Thursday, October 6, 2011

I Have Adult-Onset Reactive Attachment Disorder

So, a few people have been asking about Ruslan and I suppose it’s time to give the dreaded update.  We’ve been having a few problems with him.  I didn’t see how horrible things were until one day in April when Ruslan asked me for a hug in public.  After realizing there was no way out, I hugged him and …I’m afraid I was visibly grimacing the whole time.  There’s not much affection there.  I tried to smile (or at least not scowl), but I couldn’t pull it off.  …pitiful.  I faced the awful truth:  I just can’t stand to be around my kid.  Merely touching him makes me want to cringe.

I thought it was just me, but thank God Almighty, we had a few house guests over the summer and I’m so happy to tell you that after a few days, they couldn’t stand him either!  After just one afternoon together one adult blurted out, “What is WRONG with you??”  Another finally told him, “You HAVE to learn how and when to talk because people are NOT GOING TO PUT UP WITH YOU as you get older.”  A third told me, “WOW, I just can’t stand to be around Ruslan.  He’s really hard.”

Any other parent would probably be in tears over such comments about their children, but for me and Bill (who have been thinking along the same lines for months now), these words were very encouraging!  Now we could say with certainty, “It’s not US, it’s HIM!”  Such a blessing…

After the grimace-filled hug, I started to really pray that God would help me like my kid (or at least not dislike him), but it’s not working.  Behaviors that were charming when we first adopted him are now flat-out annoying.  We’ve conquered a few things:  the two hour meltdowns are now no longer than ten minutes tops and happen maybe twice a month vs. twice a day.  He’s totally potty trained, his English is coming along well, and he’s not hoarding any more.

On the downside, besides dealing with the ever-present behaviors that have been troublesome all along, he now has some new behaviors to replace those we conquered.  Here is a partial, current listing:

Incessant talking:  Horrible, and the better his English gets, the more he talks.  Compounding the problem is Ruslan’s ability to say ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in 100 words or more.  The best example of the emotional black hole that we are dealing with:  one day, Ruslan was trying to get my attention.  I was trying to talk to one of my other kids and Ruslan kept on with his Mom, Mom, MOM, etc. etc. until I threatened a spanking if he didn’t quiet down.  When I finally had time and said, “Ok, what is it Ruslan?”  He said, “Mom. Um….Mom….Mom…. um….Mom….There are two apples on the table." 

Whining/Complaining:  Ruslan was born dissatisfied.  If we give him one scoop of ice cream, he’ll ask why he doesn’t have two scoops.  If I comb my daughter’s hair, he’ll ask why I didn’t comb his.  Just this week, he asked for some yogurt and before I had even scooped any into his bowl, he said, “why can’t I have more?”  After a while, this just gets really old.  Compounding this problem is that his voice is a sort of high pitched, loud, nasal whine.  Every time he opens his mouth, the whole family reacts as though he’s run his nails across a chalkboard. 

Jealousy: If I give one of my kids a kiss or hug, Ruslan will want a hug, even if he’s on the other side of the room.  Since I have six kids, I’m just NOT going to give Ruslan a hug or kiss every time I give another kid affection.  I do give him hugs, but I have to hold his hands down and hug him back to front.  If I let him hug me back, it is AWFUL because he is never satisfied and will not LET GO.  This is partly due to the tight tone of his muscles, but not entirely.   He also has a disgusting desire to make out with anyone who hugs him front to front.  He closes his eyes and wants to really KISS people on the lips.  We tried to deal with this right away, but since he’s so stubborn, he keeps trying and the upshot is that no one will hug him properly nor kiss him at all anymore except me: one kiss at night on the forehead. 

Abuse:  About once a month, Ruslan gets away from me long enough to hurt/destroy whatever is handy and vulnerable.  The worst case of this was with Will.  One afternoon, I found Ruslan in the play room (just off the kitchen) with Will playing “surgery.”   Ruslan had found a flat head screwdriver and was scraping/digging it into Will’s flesh.  Will is so compliant, he just said, “ow,” quietly.  I was five feet away in the kitchen and I didn’t hear a thing.  Will ended up with about three deep scratches across his torso and another couple on his back.  Ruslan also cannot be left alone with the dog (hits), books (rips pages), paint (gets it everywhere), crayons (broke every one)  etc. etc. etc. 

Stubborn/Argumentative:  When he is given directions, Ruslan’s response (if tolerated) is to  say, “no,” then ask “why,” then argue, then complain.  He is so stubborn about this little routine that whenever I give him directions, I now add the Obligatory Warning.  It goes something like this, “Ruslan, Your job is to hang up your coat.  We are not going to talk about your job.  If you say ONE WORD before you get your coat on that peg, I will spank your bottom." 

Dependence:  Ruslan loves attention.  The easiest way to get attention is to remain dependent on everyone for everything.  He resists therapy and I am starting to think that beyond his dislike for change, he just doesn’t want to walk.  He still tries to combat crawl rather than crawl on all fours (necessary for brain development) or use his walker.  The idea of doing things by himself is so terrifying, he can’t handle it without shrieking.  So, for example, last week he was on a step that is about three inches off the ground.  He has gotten down from this step many times with his walker placed safely behind him, but last night, his walker was to the side.  He wanted me to move his walker but 1.  He could easily move it himself and 2. He could easily get down on his own regardless of the walker location.  So, I totally ignored him.  Rather than just get down, he had a tantrum that resulted in a time out in his room, then a spanking.  It really wasn’t over anything more than his stubborn insistence that he could not do something that we all knew full well he could do.  After he calmed down, I wordlessly put him right back onto the same step with the walker in the same position and he got down in two seconds.  Then I had him get down two more times, just to cement the point that he was capable.  The thing that is so infuriating is that while yes, there is a small list of things he simply can NOT do, he insists on making the list longer by pretending he is less capable in order to get attention and manipulate. 

Inappropriate Play:  Ruslan doesn’t know how to play.  His latest idea is to wait until the older kids are watching TV, then crawl over and whack one of them with a plastic sword. 

Revolting Table Manners:  Ruslan talks with his mouth full and chews with his mouth open.  This drives my husband and children crazy.  It is actually really disgusting if you are sitting across from him.  He is capable of chewing with his mouth closed, but you have to remind him.  I think part of the problem is that he breathes through his mouth.  He CAN breathe through his nose, and we practice often, but he has to really think about it.  This also gives him chronic bad breath (another reason he gets back to front hugs). 

Laughing: A new and currently ­­HUGE problem is Ruslan’s inappropriate laughter.  Any attention is so wonderful to him that even when he is getting reprimanded, he is excited and can’t help laughing.  It’s also a problem at school and it’s the worst problem with Bill, who cannot stand it when Ruslan laughs over being disciplined.  Ruslan is smart enough to know when he is being disciplined, but he is so needy that every bit of human contact is exciting.

As implied in the April hug story above, it so bad, I can't fake it anymore, even in public.  A few weeks ago, I took all the kids to Wal-mart (our favorite family outing) and Ruslan was trying get my attention and point out something else for me to buy.  With his blonde hair, contagious smile and pediatric walker, he can really pull at female heartstrings.  A woman came over to explain what he was saying.  I finished putting grapes into my plastic baggie, tied the knot and then said, “thank you, but really, I’m trying my best to ignore him right now.”  She gave me a stricken look and walked away.  Reilly who was at my elbow said, “I don’t think that was the right thing to say, Mom.”

I know it’s easy to read a blog entry like this and think, “ok, well, you could try this, or this, or this.”   We are open to suggestions but after ten months, we have probably already tried it.  I just don’t have the patience to list all our ideas and attempts.  We inevitably fall back to dealing with his behavior in the obvious ways but there's no denying that the bad behavior is still ONGOING.  He is just really, really stubborn and needy.  Eventually he is going to need counseling, but our schedule is so full with his therapies, medical appointments and upcoming surgery that it is just going to have to wait.  I am left acknowledging that the behaviors above come from an emotional deficit and then determine how to best meet it without going crazy.

I know I have love for him on some level since after all, we’re still here.  I well remember that if we had not adopted him, he would be in an institution, tied to his bed, 24/7 and probably losing his mind.  As bad as things are, I still couldn’t live with that alternative.  So, I force myself to hug him when he is behaving correctly and I stay away from him as much as I can during the rest of the day.

Sometime during my search for answers, I found a book review of The Power of the Powerless by Christopher de Vinck.  It’s about a family raising a profoundly disabled child (bedridden, nonverbal etc.).  The last line of the review states: “It’s hard not to notice that for all its championing of the disabled, this book doesn’t treat them as individuals so much as empty boxes in which the able-bodied can admire their own perceptions, insights and efforts at nobility."

My first thought was, “Fair enough, but even so, at least that family came out on top.  Being around Ruslan only makes me hate myself.”  My child has the ability to bring out the absolute worst in me (I hope it’s the worst anyway).

The only insight that has come out of caring for Ruslan lately came from Bill.  After he read this blog draft and pointed out that “Ruslan has made some progress” and “this is a really depressing blog entry,“ he also added, “remember, this is how God sees us.”  These three points are undeniably true.  Yes, Ruslan has made some progress.  And, yes, the situation is depressing.  Adoption is not all sweetness and light.  I’m certain I am not the only mother in the world to discover that humans are irritating.  It’s also true that I have a tendency to marinate in certain sinful behaviors.  Justice demands that I add this line acknowledging that I live in the same stubborn, depraved state as Ruslan, yet God forgives me.  There is hope for us in the long run, probably.


  1. Hi Marnie,

    My name is Jessica and I met your son Ruslan when he was in the orphanage in Ukraine, both in the summer of 2009 and 2010. I am now an adoptive parent of a 2.5 year old girl from Ukraine with Down Syndrome (adopted from a different orphanage than Vorzel). We have been home with her for three months now.

    I only just now found your blog. I have no idea what you are really going through with the RAD, but I really felt the Lord prompting me to write you this note with a few ideas.

    Have you read "Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child"? I highly recommend it. The dependence issues you described about Ruslan jogged my memory from reading that book. It talks about how some children are scared to "grow up", or "be independent" because they are afraid that then they will go back to the orphanage, or back to Ukraine, etc. It sounds like some of his dependence behaviors could be originating from fear. If that is the case, then the behaviors will not be fulled resolved until the underlying fear is resolved.

    I know you mentioned that you don't have time for therapy with all of his other medical appointments, but I would really encourage you to consider making therapy the HIGHEST priority, even if it means canceling surgery or whatever (unless the surgery is to correct something life-threatening: when my daughter came home she needed open heart surgery ASAP so that was of course our first priority).

    Finally, have you considered respite?? It sounds like your family could really use a break, maybe for a month or two, to just clear your head and think about the situation. There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing that. I know a few people who might be interested/able to provide respite for you, if you don't know who to ask.

    Please feel free to email me if you want: JessicaLStClair (at) gmail (dot) com. Our adoption blog is: stclairadoption (dot) blogspot (dot) com

  2. Thanks Jessica!

    I'll definitely check out the book. I'm actually reading "The Connected Child" (recommended by another RAD mom), which has been really helpful. If nothing else, it's always nice to read about kids who are more screwed up than my own.