Thursday, April 18, 2013

So What Do You Look For? A List for Recognizing Trauma & Attachment Issues

The following list of often-experienced behaviors of traumatized adopted children was developed by Dr. Arthur Becker Weidman, Ph.d.  He has studied attachment and complex trauma especially in children who were adopted after the age of 18 months.  If you are an adoptive parent and you can check off more than a few of the characteristics on this list, you may have a child with attachment and/or complex trauma issues.

1. My child acts cute or charms others to get others to do what my child wants.
2. My child often does not make eye contact when adults want to make eye contact with my child.
3. My child is overly friendly with strangers.
4. My child pushes me away or becomes stiff when I try to hug, unless my child wants something from me.
5. My child argues for long periods of time, often about ridiculous things.
6. My child has a tremendous need to have control over everything, becoming very upset if things don't go my child's way.
7. My child acts amazingly innocent, or pretends that things aren't that bad when caught doing something wrong.
8. My child does very dangerous things, ignoring that my child may be hurt.
9. My child deliberately breaks or ruins things.
10. My child doesn't seem to feel age-appropriate guilt when my child does something wrong.
11. My child teases, hurts, or is cruel to other children.
12. My child seems unable to stop from doing things on impulse.
13. My child steals, or shows up with things that belong to others with unusual or suspicious reasons for how my child got these things.
14. My child demands things, instead of asking for them.
15. My child doesn't seem to learn from mistakes and misbehavior (no matter what the consequence, the child continues the behavior).
16. My child tries to get sympathy from others by telling them that I abuse, don't feed, or don't provide the basic life necessities.
17. My child "shakes off" pain when hurt, refusing to let anyone provide comfort.
18. My child likes to sneak things without permission, even though my child could have had these things if my child had asked.
19. My child lies, often about obvious or ridiculous things, or when it would have been easier to tell the truth.
20. My child is very bossy with other children and adults.
21. My child hoards or sneaks food, or has other unusual eating habits (eats paper, raw flour, package mixes, baker's chocolate, etc. )
22. My child can't keep friends for more than a week.
23. My child throws temper tantrums that last for hours.
24. My child chatters non-stop, asks repeated questions about things that make no sense, mutters, or is hard to understand when talking.
25. My child is accident-prone (gets hurt a lot), or complains a lot about every little ache and pain (needs constant band aids).
26. My child teases, hurts, or is cruel to animals.
27. My child doesn't do as well in school as my child could with even a little more effort.
28. My child has set fires, or is preoccupied with fire.
29. My child prefers to watch violent cartoons and/or TV shows or horror movie (regardless of whether or not you allow your child to do this).
30. My child was abused/neglected during the first year of life, or had several changes of primary caretaker during the first several years of life.
31. My child was in an orphanage for more than the first year of life.
32. My child was adopted after the age of eighteen months.

My own children have exhibited most every one of the behaviors listed above, including #28.  (Yes, that was a scary, scary time.)  Depending upon which of my two traumatized children we’re talking about, they continue to exhibit many of these even after being home for nearly six years.  It is exhausting for all family members and most of all for the children affected by trauma and their mama.  The behaviors that are most pervasive for my kids seem to be those that are also pervasive in other families with traumatized older adopted children.  Numbers 1-7 are pretty much a given, no matter what family I know.  Likewise, #15-19 dominate the life of many traumatized children/teens.  In fact, many of us parenting trauma have learned to EXPECT lies and demands and while we’ve learned to redirect our children, we are very weary from having to do so all the time.  Another behavior I have seen in nearly all the traumatized children/teens I know is #29.  My kids love blood, gore and violence.  They love dark stories with depraved characters, evil and black magic.  It doesn’t matter that these are things we avoid in our Christian home.  Even though they profess to be Christians themselves, they are still drawn like a moth to the flame.  It is NOT a spiritual deficiency.  It is how their brains have been wired by trauma.  It’s what makes them feel “normal” and not anxious.  Yet, it is also what makes them act out in big ways with big feelings.  They will sneak around to read books and view YouTube videos as well as watch movies we don’t allow whenever they get the chance.
Now, please understand, I am NOT saying that all adopted children exhibit all the behaviors listed.  Please remember, too, that I have parented four neuro-typical children prior to adopting my two from hurt backgrounds.  I know any child can exhibit any of these behaviors.  However, I also know neuro-typical (NT) kids don’t exhibit them on a regular basis, nor do they exhibit multiple behaviors at the same time on a regular basis.  This is NOT “normal” kid stuff.  (Most parents of traumatized kids that I know are especially tired of hearing from those not walking this road that it is.)
I am saying, however, that ALL children I know who were adopted after the age of 18 months or so do indeed deal with trauma.  They deal with attachment issues.  They may not have full-blown RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder), but they struggle with attachment on some level due to trauma.  That may make a reader or two bristle, but I stick by my experience.  Getting adopted is traumatic and it does not happen without profound loss.

However, I am also not saying that adoption is a negative thing.  It is not!  It is wonderful and it is a blessing, even as it is a challenge.  I am saying you’d better make darned sure you are called to adopt before you do it.  It is HARD to knit a child to your heart who has experienced the loss that is involved in adoption.  Do not expect your child to love you back or be grateful for the time, love and things you give him or her.  Ask tough questions from people who live this life before you ever fill out an agency application.  Make sure those people are brutally honest with you.  Pray hard.  Learn more than the social workers require of you.  Read everything you can about trauma and attachment before you ever complete your home study.
If you're already an adoptive parent dealing with this kind of stuff and you need some connection with people who "get it,  let me know.  I know some people and I have some resources to share with you.  If you're anyone else, thanks for reading!  If you want to know more because you want to help a family you care about, let me know that, too.  I also have some resources to share with you.


Anonymous said...

Great list! When adoptive hopefuls ask timidly if my children were abused, I remind them all children abandoned, left without parental protection, institutionalized, etc were abused or neglected at some point. What they really want is assurance the child they are adopting will have been protected some how. Each child has a unique story and each child reacts differently. Not unlike my own childhood actually, I look at my brother and listen to his view of our childhood and why he is the way he is now and wonder how we could have been in the same house! :)

Leah S. said...

Excellent post! For those adopting kids who are nonverbal, or with very limited language ability, things like #14, 16, 19, 20, 24 still exist, but they will be expressed in different ways. My three adopted kids are all non-verbal, communicating only with limited ASL. Dealing with a non-verbal traumatized child can be tricky because you have no way of knowing what they understand and what they don't, and you have BETTER be incredibly good at reading body language!

Margaret in VA said...

I wish I had known about your blog before! I'm certainly sending some friends your way! I have two children who both adopted as infants- 1 1/2 mos & 5 mos. The older (18) was also the youngest when adopted but had a more violent time of it in vitro. He exhibits almost all of those on the list. After reading "Empowered to Connect" I understand that a baby being bathed in adrenaline all through his brain development will have a lot of the same issues as those going through trauma in their first years. FAE doesn't help the situation. God is faithful to help ups through this life and our kids are in His hands. Thank you, thank you for blogging!

Trauma Mama T said...

Margaret in VA - Please forgive me for taking so long to post your comment. I've been away from the blog for a while. Sometimes I'm away because things are hard here and I'm trying to figure things out. Other times, I'm just distracted. I've been both these last few months.

I think we all just try to do the best we can. As long as we all keep learning and remain open to trying new things, we'll make it through.

Like you, I need to also rely on God. I've seen Him accomplish amazing things in Youngest Son over the last year or so. I am praying my daughter finds a real heart change, too.

Anonymous said...

I feel so very thankful to have come across your blog today. My husband and I adopted three sibling girls just a little under eight years ago at ages, 8,11, and 13 from foster care. Our oldest and our youngest have both been diagnosed with RAD/ODD/PTSD/ADHD/DID and anger management issues.

Sometimes when you are battling the issues daily, its easy to think that you are alone in this journey and that no one understands. Thank you for being willing to share your experiences to help others. I can already tell that your blog will be a much needed blessing!

Beth T said...

Thank you, long number for an account name person. (That's a first.) Anyway, I am humbled by your encouragement. Thank you. YOU were a much needed blessing today!

Tired and alone said...

Thank you for your honesty in painting a very true picture. I thought I could deal with all of this but now that we're into the fourth month of adoption probation with an 11-year old boy, I'm really not sure we're doing the right thing. My husband and I argue constantly (except when we're pretending that everything is okay in front of our son and friends). Everything is not okay and I fear that our relationship won't survive. As for our child, it's like having a stranger move in and manipulate everyone in your life, lying, being "super cute" and affectionate when they want something, being rude or just ignoring you at other times.. and it's like I'm the only one who sees what's going on. My entire life now revolves around this child and his every whim - nothing is ever good enough. Sadly, I just want to run away.. not only isn't this the family we had envisioned, I feel like a slave trapped in my own home. Our child's "plan" is to return to his birth mother when he turns 18. In the meantime, it feels like all he cares about is using our family and friends to get all the material things he wants.. as I write this, my husband is out looking at a wakeboard boat that we can't afford and don't need.. Sadly, he can't see that he's really just trying to buy this child's love and I believe this is a recipe for disaster. Sorry for the lranting and venting but it really does seem that you "get it" and no one else seems to:(

Mama T said...

Dear Tired & Alone - I'm so sorry I didn't see your post until now (12/29/15). This blog has been closed for quite a while and I only just logged onto it today because I'm in the process of beginning a new blog and will transfer some of my articles here (after editing them) to the new blog. I'm so sorry you've gone through these feelings and that you may still be having them. It is not easy! The Princess has been actively pushing us away and making extremely STUPID choices at an increasing rate for over a year now. If you'd like to chat further, please email me at the traumamamat email address at gmail. In the mean time, please know I prayed for your this morning.