Are You Instilling Healthy or Unhealthy Fears in Your Child? (Capital Letter Syndrome/Foster/Adoption Edition)

No Fear

Is your child the opposite of fear?

Taking dangerous risks because he has no cause-and-effect thinking?

Does he think the laws of nature don’t apply to him?

When raising a child with a capital letter syndrome or one from hard places (a child who has experienced trauma), healthy fear is a little more muddled. While we want our kiddos to have healthy fears, some of them seem to be in a no-fear frame of mind when it comes to outdoor play and all fear when it comes to some other aspects of life. What’s going on here?

1. Lack of Cause-and-Effect Thinking

Kids who come home to us through foster care/adoption have had trauma. One of the five Bs affected by trauma is the brain. Kids who have had trauma have altered neurochemistry. The Hebbian principle states that what fires together, wires together.

Simply put, an infant’s brain is experience-expectant. Experiences wire the brain. This is where the attachment cycle comes in. The infant expresses a need and the parent meets that need, thousands and thousands of times, until eventually the loose “wires” in the brain are connected.

What does attachment have to do with healthy fears? Everything. When those “wires” connect, the child is “wired” for cause-and-effect thinking. If there are breaks in attachment (or the child has a capital letter syndrome), then cause-and-effect thinking is not in place. It’s as if the child has some lose “wires.” This isn’t to say that the child isn’t intelligent — in fact, it’s often the opposite. It’s just that he doesn’t expect B to happen if he does A.

Instilling Healthy Fears

What does this look like?

  • A child decides to catch bees in a jar but didn’t think they would sting him.
  • A child watches a video of a man leaping from limb to limb high in a tree and tries it. (Yes, this actually happened in my family, and yes, he fell.)
  • A child tries to ride his bike under the trampoline.
  • A child starts a forest fire playing with a lighter.
  • A child walks on the pool cover and their foot falls through.

These are all true stories, and I could tell many more, but the point is that in each of these cases, no cause-and-effect thinking was applied. You may say, “Well many kids are adventure seekers and do these sorts of things.” That’s true.

However, neurotypical kids have a learning curve after these types of adventures. Kids with capital letter syndromes and kids with trauma often don’t. They will continue to try to defy the physical laws of nature with intensity and regularity. They don’t think the physical laws of nature apply to them.

Here’s a good test: If you warn your child that the activity he is about to embark upon may cause harm and he says, “I’m not going to get hurt, I’m not that stupid!” then cause-and-effect thinking probably isn’t happening.

Unrealistic or faulty connections

On the other end of the spectrum, these kiddos may have one bad experience and instead of adjusting their approach and trying again, simply declare, “I’m never doing that again!” What does this look like?

  • The child refuses to put sunscreen on (because he won’t get burned), gets burnt, and won’t go to the beach ever again.
  • The child falls off a rock while climbing, scrapes his knee, and won’t climb again.
  • The child doesn’t think he can do something, so he says it’s stupid and refuses to try.

Trying to instill healthy fears in these kiddos can be confusing. They need to be watched more closely and encouraged more than neurotypical kids to keep them safe and get them trying new things.

2. Felt Safety

Another conundrum with kids with capital letter syndromes/foster/adopted kids is they often don’t feel safe when they are safe. To describe this, we use the term “felt safety.”

“Felt safety, as defined by Dr. Purvis, is “when you arrange the environment and adjust your behavior so your children can feel in a profound and basic way that they are truly safe in their home with you. Until your child experiences safety for himself or herself, trust can’t develop, and healing and learning won’t progress” (p.48, The Connected Child).

Fear is crippling. I know. Not only have I watched my own kiddos struggle with feeling safe and talked to countless moms whose kids struggle with it, but I have also experienced it myself. My fears were an oddly shaped gift that, when opened, gave me empathy.

Because of some trauma in my past, I feared riding in the back seat of a car, going through tunnels, riding elevators, and more. My fears helped me understand my kiddos’ fears. Your child’s fears may seem weird or unrealistic to you, but they are super overwhelming to them.

“From research, we know that fear left unaddressed can have pervasive and long-lasting effects on a child, including negative impacts on cognitive ability, sensory processing, brain chemistry, brain development, ability to focus and ability to trust. As a result, it distorts and dictates much of what our children are dealing with.” – empoweredtoconnect.org

Instilling healthy fears and avoiding unhealthy fears is hit-or-miss with these kiddos. We keep trying, keep asking, and keep being flexible. No one wants their kids to be overwhelmed with fear all the time. No one wants their kiddos to get injured because they don’t think the physical laws of nature apply to them, either. So, I’ll finish with some tips. Feel free to comment and add your own tips!

Tips for Instilling Healthy Fears and Disarming Unhealthy Fears in Kids From Hard Places or Kids With Capital Letter Syndromes:

  • Watch these kiddos more closely.
  • Talk them through their fear even if the solution seems obvious to you.
  • Help them try an activity away from the crowd.
  • Ask them what they need.
  • Remember that they don’t think the physical laws of nature apply to them.
  • These kids have enough fear; don’t instill more.
  • Clap for them if they accomplish an outdoor feat even if you think it is below their ability. Baby steps.

On the one hand, you are instilling healthy fears and calming ones that seem far fetched and unrealistic to you. On the other hand, when you provide fun, S.A.F.E. activities, you are relieving fears, which is healthy!

This week on the podcast, Amerey and Kathleen talked about healthy summer living/eating on a budget. They delved into the topic of healthy fears when discussing some outdoor activities. You can listen here. And don’t forget to check out Part 1 of this article, the Neurotypical Edition, here.

During and After the Diagnosis of a Capital Letter Syndrome

This week on the podcast, Lori and I talk about diagnosing a capital letter syndrome. It’s pretty scary territory. Sometimes there is an invisible stigma attached to stepping out and finding some help. Not sure why, maybe we just feel guilty. Mom guilt is real. Even if you adopted, you know you aren’t immune to Mom guilt. We Moms have some weird knack for feeling guilty that things that we didn’t have anything to do with. Raise your hand if you agree.

Episode 41

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Another issue we parents deal with when searching for answers for our kids’ struggles is the “Just do this…” people. You know what I mean, those people who have all the answers for your child based on spending sixty seconds with them. It’s irritating. Right? Our advice, don’t share with them. Limit your time with those “Just do this..” people as much as possible. Don’t take it personally. Just move on.

During and after the diagnosis

*this portion was written by Rachel Eubanks

Be prepared that it will hurt even if you are expecting it.  You will take it personally and you have to be ready to push back against that.  You can’t effectively advocate for your child if you are too busy attacking yourself.

Act professionally at the appointment, keep it together (especially if your child is with you).  This isn’t a death sentence, it’s just a tool for you to help your child.  It’s okay to fall apart later, but keep it together at first.

Talk about it with a few people you trust.  Yes, your child’s diagnosis is their story and you shouldn’t broadcast it without their permission, but it’s your story too.  You know what friends and family who will keep your confidence and not judge, talk to them.

Your child isn’t sick or weird, they are just missing a piece to their puzzle and as their parent it’s your job to find it.

Do any of your children have a capital letter syndrome? Share your story with us! We’d love to hear it.

Do you suspect that one of your kiddos has a capital letter syndrome? Did this episode help? Let us know!

Homeschooling Special Needs Children

*This is condensed from a talk I shared at the THESIS Mom’s Tea.

 

Special Needs-In the United States, special needs is a term used in clinical diagnostic and functional development to describe individuals who require assistance for disabilities that may be medical, mental, or psychological.

Special needs impairs the child’s ability to function in day to day activities at home and school. I call them capital letter syndromes. ADD, ADHD, SPD, Asperger’s, Autism, Attachment Disorders.

special-needs

Should you homeschool your special needs child?

“Objective studies demonstrate that parents are providing a superior form of education for their special needs children by teaching them at home. Contrary to the claims of the education elite, parents do not have to be specially certified or have special qualifications to teach their handicapped children at home.

In fact, in one of the most thorough studies performed thus far on the subject, Dr. Steven Duvall conducted a year-long study involving eight elementary and two junior high students with learning disabilities. He compared one group of five students that received instruction at home with a group of five students who attended public schools. He was careful to match the public school students to the homeschool students according to grade level, sex, IQ, and area of disability. Using a laptop computer, Dr. Duvall sat in on teaching sessions and took an observation every 20 seconds, creating tens of thousands of data points that were then fed into a statistical analysis package. Normally his research included a second observer who double-checked Dr. Duvall’s readings.

Dr. Duvall recorded and analyzed academically engaged time by students during instructional periods. He also administered standardized achievement tests to them to measure gains in reading, math and written language. His results show that the homeschooled, special needs students were academically engaged about two-and-one-half times as often as public school special needs students! He found the children in the public school special education classrooms spent 74.9 percent of their time with no academic responses, while the homeschool children only spent 40.7 percent of their time with no academic responses. He also found that homeschools have children and teachers sitting side-by-side or face-to-face 43 percent of the time, while public education classrooms had such an arrangement for special needs children only 6 percent of the time. This was a tremendous advantage for the homeschoolers.

His study further demonstrated that the homeschool students averaged six months’ gain in reading compared to only a one-half month gain by the special public school students. Furthermore, the homeschool special needs students during the year gained eight months in written language skills compared to the public school counterparts who gained only two-and-one-half months.”

Dr. Duvall summarized, “… This study clearly shows that home schooling is beneficial for special needs students.” 1 (All info gleaned from HSLDA.org)

Four points about homeschooling special needs children.

  1. Go with your gut and don’t let outside opinion bully you into doing something that isn’t right for your child. You know best. You probably were the first one to have an inkling that something wasn’t quite right. Mom’s have the insight into their children that no one else has. If someone else says, “oh, my kid does that.” and you know that what they are talking about is an occasional meltdown and your kid can’t make it through two minutes of a certain environment without melting down ten times, trust your gut, not the lady you met at the playground for five minutes. Find someone who empathizes and talk to her. Look for info and follow the trail of research for your child. You are his advocate. It's not about

2.  Homeschooling special needs children is tough. Make sure you take time for fun for both you and your family. It’s not about perfection, it’s about persistence to keep going. It’s about what you have under your belt, not what you don’t. It’s about grace in the journey, educating your child and enjoying the trip.

3. Find what works for your child and don’t be harassed by “What your Child Needs to Know books” or academic texts. Teach at their pace and level for best results.  If you set the bar too high, you will both always be frustrated or at war. Comparing kid to a standard one size fits all is like walking around with a bear trap attached to your calf.  It drains the life blood right out of you. Kids are growing through ages and stages at different rates.  Who they are or what they are doing now does not determine who they will become unless we compare and verbally point out what we see as delays.  Get help for your special needs child if you need to.  Talk to experienced moms, but don’t rehearse the delays in front of him.  I have taken classes, attended workshops on speech therapy and various seminars to help me teach my children.  I want my children to reach their potential.  I am saying CELEBRATE their victories.

If Susie next door wins the regional spelling bee and your child through equal time and effort can spell ten words, then don’t compare.  CELEBRATE!

If your child participates in the Social Studies Fair and speaks in front of the judges with tears streaming down her face because of social anxiety. She did it afraid.  CELEBRATE!

If all the high schoolers at Co-op are taking A.P. courses and your child took two years to complete Algebra I, but he conquered. CELEBRATE!

4. Social/emotional education is just as valid and necessary. If you have an Aspie, three grades ahead in math doesn’t mean they’re doing that well in every area– it’s okay to work on other things. Role playing, social books, practicing outside the moment (training) helps. Before I took my kids to the library for the first time, we practiced at home. We used our schoolroom/dining room/ library for the library. We practiced whispering and finding books. Our tiny local library had a system for the kids. There was a tub of wooden rulers on the table and each time a child took a book off the shelf to look at it, he marked it with a ruler so he could return it later. I think we practiced that part a little too much, because after mere minutes in the library the shelves were full of rulers and the kids had huge stacks of books, none of which they really wanted! Be careful what you emphasize in practice. For the kids who need help practicing social skills or who can’t handle too much stimulation in public, lights, sounds, etc., it is better to talk them through exactly what is going to happen.

All of these are great practices for any of your children. Those who have special needs may need them more, but every child needs an advocate, someone who will take the time to practice outside the moment, someone to cheer them on and celebrate with them. It doesn’t hurt to help all of your children to sort out what is socially acceptable.

Don’t forget Mom and Dad, that you are the parent. Take the reigns. If you think homeschooling is best for your special needs child, then the evidence is for you not against you. Find a support group or a homeschool co-op that offers what your child needs.

The Stress of Change for kids on the Spectrum

Happy August! Positive Adoption is continuing the series on autism this month. Hope you are enjoying our posts!

We have had some major happenings in the Positive Adoption family this past month, some positive, some negative- Camp Lemon-Lime, a wedding, two deaths, family visits and more- which led me down the path of the post today. Either one of these can be a major trigger for kids on the spectrum and that is difficult for our traditional parenting minds to understand. We expect our children to feel stress when negative events occur, such as rain on a day we planned to swim, a car breaking down, a long wait in a doctor’s office, but it is difficult to accept and plan for those exciting, joyfully anticipated events having the exact same effect. It may be a hike on the trail, a visit with family or friends or a much awaited vacation.

A child on the spectrum having a meltdown before events he wants to attend is baffling and predictable at the same time.

It comes down to self-regulation. Hyper and Hypo sensitive children with a stress shaped brain cannot regulate their responses. When an activity is novel, that is new in the sense that it is a change, whether it is going to get ice cream or walking to answer the door when a child is in the middle of something, or making a S’more after a long hike in the woods.

These novel events are stressors that can trigger a response that seems out of whack or off the chart. I have found this to be true with children from hard places as well as children on the spectrum. Same is the name of the game for them. Those kids like every event on the schedule to be the same every day and if verbal, my respond with protests such as,

“We don’t do it that way!  We always _______” or

“This is computer time!”

or “We need to _______________!”

I have patterns I follow when preparing for an event or an outing. I make lists, gather items on the list and put them on a table, I do things like wash the kids shoes the night before, make sure the house is tidy before I leave. I vacuum the house after company leaves. We all have habits that make life more predictable for ourselves and give us a bit of control over our environment.

And, yet, we parents are blindsided when our child meltdown before an event, EVERY TIME. We may believe our child is trying to sabotage the event and stay home instead. Most times, this isn’t the child’s intention, he doesn’t have the ability to switch gears and regulate at the same time.

This brings me to two highly effective habits that parents can employ:

1. Proactivity.

Take some time for observation. What is throwing your child off? Are you a fly by the seat of your pants parent? Do you say at the last possible moment, “Let’s go! Get in the car! We’re going the the bookstore!” And the child melts down even though it is his favorite place? Or once you go out to run a few errands, you keep adding on odd stops causing more stress to your overwhelmed child?

Do you run around in a flurry barking orders before an outing (guilty). Imagine being the child who cannot see your mental or written list of what needs to be done and only sees you running around like a crazy woman (guilty).

Involve your child in the process. I can’t go into tons of strategies at length, because here are a few suggestions.

Prepare the child ahead of time. Keep a calendar up and refer to it often, letting the children know ‘how many sleeps’ and what is going on during the week. You can use pictures, symbols and different colors to denote events.

On the day of an event, have the child help you prepare. Make a written or picture schedule for him to use and be prepared to help him follow it. This is a hands on attachment building activity. Make sure you set aside time for it. If you are a last minute type, you will have to form a new habit for sake of your child and your sanity.

2. Ignoring.

No matter how many strategies you employ or how proactive you are, you child will still have some self-defeating behaviors. He will meltdown even though he wants to to to Gamestop and pick up that new game. He will freeze and flee even though he wants to ride in the kayak. He will balk at novel events.

This is where ignoring comes in. I’m not saying ignore the child completely. Just step over him and put the cooler in the car for the picnic. It’s okay if he cries for a few minutes. You’re doing this for his greater good. As long as he is not hurting himself or his siblings, ignoring is allowed.

Most importantly, don’t give up and stay home. If you do, this will become a self-defeating habit. You will begin to resent your child and feel trapped. Instead, use the habits of being proactive by preparing our child and including him in the process. When necessary, use the power of ignoring some behaviors to get out the door for his, and your greater good.