Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Does trauma define a child?

For years I have heard people say things like, "My disease/disorder/illness does not define me!" I'd pump my fists in the air and think to myself, "YEAH!"

When my oldest daughter hit full-blown Tourettes, life was hard. Yet, she still had her friends and her interests and her sense of humor. She was so much more than Tourettes or the compulsions or the acid reflux, even when it altered her life.

So, I've always agreed with that thinking ... until about a year and a half ago. I still believe a diagnosis does not define a person. But I must admit that it can be very difficult to feel that way when you have a very hurting child.

I realize this could initially make me sound like I don't have hope, or I can't see my kids for who they really are. That is so not true. But I had to learn how to do that. Let me explain.

For about nine months, we did not see, hear or experience who one of our kids really is - the person they were born to be. Their true self emerged very slowly. They had obsessions over certain objects, but in unhealthy ways. If we asked, "What would you like to do today?" the answer was either "I don't know" or "What is so-and-so doing?" Everyday. For a very, very, very long time.

Maybe not every kid - but for many of us, we have watched trauma define our children. It defines every word from their mouth, every action they make, every ounce of sleep, every thing which goes in their mouths, everything which comes out of their body (and how it is deposited ... many times NOT in an appropriate place), every thought and belief they have about themselves.

It's unlike anything you could imagine possible, and it's unbelievably disheartening.

I'm also here to say: our children - OUR REAL CHILDREN - are in there. Both of mine are emerging. They now have favorite foods and things they would rather decline. They have interests that they enjoy and choose to do regularly. They have things that make them smile and bring them joy. They are funny. They have empathy for people in their path.

My healing kids have "things." They have "favorites." They have "interests." It's wonderful to see and experience. I still have days when the history and the patterns and the disorder make me shake my fist at the sky and think it will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER end. Yet, so much of it has been left behind. I'm just a mom. I want them to be free from all of it.

Do what I do. Sit down with all your kids and play, "Stuff You Don't Do Anymore." Make a list of behaviors, obsessions, etc., they have left behind. Add to it every few months. It helps me to keep the big picture ... ya' know ... on those bad days when they are still working through their "stuff." They are in there! It's just that the trauma is smothering the "real child" underneath.

(photo by Nikolya Magukov)


Cammie said...

This is a great post. It is a bit different for me as my adopted child does not have RAD. However, when I find myself thinking she should do things developmentally that she isn't I sit down and work thru your last paragraph.

I list the things that she CAN do now...

she can crawl, walk and run
she can sit up and rollover
she can hold a cup...without a lid now
she can poop by herself (yes, you read that right! Nothing like giving your baby enemas everyday because she wouldnt poop on her own!)
she can breath on her own
she can give hugs and kisses
she can speak words...
and complete sentences

It is so important, when we get bogged down, that we look back and see how our childrens behaviors have changed for the better!

waldenbunch said...

I don't know any other RAD kids and families, especially older ones. At 9 and 10 my two are healing, but I don't know if it's possible to completely be healed. I have no clue. But for mine, we were just talking in cuddle time about how RAD does not have to be all they are. That RAD can be the impetus for making them BETTER kids and one day adults, and they can be awesome IN SPITE OF what happened to them. It's their choice. But it is hard to live with the choices at times. I have learned so much from these kids about God and life and everything. I can be a great parent IN SPITE OF this RAD!

BT said...

Christine -- This is a fantastic post. It's really set me to thinking. I remember early -- when I was bogged down in the second-by-second RAD onslaught -- I read somewhere that it was important to separate the RAD behaviours from the child's personality. Who is this child versus what they were doing and feeling at any particular moment. And I remember wondering at that stage whether it was even possible to make that distinction. Over time, the distinction has become increasingly possible and easy.

I'm so glad for the progress your kids are making!

Diana said...

Great post. I think any of us with RADical kids have been there and have seen RAD define not only the the lives of our kids, but our lives as well. But, as my kids heal more and more, I am able to take a breath every now and then. They do show their real personalities more frequently now and it is a delight to see. Like someone else said, I don't know if my kids will ever heal "completely". Nothing will ever erase the scars of what happened to them to cause the RAD and PTSD. But as time moves forward, I do hope (and believe) that they will find as complete a healing as they possibly can...and when we all emerge on the other side of this tunnel, I do believe we will be better, stronger people because of it. Because we overcame it.

Hannah_Rae said...

Thank you for a great post, Christine.
We are at such an odd stage with Gabe, because his RAD is not as obvious as many RADlings. I have trouble figuring out what parts of RAD are defining him and who he really is. He's 16. How much time do I have to get to know the real Gabe?



Christine said...


As long as he's breathing. That's how long.

Cause you're his momma' and you will always find him!


Kerrie said...

Ahhhhh. Yep. I only know the tip of the iceberg of who Alexis is, and that is very recent, because mostly what she likes is...whatever Gus likes and whatever Aaliyah has. I used to say I was sure Alexis was in there somewhere, but that she was covered up by a heavy sheet that would sometimes blow aside and show a bit of who my real girl is. She's been showing up more lately. She has been surprising me--in a non-pee or scream related way.

Amanda said...

I know I'm an emotional wreck due to these crazy pregnancy hormones but I just am so teary eyed at this post and responses. I am not a mom to these little RADlings but I do teach some at school for sure and I really don't know if they have people like you guys in their lives helping them along the way. You guys are incredible and I know that Jesus is walking near you all the way!

Elizabeth @ TexasEbeth said...

I'm with Cammie. My adopted son does not have RAD but sometimes, just like every other parent, all I can see is what he can't do or isn't doing developmentally compared to others. Which is such a NO-NO but also very easy to do. I will have to start reminding myself & my hubby of all the things Charlie can & is doing. He is perfect the way God made him - developmental issues (or not) and all.

Mamita J said...


Good, thought-provoking post. I really don't like using labels, because they can hold kids back. (I remember the neighbor girl who would always say, in her most pitiful way, "I can't do that. I'm brain-damaged," when she was perfectly capable of doing it.)

At the same time, who we are is a combination of our experiences and personality. I am defined by those tough things I've gone through. Those things changed who I became.

So, I guess I have 2 things that I know for sure.

1. RAD may define your kids right now, but it doesn't have to define who they become.

2. All those things that define us, pale in comparison to who we are in Christ. He defines us.

I hope this makes sense.


Mom 4 Kids said...

This was a great post and your reply to Hannah Rae made me cry. Very well said!

Megan said...

I really needed to read this today and be reminded that hopefully someday we will come out of this. I was struck by what you said at first about how even as parents our lives are defined by our kids RAD. We added a houseful of it, unbeknownst to us last winter, and we have a large handful of friends/family who don't believe a word of what we say about any struggles we may have. Some of these people have adopted, and even have adopted older children, but it is like they refuse to admit that RAD really exists or that our kids really have it because our kids present sooo perfect in public. RAD and literally putting out one crisis after another has defined our last 11 months with no help from the county - even they say we "turned down their help" but that was after we had to put our son in residential because the county help was too slow in coming. RAD stinks and it really stinks when others don't accept or believe that it is real or that it plagues your kids. Everything you wrote about Mar could be about one of our 3 RAD kids - you're right. Nobody wants to hear that. Nobody wants to hear that you're almost dying, that you're not adjusting after almost a year home, that everyone in your family is in counseling/therapy, that life is just rotten and that really there is nothing they can do to help. And I get tired of answering the question of "How are you? How are your new kids? They're so beautiful! It looks like they are doing so well!" If they only knew and accepted the truth...

In the pit of RAD here...thanks for showing us that it gets better.

Happymom4 aka Hope Anne said...

Good post. It was very hard when we were going through RAD to find much support. We quickly realized we had to limit to only a tiny handful of people--and most of those really didn't have any experience with it--jut were wise enough to believe us and support us. Like some other posters said, our little gal presented most of the time in public as the sweetest thing, so when we told stories of the terror at home, no one believed us, or were sure we just were being "too hard" on her, expecting "too much" etc. We were told that we didn't treat her like our bios (snort--she didn't ACT like them either!) and was going to grow up to hate us because of it and on and on. I'm happy to say that now that RAD only probably affects her at about 20% or less, she is one of the most truly loving children! She can't tell me enough how happy she is that we adopted her, and how much she loves us. It took several years to get to the point though that she consistently felt that way, and acted that way! People don't KNOW unless they have parented a RAD child. . . they just have no clue.