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.
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...
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?