Thursday, December 15, 2011

Negative Attention-Seeking Behavior

Our 22-year-old son graduated from college last weekend.  We’re very proud of him.  He has Asperger Syndrome and some sensory integration challenges, but he’s done well and has worked hard.  We’re blessed to have witnessed his accomplishment.  It was not a typical, four years of study.  He deserves the attention he’s received from family and friends.  Graduating from college is a big deal for anyone.  It should be recognized!  However, since we’re also raising traumatized kids, we expected some trauma monsters to rear their ugly heads, even as we celebrated.  Boy, they sure did.

We were pleasantly surprised when our 16-year-old son did relatively well through most of the festivities.  He was genuinely supportive of his older brother and congratulated him on his accomplishment.  He was not terribly surly or rude to me, and he was even pretty attentive during the graduation ceremony.  It was not until the family-only party (this is what our graduate wanted) that he showed he’d had enough of the celebration.  We have few pictures of the party where he is not making a silly face or giving me his “I’m disgusted with you” smirk.  (I have hundreds of pictures throughout the last four years of this boy with that look on his face.)  At the party, he was also markedly quiet.  By the time the cake and presents were over, he’d had about all he could take.  He retreated to his room at about 7:30 p.m. and did not come out again until he had to leave for school the next morning.  Still, it was much better than he’d ever done with a family event before.  He knows he’s made some progress and that is a good thing to see as his mom.

Then, there was my 13-year-old daughter.  She’s usually the easier of the two younger kids to handle, but this celebration (and another issue I’ll tell you about tomorrow) set her off, and we’re still in the midst of the muck. 

At school on Thursday, she twisted her right wrist a little bit in gym class.  It was uncomfortable, I’m sure.  However, it was not a major life-altering injury.  Any of our other kids might try to get out of doing the dishes one night to “rest,” but my daughter was going to milk it for all it was worth.  She was fine through school on Friday.  Her gym teacher said she participated and “played hard” that day, just like all the other kids.  She also played her violin just fine in orchestra class.  On Friday evening, she gave me a neck rub.  She was particularly animated, though.  She was very active, and could not sit still at all.  Plus, she could not shut up.  She talked and talked, and asked stupid question after stupid question. 

My daughter has used her baby voice nearly constantly since last Thursday, and has tried to be “cute.”  She’s continued to bring me one drawing or paper after another, seeking praise (like a 3 year old would), regressing to her “look at me” C.O.N.S.T.A.N.T.L.Y. crazy behavior.  Honestly, it drives me batty.  I’m not all that patient.  Last night, I even needed a time out because I couldn’t take her any more.  This has not stopped since Thursday evening when we talked about plans for the graduation weekend. 

She complained about her wrist throughout the weekend.  Conveniently, it only bothered her when we wanted her to do something.  She’d say she “couldn’t move” it, but by the end of her sentence, she’d be waving it around and gesturing like my Italian mother-in-law, as she argued.  (The arguing hasn’t stopped since last Thursday either.)  Things had escalated so much by Monday morning, that I took her to the emergency room before school, just to be prudent.  My instincts told me this was “just” negative attention-seeking behavior, but I wanted to be sure she wasn’t truly injured, and I sure didn’t want to be accused of neglect if she complained at school. 

When we got into the exam room, the first thing I did was ask the nurse if he knew anything about attachment or RAD, trauma in adopted children, or the issues of post-institutionalized children.  He did not.  Briefly, I explained our son graduated college that weekend, and our daughter had a history of seeking attention in inappropriate ways when other people were receiving attention.  She was jumping like a frightened cat and howling as he examined her.  (My mother would have said it was like watching the third act of East Lynne.)  I told the nurse she was over-acting as he looked at her wrist.  I probably seemed like an uncaring witch and a poor excuse for a mother.  After all, until five years ago, that’s exactly what I would have thought of a woman who said the things I was saying about her child to an ER nurse.

After the nurse checked her vital signs, the ER doctor looked at my daughter.  I asked him the same questions I’d asked the nurse.  I tested him to see if he knew what “RAD” meant (since I'd had to educate even my own family physician).  He did not.  They just don’t teach these things in med school.  So again, I educated another doctor.  Thankfully, he played along, and seemed to at least be empathetic, even if he may not have understood me completely.  He had my daughter’s wrist x-rayed.  It wasn’t broken.  But then, we knew that.  Thankfully, the doctor did know about “natural consequences.”  He asked my daughter what her favorite subjects were (gym and orchestra).  He did not say anything else as he gave protocol instructions and put her wrist in a splint.  He told her she had to wear it for a week.  He then wrote a note for school:  “No gym or orchestra for one week.”  Natural consequences!  LOVE that ER doctor!

As I wrote earlier, there have been other anxiety-producing “events” going on this week in our family.  I’ll write more about that tomorrow but I wanted to tell you about how my kids respond to celebrations that are not about them.  My son is still pretty shut down.  My daughter is still very triggered and still super hyper.  She saw her psychiatric nurse yesterday and her SEROquel dose was increased from 50 mg/day to 100/mg day for now.  It will go up to 150/mg by the end of next week as we get to Christmas.  Aside from that however, even though she continues to milk the wrist thing, she has also admitted that the next time she “makes a big deal out of something,” she’ll think about the consequences first.  She said, as we've been telling her for some time, "I need to take a breath and tell you what I need."  Progress!  ‘Doesn’t keep me from feeling any less crazy sometimes, but it does show me we must be doing something right around here.


Diana said...

With only changing a few details regarding the actual events and the ensuing natural consequences that followed the crazy cakes stuff that was pulled on me during my daughter's choir concert last night, I could have written this post myself. Thus my FB status last night. Fa la la la la....

Trauma sucks buckets of rocks!

Anonymous said...

Have you tried trying to connect with her? i.e. trying to match her mood, and asking a question like, "I know it is really hard for you when someone else gets a lot of attention, isn't it? I notice that it seems to get some of your feelings stirred up? Am I right? Or, completely wrong?" I know this straightforward approach (IF I can really manage to truly focus on her in an accepting way) can make an enormous difference - at least it derails the disaster train. Usually. And, at the best of times, followed by curious questioning, occasionally she even makes a little progress. Have to say, in my dear one this stuff presents in a way that cannot be ignored, if you value your car, your home, your life.


Trauma Mama T said...

Annie - Oh, absolutely! I always try to connect with her -- even when I need a time out, I come back and connect. We always help her identify what's going on. Please don't think she was ignored. You should always help an acting out child identify what's going on -- traumatized or not. It still doesn't make the weekend about her, but it helps her know what's going on, even if she can't bring herself to stop it.

For example, on Sunday morning, I could not go to church. My husband and I usually work in the nursery together. Our daughter is also a helper for special Sundays. My husband asked her to help and she refused, saying her hand hurt. She then picked up her cat and was playing with her. I said, "Honey, we both know you have something else you'd really like to tell your dad. Why don't you tell him what it is you want?" (WHAT questions always work better than WHY questions for my kids.) She said, "Oh yeah. Dad, I don't want to miss youth group this morning. I want to be with my friends for Sunday School."

This is just one example, of course, and she handled it well. Other times, I need to do what I call "feeling exploration" and ask her if she's feeling this or that - of if what she really WANTS is this or that. Sometimes it's not so easy for her to have an "oh yeah" moment.

Even though she KNOWS the wrist thing is a negative attention-getter and she's not really hurt, she cannot stop herself from going through the act. Even though she KNOWS we know, she cannot stop wearing her splint, even though she says her wrist doesn't hurt at all anymore. She's going to wear it for a week. Period. Come hell or high water. That's trauma.