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, May 18, 2011


“How do you know when you’ve hit the “ceiling” on your child’s abilities?”

Answer: I don’t think you can know completely, but go with your instincts. You know your child’s abilities better than anyone, and you’re in the trenches with them daily so you can be flexible about what you work on. I’d say focus on helping them retain what they have, but keep striving to work on the concepts that seem just out of their reach when you find yourself in a teachable moment – they just might surprise you as they mature.

When we got both our kids over 4 years ago (age 11 and 13) they were such concrete thinkers that they could NOT grasp abstract concepts at all. I tend to try to teach using examples and analogies (when natural or logical consequences don’t work). My kids could NOT get it. If we tried to talk about how they handled or could have handled a previous issue then they instantly went into “fight, flight or freeze mode” because they felt they were being punished for this past transgression. If I tried using an example of someone else, like the “boy who cried wolf, ” they just couldn’t generalize it to the situation.

When we first started working with the kids, we quickly discovered that their black and white concrete thinking meant that if we used examples at all, they immediately focused on the examples and got defensive and had a meltdown. If I said, "Remember when you left out the butter on the counter last week..." (planning to discuss how we'd handled that situation, how it applied to the current one, and what we could do differently to prevent it from happening again...) --- then before I could even finish the sentence, she immediately went into meltdown mode because I was "yelling at her, criticizing her..." She was totally focused on the example, and couldn't generalize it to any other situation.


Recently I used an analogy with Kitty… and she got it! I tried a similar analogy with Bear two days later, and he couldn’t get it. I’ve been working with Kitty on this in therapy for years and we slowly have been making progress (a big part of this is that she’s attached and getting to the point where she can access her emotions! Yea!). Bear though is still very RAD and won’t talk to us about his feelings or talk things through with us. He’d rather hide in his room, keep us at arm’s length and deal with the consequences on his own. I think he’s capable of functioning at a higher level, but he won’t let us help him – so he probably never will.



Bear and I had a discussion recently (Ok, tried to have) about Facebook, the money he's going to earn this Summer with his DARS job, and his plans for the future. It ended up being a short discussion because I tried to use examples and analogies to explain why we make the decisions we do - as a counterpoint to Bear's argument that I'm holding grudges and am just flat out wrong, mean and trying to crush his dreams.

Kitty and I had had a similar discussion not too long before about why I'm "over protective" with her, and I used several extreme examples (giving her the car keys and telling her to drag race, encouraging her to date known rapists, her sneaking out her window and falling to her death, her choosing to be friends with kids who cut and do drugs...) to explain to her the liability issues we have as parents (I'm responsible for what happens to her whether it's by her choice or not - because she's a minor living in my home). Kitty was in a calm, rational place during this discussion, and she "got it"!! I'm not saying that we won't have trouble the minute she gets dysregulated, but she understood my examples and reasoning.

Bear didn't "get it."

He now thinks I'm accusing him of being a 4 year old drug addict. *sigh*


We struggle with how high can our kids go (executive abilities) daily. If I say, “This is it, as high as she/he can go,” then I feel like I’m being yelled at by everyone for being a horrible parent who limits her kids (caseworkers, my kids, the school…). However, if I don’t, then my child feels like a failure, because they’re spinning their wheels working hard to obtain an unachievable goal.

Right now school is telling them they’re going to college and can be anything they want to be. Which was fine in middle school when we didn’t know their capabilities, but they’re in high school now and need to focus on getting skills to help them with what they’re going to be when they start work (which is SOON for Bear who will be 18 in less than 2 months and only has a year left of high school).

Kitty is being allowed/ encouraged to believe that her goal of being a doctor is achievable (she has a poor working memory, below average IQ, is in all special ed classes, stress causes her to have melt downs – recently been in a psych hospital twice in as many months…). When confronted, the school says, “Well she can be a nurse or technician or something.” The reason she wants to be a doctor has nothing to do with wanting to help people, and everything to do with how much money a doctor makes! Obviously that’s not going to happen if she becomes a nurse… which is not a realistic goal either due to her issues.

When I’m honest with my kids, then my kids think I’m a liar (because everyone else is telling them otherwise) and that I’m being mean and “crushing their dreams.” Not exactly how you want your attachment disordered kids to think of you. I try to help them focus on realistic goals and teach and reteach concepts to help them grasp them, but I feel like Cassandra (the prophetess who was cursed by the gods to be totally accurate and never believed).

I’ve structured their home life to be age appropriate (about 8-9 years old), but get absolutely no support and a lot of “your mom is mean for not letting you do what you have a right to do as a teen.” Can’t tell you how many lectures I’ve received on what is developmentally appropriate for teens… but my kids aren’t really teens! My kids need structure and rules to feel safe. When they feel safe they can learn and grow. When they don’t feel safe they have meltdowns and regress. Yet I’m instructed over and over to “give them a chance.” They have major entitlement issues already...

This sucks.


Lisa said...

Yeah - I've been asking over and over since my kids were very young what would be "reasonable" expectations for them - school grades, behaviors, etc. I don't want to set them up to fail, and yet don't want to shortchange them. I have yet to get a real answer. My sons middle school teacher told him he could be an "Infantryman" because he told her it was his dream. The reality was he was required to read a book for social studies about infantrymen in WWI and decided he wanted to shoot a gun. Another asked him what his interests were and he answered, "playing on the computer and doing art projects". She concluded that he could be a graphic artist. Eegads! His "artwork" consists of taping or gluing pieces of paper together or making stick figures. So, when I tried to be realistic with him I was viewed as the enemy who just wanted to prevent him from having a life.

Also, my dd (now 18) got it into her head that she wanted to be a chef. After years of constant instruction, she cannot follow a recipe to save her life. She burns things. She tries to substitute ingredients for "things we have lying around the kitchen" and it's a disaster every time. One day in the car she was talking about going online to research culinary schools. I bit my tongue (literally) and she blurted out, "Why do you always get mad at me when I talk about going to college? Don't you want me to be happy?". I was instantly FURIOUS - I informed her that I would be happy to let her look up culinary schools, provided she actually finished a single high school class (this was 2 yrs ago - she has yet to meet that goal - sigh). I think that every single thing I do is always geared toward "the future" with them. I want them to benefit from everything they're doing right now and lay a foundation for their future. This is apparently wrong - I keep hearing how I need to focus on the moment with them. I am too much of a realist for this "magical thinking" they do all the time. I even had one professional tell me that I should just pretend my two very impaired children were normal and then they'd just act like they were. After all, they can pass as normal if you don't know them well. Aha - that's the key - don't let anyone get to know them very well and society will embrace them as perfectly normal. Yikes

r. said...

Have you heard of the Texas Success Initiative? I'm a little fuzzy on the details, but before students can begin working towards a degree--even a two-year, community college degree--they have to have either take certain assessment tests or be exempt from the testing because they meet some other criteria that the legislature considers a good proxy for college readiness (e.g., passed TAKS within the last three years, have already attended college elsewhere, etc.). (I'm not sure what happens with students who score low on these tests--are they just turned away, told they must pass developmental/remedial courses before they can begin working towards their degree, etc?)

Maybe if you can start mapping out some of these concrete steps towards even qualifying for college, it can make you less of the bad guy for not cheering your kids towards that path. No, it probably won't get your son any practical life readiness training, and I realize that your daughter might not be far enough along in her education to realize that TAKS presents a challenge to her, but it might at least present a way to take the pressure off you when these outside folks start talking college. Maybe you could say, "He has an IQ of X, he functions on a Y grade level educationally, he has been unable to pass the Z standardized test now--so let's have a talk about how he's going to meet the TSI requirements to begin college."

And, by the way, feel free to ignore this. I've had a glass of wine and I'm just musing to myself. I don't have kids and I do realize that half the problem here is that you're dealing with a bunch of different people involved with each of your children's care, so it's a big like whack-a-mole in terms of bringing them all into line. But it was just an idea, of maybe one way you could present the kids' options in more objective terms (kind of like your son not qualifying for the military--not because you hate him, but because the military set up these rules). But it's just a thought.

marythemom said...

Lisa - apparently we just need to use the "power of positive thinking" to "fix" our kids! And I thought we just need to "love them." *Aargh!* I wish that love and hope were all it took, but we know it's just not enough.

r - The school has a way around the TSI. They casually mention that a child in Applied classes needs to go to junior college first. What they don't say is that it's because the child would never pass the TSI, so they need to go to junior college to take all the remedial courses to get them up to high school graduate level. In other words we're supposed to pay the junior college to "reteach" the courses from the "free, appropriate high school education" that my children didn't actually understand or technically pass, but were promoted anyway.

This was casually mentioned by my daughter's middle school, when Bear was already a sophomore in high school.

That sounds fair, right?!