study your child (adoption/foster)

original photo courtesy of IGNACIOLEO
original photo courtesy of IGNACIOLEO

Now that school has begun for your kids, it’s time to do your homework. No worries, it’s pretty simple, and it will pay great dividends in the end.

So what’s the assignment? Study your child. Always be aware of your child and their reactions to the world around them. What situations make your child wary? What happened before your child became enraged? What was the precursor to your child throwing a toy at you? What caused your child to fall on the floor and scream? It may be something as simple as they are hungry and haven’t learned what that feeling means or how to express it, or it could be more complicated; the trigger was something that sent your child’s brain back to another time and place that was very scary.

Here’s a scenario for you. We could drive around for several hours on road trips and our daughter would not fall asleep. Her eyes would glaze over, but she would not close them. She was one at the time. Eight hour road trips and not a single shut of the eyelid.

I have heard this story repeated over and over by adoptive parents. One family I know adopted their ten month old daughter, Ming, from Asia. They live in a small town, one hour away from the big city where they attend church and do their shopping. After attending an evening church service that ended at seven-thirty, they would pile in the car for their one-hour drive home. Both of their biological children quickly fell asleep, but their adopted daughter, eyes peeled, never fell asleep.

Why do both of these children from different situations force themselves to stay awake on trips? Let’s imagine our adopted child’s life before we met them. When my daughter was an infant, her bio mom was homeless. She lived with multiple people, leaving Payton with strangers whenever the need presented itself, which was often.

Payton was removed from her mother’s care at seven months and lived in four foster homes. She then arrived at our home. Now imagine how she was feeling. When children are placed in foster care we tend to think, “Well she/he’s been with us since…” But many kids who are in that situation still have supervised visits with bio parents. You want your foster child to come in and trust you, yet the state requires you to take them to see the ones who hurt them. This does not foster trust in you, their new parent. They don’t understand that you don’t have a choice.

When we took her on road trips to see family in the months following her placement with us, is it any wonder why she didn’t fall asleep in the car? Do you think she wondered where she was going? Did she worry that we were going to take her somewhere and leave her there?

You can do all the talking you want, but a ten month old won’t understand. (You can read more about that here.) You can tell a five-year-old over and over that you won’t leave them, but they won’t believe you until it has been proved over and over for months, more likely years.

What about Ming? She was in an orphanage during her first ten months of life, she had been abandoned by her birth mother. Although life in the orphanage was anything but rosy, it was familiar. Then the American family showed up. Different people, new places, a new language. They take her from what had become her “normal.” She traveled in cars, on buses, in planes, and she never saw the orphanage again. Although we know this is best for her, she doesn’t understand this. She doesn’t trust her new family yet. When they take her in the car, she will wonder where they are going, or who they will leave her with.

What consequences mean nothing to your child? When our daughter was younger we thought about implementing the very simple consequences of losing something when she misbehaved. Problem was, during those first two years she was with us there wasn’t anything she cared enough about. So when something we thought was significant, and would make an impression was taken away, there was no response, no behavior change. She was more attached to the world around her, than she was to any specific item. (Children who have been neglected and abused connect to the world around them not specific items because they have been programmed to protect and watch out for themselves. They have not been given a normal childhood.)

If we took a toy away from her, it didn’t phase her. On several occasions we even tried the loss of doing special things; going to McDonald’s, going to the park, but none of it made a difference. Understand that when we began this discipline technique our daughter had a good grasp of language, she was very intelligent. At the time I was urged by a friend of mine to find whatever it was that Payton loved. She said emphatically, “There’s something.” Really, with many adopted children there is nothing significant to them, because prior to healing taking place, they don’t care. They just don’t. They are testing you to see what you will do.

When Payton was around the age of four, consequences were much more effective, but a lot of healing had also taken place.

It may take a while to make connections to what causes your child’s reactions, what actually brings them joy, etc. Maybe you think your child is angry because you told him no, yet if you move backward twenty-minutes, you remember that Dad had just said that he wouldn’t be home the following evening, he needed to work late. Your child may be disappointed that Dad won’t be home, he doesn’t get to see him much, and your son likes it when the whole family is together. The moment when you said “no” is when the negative behavior showed up, but what really bothered your child was that Dad wouldn’t be home the following evening, which disrupted your child’s routine.

Being mad, disappointed, or angry is fine, but acting those feelings out on others is not. Give your child an outlet. If he wants to yell, let him do so in his room, or outside if you don’t have neighbors in close proximity. If he wants to hit something, get him a cardboard box. Sometimes there is some intense anger that needs to come out, and showing them what they can do with that rage can help, instead of always saying, “Dont…!”

You can also check out this post: the behavior battle

Have you found connections between negative behavior and a situation that happened that wasn’t obvious? I would love to hear about it.

If you haven’t yet, you can sign up to have any posts Lovin’ Adoptin’ makes delivered straight to your inbox. See the top right side of this website. You can also follow me on Twitter or Facebook to get more links and information that might interest you. May you have a lovely weekend!

Sensory Processing Disorder (part 2): does your child have sensory issues?

If you haven’t checked out my post Sensory Processing Disorder #1, I would encourage you to do so. In that post you will find what Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is.

Now that you are familiar with it’s definition, let’s look at where and how it presents itself and suggestions on how to help your child.

First, I would urge you to consider whether your child has sensory issues. SPD is most often associated with Autism, but it frequently shows up in adopted children.

There was a great article in Adoption Today’s June 2013 issue called “What’s the Best Therapy for my Traumatized Child?” Julie Beem and Anna Paravano say in part, “Sensory Integration: Sensory integration therapies are frequently recommended for those struggling with Sensory Processing Disorder. The link between early childhood trauma, especially due to neglect, has been observed, and many of the children from ‘hard places’ exhibit varying degrees of Sensory Processing Disorder. Working with Occupational Therapists who specialize in sensory integration often helps traumatized children increase their ability to self-regulate, remain focused and calm. In turn, this can help other attachment and trauma therapies to be more productive.”

If we don’t look at Sensory Processing Disorder and ask if it could be an issue with our children, we may be missing a part of a whole. It is difficult to have bonding and other moves forward when a child is simply extremely uncomfortable and irritated by something that we can easily fix.

When we first heard that our son had SPD, I immediately connected it with the lack of touch and affection he had as an infant. He was severely neglected. It turns out that SPD does show up in many children who have been neglected or abused in early life. What we learn in our first months and years of life is through our senses; what we feel, touch, see, and hear. If a child isn’t touched, or is physically abused in their first months or years of life their body will have a less than normal reaction to stimuli.

Here are some questions to ask yourself in regard to your child:

  • Does your child crave constant movement?
  • Does your child cry often? (This could be due to a number of things, but for our son it was a telltale sign that he was uncomfortable.)
  • Does your child walk on her toes a lot?
  • Does your child pull at his clothes, or dislike getting dressed?
  • Does your child play with only a few specific toys?
  • Is your child overly sensitive to noise, touch, light, crowds, etc.?
  • Does your child have poor motor skills?
  • Is your child clumsy?
  • Does your child have an extremely high or very low pain tolerance?
  • Does your child not understand they are hurting others, i.e.. banging head against a person, biting, hitting? [They don’t seem to be doing this to hurt someone, but to meet a need (sensory).]
  • Does your child over-focus on some things, but have an inability to focus on others?
  • Is your child easily overwhelmed?
  • Does hunger make your child irritable? (They may not be able to identify the problem or the feeling of hunger, but when fed, their aggravation subsides.)

I am not saying that if your answered yes to most of these questions that your child has SPD, it is simply something you should look at and consider. My son has SPD, and has significant issues, but we still wouldn’t answer yes to every question on the above list. Oddly, he isn’t clumsy and has good motor skills, both small and large.

I also believe that children can have sensory issues without having SPD, it may be on a lesser scale. My daughter and I are perfect examples of this. There are certain things that bother us, but we don’t crave the sensory stimulation that my son does.

Following is a list of sensory needs and solutions (Sensory Diet):

NEED SOLUTION (Sensory Diet)
Craves physical stimulation: jumps, runs, bangs head, hits, bites
  • Provide a safe trampoline. Our son spends most of his time on the trampoline. They have one in his classroom and when he gets overwhelmed he goes to it.
  • Use a large ball (big bin in grocery store) and bounce it across your child’s body.
  • For younger children, place child facing down on big ball. Hold your child on the ball and roll them back and forth so their hands hit the floor in front and their feet hit the floor in back.
  • Spend time at the park (meets many sensory need if it’s not too crowded).
  • Swimming is an awesome sensory tool. Also great for adopted children.
  • Swinging (both of our kids LOVE to swing)
  • Spinning (play Ring Around the Rosie)
  • Rocking. Our sensory guy has always craved that rocking movement. It was the only thing that would quiet him when he was a baby.
  • Rice or beans (place in a big bin and provide measuring cups and other things to pour and scoop with).
  • Play dough. Be aware that a child who doesn’t handle change well will not want the play dough to change shape. Jeremiah freaked out when he squeezed it and it turned into a ball. Not cool. Over time he got used to it. 🙂
  • Leg Pulls. We did a lot of these. When Jeremiah was upset we would place him on the floor (we have wood floors, you can also put a blanket under them) and grab his ankles. We would scrunch his knees up and push him back and pull him forward. Two pumps on pushing and once pulling back. You can say, “Pop. Pop,” when you push them out. Make it fun.
  • Weighted vests (some kids like them, some hate them. You could start with a life jacket to see if they like something wrapped around them.)
  • Our Speech Therapist recently recommended we put together a sensory bag. You can put several different textiles in, like sand paper, something fuzzy, something squeezable.
Child bangs head
  • Consider headaches first. Try combatting with more water.
  • Use a tight fitting hat or beanie
  • Get an OT’s advice on how to rub their head.
Child hits
  • Encourage them to be nice, even if they aren’t doing it to be mean. Place your handover theirs and use a gentle motion on your arm.
  • Show her what she can hit. Say, “Be gentle/nice to Mommy. Hit the table,” and guide her to the table.
  • Have your child hit a ball.
Craves visual stimuli [stares at things, gets close to objects and looks at them, shakes head a lot, stims** (waves hand in front of face)]
  • Purchase hand held spinning lights (usually at the checkout in some stores)
  • Swinging
  • Rocking
  • Spinning. If they always spin in one direction try to get her to go the other way. Play Ring Around the Rosie.
  • Roll balls back and forth.
  • Rice or beans are good for this (see above). My son likes to grab a bunch and let it fall back into the tin. I think he also likes the noise it makes.
  • Drawing. You can take a magna doodle anywhere, they even have mini ones. This will also help with their hand/eye coordination.
  • If they’re young and they stim, I don’t see it as a problem. If your child stims, and still seems irritated, try finding something that will assist them with their need, such as the spinning light. You may want to find other solutions when they become oder and children make fun of them.
Crowds/noise bothers them
  • Provide a quiet, calm environment.
  • Have a routine everywhere you go. If you frequent a certain store, go the same route through the store each time.
  • Insert ear plugs if the child is older. 🙂


Once Jeremiah’s therapists came to the conclusion that he had SPD, they incorporated the above Sensory Diet. Every two hours we worked on motor sensory issues; leg pumps, ball bounces on his body, rolling him over a big ball. After doing that for a couple months he began to take over and fix many of his sensory needs himself.

You can have an Occupational Therapist (OT) work with your child, but I would recommend being present for the sessions because this is something you’ll want to continue at home. If your child is having difficulty in school you can get an OT to work with them there, but that may require an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

Jeremiah had meltdowns for quite a while every time we tried to go into a store at the mall. He was fine in the large area, but once we came upon the opening of Target, or any other store, he would flip out. We kept trying. There were many months when he couldn’t do it, but one day he went in, no problem. We felt it was a fear of a closed-in space, or maybe the lighting and tall shelves.

All this to say, one day your child may have an issue with something and another day she won’t, so keep trying. Don’t be afraid to try something that hasn’t worked the last three times. You never know when that moment is going to come. This is the same with the Sensory Diet, there have been many things we’ve tried over the years, some have worked, and some haven’t. Some didn’t work so I stopped making efforts because I was only frustrating Jeremiah and feeling guilty that I wasn’t helping him as much as I should. I would reintroduce that “thing” or a Developmental Therapist would, and it worked.

*I do not recommend a child be medicated for SPD. I am not a doctor and cannot diagnose a child or person. The only reason I mention labels is to help children. I do not use them as an excuse, nor do I see my child through that label. I adore by kids and it only helps me to understand what they are dealing with when I think in terms of labels.
**Stimming is a repetitive behavior that stimulates one or more of the senses (such as hand flapping in front of the eyes).

Check out these other sensory related links:
Sensory Processing Disorder #1 (what it is)
new scientific evidence for Sensory Processing Disorder
13 (funny) reasons you know your child has SPD (originally posted in part by Shut Up)

words from the leery

A visit to the dentist office led to a short one-sided conversation about Foster Care, and for once, the words weren’t coming from my mouth.

My hygienist is, well, we’ll just say a little different, instead of “on the verge of psychotic.” In the twenty minutes I was sitting in her chair feeling as if I was on the opposite end of a therapy session, she mentioned the word “kill” at least twice. This stemmed from feelings in reference to an article she had recently read about Tiger Woods wife.

Supposedly Tiger’s ex-wife said that when she had bashed in his windshield with a baseball bat, she didn’t want people to think she did it in an angry rage.  My hygienist went on to tell me what she would have done if she were in the same situation, and it went beyond using a bat on a window. She continued with a story about how a girl had broken up with her son (when he was 11) the day after she had received gifts from him for Valentine’s Day. My hygienist said that she had wanted this girls name so she could “kill” her. It seems that she just has some anger that she needs to rid herself of, and it was obvious our little therapy session wasn’t working so well.

Soon she was talking about a friend of hers that is doing foster care. She said that her husband told her they could do foster care. She laughed and said that she would get the worst case, a child that sets fire to their bed while they are sleeping. I didn’t appreciate her view of foster children. Obviously not all of them are pyromaniacs, not all of them kill their caretakers, they are kids who need someone to love them.

I thought about telling this woman that she could do foster care and that not all foster children make it to the evening news. Then I remembered our previous conversation, or one-sided therapy session about the wrath she would love to expel upon others. I decided to keep my mouth shut.

Who knows, maybe she would be a great foster parent. Just not today.