Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Notes from a WACAP Webinar
I participated in a webinar on older child adoption and took notes. I hope these notes will be valuable to other families adopting older children.
Older Child's Reaction to Adoption:
Depression in an older child is often characterized by anger, acting act, and/or risk taking.
Need to control
Fear: fear is based on survival
Older adopted children may never have grieved or processed the loss of their birth families:
They may have been told a lie.
They may not have fully understood the truth.
They may be confused as to why they are in an institution.
They may not want to face to real reasons they are in the institution or the story was made up.
In an Institution...
Life can be like the army.
There is mind-numbing routine.
Care is often impersonal.
The adoptive parent may be the very first person to personally care for the child by choice, not because it's a job for which they are being paid.
There is often bullying.
They may be outright emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse.
A Child's Feelings May Include...
There is something wrong with me.
I must be perfect to be loved.
I'll fail anyway, why try in the first place.
On one is in charge but me.
It doesn't matter, no one loves me anyway.
I need to keep control. If I'm in control, I win. If I'm not in control, I lose.
What New Parents Can Expect:
Arguments over EVERYTHING like you've never experienced before, which is a symptom of fear.
Out of control tantrums.
Refusal to "go along" with family routine or rules.
Lack of appropriate social skills (because we learn these within the family first).
Intense jealousy of other kids in the home.
No affection demonstrated to the new family members.
Child may see family members as rivals for resources.
Institution Life, Due to the Strict Routine, Makes it Hard to:
Develop imaginative play.
Children Living in Institutions:
Mostly likely had no personal possessions so they may hoard or toss things away, even clothes. Clothing and toys were probably brought out of a communal box and distributed, then returned to the communal box afterward.
Lack the ability to see the "big picture" (processes) and understand number concepts. For example, they may have never seen a whole apple and a knife. Apple slices appeared on their plates, they ate them, the end. If you show them an apple and a knife, they may be clueless as to what they are seeing.
May be restless and highly distractible.
Have curiosity but can't process it, so they don't pursue it.
Are limited to thinking in the most concrete terms.
Have difficulty discussing/solving behavioral issues because they've never had their feelings named or acknowledged before. (They need help identifying and naming their feelings, i.e. When you head feels like it's going to blow off, you are angry.)
Don't have wishes or dreams. They may prefer playing video games or watching TV, instead of dreaming of riding a horse or going to the beach because it was never in their exposure or realm of possibilities. (This is true of U.S. children in foster care, too!)
Being part of a family takes effort and time.
Child acts, thinks and processes information in a way like a much younger child would. Match your expectations to the child's abilities!
Remember to meet your child's true needs, not the needs of his/her actual "age group."
Do what you say you will do! A child will learn to trust you if you do.
Avoid Sensory Overload! Kids need to feel comfortable and "at home" first.
Keep activities low key and quiet! Avoid screen time and activities that are solitary or isolating.
If the child has been in school, they may want to go to school right away. Wait at least a few weeks to establish a good home routine and perhaps start school half day at a time at first.
Don't worry about academic achievement for 6-12 months post adoption, even if the child is 12 years old! Even U.S. kids in foster care can't focus on academics for quite some time after moves and adoption.
Stay calm, cool and matter-of-fact.
Avoid being drawn into reactive and/or dramatic behavior.
Know that you did NOT cause your child's issues.
Give and give without expecting much back.
Be able to laugh.
Spending lots of nurturing time with your child is the best way to heal your child.
Change your expectations!
Drop any timelines of expected progress.
Become a cheerleader for every bit of progress, even if it's just that your child puts one foot in front of the other!
Appreciate and respect your child's former life.
Rejoice in getting to know your child!
When explaining special needs to children:
Explain what hurts and what doesn't. (A hand missing at birth doesn't hurt vs. losing a hand in an accident.)
Let kids handle adaptive equipment.
Explain a child's limitations.
In the case of a child coming into a home where there are children with special needs, have the guide explain it to them and even show or draw pictures, if appropriate. If the child with special needs is with you on the adoption trip, make this one of the first conversations you have with your new child and guide. Realize, too, that everything will be so strange to your child that the impact may be less than you'd imagine.
Watching for Sexual Abuse
A doctor will not be able to tell anything physically except in cases of rape, especially repeated rape. Most sexual abuse in institutions like our children come from is that of making the child perform sexual acts on adults. Watch children closely for how they play with peers and younger children, how they treat animals, if they have nightmares, and how they act with adults. Teach children who are already in the home about appropriate touches and private places, i.e. bathing suit zones, and emphasize the need to tell mom and/or dad if anything happens that they don't like or are uncomfortable with.