Monday, January 19, 2015

Social (dis)Ability

China is a culture that doesn't value individualism, but the good of the many. In an orphanage, there isn't any such thing as individualism to an even further extreme. None of my girls have made a best friend. If any would, it would be Blossom. Jie Jie was surprised I even thought it was an issue and doesn't see the need of a friend. Sissy wants a friend, but does nothing to make friends. The comments about Sissy improving her speech by being around her peers seems to make sense, but, she just doesn't care, and after 1.5 years of attending church with the same group of very nice girls, she has yet to do anything one-on-one with any of them regardless of how many times I've tried to set her up. In fact, when I asked if she speaks to anyone spontaneously, she said yes. When I ask her what she says, it's, "How are you?" When pressed, she admitted that she doesn't say anything else unless she's asked a question. AFTER 1.5 YEARS in the same class with the same girls - and they are VERY nice girls who really reach out to her - and 2.5 years home!

In a group of same age peers doing a specific activity, all my girls can fit in an enjoy themselves. However, any side conversations other girls are having, are beyond them. If I put any one of my girls together with one other girl, they don't know what to do, though Blossom comes close. Just the other day, we got two neighbors to come over. My girls brought K and P in and displayed them proudly in front of me. They were even excited. But they didn't know what to do next. I told them to show K and P their rooms and toys. They did and then were done. No playing ensued. Jie Jie actually left and went back outside. I rounded her back up and told her she had to stay with our guests, especially since P would be a great match as a friend, at only 8, but they are on a more similar developmental level with similar interests.

Since getting the girls, there has been improvement, but it's not as much as I expected or hoped for and it's concerning, but, as I'm finding out, a sad norm.

I have been observing something that I'll throw out there: Kids who have been adopted older (way older), who spent all their lives in an orphanage, don't really know how to be kids. I mean, the books all say it, but even with other kids to learn from, they still don't learn it. I don't mean that they don't know how to play (which was true at first and my girls had to learn that, too), but it's the whole child-adult thing that mine just don't get. They don't know the role of adults at home. My kids still struggle with this. Because I don't have bio kids, they didn't see regular kid behavior modeled at home. It was shocking to them to discover that I didn't go to bed when they did, or that I ate food after they were in bed, or watched DVDs that they didn't get to watch. Sissy still struggles with the fact that I want to go out occasionally to a movie without any kids with me or that I want to spend time alone with other adults. This struggle is compounded by the fact that she's a teenager, a time kids start asserting independence and breaking away from parental authority. Thing is, though, she's still VERY unskilled and behind where a "regular" 16 yr. old should be.

I have been in contact with other moms of kids who were older at the time of adoption. They struggle with the same issues. One moms also hears from a ton of families who are really struggling, many who are disrupting and struggling to find new placements for their kids, such as a teen boy addicted to porn. Her words were, "These kids just aren't making it."

Another adult child whose parents adopted several children said, "I had an ideal childhood. My parents were great, just amazing. I don't even recognize them now." This person went on to explain that the adopted children didn't respond to any "normal" parenting methods and/or strategies so the parents had to come up with other methods that were, in a nutshell, less joyful and more rigid.

I'm living this. I have a teen who still rages like a 2 yr. old on occasion. Exactly the same. Laying in the ground, kicking, screaming, throwing things, etc... for a long time at a time. Used to be almost daily, at first. Now it's about once a month. Normal for an institutionally raised adopted child, but waaaay outside normal for a teen her age.

We forego so many of the joyous aspects of childhood and parenting because my kids simply can't do it, can't understand it, won't enjoy it, or won't do it, or someone gets hurt trying it (such as normal rough-housing-tickling, one of my kids gets way too rough during this sort of play and can cause injury or it brings up anxiety that leads to nervous-driven roughness).

Then we add in the special needs. I'm discovering that auditory processing disorder is the hardest special need I've encountered from my kids so far (and, believe me, our special needs are on the high side of challenging) - because one can't understand what I'm trying to say to her, therefore, she can't reason, and she's forgetful. It's like the movie of the man who had a ton of first dates because his girlfriend had short-term memory loss. Every time he took her out was like the very first time doing so. My spd daughter will recite the house rules, then turn around and break them because she doesn't understand that they apply to her! It's not that she's being naughty either. She truly has no reasoning or application ability. I ask, "Why do you choose the wrong each time?" Her answer, "Because I decided that." My reply, "Why did you decide that?" I told you, she says, "I decided that."

I'm also learning that there are more processing disorders than sensory or auditory and we've got several of them, yet to be specifically diagnosed. As we go into further rounds of testing, it's all really coming out. Every time I go through this I brace myself because I know another diagnosis is coming our way. Like many who have adopted internationally, my girls are extremely challenged and parenting them is extremely challenging. All parenting is, I understand, but this kind of parenting is done from the trenches.


Anonymous said...

I understand completely! I wonder if one or more of your daughters might have institutional autism. One of my adopted daughters does and it is more challenging than I ever imagined. She is very bright and at first glance seems perfectly "normal." However, she has absolutely no clue how other girls her age feel or why they do what they do. She occasionally tries to dress or act like them but it's all on the surface. It's not because she can recognize a trend or knows what's the latest popular thing for teens. She can carry on a very brief conversation of just 2 or 3 exchanges and then doesn't know what to do next. If a guest teen is over she only knows how to do her usual activities of interest, and if the other teen does not want to participate the social time comes to a dead stop.

The social awkwardness of your daughter/s that doesn't really improve substantially with time and experiences is what makes me wonder if they aren't somewhere on the autism spectrum. It really is a broad spectrum and looks a little different in each child.

The fact they occasionally melt down over seemingly small issues that are not age appropriate could be a symptom too. My daughter can fall apart over nothing at all, but I know it's actually a reaction to a situation that may have occurred the day or days before. The triggers aren't always apparent. And they are frequently the result of frustration due to misunderstanding of what has really occurred.

I also understand your thoughts about somewhat joyless parenting. Two of my other teen daughters have Down Syndrome and were adopted at 10 and 11 years old. I am convinced that the window of opportunity to learn appropriate social interaction closed on them before I ever got them. They are happy and content girls. But they will never be able to enjoy true friendship or reciprocal play and interaction. And they too, sometimes have overblown reactions to what is seemingly nothing at all. Total inability to understand what is taking place.

So between these three girls our home life must be pretty structured and dull. Too much excitement and "fun" always results in poor behavior that drives everyone else crazy. They just don't know how to reel it back in once they have a time of normal kid fun and abandon.

Sad and disappointing for me but I've learned to accept it after a number of years. I know that adopting them has made their lives infinitely better than their previous lives in very bad institutions, but it is what it is. It will never be a "normal" lighthearted life that others get to enjoy with their children.

I'm not trying to crepe hang or have self-pity. I am being objective because I have to be. Their lives need to be structured and predictable. Veering from that routine results in a bad time for all. And they will never know the joy of having real love for another person. They simply go from one day to the next and are happy as long as people are nice to them and they have their needs met. They are not selfish, but self-centered as a result of their cruel institutional lives. Survival in a nice clean atmosphere with everything provided is wonderful to them. And quite enough. There is simply no motivation to want more. That part of their brains stopped developing long ago. They don't have the same emotional needs as others. And that's not necessarily bad. It's just their state of being. They are not sad in any way, and they are easily pleased because their expectations are so low.

It's certainly not how I expected our lives together to unfold. But I've learned to adjust my expectations most of the time. And to seek out others like yourself who can truly understand my situation. I pray for you and for the rest of us parents who work so hard to help these kids have a wonderful family life. And who are lonely many times in this most unusual journey.

Nicole said...

I have no adopted child but the things you talk about... I lived with them too... (2 boys and 3 girls)
I am oevrejoyed to tell you that at the age of 28,5, one of my daughters finally came out of her adolescent crisis...
I thing that for the 14 last years, she behaved as if we were her ennemies.
At last her relation towards us has changed. Sadly, it changed after the death of my father in law.
The hardest part of being a parent is to be able to let our children be themselves...I'm still learning to accept this.... :)

Karen said...

I just went through an unbelievable discussion yesterday with our 14 year old. She put her sister's pants on which were WAY TOO BIG...falling off her hips but she wore them that way for over an hour. When I finally noticed, I tried to show her how to tell they weren't her pants. Both pants are the same color of blue. I tried to point that fact out..."what color is this?" "Red?...Pink?" "No this is blue. Do you see that? Say blue." "Blue" "Both of your pants are the same color, but this pair has a zipper in the pocket. What color are the pants?" "Red?" UGGGGGGGH!!