Our story begins on April 3, 1996, the day we brought our then 4- year- old son home from a Romanian orphanage. From the moment he came home, he was a whirlwind of hyperactivity - touching everything, defiant, destructive, loud, violent and rageful.
I noticed some other strange behaviors right away. Rocking back and forth and from side to side, refusing to eat, lack of eye contact, an apparent need to be in control of everyone and every situation, and a propensity to illicit angry responses from both myself and my husband - what we called "pushing our buttons".
He had no fear of strangers often just walking up to a stranger and touching them and talking to them. He would hug me with his back when I would go for a hug and he flinched when I touched him yet he would be happy to give hugs to anyone not in his immediate family.
I suppose the worst behaviors were the defiant ones - bossiness, arguing, and sassiness. No amount of behavior modification - sticker charts, etc. - worked with him. He just didn't seem to learn from his mistakes. I read all the traditional parenting books and tried many different techniques. Sometimes, they would work for a small amount of time but inevitably; we would end up back at the beginning. I started to think it was my fault. That I wasn't loving him enough, that I needed to give him more time and be more patient. By the time he went to kindergarten and then first grade, he was a constant behavioral problem.
An insightful teacher told me to check the Internet for information on issues that international adoptees might face. That is when I stumbled across the Parents Network for Post Institutionalized Children. They have a very insightful newsletter that ran through the many issues that some international adoptees suffer from (not only the international adoptee but children adopted domestically, foster children, and even biological children can be diagnosed with attachment disorder). There was a list of symptoms for reactive attachment disorder and at first I was excited as I thought okay, I'm not crazy this is real. But the more I read the more frightened I became. It is a very serious illness and tough to recover from.
An important point to remember is that not all children who are adopted domestically, internationally, or children in foster care will come to you with attachment disorder. Not only is it the environment that these children lived in but also a lot depends on the child’s temperament, strengths, weakness, etc. I would never hesitate to adopt again. In fact, this past year we adopted a baby from Guatemala at four and half months old. I did notice a few signs of attachment problems – lack of eye contact and stiffening when being held – but this time, I was informed and could start working on the attachment process from day one. It is just logical to become as informed as you can about attachment problems but don’t let it make you fear adoption or foster care.
Attachment is on a continuum from securely attached to severely attachment disordered. Some children may suffer from attachment issues, some from mild attachment disorder and some from severe attachment disorder as in my son’s case. They all can benefit from treatment and therapeutic parenting and should receive both to help them become securely attached.
Our son was diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder and we then had him screened for other disorders. Sensory Integration Disorder was one of the disorders that he received treatment for as well. It is very important to find out if your child suffers from other disorders that may exist with reactive attachment disorder.
Next, it was off to the neurologist where he was promptly diagnosed with ADHD. He takes Adderall for the ADHD and Wellbutrin for depression and anxiety. I fought the idea of giving him medication for a long time but the neurologist explained to me that my son’s brain did not develop normally due to the deprivation and lack of attachment he suffered in his early years and that the medication would help him. The doctor was correct.
Finally, we decided to find a therapist who specialized in attachment work. We had to travel three hours each way but it was well worth having a therapist who knew how to help us.
So we had the right kind of therapy in place for our son and then we had to learn therapeutic parenting. Typical parenting techniques do not work with attachment disordered children. We used the parenting techniques that are designed specifically for children with reactive attachment disorder. I also found a local support system and participated in an Internet support group.
We started out with a boy who hated the world. A boy who couldn't love, obey the simplest request, trust, or be joyful. We now have a child who laughs, hugs, loves, smiles, trusts, and can live within the boundaries we set for him - it is an amazing site to behold. God is merciful.
Once you deal effectively with all of the pieces to the puzzle - the parenting, therapy, medication if needed, take care of other disorders, deal effectively with school, and take care of yourself, you can effect positive change in your attachment disordered child.
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Any information on the Attachment Disorder Site does not replace professional advice. This site is my attempt to pass on my knowledge from reading and learning everything I could find on this issue so that I could help our son and maybe help others who are walking this same path.
The resources on this entire site are provided for your personal perusal. I have no way to guarantee the accuracy or appropriateness of any information or advice for a particular situation. Nothing on the Attachment Disorder Site constitutes medical, legal or other professional advice and I assume no liability or responsibility for any diagnosis, treatment, decision made, or action taken in reliance upon information contained on these sites including any sites linked to it or your use of the Internet.