or emotional defense, something which requires an understanding of emotional relationships.

Differences between the two groups were considerable, even though the headline for both could be “obsessive and rigid patterns of eating behavior."

Both autism and significant attachment problems might be construed as developmental difficulties and both groups might be vulnerable to misdiagnosis, especially when they present with depression and anxiety or when they have very good intellectual abilities and relatively poor relationship skills.

Children with one or both of these diagnoses (on the autism spectrum or attachment problems) may look similar, but there are definite differences in the way their problems are expressed in daily functioning. 

These differences imply that different assessment and diagnostic pathways and different treatment styles may be needed for the two groups, although there may be some types of intervention from
which they would both benefit (eg the use of visual timetables to reduce anxiety).

Heather Moran - a Consultant Child Clinical Psychologist who works within a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) and other professionals in the West Midlands 11/2/2010

Click here for the:   (Revised Version of the Coventry Grid)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

How To Get Treated Like an Adult.

ACT LIKE ONE!!

Kitty is always complaining that we don't treat her like an adult. Unfortunately, Kitty has no understanding of what an adult is, except that it's *our fault* she's not being treated like one.

She wants all of the adult privileges (driving, living in her own place, being able to come and go without telling anyone, getting a pet, handling her own money...), but is not capable of handling most of the privileges she wants, and discounts the ones she does get as her due. (Can you say, "entitled"?)

She also has no interest or actual ability in dealing with the adult responsibilities.

So I decided to put together a document on how to get treated like an adult, just like I've done with things like driving. I sat down and listed out things she needs to be able to do to show us she's ready to be treated like an adult. When I started the list, I was extremely frustrated, and focused on showing her concrete reasons why she was not ready to be treated like an adult.

I did something like this once before when she got the psych hospital staff to try to force me to treat her like the teenager she was physically, even though she was so dysregulated that she wasn't even able to handle almost any privileges at all, let alone ones that usually came with her physical age of 16 (cell phones, hanging out with friends at the mall, unsupervised dating...). So I came up with this document --  Chores/ responsibilities vs privileges

Here's the document I started.

How To Get Treated Like an Adult 

RESPONSIBLE
Be Proactive. Explore your options. Be honest with yourself about your strengths and abilities.

Plan for the future you want.
  • Discuss with others (therapist, parents) what it would look like. 
  • Write down the steps needed to get there - include a general timeline. 
  • Work your way through the steps one by one until you achieve your goal. 

Be flexible! If something you've planned is not working out, try to figure out why (ask for advice!). Be willing to change your goals!

Focus on your strengths! Instead of whining and complaining about your limitations and what you can't do, make goals based on your strengths and abilities. If you don't like a limitation or "weakness," find a way to work around it or change your goals.

Be positive and focus on working toward achievable goals. Don't dream the impossible dream, make it achievable!

RESPECTFUL
Ask for and accept help. Do remember that while many people are looking out for your best interest, you should not expect it or accept it at the expense of their own. What can you do for them for helping you?

HONEST
If you don't feel like you're being treated fairly, talk to the person upsetting you, or a trusted adult.

Be aware that it takes time for yourself and others to see, believe, and trust in any major changes. Please be understanding to all during that time.

APPRECIATIVE

FUN TO BE AROUND
3 Vent Rule

LOVING - Family Girl vs Adult Boarder

LEARNING

***

As you can see, I started by using RRHAFTBALL as an outline. I got about halfway done, and lost steam. Once I was done venting, I knew it was just as pointless to present this to her as presenting the level chart had been when she was a teen. (How the privileges vs responsibilities level chart worked out is at the bottom of this page)

Kitty's emotional development has progressed to about 13 on a (really) good day, and honestly? I believe this is about where she'll stay.

Which makes it even more frustrating that she will always feel that she deserves to be treated like an adult and hold it against us when we don't treat her that way. If we keep pointing out why we are doing this, it feels like criticism and shaming and reinforces her deep-rooted belief that she's unlovable, despised, and we and everyone else will abandon her for being imperfect).

She just doesn't "get it," and I don't believe she can "fix it." It feels cruel to keep saying you need to act like an adult to be treated like an adult.

I know she needs, and will continue to need extra structure and support.


SO HERE'S WHAT WE DID:

I gave Kitty exactly what she wanted.

She wanted to be independent, but also needed to feel loved and supported or she felt abandoned. (Obviously these two things are pretty conflicting)

We let her move out.
Deep down, Kitty knows that she's not ready to live totally on her own, so she did the next best thing (for her). She moved in with biofamily, who she was convinced would let her do whatever she wants. People who actually live a life of adult privileges with very few of what I would consider to be the "adult responsibilities." This time she lived with them for 4 months before she came home.

Just like last time she tried this, the second she walked out the door, she was constantly calling me for emotional support. She went from hiding in her room all day, to calling me 3 to 4 times a day (we actually talked about this "grass is greener on the other side of the fence" tendency, and she acknowledges it).

We compromised (aka I bribed her).
Kitty wants to be independent, but I believe she will never be truly capable of this, and don't want to have to continuously have to pick up the pieces when things don't work the way she thinks they will, especially if one of those pieces is pregnancy.

What Kitty says she wants: 
  • To live independently
  • To be able to drive
  • To have a nice place to live ("not a crappy one bedroom trailer")
  • To be able to come and go whenever she wants
  • To have whoever she wants come over and stay as long as she wants them to (including sleepovers with guys)
  • To be able to cook and eat whatever she wants
  • To leave her place as messy as she wants
  • To make her own medical choices (as long as she doesn't have to: fill out a bunch of forms, take public transportation to get there, handle insurance, deal with any issues that come up, find new medical professionals as needed...)
  • To pay her own bills for whatever services she wants (Netflix, hulu, and deal with her own medical
  • To make her own decisions about how her money is spent (alcohol, getting her hair done, clothes and shoes from Hot Topic or online, eating out... )
  • To have no one "judging" her if she wants to stay out all night partying, have sex, drink...

What I want most is to be her Mom, and drop all the other titles/ hats. 
What I want:

  • For Kitty to accept her limitations and not blame and take her feelings about her limitations out on me. 
  • To not have to constantly run interference between Kitty and real life. (Most real life consequences would crush her)
  • To not be the "Dream Killer
  • To not be continually taking care of and cleaning up after her 
  • To not be her emotional support/ regulator for the rest of her life (I'm ok with this to some extent, but she currently calls and texts me at least 3 to 4 times a day, usually in full crisis mode)
  • To not have to raise her children
  • To not be her caseworker for the rest of my life (scheduling appointments, handling insurance, filling out forms, transporting her everywhere, handling her money, enforcing her budget)
  • To know that she'll be OK if something happens to Hubby and I

Residential Vocational School
I finally found a residential facility designed to teach independent living and job skills to young people with mild intellectual disabilities (which Kitty was recently diagnosed with). I also found funding for it (it's $7000+ a month). The program is designed to last 12 - 18 months. The majority of the students are like Kitty, needing independent living skills, but will most likely never be able to achieve full independence.

Of course when I broached the subject of the school, she was having none of it!

After much negotiation, and with the help of her therapist, these are the compromises we've come up with: 

  1. She will attend the Residential Vocational School for at least 3 to 4 months. I have agreed to this much shorter time on the condition that she keep an open mind about staying longer, and that she doesn't tell the school or her funding source (one or both of which might stop paying for her to be there and send her home early). Since we currently have no place for her to live, that would be bad!

    ** This gives us time for the family to move and to prepare her new place (we're downsizing now that Ponito is 18 and graduating from high school this year).
    ** She will have about $200 of her SSI money that doesn't go to the school. Minus the expenses that will continue while she's at school (cell phone, medical insurance, preparing her new place...), she will have some money to spend on things she wants. We purchased many of these items in advance so she will have them at school. She will be paying back the loan of this money.
    ** Items she purchased with her "advance":
    -- Laptop (which also allows her to see her therapist weekly via a Skype-type video chat thingy.
    -- TV that works with her lap top and the DVD player she got for Christmas.
    -- "Uniforms"
    the school requires business casual wear for when she's in class (Khakis, polos/ button down shirts...),
    -- Professional Hair Coloring - the school stated that since their focus was on getting her job ready, she could not dye her hair crazy colors or something like bleach blonde that won't look professional when it started growing out, so Kitty decided to wait on this until she returns home.
    -- Tablet - I'm waiting until Kitty is more comfortable at school (she's only been there a month) to tell her about this one, and I'm hoping it will allow me to negotiate her being there for 2-3 more months while we're getting the new house ready.
    When helping Kitty repack so that her stuff would fit in the car to go to school (ex. she had a large packing box full of nothing but hangers tossed in so that they filled the box, rather than neatly stacked allowing more room for other things), I discovered a tablet that I knew wasn't hers. She gave some lame excuses about where it came from, but I strongly suspected that it was mine that had been stolen almost 2 years before. I didn't allow her to take it with her to school.
    Hubby checked it over, and it is definitely mine, minus the $80 case it had on it, and plus a ton of stickers and glitter , downloads, and apps(and computer viruses). She absolutely knew it was mine when it went missing and we have evidence she's been using it, not just "discovered" it recently. 
  2. We are moving to a new place where she can have her own "apartment." With a separate entrance, a kitchen, and a bathroom. We've had to be flexible on what that would look like, since we have a LOT of criteria our new home has to fit or can be made to fit by renovating and/or adding to the house.
    ** fit in our very tight budget,
    ** has either: a set of rooms or a garage that can be converted (ex. by changing a window to a door for a separate entrance and either has a bathroom or can add a bathroom, can add a kitchenette), or a large enough property and no deed/ code restrictions to allow a trailer/ RV/ ADU (Additional Dwelling Unit/ Granny pod...)
    ** handicap accessible for my mother-in-law who uses a walker/ wheelchair,
    ** within walking distance of a bus or other transportation for Kitty
    ** the commute to downtown Big City where Hubby works cannot be too long
    ** space for Ponito and Bob when they are back from college during holidays and summers.
    ** preferably in a county that offers less expensive legal services for getting legal guardianship of Kitty
    Notice how many of those criteria are specifically for Kitty!
  3. We haven't discussed this one yet, but if she wants to change the boarder agreement so she can have male guests, especially if they spend the night. Then I want her to have an IUD. 
  4. Of course there are many other things we'll need to work out:
    - Budgeting (food, transportation, clothing, rent, entertainment)
    - Using the family wifi and common areas
    - Pets
    - Giving us a heads up about her plans so we know when to start searching ditches
    - Family Activities (is she always invited when we eat out or go to a movie or the lake or something?)
    - Health Code violations aka how much supervision for cleaning, food storage, garbage, clutter...
    - Respecting our electric and water bills

We had her first staffing at the new school. Of course she's doing great, she always does. What interested me most is that the school has an extension program for "transitioning students." After they've completed this program, they can live in an apartment on campus, work, and practice all the skills they've learned (budgeting, cooking, paying bills...). I've asked if they can give me information so that we can try replicating this program at home (they do already know she wants to return to our city instead of staying on for this program).