it’s always something

There’s been behavioral issues at school with M, especially in the afternoons. The nun is no longer there in the afternoons, and the regular teacher is showing signs of getting fed up with M. She says that M is disruptive and disturbing to the other children, jumping on things, throwing things, destroying other children’s things, flushing things down the toilet, etc. They want her to nap, which she has stopped doing. Now she fights them, and it gets her riled up, just like she used to do with me. The teacher says the other children don’t like her. So, that’s great. Really great. Just what a mother wants to hear.

I sometimes see this behavior outside of school, so I know what they’re talking about. Just today, at her new primary doctor’s office, she was acting completely insane. Whining, screaming, throwing things, hitting me, pulling on him, and just being wild and disruptive and completely unbearable. He told me her behavior is more than a typical two-year-old, it’s “extreme”. Which it was, at the office, and sometimes is at home (like when she has her raging tantrums). I look around the office and see other children sitting quietly, or playing in one place, quietly, and think… good god, why are those children able to do that and mine isn’t? I know I shouldn’t compare, but it’s difficult not to do. My child acts miserable, just miserable, and I want her to be content and at peace, if not all the time, then a lot of the time.

Even with the Montessori school, the new doctor, and the therapist, I still don’t feel like anyone is “on M’s side”, except for me. No one is able to say, “yes this is hard, but we’ll figure it out, and she’ll be ok”. The teacher just seems stressed and bothered, the doctor seemed overwhelmed with the behavior, and the therapist helps me to brainstorm ideas, but we haven’t exactly done anything huge there. She’s only seen M once, and that visit was so horrible I wonder if she ever wants the child in her office again!

So we are going to get lab work done, to look for deficiencies, check the thyroid, all of that. I’ve been emailing the teacher to try to come up with ideas for what to do in the classroom, but to be honest I’m almost ready to take her out either every other day or half day. I just can’t stand the thought of her being somewhere where no one wants to be around her. Am I just setting her up to fail by sending her every day?

With all that being said, there are many days when I feel like she’s as well behaved as anyone else her age, and we don’t have issues. Then there are days like today. There are days when behavior at school is fine and it’s horrible at home, and days when she’s being terrible at school but did great at home. I watch other kids in classes, or at stores, or offices, and wonder how they are able to be so calm and well-behaved when my kid isn’t. It definitely makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong, or at the very least, like I’m the only parent out there feeling this way.

Where are all the other parents of high needs children??

2nd therapist appointment

I met with the early childhood behavioral therapist again, sans M. I described the behaviors I found concerning in greater detail, she asked me questions, and we hashed out some goals and how we’re going to measure progress. She does see some indicators of sensory disregulation and disorganization, but what really stood out for her were the behaviors that may be pointing to an attachment disorder. I was pretty struck by the way some of M’s aggressive behavior towards me, and overly-affectionate behavior toward perfect strangers, pointed us in that direction. This is why I’m seeking the help of professionals!

My heart was breaking as she described the research that shows that early disruption in the normal attachment of infant to birth mom (primarily) and other primary caregivers leads to a pattern of disorganized attachment down the road. M spent the first five weeks of her life being passed off to random family members and friends, sometimes on a daily basis. She was supposedly found alone in a utility closet when she was removed from a relative’s home by CPS. Her needs were not consistently met, if they were met at all, and the normal process of attachment that began in utero was completely interrupted and dissolved, and then damaged continuously for the duration of those five weeks.

M was born into the 16th percentile for her height and weight. After spending months in my care, with consistent physical and emotional caregiving, she hit the 80-90th percentiles in height and weight and has been there ever since. She was meant to be a larger child, and was malnourished from birth through 2 months old. She was not only exposed to multiple substances in utero, she was exposed to them continuously. Her birth mom fled a dangerous and violent situation just before her birth, and therefore her little fetal brain was constantly flooded with birth mom’s stress hormones, including cortisol and the hormones responsible for “fight-or-flight” reactions.

In spite of the fact that I have nourished and mothered M more than adequately for normal development since she was 5 weeks 5 days old, she seems to struggle as a result of her brain’s first 11 months of over-exposure to the wrong stimulation and lack of exposure to the right stimulation. She is attached to me, but her brain has not developed the necessary hardware for her to trust our bond. She will reach for me and then hit me when I reach back. She will throw herself into the arms of a stranger and cling to her instead of me. She will test me, test me, test me.

I haven’t read enough on the subject to know exactly what the game plan will be here, but I know for sure that I’m in this, 110%. If all of my education up to now can help me to find her the resources she needs, to be the mom she needs, and to help her succeed in becoming a happy, well-adjusted person in life, then it will all have been worth it. M, I got you. Mommy’s got you.

My goal is to bring together her “team” (me, the therapist, the new pediatrician, and maybe an OT) to work toward the goal of helping M learn to use tools and strategies to manage her own complicated emotions and impulses in healthy ways. We will use psychology, medical research, social sciences, therapy, nutrition, and loving guidance to achieve these goals. By the time she’s a third grader, I want her to be able to recognize some of her own warning signs and use simple techniques to self-regulate. By the time she’s a teen, I want her to have a deep understanding of herself, as well as a laundry list of resources and tools to help her cope with big feelings. By the time she’s an adult with a job, maybe kids, maybe a spouse, and a life of her own, I want her to know that her mom is still there for her, still her #1 fan, and always just a phone call or drive away.

and my heart sank and soared at the same time

Someone suggested (again) that I look into Sensory Processing Disorders to see if M could benefit from occupational therapy. I had read about them at one point, but not in-depth, and I certainly didn’t get into many types that exist. Then, yesterday, I read the introduction to The Out-of-Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz, and tears came to my eyes. Those kids in music class running around, “not listening”, and disrupting the other “good” kids? That’s M in music class, exactly. It’s embarrassing, it makes me feel like a failure, it makes me worry about my child, and it makes her feel like a failure. It makes other people ask “is she ADHD?” or compare her to every problem child they ever knew. But know that she’s not a problem child. I know that when she gets enough stimulation, she is fun, charming, intelligent, and as cooperative as any two-year-old can be.

I recognize M in almost every description of sensory-seeking sensory processing disorder I read. I’m not a doctor, or a specialist, but I am a parent who has noticed that my child is “different”, extremely “energetic” to the point of being disruptive, in constant motion, and “rough”. In addition, the following descriptions fit her like a glove:

-Always jumping, or seeks out jumping activities
-Constantly kicks her feet against something, including me at night
-Wants to be spun in a circle, hung upside down, pushed very high on the swing, and -never indicates that she’s had enough
-Wants to ride amusement park rides over and over, loves when the car stops suddenly, or we go over a big bump
-Constantly jumps off of very high ledges for the thrill of it
-Always wants to rough house or engage in rough play
-When she hugs other children they complain that it is “too much”, too tight, too long, and too rough, often knocking the other child over
-She seeks hugs and affection from total strangers
-She chews on things constantly, like shirts, and likes to suck on oddly shaped items or items with a strong taste (like pennies, or playdough), often bites people’s clothes when she hugs us, or even our hair
-Wants to watch TV or use screens constantly, enjoys flashing or bright lights
-Likes loud sounds, frequently requests “fireworks”
-Seeks out messy play for long durations, “rummages” nonpurposefully constantly through drawers and bins, dumps things out, even things she wanted to drink (then upset because it “spilled”)
-Throws everything, even something she really wants (bottle of milk at bedtime)
-Unable to settle down for sleep without a day completely full of events and activities
-Prefers spicy foods (Indian food for example), or foods with a strong bitter flavor (coffee)
-overstuffs her mouth to the point where either she or I have to remove some of it for her to swallow
-prefers crunchy foods, like apple, celery, carrot sticks
-“Frequently falls on the floor intentionally” OMG she does this all the time, makes me crazy
-banging her head against the wall, not painfully, but repetitively (she did this even as a baby), hitting herself, pulling her own hair
-makes frequent noise or sounds just to make them, often very loud (like shrieking as loud as possible over and over)
-needing to touch or hold something in BOTH hands at the same time, not just one hand, or if you play “this little piggy” on one foot, you must do it on the other

The list just goes on, and on, and on. It’s like I’ve stumbled into some kind of psychological niche that is labeled with M’s name. No wonder she is so physical at night with me when she’s not tired, and I’m making her lie still in a dark room. She is craving stimulation and has no idea how to get it. No wonder the rocking helps. No wonder she begs me to put the TV on when it’s quiet at home. No wonder she banged her head against things for fun as a baby. No wonder she jumps off high playground equipment or walls or ledges like some kind of professional stunt double. No wonder, no wonder, no wonder.

The best news is? There are plenty of knowledgeable and awesome occupational therapists in our area who can help with this. It’s not something that they will try to medicate her for, but it is something that has been studied and looked at and has proven treatments.

Obviously, there are other things that could be going on, considering her early traumas. But if the therapists and physician agree with that she fits with this, or that it may be a component of what’s going on… we may soon be using a treatment plan and my daughter might get the input she so desperately needs!

a toddler’s rage

Because I blogged about my daughter’s awesome day, the following night she had to break down into one of her more horrific tantrums. Shoulda seen that coming…

Usually on Sundays when I work M wakes up with her Grandma and then goes with my sister from 2pm until I get off of work. Yesterday we switched it up because of my sister’s work schedule, and I took M to my sister’s early in the morning, and my mom got her back at 2 instead. She had a difficult time when I dropped her off at my sister’s, not to mention we had to get up at 5am to get there, so she was extra tired.

With all this in mind, I got home from work and spent some time with her. We took a shower, and I participated in her shower games (she likes me to sit down in the tub with her and play), sang the songs she liked, etc. Then we did our normal bedtime routine and all seemed well.

And then… just as she was feeling safe and loved, of course, she let her emotions fly. My daughter’s tantrums do not look like a child screaming, crying, and rolling on the floor. Rather, she focuses on hurting me physically (hitting, kicking, pulling my hair, and sometimes biting). While attacking me, she laughs and giggles, which she knows makes me insane. She also runs away, throws things (then demands them back), and jumps up and down frantically.

Luckily for her me both of us, in addition to the books I mentioned previously by Alfie Kohn and Siegel/Bryson, I also just finished Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Laura Markham and No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame by Janet Lansbury, both of which I also loved. So I went into the tantrum with a strong conviction that I could handle it without a) losing my cool completely or b) using punishments/rewards.

Although I understood her reason for needing to let out her strong emotions, and would’ve liked to “talk” about how she felt that day, two-and-a-half-year-olds generally aren’t in a “talking” mood as they’re blowing up. My first priority was to deflect the blows coming at my head and stomach and unclamp the fists from my hair. I held her arms and legs away from me and said only once or twice, calmly, “That hurts. I won’t let you hurt me.” After a minute of her laughing and continuing to try to strike me, I said, “I’m going to stand away from you for a minute because you are trying to hurt me.” I stood next to the bed in the dark room, facing away from her, and tried to breathe and bring my blood pressure back down to some level compatible with life.

After I felt like I was no longer going to have a stroke, I went back to her. I said, “I’m going to sit next to you now. Would you like a hug?” Unfortunately, she went back into attack mode. I can tell that she’s experimenting with my reactions and testing her limits because she’d wait for me to be calm, then strike, looking at me like, “Do you still love me now? How about now? Are you going to lose control yet? How about now?” Thank you, books, for helping me see exactly what she was trying to tell me she needed! I was determined to show that I could remain calm no matter what she did (or at least demonstrate that I can control my frustration). I wanted to be successful at lovingly but firmly setting limits while guiding her through her tough feelings.

Here’s some things that worked: I asked, “Were you mad at mommy when she left you with Auntie?” M replied, “Yes!” I said, “Did you feel like kicking?” She said, “Yes!” I said, “I can’t let you kick me, but you can kick the bed”. So she’d kick the bed fast and furious. Another thing I tried was rocking. I asked her if she’d like to rock, she nodded yes, so I sat on the bed with my feet in front of me, she sat in my lap, and we rocked back and forth, back and forth. While rocking, she didn’t feel like hitting me, and she felt and accepted my affection for her as I was holding her. She would sometimes even kiss me or say, “Sorry mama”. Unfortunately, when I told her, “it’s time for bed now” she would rev up again. If I asked her if she was ready for bed, she would say no.

Eventually, at about 11pm, she was falling asleep while we rocked but refusing to go to bed if I tried to move her. She was willing to sleep where she was, so that is how we went to sleep, with her feet up by my head. If she wanted to sleep upside down, fine with me.

The important thing, I feel, was that we went through all of this without me losing my cool and without us feeling like enemies. The whole time it was like, “I’m on your side. You can’t hit me or hurt me, but I’m here for you while you’re feeling this way. I’ll try to help you if I can.” So although the tantrum was still long and awful, it did NOT end with bad feelings between us, or any guilt on my part. She got to see that I could stay in control no matter how many times she pushed my buttons (and boy does she know which ones to push) and that she wouldn’t be allowed to hurt me, leave the room to play or watch tv (because it was bed time), but she would be allowed to express her feelings and still have her mom there to support and love her.

Success! Exhausting, brutal success, but success nonetheless.