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2.05.2011

A Bad Situation

I saw something really disturbing on "The View" this week.  You may have seen or heard of it- the video of the mom punishing her 7 year old son with hot sauce followed by an ice cold shower for misbehaving at school and then lying about it.  I can hardly type this right now- it makes me nauseous to see a child treated like that.  This kind of behavior towards any child for any reason is absolutely inexcusable.

But what no one seems to be talking about is the root of the problem.  The boy in the video is one of a pair of twins that the woman adopted from Russia when the boys were 5.  Knowing the little bit that I know from the show and the internet I can say pretty certainly that these boys suffer from Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).  This is a very serious psychological and neurological disorder that children suffer from as the result of a variety of circumstances including prenatal drug exposure, traumatic birth, inconsistent or absent care, neglect, or abuse during the infant years.  Most simply stated, children who aren't allowed to form attachments in the first year or so of life are at highest risk of developing RAD.  Children who are suffering from RAD have difficulty forming attachments later in life, showing affection, are socially and emotionally stunted, and often act out violently towards those around them.  Many argue that children benefit from strict discipline and structure, and some kids either benefit (or simply survive) this, but a child with RAD must be dealt with differently.  They have already suffered from trauma and living in a strict disciplined environment can exacerbate the problem, causing them to relive memories of the worst moments of their lives.  Something as simple as being denied a snack when hungry can bring up memories of early years spent deprived of food.  Yelling or minor physical punishment like a light slap on the but can bring up memories of being beaten.  Children with RAD should be raised in a home with loving structure, where they have to deal with calm, logical consequences doled out by loving, patient parents who never fail to remember the source of the behaviors they are dealing with and who never punish the child.

Children adopted from Russia are extremely likely to suffer from RAD, especially if they are older at the time of adoption.  The ugliest part of this disorder is that most parents, like the parents in the video, are unprepared to deal with the full extent of the disorder, even if they do know a little about it.  Then, in the heat of the moment when their child is acting out inappropriately towards them and everyone around them, they forget that this child is suffering from a disorder that they did not ask for and that is not their fault, and that the actions of the child are the result of the failings of an institution (namely Russian orphanages) and not the child simply being "bad."  So they punish the child for something that isn't the child's fault, which does further damage.  It's a terrible, awful cycle.  The victim, of course, is the child, but the parents, I feel, are also victims.  It is extremely hard to deal with RAD, and it takes a superhero amount of patience to deal with it in a way that will help the child heal.

Now this mother is facing a year in jail due to her actions.  Normally I would think this was insufficient punishment for treating a child this way, but in this case I think that (as with the child's RAD itself) the cause of the problem needs to be addressed instead of the symptoms.  She needs help from a trained psychiatrist and support from other mothers dealing with RAD.  She obviously needs to be monitored regularly to assure that these kinds of behaviors aren't being repeated.  But sending her to jail isn't going to benefit either the children or society at large.

Want to know more about RAD?  Check out Living with RAD, a blog accounting one mom's experiences with adopted children with reactive attachment disorder.  There are also tons of articles on the topic and it's prevalence in internationally adopted children.

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