adoption, family

Explaining PTSD in the Classroom

I really cannot explain why my kids do some of the things they do. Raising children who experienced developmental trauma in their biological homes is like navigating a corn maze while blind-folded. As parents, Luke and I just do our best to help the kids manage their stress responses.

I got an email from Carl’s math teacher this week. She’s lovely and has been concerned about him.  He’s been presenting as sad and agitated in class lately.  He will ace a pretest study guide and flunk the test on the following day. When I give him the exact problems at home one by one, he can easily explain them to me. He completes them perfectly.  Luckily, this teacher offers to stay after school and provide extra help. Then she lets him retake the test immediately for credit.

Look, our kids all have anxiety about things. I think the start they had in life manifests itself in different ways. Anxiety is sometimes a term people toss around as synonymous with “being nervous.” Wrong! It’s not something an individual can just “get over” by “calming down.” I explained Carl’s anxiety to the teacher like this:

“Carl looks at a paper and gets overwhelmed by the amount of work and “remembering” how to do it. Even when I see him easily do each problem. We’ve been taking his heart rate at different times of day to teach him about his body’s stress responses. It is part of teaching him to recognize and manage his anxiety.

Carl’s normal resting rate is 82 BPM. A panic attack puts him between 130-140 BPM. Math work registers around 110. Basically, he’s stressed that he doesn’t “know” the concept even when he clearly does.  

The anxiety could be coming out for lots of reasons. We don’t always know why Carl has certain responses. His reaction may have nothing to do with Math. He struggled to engage with a very helpful para earlier this year just because she has dark hair. If someone uses a new soap or cologne, he can react. On the outside it looks like anger, defiance and even sadness.

I just had back surgery and my husband has some more upcoming eye surgeries. Maybe that’s a source of anxiety. I don’t really know. The good news is that Carl is using his strategies in school. When he gets upset, he is taking his work down to the guidance office.

Also, his anxiety is not at a critical level because he’s been sleeping in his own bed rather than on the floor. When Carl and his siblings first came to us from foster care, none of them would sleep in a bed. They were terrified. They also stole food and hid it in their mattresses or buried it outside. These kids were scared of the entire world. After 5 years, Carl only sleeps on the floor if he feels scared or threatened. This week, I’m happy he’s been sleeping with his therapy dog on the bed!

The truth is that he will always have some unknown triggers. He may outwardly appear like every other student, but he’s overcome a lot. We just do our best to support him and teach him to handle his PTSD. It comes out in different, unpredictable, ways.

Much like a duck, you don’t see him paddling furiously beneath the surface. 

We cannot protect Carl from the world. What we try to do is help him gain the skills to navigate it. Teachers like you go the extra mile to help him. It may not seem like it but you’re helping him with more than Math. You are helping him learn to trust adults. Thank you!”

 

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

Advertisements
Standard
adoption, family

College For Our Prodigal?

mcomp

There were many years where we questioned if Marcus would finish high school. He HATED it. He couldn’t stand the authority, the lack of choices, and the reading. He had an IEP in school and finally graduated through a specialized night program. He now has a full diploma, as opposed to a GED. Marcus is the first one in his biological family to graduate high school. I saw his cognitive testing scores once, when he was a junior. It came as no surprise to me that his IQ was high. He was rather shocked at the time.

Now, Marcus is twenty. He has choices. There used to be four things he despised in life: lack of choices, therapists, police, and hospitals. He would avoid all of those things if possible. As a foster kid “in the system” he had no choices. Marcus was moved wherever and whenever often without much notice.

He was frequently in what is known as “intensive foster care.” This means he was the only child in a specialized foster home as part of a program for troubled youth. He was assigned a number of therapists. He had no choice in this. Some of them dug too deep, too fast. Some of them made what he perceived to be disparaging comments about his biological family. None of them ever got Marcus to talk. Ever.

Recently he started to mention college and my mother and I got really excited. As a retired English teacher (and the best one there ever was!) my mom started to make plans. Marcus is most likely dyslexic so reading is hard, but he has learned strategies to compensate. She suggested a program where he could utilize speech-to-text to write his papers. Nana offered to tutor him through the English classes. I could help him with Psychology. If he chooses this path, he will not walk it alone.

Over the last few months Marcus has hovered around the periphery of our therapy appointments. He has asked a lot of insightful questions about his sister, Mary. He thinks she may be able to find a way to release her anger the way he uses his punching bag. Still, Marcus would never come into the sessions. He just sat in the car until we finished and then went to dinner as a family. Once he actually sat in the waiting room. However, he avoided eye contact with L, our children’s longtime trauma therapist.

Imagine my shock when Marcus approached me last week and asked what he would need to do to become a therapist. Luke assumed he wanted to be a physical therapist at first. When Marcus clarified for us he said, “No, I want to be a therapist to help kids in the system. I want to help kids that are like me.”

Tears. I cannot help it. This kid will make me cry. Every. Single. Time. So we took him to see L. He got dressed up in his brand new purple polo shirt, new purple Nikes embroidered with his name, and his purple sushi socks. I’m pretty sure that it was a professional look despite the ski cap he likes to keep on his head. He announced, “I’m ready for therapy. I’m in my party clothes!”

I went in with him to talk to L about his possible career path. Keeping in mind that he has never spoken to a therapist, I felt that just getting him into the office was a feat! I should have remembered how magical L is with what she does. Somehow her humor and casual demeanor drew him out of his protective shell. As soon as she settled into her chair with her legs tucked under her (I usually take my shoes off in her cozy office) he laughed and started talking. L has this effect on people. In the past he would stare at the ground with his arms crossed and tell the therapist to “f**k off!”

Not this time. He got some great career counseling and advice. L was open and honest about the fact that he would need to go through about six more years of school. She gave some information about the TF-CBT model she practices. L spoke about how trauma responses physically affect the body. To my astonishment Marcus spoke openly about some of his own triggers and some coping skills. L encouraged him and agreed that having a therapist who had experienced foster care and trauma could relate to clients. She also pointedly told him that he would really have to address him own stuff before working with others. If not, it could trigger him.

So he agreed to go back for at least two more sessions to work on his own stuff. Amazing. When I paid the bill he saw what kind of money he could possibly make. I just saw that any amount of money would be worth it for Marcus to finally get some support, or maybe insight, in therapy.

So, will he go to college? Maybe. I don’t know. Marcus has come so very far. The sky is the limit for him.

What I do know is that two therapy sessions is a win. And I am so proud.

 

https://fulltimetired.com/roundup/?vote

 

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

 

 

Standard
adoption, family

Dear Teacher…


I often struggle with how to explain my child’s trauma-related behavior to new teachers. Being a teacher myself, I know that we don’t have time to review much at the start of the school year. We are too busy reading your childrens’ IEPs and 504 plans while filling out mountains of paperwork. I don’t have all the answers, but here is what I wrote to introduce Carl to his teachers. Please comment with anything YOU use at the beginning of the school year.

The Talented and Amazing Carl !

If you are reading this, you have the tremendous honor of teaching the death-defying, brave, and fearless (except for spiders) Carl! Congratulations! (Picture a crowd going wild.)

I’m his mom, and believe me, we got lucky too. I guess you’re in good company. We met Carl when he was 8-years-old and in the foster care system. We adopted him, and his younger sister, Mary.

Carl is an amazing kid. He hates spiders and vegetables despite what his mother tells him. He is sensitive to gooey materials, bugs, and the dark. When Carl first came home he couldn’t read that well. After a lot of practice, and the Wilson reading program, he is now an avid reader. When it’s time to pull him out of a Harry Potter book we generally employ the use of a fishing line or long cane to retrieve him.

In addition to being an avid reader, he loves history. Carl is a history buff with a strong interest in Betsy Ross and all things colonial America. Every season Carl plays a different sport. He’s a linebacker in football, a “middie” in lacrosse, and something-or-other I can’t remember in basketball. He’s very athletic and it’s a great way for him to manage his ADHD and blow off some steam. It’s also a great excuse for his dad to yell loudly at sporting events and wave his arms all around.

As a family we are active supporters of child labor. To this end Carl is now able to wash his own laundry, mow the lawn and vacuum like a boss. He can also brew me a mean cup of coffee on the Keurig machine! We pay him a small pittance for his efforts, of course, because…child labor.

Sometimes, due to his history of complex PTSD, Carl has trouble controlling his temper. His brain goes into fight/flight mode and it’s best to give him some space. If he feels cornered or pursued his body reacts as though he were in actual physical danger. If he needs a consequence or a reminder, it’s best to have him take a bit of space first. This way he can be calm enough to process what you’re saying. If he appears agitated or fidgety you may want to send him on an errand. I strongly suggest sending him to make you a cup of coffee in the teachers’ lounge. Or maybe to wash your car. Because…child labor.

In addition to athletic talents and the ability to work in harsh conditions, Carl is extremely empathetic. He loves animals, younger children and his grandparents. Papa is his best friend and they are always up to no good. Maybe if you ever meet Papa, you should preemptively give him a detention. Just trust me on this. Papa is naughty and has probably already pushed all the buttons on your school intercom.

Finally, Carl comes as part of a package deal. When you get him as your student (again, the crowd goes wild) you also get his family. He has Nana and Papa in town. He lives with Mom, Dad, and his younger sister Mary. He has 3 older teenaged siblings that come on weekend visits. We are all here to work with you in any way necessary. This is going to be a great year.  Trust me, I’m his mom!

   https://fulltimetired.com/roundup/?vote

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved

Standard