She said I could post her picture.
I write a lot about my son Tim and his mental illness. 99.9% of my blog posts focus on him because one, he knows about my blog and thinks it’s “cool,” two, he’s fine with me using his name and picture, and three, his condition, childhood onset schizophrenia, is pretty rare. I don’t often write about my two other children, the oldest because, well, other than a raging case of sarcasm and a video game habit bordering on clinical addiction he’s fine, and the youngest because she would prefer I not use her name. But the last several months we’ve been consumed by the mental health issues of The Girl (her pseudonym).
We adopted The Girl in 1999, a few days shy of her fourth birthday. She’d spent the first of those four years in the NICU, born nearly 16 weeks premature, positive for cocaine, weighing a half ounce over a single pound. Her body still bears the scars of the tubes and wires that kept her alive those first few months as she detoxed alone in an isolette. Once she was healthy enough to leave the confines of the hospital, she was handed to her birth mother, only to be found, alone, weeks later in a homeless shelter. Start the shuffle of foster care, at least eight, we were told, removed from one after being physically abused, removed from another after it was suspected she was sexually abused, the last full of high medical needs babies that she often sat alone in her room from 7 at night until 10 in the morning, no time to pay attention to her.
We were trained and certified as foster parents because we wanted to adopt a little girl. We had the boys, both rough and rambunctious at four and nine, but wanted them to have a little sister. That was our only requirement, that she be younger than Tim, so as not to disrupt the birth order. We saw a picture of The Girl and were interested in getting to know her. Our caseworker was supportive but hesitant. At three and a half she weighed 19 pounds. She didn’t walk until the age of two, might never be able to ride a bike, swim, or participate in any sports or outdoor activities, a result of Spastic Diplegia. She rarely spoke, had an eating disorder, cried most of the time, and, we were told, might have a severe cognitive disability. With that glowing report, we took her home, tossed her into the mix with the boys, and three months later she was jumping and playing in the lake next to our house, big grin on her face, big brothers in tow. Fast forward nearly 13 years to a young woman that rides a bike, swims like a fish and is a mainstreamed high school sophomore.
What was on her chart but wasn’t really discussed turns out to be the issue we still struggle with. The Girl has a severe Reactive Attachment Disorder, or RAD. She has the inhibited type – she shuns relationships with everyone, preferring instead to be left alone, relying on no one. She craves negative attention, lies at the drop of a hat, and does whatever it takes to end conversations a swiftly as possible. She’s petite – under five feet tall – and she uses that and her puppy dog eyes to get the only kind of attention she can handle, namely, adults and peers feeling sorry for the helpless persona she evokes. Years of therapy have helped her mimic the behaviors normally associated with a healthy child and parent relationship, but she truly feels – and will tell us – she would prefer to do everything herself and answer to no one. The past several months she’s been dabbling in behaviors she knows, through research on the internet and an endless stream of Lifetime made-for-TV movies, will prompt others to feel even more sorry for her. Right before Christmas she stopped eating, at least in front of anyone, saying she wasn’t hungry, telling her therapist she was trying become anorexic. The ruse went on for 60 days in which she saw an eating disorder specialist weekly and, even though we never saw her eat, food disappeared from the kitchen and she didn’t lose an ounce. Last month we got a call from school to come get her. She decided one morning, before getting on the bus, to take a kitchen knife and slash long, shallow cuts into her forearm. When she got to school her friends saw the cuts and took her to the office. She admitted doing it, “just to see what it felt like,” and, after a call to her therapist, took her from school directly to the behavioral health hospital where she was checked in to a three-week, day hospital program, subjected to group therapy (which she abhorred), and started on depression medication. At the end of the program her psychiatrist, a man we treasure as he is also Tim’s psychiatrist, told us that we may have to accept that this is just her personality, shaped in her formidable toddler years, a result of years of abuse, neglect, and institutionalism. Children with RAD are often diagnosed, in adulthood, with Borderline Personality Disorder or Schizoid Personality Disorder, both of which have poor prognoses for creating or maintaining healthy relationships with others.
It’s hard to explain to someone what it’s like to parent a child with RAD. It’s like living with an emotional terrorist. And although I know that she has some affection for me and my husband, I also realize she would be just as content if we disappeared tomorrow. My mother put it best one day, when The Girl had done something that would be seemingly bizarre to someone with healthy attachments to others. “Four years to screw her up, a lifetime to straighten her out.” Sad but true. Some days, I almost wish she had a mental illness like her brother. At least I’d know there was a treatment that would allow her to recover. With RAD, who knows.
Be sure to check out the RADical Parenting Group we have on the site…it’s small for now, so be sure to invite people you think might benefit. It’s a private group, which means it’s not googleable but also means you need to request to join. Chrisa and Julia are moderators and can invite and approve members.
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