Friday, November 2, 2007
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.
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.
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.