Monday, July 9, 2012

The Hope Connection: Today's Takeways--No more RAD and Jenga

Today was Blaise's first day at The Hope Connection Camp hosted by The TCU Institute of Child development and Dr. Karyn Purvis.  Today was also a full day of parent training for me.  Blaise had a great time--his favorite part was "Crash and Bump" which is a sensory activity.  He also self-corrected when commanding me to put on his shoes and said, "Will you please put on my shoes?"  When I complimented he said, "I learned that today!"  It's great how the same lessons work so nicely when delivered by someone else.

I met some great fellow adoptive parents and heard many stories.  Today I felt like I learned a great deal but two things stuck with me.  First, we talked about how the diagnosis of RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) is being eliminated or discouraged by many of the authorities in the field.  One big reason is that many RAD "experts" are treating it as a terminal diagnosis.  Phrases such as "some children just can't get better" are an example of such thinking.  Too many parents are led to believe that their children cannot be helped and they must simply learn to cope or, worse, send their children to a residential care facility when all hope is lost.  The new term is "Complex Developmental Trauma" indicating that the issues these children have are related to the trauma that arrested their development emotionally, physiologically, etc.  More importantly, it can be helped, repaired, healed.  Our fancy phrase for the day is, "recovery of function recapitulates development of function."  So, yes, many children from hard places are hurt and damaged, but if we take them back and recreate the developmental stages they missed then they can recover the functions essential to becoming well-attached, self-regulating children and adults.

This leads to Jenga.  While I read this illustration and heard it at the Empowered to Connect Conference, it was really neat to see it.  That said, I don't have a Jenga game here at the hotel to photograph for you so you'll have to read about it and re-create it on your own if you really need the visual.  So, picture a Jenga game set up in the middle of a tube with only the top 1/3 of the game showing out of the top.  Several pieces are missing.  These represents the holes and issues that ALL children have as the grow up.  Now, assume we are speaking of a "typical" child. When these "holes" appear we fill them in with correction--"No hitting--Use your words," "We don't jump on the couch," "It is impolite to discuss that at dinner," and so on . . . Illustrate filling in these holes with the missing Jenga pieces.  Now, remove the tube--your "typical" child has grown up and your correction has filled in his "holes"; everything is hunkie-dorie.  Now, consider a child from a hard place.  Go ahead and remove all those behavior corrections up top again.  This child has "holes" like any other. BUT here is the difference, see that nice solid Jenga base your "typical" child was built on?  These kiddos don't have that, they have holes there too.  Pull out a supporting buttom piece for all those developmental traumas--neglect, abuse, abandonment, drug/alcohol exposure in utero, malnourishment, inconsistent/inadequate care giving, lack of human touch as an infant,  and the list goes on. The whole thing is looking pretty "holey" now, huh?  Now, let's treat this child the way we treated the "typical" child.  Let's employ all the child-rearing techniques that worked with the other kids, the ones we learned about in our parenting study at church, the ones our parents used, etc.  Take those corrective blocks and place them back in the top of our Jenga block.  Correct all those undesirable behaviors. What!?!?! It all fell over!  Yep, because there was no base.  If you don't repair the base first it can't support the correction.  When that tube is over the game all we see are the behaviors--that's all our friends, family, the cashier at Walmart see.  But if you remember to look below the tube at the base, you'll realize there is repair work to be done there first.

This is harder in reality than in practice--many adoptive parents are a part of the Evangelical Christian community--as I am.  Believe me when I tell you that you will get plenty of tongue-clucking and subtle hints at someone just needing a good whoopin' when you seemingly permit certain behaviors.  They just don't see the big picture and it's hard to not care what people think; it's hard not to feel the need to stop and explain this all to them. But once you get used to the horrified looks at the playground when your child gets to return to playing after throwing a major tantrum, or you decide not to fight the battle that would ensue if you attempted to make your son stand on his feet instead of his head in the hotel lobby and get not-so-subtle disapproving looks from older people whose children never misbehaved, then you realize that you can do what's best for your child no matter what works for "everyone else."