Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Brain Damage

There I said it. I feel comfortable saying it now that sammmomtoliv said it first in her comment in a previous post.

It's been well-documented that children raised in institutions have brains that are different. The higher levels of stress cortisol they live with does change the brain, just as some drugs do. Neural pathways don't form, and some have a finite window to develop or they never. Others can be formed later, some a little later, others a lot later.

We all know that nutrition plays a HUGE role in healthy brain development, yet most kids in institutions don't get enough and the food is low quality.

We also all know that babies must be stimulated, held, moved, and loved. Our babies were left laying in cribs THEIR ENTIRE INFANCIES! Bottles were propped, toys non-existent, only a plain ceiling to look at.

All their lives, as babies and as they grew, their emotional needs were never acknowledged. My two oldest children knew only three four emotion words in their native language when I got them: happy, sad, angry, bored. Jie Jie knew even less. None of my girls knew how to hug and even now, it does not come naturally to them. They grab in the wrong place with the wrong amount of pressure, with their bodies in the wrong position which usually causes them to be off balance or pull the one they are trying to hug off balance. Only my baby had ever been held and I can only attribute that to the fact that there was a British-based medical charity organization set up on the orphanage premises. I was so grateful when I received her that she knew how to snuggle right into me. Of course, that didn't translate to being able to co-sleep or any number of other normal, close baby-mother behaviors. I had to teach her a LOT and even to this day, she doesn't understand the point of a gentle, soothing tummy rub.

Infant monkeys die when they are taken from the mothers and nurtured by a mannequin. Children left in the most despicable conditions in the Pleven, Bulgaria orphanage stayed alive, barely, but failed to grow. Imagine being 9 yrs. old and having Down Syndrome and weighing only 11 pounds, or 14 years old with cerebral palsy and weighing only 14 pounds! Yes, our children are petite, they are, after all, Chinese, but how much smaller are they from their home-raised Chinese counterparts? Neglected humans fail to make human growth hormone under certain conditions, and being neglected is one of them.

Add trauma and abuse. Many children where exposed to death, inappropriate sexual behavior, were physically abused, emotionally abused, were asked to do despicable things, like carry dead babies in trash bags out to the dumpster, had medical procedures and surgeries performed without adequate pain relief and/or were forcibly held down to endure it without preparation, compassion, or anything else we'd consider humane, punished by being placed in "dying rooms" where the "hopeless" children were left to die of starvation instead of receiving palliative care, and the list goes on and on.

In America, we consider it traumatic if a child goes through the divorce of their parents or if a loved one dies. We expect their grades to slip, for them to regress a bit, feel insecure. Many parents take their child to a therapist to help them through it. Therapists are brought in if there is a shooting at school. Just moving to a new home or starting a new school can throw off even the most well-adjusted child.

So, with lack of motor neuron stimulation, lack of visual stimulation, lack of auditory stimulation, lack of nutrition, lack of care and attention, and exposure to traumatic circumstances and abuse, it is easy to understand why our children do have actual physical brain damage, compounded by mental and emotional issues.

My adoption agency often said, "All adopted children have special needs." They were right, and all the books were right. But, and it's a HUGE but, all failed to convey the SEVERITY of the needs and the fact that brain "differences" is really a term disguising brain damage. In all fairness, when many of these books were written, the kids being seen weren't as old as the ones adopted in recent years, and, like the Romania situation of the late 1990s that brought to modern psychology the term RAD, I think in a few years we are going to see a new field of medicine that addresses the brain damage our children suffer. As I read the comments left here and read other blogs and articles by parents who have adopted children from China and other places, I'm reading the same things over and over. If I read between the lines and use my own children as an example, I can truly say that, with some exceptions, of course, that the brain damage and emotional damage and mental damage our children have is often greater than the challenge of dealing with their physical special need. I do not say this lightly. You can go back and see the horrendous surgeries my baby has endured. Jie Jie endured horrendous surgeries in China, too. Though it's not apparent, her special need is SIGNIFICANT, is treated medically and surgically and is life-long and will be harder to live with and treat the older she gets.


Cayte said...

I think you need to be careful before writing much of your girls development (well, the lack thereof) off as brain damage -- they've got a lot going on, much of which you've only started to diagnose address.

One am HUGE factor is language - in all probability, they're nowhere near fluent in English but lost their native Chinese YEARS ago. They're not like ESL kids who HAVE a native language and the ability to communicate fluently at home with their parents/siblings. Learning a new language WITHOUT a native language is a MILLION times harder!

You're also homeschooling your girls -- so they have relatively little exposure to words/fluent English speakers, relative to children who attend public school. This isn't to knock homeschooling -- they all seem to be doing well! -- but it's a lack of exposure, and likely, motivation. A tween who wants to hang out with a fun peer in her class? Is more inclined to make herself understood by that kid than one whose mom/siblings "get" her even if she doesn't speak/sign clearly.

I adopted my daughter at 14 -- I never thought it'd happen but she did catch up. Not linearly. There was relatively little motivation/academic progress akin to my biokids for the first 2 years (so frustrating!) but she caught made exponential progress starting at 16 & caught up by 18. (In hindsight, the bios were pretty awful from 14-16 too... It's a hard age, even if not adopted!!). Please please don't give up way too soon!

(I also highly recommend the Integrated Listening System -- seems to have helped my kiddo. There's not much research to back it up, but it's unlikely to result in harm & you can buy a used set cheaply on eBay, like I did).

I really, really, really hope you do not give up on your girls potential too soon -- adoption can be SO tough, but there's a subset of self-proclaimed "trauma mama" adopters who ignore SO much actual good medical advice, believe in made up (not in DSMV illnesses) who really do write "hard places" kids off in awful, awful ways. And I say this as a person with 3 sisters adopted from lifetime in foster care (at almost-17, 8 and 7) -- who are amazing, were college grads by 22-23, have had zero run ins with the law (besides the occasional speeding ticket), are happily married, gainfully employed and pretty much indistinguishable from loved-from-second-I-was-conceived-by-married-grad-school-educated-upper-middle-class-parebts. It IS possible!!

K said...

I am not giving up! I am looking for more answers to the REAL problems. I hope upon hope that my girls experience what you described and suddenly take off.

Anonymous said...

I support you 100% and hope you know this is a safe place. I have admired you for yours and the determination you have to give your girls the best.

Just as an aside, back to your "foo vs food" post. My son would say "lyberry" instead of "library" no matter how many times I would correct him. It took a peer to say (not very kindly), "It isn't lyberry, it has an 'r'". After that, he said the word correctly. I think those nice church girls are wonderful, but sometimes kids need to hear it from someone other than Mom. You are Mom, teacher, therapist and on top of that, not one of your girls has a native English speaking friend. At some point, when you are ready, widen the circle. I know you had your girls in a private school for a while. Maybe revisit that?

I will be praying for you and your family.

K said...

Thank you for your support. I have done all I can to widen our circle. That's one area where my head is bloodied and bruised from banging it up against a brick wall. I set things up and my girls just flounder. It's also hard for married couples to want to socialize with me, who is single. It's always been that way and now it's even worse now that I'm a mom.

MJ said...

I just want to say how much I admire you and appreciate your blog

Anonymous said...

K, I admire your tenacity in searching out potential supports and solutions to the girls' developmental issues. I also admire your bravery in speaking out about what you recognize as possibly permanent brain damage even though you know you may get some push back and naysaying. There are plenty of us parents out there who have similar experiences to yours.

It gets a little frustrating for me when I expose my heart and concerns about the brain issues I KNOW I see in my girls, and others (always meaning well) tell me how their child or a child they know overcame the exact same problem. All I want to say is that it could not have been the exact same problem! And unfortunately, not all children "catch up" or become age appropriately "normal" emotionally in spite of having all the interventions known to man. They are individuals who may or may not be able to heal. That's not a negative statement. And it doesn't mean they are lass valuable or will have lesser lives than their peers. Actually many of them will have better lives than some of their peers because they will not be subject to the emotional turmoil present in so many lives.

Like you, I know what I observe day in and day out, year after year, whether at home or in social settings, in spite of many therapies, down to the tiniest nuance. You are a very smart proactive parent. From your writing it appears that you are quite able to objectively observe and respond supportively to what you see in your girls' behavior. You are not one to give up. But you are also realistic and practical. Sometimes you call it as you see it no matter what others think. You are not disparaging your precious daughters in any way. You are shedding light on a very serious issue in the adoption of children from situations where they have been neglected and/or traumatized. Hopefully writers like you will help spur on more study into the issue of brain damage in neglected adopted children. And as a result more adoptive parents will be helped in their journey to love and raise these treasures. Keep sharing. Your honesty has helped me immensely in my own journey.

Jennie said...

Enjoy reading your blogs.

Giving hugs is not commonly done in China or in Asia - it is mostly a Western thing. I came to the US 20 years ago and has never been comfortable returning hugs - even up to this day after 20 years. Western expectations are different. I think your girls are doing well.

Cayte said...

Some kids really, really do end up thriving --- despite the WORST possible starts and it can take YEARS. Lots of them.

Anonymous clearly loves her kids and means well – but this ‘they’re not like my kids’ business is SO often excuse. As I keep saying… my sisters were drug/alcohol exposed, spent pretty much their entire lives in foster care til being adoped as older kids (my BFF-from-age-4, now my oldest sister, was adopted the SUMMER BEFORE HIGH SCHOOL along with her 2 baby sisters) and we (BFF & I) graduated the following year. Honor students. Way back in 1994.

There. Are. No. Excuses. None.

Bridget Cole said...

Every adopted child is different. Every experience is different. Thank you for speaking and continuing to share yours.
I have 4 bios and 2 adopted. I've learned to smile, nod, and take what works for my family, move on from the rest.
Everyone is an expert. Everyone has been there and done that.
Thank you for not shutting the door, but continuing to share.
My experience does not come close to mirroring yours. But I can identify, and I appreciate your transparency.