Monday, February 8, 2010

Things are not always as they appear

Calvin is sitting across the table from me as I write today. He is having a Mom imposed day off from school because I felt as though he would not be able to keep it together and have a successful day if he went to school. Staying home means doing work in workbooks, it is not a free day but it is a day when he does not have to deal with bullying, frustrations, disappointments  and having his buttons pushed because others think that watching him explode is so much fun.

I have been warning his school all year that this would happen, that one day he would blow up and hurt another child. He needs structure, he needs adults to step in a help him when he is overwhelmed, he needs adults to see that it is going to happen and do something before it does. The staff at his school heard me but they were not listening. They did not believe me, they did not think that this little boy was capable of such things and because they refused to listen to me a child got hit with a chair on Friday.

They are listening now.

Sadly it is too little to late. Now that Calvin has raged at school he has nothing to lose, he has no reason to try to keep it together.  All  the other kids in the school will have a great time watching that kid with the short fuse blow his top when they tease him on the yard.  Kids can be mean, few kids understand what it is like to be different and even fewer know what it is like to be  in the situation my children are in.

The staff believe that he is in control when he blows, that he choosing to lose his temper. They do not realise that he reacting from a place of fear, a place that is deep within his memory that he not thinking about it but instead just trying to protect himself from the perceived threat. We all know that the other child who is teasing him is just doing it to see the show but Calvin doesn’t know that. It triggers a fight or flight reaction in him that is so deeply ingrained within his being that it is automatic.

He has this deeply ingrained reaction because at a very young age he learned that the only person he could depend on was himself, no one else could be trusted. Sometimes the big people in his world took care of him and sometimes they did not, sometimes the fed him, sometimes they comforted him and other times they just left him to cry. Left him to wonder why no one was meeting his needs, why his cries were unheard or ignored when he clearly needed something. His brain was affected by this neglect, his brain did not develop in the same way of that a child who is cared for and has their needs met lovingly.

Then other adults came into his world and moved him away, separated him from his sister and placed him a foster home and told him that he would be safe and taken care of here. He visited with his Mom sometimes and sometimes he went to visit and she did not show up reinforcing his belief that adults could not be trusted. He started to misbehave at school and in his foster home, he was punished and made to feel as though he was a bad boy. None of the adults in his world realised that his behaviour was speaking volumes about what had happened to him, he was telling them but they could not hear him because they did not really understand his language

This went on for 3 years before Calvin was told that he was going to be adopted and that there would be no more moving around. Calvin did not believe us when we told him we would love him forever, that we would always be there for him. Why should he believe us, adults are not to be trusted

Everyone told us he was a handful, he had a lot of behaviour issues, had been suspended numerous times, refused to use the bathroom, was overly affectionate and could not be trusted to be alone. We were not suprised by his behaviour, no wonder he acted like that, his life had been one traumatic event after another. By 8 years old this child had more trauma than many people have in a life time.  

We have worked really hard to teach Calvin that we will take care of him and meet his needs, that we will never leave him no matter what he does, that he can be angry and tell us that he hates us and that we will still love him.  He is starting to realise that we mean it, that as his parents we can be trusted. He does not trust us all the time, he is still working on that but he has come far in the last 18 months.

Even though he is starting to be able to stay regulated and in control at home it is hard for him to maintain that control when he is not with me. He uses me as his anchor, he knows that I will see when he is becoming disregulated and help him gain control by talking to him about what is going on. That is why school is so hard for him, there is no one to help keep him regulated because all the staff wait until the behaviour occurs rather than watching for the signs that the behaviour is coming.  Once he is disregulated he goes to that fear place in his memory and reacts from there, he does not stop to think, he just reacts because he is scared that no one will keep him safe and so he must keep himself safe at all costs.

This is attachment disorder, this is what happens when children are neglected and experience trauma. Calvin is not alone, there are many children who are just like Calvin.

I wish that the world understood attachment disorder. I wish that the world understood the profound effect that neglect that has on a child’s developing brain. I wish people would listen to those of us who have taken the time to learn about attachment disorder and choose to parent children who are affected by this preventable damage when we try to explain our children to them.

J. blogs at Stellar Parenting 101 where she talks about raising two wonderful boys and all the challenges that go along with being their mom.


  1. I'm so sorry your son went through so much. Glad he has you to guide him.

  2. I know you have tried a dozen or more times to talk to the school. It is just so maddening to know what you know and the important people are not hearing it. Maybe they will try a different way now. Hopeful!

  3. I am learning more and more about this disorder and really feel for children who come from such neglect. (see my most recent entry a few days ago)
    Wishing you guys lots of love and strength.

  4. I'm so sorry they didn't listen. Calvin is so lucky you continue to advocate for him. And I wish Calvin all the best.

  5. J
    this post is almost unbearable to read because I am so feeling your kids pain
    how thankful I am that they have you now

  6. My daughter struggles with self-regulation for a different reason (ASD) but I wanted to share a resource I found out about the other day that is designed to help children understand and learn to more independently control their emotional responses. It is a tool (honestly) that I think I need to work through myself. Anyway it's being published in a book due out June/July and is called the Zones of Self-Regulation. I went to sort of a mini-workshop and I"m hoping to be able to introduce my daughter to the basic concepts in the next few months in hopes that by the time the book comes out the foundation will be laid for some deeper progress. I hope your school will get on board. We had (sadly)a similar experience this Fall. It's so sad when you tell them about your child's needs and they don't believe you until something happens.