Yesterday was, what I hope will be, the start of a turning point for our family, with the adjustment of our 9 year old adopted son. As the APAC (Alabama Pre/Post Adoption Connections) therapist walked through my door, she was as young as me and as normal as any other woman (as normal as we can be anyways). Her name is Jill. Jill and I sat on the same couch, her at one end, me at the other, turned towards each other. At one point I got to talking so much that I ended up hugging a pillow in my lap, maybe for security or comfort. But it was nice...nice to sit and talk with another woman about my struggles, with no interruptions, as the little kids were napping and Robert was at school. And she got me! She completely and whole heartily knew where I was coming from.
First, we went over all of the paperwork that my husband and I had to fill out. Each of us had to fill out a personal questionnaire, and one for Robert as well. While my husband and I sat at the kitchen counter the day prior, completing these forms, I looked over and noticed he had only checked one box, whereas I had checked at least 10. I said, "Oh, you're such a man. Just so perfect and don't need any help from anyone, huh?" I said this in the sweetest, most joking voice I could come up with. His response, "Well there's nothing I can't help myself with." Typical man, right?! And the one box he checked, Jill said is the one that every man checks. I, on the other hand, am a very honest person about the way I feel. Jill even said at one point, "Wow, you are so honest! That's good, but a lot of people just aren't this honest. You see things and notice things, and that's great." As we went through each checked box, she tried to get a feel for me and my background. Let me tell you, I've got my issues, but this post isn't going to be about me and my issues. I'll leave those for another day.
We moved on from myself, to discuss how my little ones are adjusting. Landon had two of his labels stripped away when Robert joined the family. He is no longer the first born or oldest child in the house. He has shown much struggle and regression with the change. Aubrey, on the other hand, being so young, has adapted quite well...probably better than any of us. She has only shown a small amount of regression, and it happened the very month we brought Robert home, but is nothing major. Do any of you watch the show, "Parenthood?" It's an amazing show that airs on Tuesdays. I've always felt a personal connection to the show, with the things they struggle with, but this season has been remarkable. Julia's family has adopted a boy. Before he came into the house, her daughter was an only child, her everything. Now Julia thinks she needs to give all of her attention and focus to the boy, not realizing how much of a change the adoption is for her daughter too. Two weeks ago her daughter reached her breaking point, and lashed out. My husband and I sat here looking at each other, no words needed, and almost burst into tears because we felt such a connection to the story. It's nice to see a show on TV that doesn't depict adoption in a perfect way, but shows the real struggles that come with it and how no parent knows the 'right' way to deal with it. My favorite quote of the season thus far was when Julia said, "I'm just waiting to fall in love with him." Everyone is under the assumption that when you bring a child into your home, you will immediately fall in love with him/her, but it rarely ever happens this way.
And finally, we got to the topic of Robert, our main focus. I had tons of information for her, and much to say. The first thing I showed her was the legal adoption document from when he was adopted by Grandma, as an infant. It stated that he was in custody of the state because he was born with cocaine in his bloodstream. It went on to say that his mother admitted to smoking crack cocaine one week prior to giving birth, as well as using other drugs. She also admitted to working the streets and not knowing who the biological father is. It was imperative that the therapist knew this from the get go, as she explained to me, that due to drugs being in his body while he was developing, his brain therefore formed and grew differently than a normal, healthy brain, as we all know the brain is altered by drugs. Jill stated, "There is some organic stuff in the brain going on here." Basically, his brain is wired differently.
As I elaborated on his behavior, his demeanor, his personality...Jill began to see patterns. Mind you, she has not met with Robert yet, so nothing is definitive until she gets to know him. But in her professional opinion, it sounds as if he may have a Sensory Processing Disorder. It sounds a bit like autism, but is not.
Sensory processing (sometimes called "sensory integration" or SI) is a term that refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. Whether you are biting into a hamburger, riding a bicycle, or reading a book, your successful completion of the activity requires processing sensation or "sensory integration."
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD, formerly known as "sensory integration dysfunction") is a condition that exists when sensory signals don't get organized into appropriate responses. Pioneering occupational therapist and neuroscientist A. Jean Ayres, PhD, likened SPD to a neurological "traffic jam" that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly. A person with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks. Motor clumsiness, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, school failure, and other impacts may result if the disorder is not treated effectively. (http://www.spdfoundation.net/about-sensory-processing-disorder.html)
Some of the things I touched on to lead her to this opinion, were things I've shared with friends, who would simply say, "Well he's just being a 9 year old." Jill made it very clear to me that these things were not typical 9 year old behavior. That in itself, was a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders. Now we're getting somewhere.
Moving on to the emotional side of things. This part was a shock to me and will probably prove to be the hardest part for myself and my husband. Jill explained that we are going to have to lower our expectations that we have for a 9 year old, and just erase his chronological age, because his emotional age is that of a 4-5 year old. WOW! So it's no wonder he competes with Landon, and they don't get along. Jill was able to come to this conclusion by me sharing certain aspects of his life: co-sleeping with Grandma for 8 years, being treated as a baby, wanting to sleep in the bed with us when one of the little kids had to sleep with us for a few days, playing with stuffed animals, having a blankie, very easily excited, talking like a baby, wishing he was the little kids age so he could take a bath with them, etc., etc. So we have this boy, in a 9 year old body, but inside, emotionally, cognitively, and with his executive processing, he is a 4-5 year old child.
Bonding is a huge issue for me and Robert, and very imperative. Jill is requiring that I force myself to schedule one-two days a week, 10-15 minutes, of uninterrupted time with Robert. He will pick an activity/game for us to do. I will not do any correcting of him. No lie, she told me I will have to fake it until I feel it. As a perfectionist, and control freak, I took a big step this week. When Robert came home from school, I had just put the Christmas tree up. There was nothing on it yet. He asked if he could help. While I cringed inside, because I have a certain way I want everything, I slid the box of decorations in front of him, and told him to "have at it." He put every decoration on that tree, with no direction from me, and he did a great job. I have much to work on, if this is going to work. Robert is not the only factor in this equation. It will take all of us. I've had a few people tell me to read Love and Logic, but with a nightstand full of books that I still need to get through, I hadn't checked it out. When Jill said to me, "I think you would be a great 'love and logic' parent, I said, "Okay, you're not the first person to bring this up to me, so obviously I am going to have to read this."
So where do we go from here? What does the near future hold for us? The therapist will have her first meeting with Robert in 2 weeks. He will also be going to Child and Family Services in February to be evaluated by a doctor for a Sensory Processing Disorder, or any other problems the drugs may have caused. This part is not free, and I'm worried as to just how much insurance will cover. As you can see, nothing happens overnight or quickly. This is going to be a long process. Jill was actually astounded as to how quickly we made the decision to adopt and how quickly the adoption occurred. She informed me that APAC typically won't intervene with counseling until after the first year, but our situation is unique, in that we weren't even properly prepared for the adoption. So after 5 months, almost 6 now, we're getting help.