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Adoption Blog

The PTSD that’s called everything but... | #BellLetsTalk

Today is Bell Let's Talk Day. Bell Let’s Talk is a multi-year charitable program dedicated to mental health. Today, Kathy Soden, a parent through adoption, gives her thoughts on the fallout of the trauma that children and youth who experience early life neglect, abuse and attachment disruptions have to live with.


With great interest, I’ve recently read articles in the media about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in veterans, and then on January 16th, an excellent article in the Globe & Mail about PTSD in first responders. [1] I am very encouraged that these issues are beginning to be identified and studied. I feel compelled to write about another PTSD – a quiet, complex, pervasive kind of PTSD that affects a population of kids from their earliest days of life. I’m talking about some of our kids in, and from, foster care and other institutional care settings.

Many of these children have suffered abuse, neglect, deprivation, multiple losses, many layers of grief, and disrupted attachments; in other words, “trauma”- in their birth families and during their time in foster care. According to a study by the Casey Family Programs and Harvard Medical School in the United States, thirty percent of former foster youth are diagnosed with PTSD, which is about twice the rate of U.S. combat veterans. [2]

These kids are often labeled with other names like – “troubled”, ADHD, ODD, bi-polar, attachment disordered, anxious, depressed, emotionally dysregulated, mood disordered, conduct disordered, having executive functioning and other learning disabilities. As they get older they are sometimes labeled as suicidal, substance abusers, suspected of having personality disorders, psychosis at times, even sociopaths who are  “high-risk of offending” youth and adults. These labels may or may not be individually accurate, but they certainly don’t tell the whole story.

What is really going on? From my perspective as an adoptive mom, these children and youth have a form of PTSD. Some experts, like Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, would call it developmental trauma disorder. [3] Others like Dr. Bruce Perry might call it complex traumatic stress disorder. [4]  Still others might call it complex PTSD. But call it these things we should. Why? It is important to give this a name that can help us understand the depth and complexity of the issues involved so our children can be properly helped. Our children all too often fall through the cracks because of a lack of willingness to acknowledge the impact of their experiences on every aspect of their development and functioning.

My big “ask” is that those professionals who are looking at PTSD and its causes, symptoms and treatments, include in their work our population of kids who live with these issues just under the surface of their skin all of the time. 

When a child is immersed in their early life (including in utero) in a chaotic
environment of sustained, chronic neglect/abuse and attachment disruptions how does their brain form and develop in
its earliest stages? It forms in ways that they need it to, in order to survive. And because this chaos and trauma happens so early in their lives and often at the hands of their primary caregivers it impacts their fundamental brain development in ways
that will affect them throughout their lives. This can give them tremendous resilience and other incredible skills, but their stress response system, their ability to attach and form healthy relationships and their ability to have reliable cause and effect thinking available to them is pervasively impacted and perhaps in some cases, even irrevocably impaired. This means that even once the trauma, chaos and disruptions stop, the effects, and the child's embedded survival system, continue to operate.

Like the spouses of veterans and first responders, it is the parents of our kids, - often adoptive parents - who see this; it is the parents who live with the fall-out of this - alongside their child, then youth, then young adult - every day. Sometimes because of these brain effects our kids may do things that are unacceptable in society’s eyes, but with the appropriate lens, we can see that what they do and how they act is perhaps somewhat understandable.

I am very encouraged at the attention and the resources that are being given to the PTSD of veterans and first responders – it is clearly long overdue. I have great respect for them and their service to all of us. I bet they would have a unique understanding of our kids and why they do what they do. I wonder if there would be value in somehow treating them together – they could support each other in ways most of us probably couldn’t understand.

My big “ask” is that those professionals who are looking at PTSD and its causes, symptoms and treatments, include in their work our population of kids who live with these issues just under the surface of their skin all of the time. And while society didn’t ask our kids to do specific jobs like we’ve done with first responders and veterans, society owes them a duty of care too.

Society let them down by not having the supports in place to allow their birth families to be healthy enough to keep them, nor given their adoptive families the information, resources and tools they need to help heal them. Often times, the birth family’s mental health was not properly recognized or treated. As a result of this, they often self-medicated and resorted to using primal coping skills to manage. Why? Sadly, in many cases these parents have very similar histories to that of their kids. You can see this pattern of intergenerational trauma very clearly in our indigenous families and children who are in crisis across our country.

If you take this thinking a step further, you could ask yourself if we as a society want to reduce youth and adult homelessness, crime and substance abuse? I would argue that the roots of these issues are often directly related to some form of PTSD or trauma. Look closely at the populations of those residing in residential treatment centres, shelters and in jails. I would bet that a history of early life trauma and attachment disruption is very much in play for many of the residents.

Let’s get our act together and treat all forms of PTSD, including “complex PTSD” or  “developmental trauma disorder”.

Let’s name it, even if the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) won’t.

Veterans, first responders and our kids in and from care have a lot in common. They are very brave people and they are suffering too much. I suspect if we walked a day in their shoes, we couldn’t tolerate it. They deserve our respect and our compassion. Their hearts are big, so very, very big but their brain wiring and we as a society are letting them down.

Let’s study it.

Let’s learn to heal it.

I recently read in the Globe & Mail that PTSD can be treated. [1]

Prove it. Please. For our kids. 

Let’s Talk

#BellLetsTalk #Adoption

Footnotes

[1] See article: 
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/theyre-there-when-trauma-hits-us-but-whos-there-when-it-hits-them-back/article28217514/

[2] See article: 
http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2005/4/11/study-finds-foster-kids-suffer-ptsd/
See study: 
http://www.casey.org/northwest-alumni-study/

[3] See article: 
http://www.traumacenter.org/products/pdf_files/preprint_dev_trauma_disorder.pdf

[4] See article: 
http://journals.lww.com/co-pediatrics/Abstract/1999/08000/Posttraumatic_stress_disorders_in_children_and.8.aspx


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Posted: January 27, 2016 at 08:00 AM
By: Communications Coordinator
(0) Comment/s | Categories: Guest Blogger Parent Perspective Special Needs
Helping My Children Understand Their Family | Parent Guest Blogger

Written by: Erin, Adoptive Parent

We adopted a wonderful set of twins who turned two and a half, six months ago. They spent a month transitioning before moving into our house in March. Then they started to meet all these people, our friends and family, while still seeing their biological family, who are now part of our lives. Even though they are young, they still have had a lot of changes, a lot of people in their lives, and a lot of people coming in and out of their lives. Though they can't tell me their feelings because they don't have the words yet, I worried about how they feel towards us, their new family and their biological family. I wanted to give them a sense of security, and help them create an identity.

To help them understand their new family, I created a bulletin board called "Who Are We?"

It started with a picture of them, a picture of their family, and something they like. Then, each day we added something to their side of the bulletin board, like a picture of their house, a boy, a cut out of their hand, and foot, a craft of their face, the first letter of their name, and their pets.

In the middle, I put a tree with the title family, then put pictures of the family, and different members of their family, including themselves. I put each picture up after they met that family member. Their biological family was only put up when they wanted it up.  For example, at first one of my children did not want to add picture of their biological mother but after a couple of visits they agreed to put her up.

They love this bulletin board, and they show everyone who has come into the house. My one child loves to look at the bulletin board and name everyone on it. I feel like this has given them a sense of security, and an understanding of how their new family looks. I've asked them if they wanted to take it down, but they said no, so I will keep it up until they are ready to take it down.

I know this is extra work, and sometimes the child/children have other issues, and this could be one more thing on the list of many things you need to do. I felt that way too, but I feel that creating a sense of identity is important. Starting young can help these children when they get older, especially during their teen years.  Since our adoption is an open adoption, they visit their biological family. It appears to confuse them. After each visit, they are crying, wanting to be held and some of their other issues reappear.

This is when the bulletin board comes in handy because we will sit down as a family and go through each picture and remind them who they are and how much everyone on the board all loves them. This brings a smile to their face, and to mine.


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Posted: December 18, 2015 at 08:00 AM
By: Communications Coordinator
(0) Comment/s | Categories: Adoption Support Guest Blogger Parent Perspective
"What do you want to be when you grow up?" | Youth Network Guest Blogger

Jessica"What do you want to be when you grow up?". I think I have heard this question about a million times. Its something that you get asked throughout your life. When you're a child, the answers don’t seem to matter because adulthood is so far away. For me I decided when I was six years old. There was nothing that could change my mind, and to this day I still want to be an adoption counselor.

I can't remember a time when adoption was not a part of my life, even if I didn’t know it at the time. It all started when my birth mother had me at a very young age. She was still in high school and she did not fit the star student mold. A couple years later my brother was born, and a year after that she had twins. By the time she was 19 she had four children. Obviously she did not have a very steady life. This lead her to the decision to give up my brother Justin and I.

Once she gave us up, we were put into a foster home. I didn’t know that it was a foster home at first, I was told we were staying with friends. Which was nothing new to me. Two and a half years went by with no moving or no changes, then all of a sudden I met some other "family friends". After I met these friends a lot of things started changing. I was told what adoption meant, I was told I was being adopted, and by the end of the week I was adopted.

The family friends I met, are now referred to as Mom and Dad. Love is thicker than blood and there is nothing that will ever convince me otherwise. My parents have been the companions to my greatest adventures in life and they will always be there when I need a reality check. My parents didn’t get stuck with me, they chose me, and they have dedicated their lives to Justin and I... even when were being "complicated".

As for today, they are helping me to plan for my future. Adulthood is no longer a far away dream, it has become a reality way to quickly. This is my last year of high school, and after a year off I will be going to college and university to become an adoption counselor, my six year old self decided that I would be good at it, and it was more realistic than becoming a princess. One day, I will find children forever families, because without my forever family, Id be completely lost.


More about Jessica

My name is Jessica. I am 17 years old and I'm in grade 12. When I was almost 6, I was adopted. My entire life was changed in the duration of a week. I have always been very verbal about my adoption, and when I was in grade 4 I spoke in a court for the first time. Since then I have done a ton of youth advocacy work and my experiences have inspired me to become an adoption counsillor, so that one day, I can help children find their own forever families.


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Posted: December 11, 2015 at 08:14 AM
By: Communications Coordinator
(5) Comment/s | Categories: Adoptees Adoption Awareness Month Guest Blogger The Family Effect Youth Network
It's Hard Being a Kid in Care for the Holidays

TAKE A LOOK 'INSIDE': ANXIETY

Originally written & published for the AdoptOntario Professional Newsletter

As the movie "Inside Out" depicts, we are all just a jumble of emotions. This is exacerbated for kids in care who are thrown into new and unexpected life experiences. Our kids are forced into altering the way they live day to day, how they interact with others, and even the way they respond to normal everyday events and/or stressors. One of the characters in the movie is named "Fear". His role in the movie is to lookout for potential dangers and risks involved in day to day activities. His goal is to avoid things from changing or going wrong. For kids in care, this is an everyday experience: not knowing why they have been separated from mom and dad, not knowing what is coming next, or transitioning to a new home. Change may prompt or heighten feelings of anxiety as well as the child or youth's experiences of grief, loss and trauma.

For a child or youth living with an anxiety disorder, this fear occurs frequently, is intensified and can last for hours or even days. This fear becomes overwhelming or irrational, and can cause extreme distress for the individual. It can also start to have a negative impact on their day to day functioning. To educate and support families, AdoptOntario has recently added a new special needs section on "Anxiety Disorders" to our "Understanding Special Needs". This section provides information, tips, and tools to prospective adoptive parents on the feelings and behaviours that can come with anxiety and how to prepare and support a child/youth with an anxiety disorder.

Click here to the read the new section. 

Do you parent a child/youth who struggles with anxiety? How do you help them manage it? Tell us in the comments.


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Posted: December 4, 2015 at 01:20 PM
By: Communications Coordinator
(0) Comment/s | Categories: AdoptOntario Special Needs
Giving Tuesday! Invest in Building Families | #TheFamilyEffect

Wrapping up National Adoption Awareness Month is Giving Tuesday!

Thousands of children and youth in Ontario’s foster care system cannot return to the family they were born into. We need to find them a family for a lifetime and give those families the support they need to help their children heal.

The Adoption Council of Ontario finds and supports families for these young people with their cutting edge, evidence-based programs.

 

Kids Need Families and Families Need Support.

Give Tueday

and help ensure that every child and youth has a family to grow UP and grow OLD with.

 

What is the Family Effect? 

November was Adoption Awareness Month, and we want you to know how having a life long family impacts the lives of children and youth in Ontario, particularly our most vulnerable youth, those who are at risk of aging out of Foster Care without one. 

Learn more about ACO's programs and services. 

Today I gave, will you?

Share on Facebook and Twitter! 

 

This Giving Tuesday I chose to Invest in Building Families. How will you give? Share! https://www.donationaid.com/aco-donate Share to tell your friends how you gave today!

Posted by Adoption Council of Ontario on Tuesday, December 1, 2015

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Posted: December 1, 2015 at 09:30 AM
By: Communications Coordinator
(0) Comment/s | Categories: Adoption Awareness Month Events Opportunities to Give The Family Effect

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