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!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Katharine Leslie seminar - Object Permanence

The Katharine Leslie seminar I attended last week was absolutely amazing and I'm still reeling and dealing with the positive impact it will have on my parenting. I've read and loved her book Coming To Grips with Attachment which is in almost a workbook format with tons of practical advice. Unlike many RAD/Children of Trauma experts her work/advice applies to older kids too. In addition to being a professional she is also the adoptive parent to 4 special needs children.

Because this seminar was 2 days long instead of only one like the last one I went to, we were able to go much more in depth. I've finally started reading her book, When a Stranger Calls You Mom, and it covers a lot of the information she discussed at this seminar. It is EXCELLENT! If you have, are working with, are in any way associated with, or dealing with children of trauma I can't recommend these books (and seminars) enough. I know I sound like an advertisement, but she really is absolutely amazing and her information is invaluable. Run, don't walk to get her books, and if you can see her in person... GO!



At the seminar, I admit I started to zone a little on the infant development stuff. I was a psychology major (waaaay back) in college and I've read tons of books in the last few years about child development so I figured I knew all this, and a lot of it I had heard before. I did learn something new about object permanence that really was significant though!

Cause and Effect
I think I've mentioned before that children with attachment disorders often have problems with cause and effect. This usually starts with the caregiver not meeting the child's physical needs (changing them when they're wet, feeding when they're hungry).

The child doesn't learn that if I cry then someone will come make it better. Instead they might learn that if I cry then someone will hit me, or if I cry then no one will come anyway... this makes behavior management difficult - both self-regulation and parent discipline. If I steal a cell phone, then I will get in trouble. If I yell at my sister now, then she will be scared of me - even 5 minutes (or 5 years) from now.

{I don't know much about Bear and Kitty's infancy and childhood (although I can make many educated guesses), but I do know they have very little impulse control and grasp of cause and effect, and do not always understand the consequences of their actions.}

Object Permanence
We all know that young infants have no ability to understand object permanence. For example, if you hide a rattle under a blanket they don't look for it, it's gone. For them, out of sight out of mind is really true. At about 8-9 months though they "get it." They start to look under the blanket. We often help them develop this ability by playing peekaboo with them. "Wheeere's Mommy? Here I am!"

Now imagine the child who's infancy is not the norm. Who never "gets" this concept. So what?

So, maybe they never put their toys away because if you can't see them they don't exist. Sometimes this might not even be so bad because when they are put into foster care they "forget" about all the things left behind**... but it's not just things the child with issues with object permanence doesn't remember. It's people.

You can't attach to someone who isn't there the second they step out of sight.
Mommy doesn't exist anymore!

Weird Movie Analogy
There's an old movie with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore called 50 First Dates.
Because a car accident damaged her short term memory, Drew's character is unable to remember anything that's happened in her life since the day of her accident. She relives that day, every single day! (Kind of like the people in the movie Groundhog day. Technically they're reliving the same day over and over, but unlike the main character, they don't remember it.)

Adam meets her and courts her anew every single day. At a TBI memory clinic, they meet "10 Second Tom." He can only remember things for 10 seconds. (Spoiler alert!) Eventually, Drew is able to fall in love with Adam because she has the ability to create attachments and remember him during her day, and even though she doesn't remember him when she wakes up each morning, she still feels that emotional attachment. Tom would be unable to attach to anyone, because they are literally out of sight out of mind almost instantly.

Sense of Self
A second huge issue for children lacking object permanence is a sense of self.

Infants and young children under the age of 3 do not have the ability to distinguish themselves from their caregiver (this is why Empathy does not develop until after age 3).

One of my sister's earliest memories is of being told she is fat, lazy and stupid while staring at the knees of a man's uniform pants. My sister could not have been more than 2 years old in this memory, and apparently she was standing in front of our mother while this was being said to our mother... her memory of it as being said to her shows is an example of a young child not being able to distinguish themselves from their parent.

Of course children under 3 are also not supposed to have autobiographical memories before age 3 either (partly for this reason) so the fact that my sister had this dream/memory shows that she is a little unusual (she has a freakishly amazing memory!).

Self Regulation
Infants are unable to access the thinking part of their brain yet. They are unable to self-regulate. The caregiver does this for them. If the caregiver is calm, the baby is calm. If the caregiver is laughing, making eye contact, playing with the baby and happy, the baby responds the same way.

Babies instinctually respond with attaching behaviors designed to make their caregiver fall in love with the baby (humans are hard-wired this way). The baby continuously provides attaching behaviors, creating a cycle.

If the caregiver is stressed and distant, the baby becomes dysregulated and doesn't learn how to respond with attaching behaviors. The child does not learn how to self-regulate and respond appropriately to his/her environment. As they get older, the child often tries to recreate the chaotic environment to which they have grown accustomed. Eventually the child subconsciously decides there must be something horribly wrong with him/her and that is why the child is unwanted and unlovable.

Slowly as the infant's brain develops they learn to access the cognitive parts of their brain, but before this they are totally dependent on the caregiver for everything.

When Attachment Goes Wrong
If a child has no trust of the primary caregiver, no belief that she exists when out of sight, the child is unable to attach to that caregiver. Since the child is genetically programmed to feel part of the caregiver, and the child hasn't learned how to provide attaching behaviors or develop the instinctual want for attaching behaviors (as this requires the caregiver attaching to them)... well you do the math.

Object Permanence is a Continuum
Obviously the extent of the damage is based on a continuum. A child could be raised under the exact same circumstances, but not have as severe object permanence as another child.

Every child is different. Children have different temperaments, genetics and personalities. Even children raised by the same mother can have differing levels of issues with object permanence, based on the mother's interactions with that particular child at that particular time.
Ex. Mom may prefer one gender over another (wanted a girl and got a boy or vice versa), child is sick or colicky, this is a second or third child (or more) means mother's resources and stress level are stretched thinner, mother's mental health or drug abuse issues...

How This Effects Bear and Kitty

  1. Bear doesn't understand cause and effect very well.
  2. Bear doesn't trust others to be there or take care of him.
  3. Bear doesn't feel the strong urge to attach to others.
  4. Bear doesn't know how to connect to others or give them what they need to like him.
  5. Bear feels love and attachment are not safe.
  6. Bear believes that he is unworthy of love and attachment.
  7. Bear has difficulty with self-regulation, coping skills and impulse control.
  8. Bear tries to recreate the environment he feels most comfortable in - chaos, high stress, and dysregulation.
  9. Bear doesn't have a strong self-esteem or trust in his own abilities.
  10. Bear's world revolves around him, because there is no one else!
This is also true for Kitty to some extent, but not to the same extreme. The kids were raised differently of course because Biomom was older, in a different situation, already had Bear who was 1 1/2yo, kids were different genders, had different biofathers, Biomom got treatment for drugs (cocaine and meth) when Kitty was under 3 years old, the kids were left with different people a lot, but they were different ages when it happened (since Kitty is 1 1/2 years younger)... The kids also have very different temperaments, genetics, and personalities.

** Adopting a Child with Pre-Verbal Trauma
Some people think that if they adopt a pre-verbal infant or toddler that the child won't remember any trauma, but trauma actually gets wired into their nervous system and is harder to access and heal than something the child consciously remembers.

This can show up later and cause the child to be triggered and/ or have a traumaversary for what appears to be no reason. A fellow trauma mama adopted a child before age 2. At the end of February, every year, the child becomes dysregulated for weeks. Before the child could read a calendar with no significant observable event (like a holiday or birthday), and without any prompting, the child's body "knows."



Unknown said...

Wow this is so fascinating! I would love to learn more.
ps - I started blogging. said...

thanks for the review. It is always great to hear things again, Ihave been thing aboutgetting When a stranger calls you Mom and so I am interested to hear how it is.

GB's Mom said...

Me, too. There is not much out there that applies to older teens, young adults.

marythemom said...

Oooh! Oooh! Get them! If you don't have much time (well duh, but you know what I mean!) and can only get one then I recommend the Coming to Grips with Attachment. If you have time to go in depth then (so far) When a Stranger is great. I'll definitely keep you posted on the book too (I'm only on like the second chapter cause I just started it last night).

Mary in TX

Mama Drama Times Two said...

Thanks for sharing this - as always, it helps to hear the attachment struggles of others to help better understand our foster/adoptive kiddos.

Anonymous said...

I'm still having this post bubble around in the back of my mind. Need to re-read it, probably a few times. It just makes so much sense.