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nature versus nurture

Monday, January 5, 2009

I had a comment on my last post about Maddie's episode, that reminded me just how many misconceptions there are about 'indiscriminate affection' and other attachment issues.
As I told the commenter, I am so glad she left the message. Its going to give me a chance to share what I know - which isn't much...and hopefully help some other post-adoptive parents out there.
Let me start by saying...
It's more than just being 'friendly'.
Its the fact that Maddie is perfectly willing to walk away with anyone at any time...without looking back.
No fear.
No hesitation.
No second-guessing.
Its a look in her eyes that can't be described.
A look of defiance...and at the same time emptiness.
Its daddy or mommy 'shopping'...always looking for the newer better model.
'She has candy...I'll go with her.'
Its not my need to be SuperMommy...its the fear that in her heart I'm not truly Mommy at all.
For anyone who hasn't worked with children adopted out of orphanages its hard to imagine. They see a charming child, who is 'just friendly'.
And Maddie IS charming...and she IS friendly. But there also is a VERY serious, underlying problem of absolute trust of absolutely anyone present.
Its something Maddie had to develop in order to survive.
In the orphanage...and you HAVE to remember that's where she came from...the children who were charming, sweet, beautiful and smart were the ones doted more upon by the staff. They were the ones who would get the extra helping of bread...or the extra hug. They were given preferential treatment. They were the ones who may have gotten some more one on one attention - something those little ones CRAVED.
And then, think about this...if the child has an impairment, a deformity...a handicap...how much more important is it for that child to develop these skills?
How much harder is she going to have to work to get that worker's attention if her mouth is deformed...her ears nonexistent....her speech slurred?

How much more demanding will she have to be to get their attention when she is sick, hungry or afraid?
How much more charming will she have to be to escape the wrath of an angry orphanage worker who is upset because the little girl didn't do what she was told?
Maddie couldn't HEAR the directions.

She had no idea what the other children and people around her were saying.
Unless she could see them...FACE. TO. FACE.
Remember...Maddie could read lips when we brought her home. It was another skill she had to develop in order to survive.
Maddie doesn't read lips much anymore...because SHE DOESN'T NEED TO.
THAT is what we're trying to teach Maddie here. SHE DOESN'T NEED TO BE SO CHARMING.
She needs to be herself.

I wouldn't think of doing anything to change Maddie's true personality. But this isn't her TRUE personality. This is the personality that living in the orphanage has forced upon her. Living in an institution since the day she was born forced my child's personality to morph into one that allows her to get the attention she needed from her caregivers and any stranger that happened to come her way.
If you think about it, you morph your personality all the time. If you're at a funeral you aren't your usual, lively self. If you start a new job, more than likely you'll come out of your introverted shell long enough to deal with new clients/customers.
Its the same for Maddie...just on a much more serious and permanent scale.
She is doing what she thinks she has to IN ORDER TO SURVIVE.
If Maddie were just being 'friendly' she would say Hi to people, maybe give them a hug, and then back off into her own personal space.
She doesn't do that.
She not only forces you to give her attention, she gets in your face and doesn't get out.
She puts her hands on your cheeks...
forcing you into a face to face...
inches apart...
staring into your eyes...
She MAKES you pay attention.
It isn't just a personality trait...its a learned behavior that if not changed, can lead to HUGE problems later on in life. Problems in not only bonding with her father, siblings and I, but also problems in developing a true relationship with a spouse...
The good thing is many times, these kids do eventually re-learn how to deal with strangers. Whether its through intense re-parenting...or just the eventual realization that they don't need these survival skills, I don't know.
What I do know is that all three of my older kids have (thankfully) found a new way of dealing with strangers...a healthy, friendly reserve. With re-parenting, over time they realized they didn't HAVE to use their skills to garner attention anymore and slowly began to recognize who their parents were and who strangers are.
And I fully expect Maddie will do the same.
I have seen a lot of progress in my littlest girl over the last 11 months. (Part of which I had just chronicled before the 'incident'. ;) That gives me a lot of comfort after what happened on Saturday.
I know she's slowly making progress.
Slowly letting go of those orphanage behaviors and finding her true self again.
But for other children, it takes more than just patience and teaching from their parents. Its a much more insidious condition requiring therapy to help correct. Without it things only get worse...because all of this is a symptom of a much more serious issue.
Reactive Attachment Disorder.
THAT is why I'm so concerned...and why I spend so much time watching Maddie's behavior.
Maddie is the oldest child I have ever adopted. This is a totally new experience for us. Thankfully, its not the first time I've dealt with these behaviors. We know how to help her...its just that we're starting to realize its not going to be as easy to help correct as it was in our 12, 14 and 21 month old babies.
Maddie had 46 months to work on these survival techniques.
46 months to perfect them.
46 months to rely on them.
46 months to build them deeply into her psyche.
Its going to take a lot more than 11 months to help her set them aside.
With that being said. I have to agree with so many of you. It was just a setback. Like a smoker (and yes, I am comparing my daughter to a nicotine addict because she was addicted to attention - its a better comparison than crack don't you think?!) there are going to be times when she backslides a bit. I have to keep reminding myself of just how much progress she has made in the last 11 months. When I first brought her home last February what happened Saturday was an EVERY DAY occurrence.
She acted like this in the grocery store..at the gas station...at the salon.
Now its been so long since the last episode, this one took me by surprise.
That's something to celebrate, isn't it?

8 salty messages:

Diana January 6, 2009 at 2:01 AM  

As a parent of two children suffering from both Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Reactive Attachment Disorder (one of which I'd probably now classify as insecure attachment), I assure you that I absolutely GET your concerns. They are real, they are valid, and those who tell you otherwise haven't ever dealt with a true attachment disorder.

I assure you it isn't the age of the child or how much they can consciously remember that determines attachment disorders. My children were 7 and not yet 3 at the time of adoption. My younger one is definately having a more difficult time in the attachment department! It isn't that he doesn't WANT to trust us, it is that he CAN'T. He literally lives in fear 24/7 that he will be abandoned and his life here will vaporize in an instant just as his life with his birth family did and just at his life at the orphanage did.

It is a huge misconception that children will "outgrow" their issues. It simply isn't true. Children - and adults - will never "outgrow" true attachment disorders. They can outheal them, though. But it is not an easy process. It is a process of laying down new neural pathways and actually changing faulty brain wiring. It takes a ton of patience, a LOT of faith and prayer, and a willingness to never give up.

Hang in there. You're doing the right things. You are wise in being concerned. Any one symptom of insecure attachment/RAD can be rather innocent and "normal kid stuff" on their own. But, when you combine them and also look at intensity and duration and intent, they tell a MUCH different story. You're her mom and you know her best. Don't let anyone tell you differently.

Courtney January 6, 2009 at 7:34 AM  

It most definitely is. :)

I would add that when you look into the eyes of a child with attachment issues, behind the smile and the charm you can see the desperation--the refusal to let go of your attention because they're afraid they won't get it back. It's definitely not as simple as a child who just likes to be affectionate and will give hugs to lots of people.

Meridith January 6, 2009 at 8:02 AM  

Tami, you are doing beautifully! Maddie is healing because of your diligence. I've been there and every day surprises me with delight as my daughter continues to heal from RAD. I pray that you will be encouraged many times today. Mer

Debbie January 6, 2009 at 10:42 AM  

Hi. Just found you through a comment on another blog. What a wonderful and powerful post. I had never thought about these issues. I look forward to reading more from you.

Rachael January 6, 2009 at 11:53 AM  

Very well said.

Hang in there, Mama!

Shelley January 6, 2009 at 7:40 PM  

I wish that I could express this to my family and friends as well as you just did! I have been accused countless times of being "mean", "heartless" and "paranoid" because I don't want my child hugging complete strangers(and he will jump into their arms and wrap his legs around them forcing them to pick him up).
I completely understand what you are saying. I wish I could say it that well to the people I know!

AdoptaMama January 7, 2009 at 8:53 PM  

Thanks for your comments on my blog and thanks also for taking the time to post about this again. You put things in great perspective about Maddie's special needs.

Alena also was the "princess" of her baby house (only 30-40 kids in the entire place, 11 in her group), so she was showered with attention constantly and given more of everything compared to the other kids. It took a little time for her to learn that that wasn't going to happen in her new home with her new parents, but she learned quickly. As a teacher and now as a parent I realize all kids are different. What works for some does not necessarily work for others. Adopted or not.

Thanks again for your explanation regarding Maddie's unique situation. I appreciate you taking the time and it helped to put things into perspective.

Christine January 13, 2009 at 4:17 PM  

WONDERFUL description. The reason they continue with indiscriminate affection is because people don't see through it, and it totally works. Our kids are amazingly brilliant.

Stumbled across you, but glad I did! I have two children with RAD, but they have had 132 and 96 months to perfect their behaviors before making it here to their forever home. :)

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