Saturday, January 23, 2010

Two Sides To Every Story

Yesterday afternoon I sat in a meeting with a behavior specialist, a case manager, day support staff and group home staff – all to discuss my daughter, Jessica and her ongoing and increasing aggressive and negative behaviors.

Jessica’s negative and aggressive behaviors are not new. Every since I adopted her eight years ago, she has displayed outbursts of rage and aggression. She is diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, a disorder that is common in children who have spent many years in foster care. While in foster care for 9 years, she learned that trusting and attaching to adults more often than not resulted in emotional and physical pain. Her response to that was to refuse to attach ever again. Whenever another person starts to get too close to Jessica, for instance a permanent ‘Mom’, she will rebel as hard as she can. And, it’s not only Mom. She ‘protects’ herself from letting anyone get too close, and to do that, she feels she must control every relationship and most situations. Some of the more common symptoms of reactive attachment disorder are:

Lack of Conscience Development.
Superficially Charming.
Lack of Eye Contact (except when lying).
Inability to give and Receive Affection.
Extreme Control Issues.
Destructive to Self, Others, Animals and Property.
No Impulse Control.
Unusual Eating Patterns (hoarding, gorging, or refusal to eat).
Unsuccessful Peer Relationships.
Incessant Chatter in Order to Control.
Very Demanding.
Unusual speech patterns, mumbling, robotic speech, talking very softly except when raging.

Unfortunately Jessica displays every one of them, but only some of the time. When Jessica is not in the middle of a rage, she is the sweetest, most loving, well-mannered child you could ever meet. She is helpful and doesn’t complain. She smiles and makes everyone around her smile. She seems to be one of the happiest people in the world – until….

The ‘until’ is what our group yesterday was trying to figure out. What are the triggers that send Jessica over the edge and into an abyss of aggression? And once triggered, what makes her voice change – actually change and get several octaves lower – her exorcist voice as we call it? What makes her much stronger than normal, and why must she physically hurt someone before she can become ‘Sweet Jessica’ again?

Living through these episodes and living with Jessica, never knowing what to expect is very difficult. Everyone around her must be constantly on guard, and that is exhausting. Every precaution must be taken to ensure she doesn’t have access to something that could be used as a weapon, and always having to think along those lines does not make for a very happy household. But, it also doesn’t make for a very happy Jessica, and that is the main reason we need to figure this out.

It did make me sad yesterday to spend an hour and a half painting a picture of a very troubled child, a child who routinely and significantly hurts others. I want to work together with this group to help Jessica, but it’s very important to me that during the process we don’t lose sight of the positive things about her. I don’t want her defined only by those moments of rage. I truly believe that in her heart, she is a loving person who only wants love in return.

Recovery from the trauma symptoms of reactive attachment disorder more often than not isn’t successful. Like many mental illnesses, people aren’t cured, but they do learn to cope. In addition to Jessica’s mental illness, she is also diagnosed with a cognitive disability. That cognitive disability makes it difficult to learn new coping skills, but I refuse to give up. I will continue to try, and I will insist that the people who provide support to her continue to try.

The abandonment and the abuse Jessica suffered before joining my family were not things she chose. Adults, adults in positions of responsibility, used their power for evil. Jessica was the unwitting victim, and will suffer for the rest of her life as a result. I can’t do anything about what happened in her past, but I can ensure that in the future she is given the support and chances she deserves. She is my daughter, and I will take care of her.


  1. Please try homeopathy with can be AMAZING with a good doctor. Try to find one who specializes in functional medicine. There are no side effects, except a happy child with no meltdowns. Wishing the best for you and Jessica.

  2. This has been my life for the last 10 of the last 11 years. Admittedly, my daughter was only 2.5 when adopted and she saved the majority of her rage and torture for me and her 2 siblings, but I know that Hell. In an attempt to offer you hope - I can say that the last 9 months or so have revealed the sweet, funny (yes, a sense of humor!), friendly (she has real friends now), and loving (conscience laden) girl I fell in love with. While I'm still holding my breath and have all my digits crossed, it looks like we're all going to live. She will be 14 a week from today. I am very hopeful for her future. My heart goes out to you - may your daughter find her way to you as well.

  3. I can't help but think that Jessica will respond eventually to the love she is shown so consistently and the faith you have in her.

  4. This website always knocks me on the side of my head with the powerful writing of its contributors. Despite being the mother of a child with disabilities, I have never had to contend with the enormous issues that you face. I hope that you have all the support you need and that that shining love you show sustains you and your daughter. Thank you for your honesty and clarity -- sharing those things makes for a stronger community.

  5. I too am spending my days talking to my son's teachers, therapists, and doctors attempting to determine what is leading to his aggressive behaviors.
    When he was 2 the doctors wanted to prescribe Risperadol but the side effects and risk of tardive dyschonesia was enough for me to push for behavior modification first and then medication later if it was unsuccessful. Thankfully the behavior-mod worked well and we did not have to put such a young child on such a serious drug.
    However, now he is 7 year old, 60 pounds, and having 15-20 meltdowns per day where he kicks, screams, hits, and punches. I am at my wits end and am realizing that maybe now medication is the answer.
    I am also, like with your daughter, advocating for my child that he is so much more than his diagnosis of Autism and the resulting aggression. I chose to have hope and faith that we can climb this mountain and make it over the top unscathed.

  6. You are a very lovely mother

  7. Yes, your consistency and insistence that Jessica been seen clearly will and is making a huge difference. Doesn't it feel like most of our "work" as parents of differences if helping others just see the entire kid, not just behavior or cognition or physical differences? I sometimes hear circus music in my head as I run around saying "yah, but how about this other part of her? Did you see this? How about this?"
    Thanks for this honest and hopeful account.

  8. I understand I live it to,well less now than before but it is always there, just below the surface. You are exactly what she needs and she is lucky to have you.