Saturday, November 29, 2008

20/20 episode on Adoption

Last night, a TV news program, 20/20, did an episode on international adoptions that have "difficult" results when the child turns out to have mental- emotional- behavioral disabilities. Here is the link and you can watch most of the program on their website.
I don't even know where to start.
The main focus of the program was the Mulligan family, who adopted 2 girls from Russia, then went back rather quickly and adopted a boy. They showed pictures of the parents at their wedding and they were quite striking as a pair, very attractive. 3 or 4 years later, they are both a wreck. Overweight, visibly saddened and with rigid expressionless faces, they seem to realize that what they have done out of altruism has taken them to a path few would choose, and it is permanent. The oldest girl and little boy were diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)as well as other mental health issues. One of the 3 children does well.
My problem with this show, is that they aired footage from the oldest girls first week home. They showed her pacing around the house, crying and sort of wailing, and at one point had to pull her out from under the bed. They showed another incident of her sitting on their couch crying as they filmed her during a 54 minute meltdown. THAT IS NOT A DISORDER THAT IS A CHILD WHO IS SCARED AND OVERWHELMED.
Then they showed the little boy having a tantrum of sorts. Having had immediate problems with their first adoption, I have no idea why they would go back for another child. And I really have no idea who would have let them do this. Anyway, he was about 4 or 5 and they showed him crying and sitting at a wall and giving the dad dirty looks while the dad was filming him. The boy turned to face the wall, and the dad insisted he turn around and started to count to 3 but the boy turned around on 2. Again, this is the action of a child who is probably angry, probably scared, and probably overwhelmed. This does not a disorder make. That is my most significant problem with this show that was otherwise ok. They made it look like parents who could not handle a child crying and not listening constituted an attachment disorder. Those kids may very well have had a long list of problems but that is not what they showed, those behaviors are not, repeat NOT what drives parents to disrupt an adoption.

When Genea first got here, she ran away from me in the store. She would not hold my hand, I had to drag her to the car and if she got free she would try to run through a parking lot in traffic. She pee'd on herself, on the couch, on the floor, wherever. She picked the paint off the wall and I suspect she ate it because I never found the chips. She took off her seat belt in the car, and took off Teena's too. I had to buy a special mirror for my car to be able to watch her in the back seat. At home, I walked away for 1 second and caught her hitting Teena. Just hitting her. No tantrum, no reason, just hitting her. Every great parenting idea I had was quickly stomped over and useless. Say 5 positives for every 1 negative. Tell the child what TO do, not what NOT to do. Ignore the bad praise the good. Please.
She woke up 2-3 times a night yelling NO NO NO over and over. Woke up in the morning around 5 am give or take an hour and would wail on and on, crying and screaming to make sure everyone was up with her. She looked like a kid with the most raging ADHD ever, she moved constantly. She would asked to be picked up and within 3 seconds would be squirming and kicking at me to be put down. She would reach to hug me and went rigid when I hugged back. She body slammed into me all day. She crawled on me or jumped on me or lurched at me with elbows and knees digging and jabbing painfully and had no response when I tried to tell her that hurt. .She did not stop talking and asking nonsense questions. Is that my lunch? Are you making my lunch? Are you using bread for my lunch? What are you putting on my bread? You are using a knife right? You need a plate right? Is that my lunch? Are you going to make me my lunch? Are you getting out the bread now? I want 2 pieces of bread, make sure I get 2 pieces ok? This went on with everything, not just food. If I did not give the answer she wanted, meltdown. And she binged on liquids. She would drink water and keep chugging it and chugging it until she started to choke and turn red and she would keep chugging it until she could not breathe anymore and was gagging and spraying water everywhere and still kept trying to get more. She stole things and broke them and hid them. She lied, and would tell a lie with the truth in front of her. It was maddening to ask her what is the truth. And I would spend 20 minutes assuring her I was not angry, I just need the truth. And you are not in trouble, nothing bad is going to happen, I promise. Just please tell me what really happened. And without flinching, without breaking eye contact, without a change in expression, she was adamant that she was telling the truth. She wasn't. I would catch her trying to hurt our cats, in minor ways. Her meltdowns went on every day. 5 or 10 or more, for 6 months there was not a day free of meltdowns. If she did not get what she wanted, meltdown. And she would ask for things she knew she could not have, like a glass vase, and when I said no, the wailing began. Meltdown. And there was no middle ground. She went from 0 to 120 in a second. There was no warning, she would perceive a trigger and then BAM you have a full blown meltdown. And I almost forget the dissociative episodes. Every once in a while, she left the building completely. Her eyes were open and she was sitting up but she had no reaction at all. I could pick up her arm and it would flop back down. Conscious, but unresponsive. And let me say this, Genea's behavior, as challenging as it was- is- can be, is probably moderate in severity. She probably meets the criteria for RAD. For some kids, it absolutely gets worse. She will not approach strangers and sit on strangers laps. She will not walk away with anybody who smiles at her. She does not poop on herself or smear it on walls. She does not use weapons. She has never actually used threats towards us. She is typically not aggressive to people or things. She doesn't hoard food or hide it. And I don't know if Genea has RAD, or Bipolar or Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or Conduct Disorder, or what. Doctors tell me, there is no precedence for her. Her physiology and neurology are so scrambled that there isn't a name for it. There is no one good answer for her. And that is why, while I think the concept of the program on 20/20 was great, it did not even touch the tip of the iceberg. If they wanted to do a show on this issue, they should have gone balls to the wall and done it right. The children that were shown, those are not the children that get disrupted from their adoptive families and that behavior is not what destroys their families. There IS help, and there IS hope. Sometimes it works. Not always. And the disorder is not limited to international adoptions either, in any adoption preceded by abuse and/ or neglect and the child is going to an unknown family, there WILL be challenges.


  1. I thought the same thing ... but how do we show people the true reality while still protecting the privacy of our children? I am assuming the show hid the worst of behaviors, but they didn't make that clear.

    I would never allow the public know about many of the things my children have done and battled. They need that safe place for healing.

    So, I don't know what the answer is. I really, really want people to understand RAD, but I really, really want RADishes to have excessive privacy.

    How do we do that? It's quite the conundrum! :)

  2. I agree Christine. One of my jobs as parent to my 4 (domestic) adopted boys is to protect them. We share our story with teachers who need to understand why they might not get homework done, refuse to cooperate in class, have problems transitioning and with rigid time lines, etc. We talk to people who "need to know". I don't know that I could ever put my story on television for the world to see.

    Our children need to feel safe, not exploited. I do agree with Essie that this topic needs to be fully explored and a good television show should work to educate the world on the issues that children with RAD and their families deal with. After all, we want to help our children become productive members of society to their best ability and to break the cycles of behaviors from their previous lives. Our job is to show them how to love and belong to a family.


  3. Wow! How is Genea doing now? On another note, Did you change her name? I will be writing up something on my blog in response to the 20/20 episode.

  4. Yes, Genea does very well now. Most people who don't know her background would never suspect there was anything out of the ordinary. It has taken about a year to really knock back some of the fears that were causing her behavior.
    Dr Phil recently did a show about adoption and disruption also, they did a better job of showing what RAD does to a kid, but it still looked like the parents were over-reacting and just needed to get better at parenting.
    Maybe TV just cannot do the subject justice. For me, I am probably sensitive to the topic for a variety of reasons.
    Genea and Teena are the girls "stage names". They both have different real life names, and we did not change Genea's name except the last. Her name was given by her birth mother, and kept by the original adoptive parents, and us as well.

  5. Well, I haven't watched the episode yet (I will) so I hope my comment isn't completely off base, but: it really bothers me that they would tape a kid having a 50+ minute meltdown. Obviously, if you are occupied taping it, then you aren't really providing any sort of comfort or support or sense of safety and steadfastness to that raging child. It always sort of strikes me as the antithesis of empathy when a child is taped having a meltdown or acting out, esp. when the parent is doing the taping. (And believe me, I've lived through some meltdowns, I KNOW there is little that can be done to turn them off, but STILL...) I'm curious what you think about this. Plus, I'll watch the show, and still if I still have the same opinion.

  6. wow, what a nightmare the first 6months you had. i am so glad to hear that she is getting better, from your next post it would seem that she is pretty attached to you now. it would seem that your persistence and care has help her a lot to deal with her past.
    I think that some people start adoption and think that they will get a child that is like a clean white board and when things don't go right they feel like this isn't what they signed up for. I'd say its better to think that the worst can happen and prepare for that, if they don't have any problems i'd be surprised, surely they all have problems a the very start. If thats all they have thats be grateful.
    As for this family getting the third kid so quick when they had problems at home already that seems a little crazy to me.

  7. Right! I know logically Genea is attached to us, but sometimes I still wonder. The RAD related issues are about gone, it is probably my own issue that I feel insecure about it at times. I don't usually show my insecurity in public, but this is the private world of the internet (lol).
    I do feel strongly on issues in adoption. The 20/20 episode focused on the one family, but they also interviewed a woman who beat her child to death, and another little girl whose adopted family dropped her off at that treatment ranch after only 5 weeks. This is a deadly serious problem! And no one seems to know what to do.
    It is true, and I agree that if your adopted child (not infant) arrives with NO problems, then that IS a problem.
    I knew what we were getting into, and I have worked with probably hundreds of kids with troubled backgrounds, and I was still unprepared for the depth of the anger and the grief in this child and how it manifested. So maybe that is why I am sensitive to it.

  8. It seems to me that the term RAD itself is mainly used by those people who are critical about adoption itself and try to scare prospective adopters. Statistics show that it's quite a rare thing to happen with the adopted kids. As an adoptive father and a bio father to my children as well, i may assure that children may have behavioral disorders, both adoptive and bio. shall we put RAD diagnoses to everyone who misbehave?

    1. It may surprise you that I agree. There is a "clump" of symptoms that are similar across the board, in many children who have experienced horrible beginnings in life. There are real- life physiological consequences happening in their little bodies and brains. Massive surges of cortisol, oxytocin not released, vastly over- reactive areas of the brain ( the amygdala for one) as well as other parts being under reactive. It is not their fault and they are not just being brats.
      I think what is happening, is that no one kept up with the changes in adoption where now, most children available are coming from either international orphanages or from the child protection system. Reactive Attachment Disorder is the best definition we have, for now. It is not the best way to define what is happening, but it does give people a direction.
      Interesting that you stumbled on an eight year old post at a time I happen to be thinking a lot about the diagnostic term "RAD".


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