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Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Back to School w/RAD

We have gone back to school and are in our 3rd week now at our house. For foster parents that have school agers with attachment issues, this can be tricky.

For us, our first grader does well in school and is liked by her teachers, so there are not the behavioral issues that many parents of kids with attachment disorder deal with around back to school time.

With Jenny, 6yo, our issues tend to be the more sneaky behaviors. For example, she may "forget" to bring home important communication from the teacher, she tries to eat breakfast at school when she had a full breakfast at home, gets up during class to get a tissue or a drink of water and may ask lots of questions intended to disrupt instruction time, asks to go to the bathroom excessively, takes numerous trips to the nurse for minor scratches or tummy aches, headaches or other made up ailments, tries to get special treatment (wants to sit closest to teacher, holds her hand, sits in her lap, asks for more of something that the whole class may be getting). Many of these things can even go unrecognized by the teacher or seen as minor infractions compared to the kid whose throwing blocks at her head.

Here are some common issues that kids with attachment disorder have in school

This list covers several things teachers may encounter. One that we have seen with Jenny is what they call "Nuisance Behaviors"

Nuisance behaviors: These are frequently occurring minor infractions (such as interrupting or asking excessive questions) that disrupt the simplest of everyday interactions. These nuisance kinds of behaviors serve a dual purpose. First, they serve as ongoing reminders that the AD student is not under the teacher's domain. Secondly, they are "probes" that the AD child sends out into the environment to acquire information about the situation. From others' reactions to these "behavioral probes", AD children begin to piece together who is punitive and who is supportive; who will respond and who will ignore; who has a short fuse and who has a longer fuse, etc. The AD child uses the responses to his probes to figure out how to "work" the adults. When the AD child feels confident that he knows how to maneuver the teacher, the "honeymoon" will be over.

With our first placement of teen brothers, we had complaints from teachers about more outwardly disruptive behaviors in class, inability to focus on work, regressive behaviors (also listed on the link) coupled with his demonstration of real intelligence and ability to do good work.

Work production: The AD child most often either refuses to do assignments outright or does them in a haphazard, perfunctory manner. Occasionally, these children will apply themselves and often turn in a credible product when they do so. These seeming "lightning bolts" of intelligence, motivation, and effort are generally all too appealing to the adult world of teachers and parents; and that is precisely their purpose. The AD child dangles these moments of production in front of the adults to tantalize them into a game of trying to figure out what to do to get the AD student to perform like this more often. Taking this bait and entering this game is exactly like stepping in quicksand. The more the adults struggle to get the child to perform, the deeper the adults sink into the muck. Meanwhile, the AD child is "laughing all the way to the bank".

Since he was our first, we were pretty clueless on attachment disorder. I can't tell you how many times I found myself just puzzled at his ability one day and his complete inability the next. I absolutely took the bait and drove myself nuts trying to come up with ways to motivate him.

This brings me to homework:

There are great ideas here about how to deal with homework issues.

Don't go crazy trying to stay on top of your child's homework. If they are really struggling and need extra help with concepts (this can be hard to determine since they fake lack of understanding really well), get help before or after school or during lunch from the teacher, get a tutor if needed, but make it the child's responsibilty to organize themselves (give them tools to stay organized and tips, but don't clean out their backpacks for them, track down assignments etc), explain good study habits (like planning ahead for tests and projects, writing down assignments, taking notes, asking questions of the teacher etc) then step back and let them do it.

There are a few letters written to teachers that I have found on various sites that explain attachment disorder and give teachers tips on how to deal with classroom behaviors and the importance of communication with the parents. This one from Nancy Thomas is pretty thorough.

Here is my honest opinion about this approach with teachers: Although this is of high importance to me and my family, it's just one student of many to the teacher. Not to say that teachers don't care, that's not it at all. But teachers have not committed to parenting this child and educating themselves on all the things they possibly can about attachment disorder. So, if the child is not causing major issues in the classroom, I'm not sure the teacher is going to really want to read through and take to heart all that this letter says.

You also run the risk of sending the message to the teacher that you want to micromanage her. The teacher may very well think, you are one parent with one child and they have taught many, many students over the years - "I got this" may be their attitude. And truthfully, that would probably be my attitude as a teacher. So, for me, it's tough finding the right balance between giving the teacher necessary info, not allowing the child to triangulate the adults in this situation and letting the teacher know I am not questioning her expertise.

Some things in this letter, however, that I think are particularly important and should be brought to the teacher's attention are:

1. CALL THE PARENTS. They will likely not be real warm about this child and can be perceived as too harsh until you get to know them better. Have them in to talk with you about this issue. They are often hostile to outside commentary because no one without RAD information really knows what these folks are living with every day. Call them and talk about what you see in the classroom and ask if they have any other strategies for managing things.

2. Make it perfectly clear in your interactions with the child that YOU ARE THE BOSS of the classroom or activity. Remind the child, unemotionally but firmly, that you are the boss, you make the rules.

3. YOU ARE NOT THE PRIMARY CAREGIVER for this child. You cannot parent this child. You are his teacher, not his therapist, not his parents. Remind the child that her parents are where she can get hugs, cuddles, food and treats.


5. DO NOT ACCEPT POOR MANNERS OR INCOHERENT SPEECH. The child must say "May I please be excused to use the restroom?" Not "I gotta pee". And yes, they will wet themselves rather than ask appropriately just to upset you and make you think you're responsible for making them stand there too long. "I see that you wet yourself. That must not feel very good." And go back to whatever you were doing. Feel free to not respond to slurred or incoherent speech. The child will learn she cannot manipulate you into asking for a repetition or clarification. If you feel you must, tell the child you will not be able to hear him until he makes the choice to speak clearly and then turn your attention elsewhere. The child should say, "Yes, Miss Janice", "No, Mr. Sayers". "Yeah" and "nope" and "I don't know" are no longer part of the child in therapy's vocabulary – do not tolerate them in your classroom, they are disrespectful.

6. SUPPORT THE PARENTS. The child who is losing control at home and in the classroom because folks are "on to him" will get a whole lot worse before he gets better. Listen appropriately. Absolutely redirect this child to her parents for choices, hugs, decision-making and sharing of information you believe is either not true or is designed to shock or manipulate you. Follow up with the parents.

Hope something in here helps you all have a better school year!

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