Today I had a meeting with David's school team, the camp director of his summer program and a brain injury specialist. The goal of the meeting was to figure out how to help David. His school team saw an increase in negative behaviors in March and April and so we scheduled a meeting to see if the camp director and brain injury specialists had any thoughts as to what was going on and how we could best help David.
For good or bad, the brain injury specialist had lots of thoughts. So many thoughts that were dead on, and yet were so hard to hear because as obvious as they were once he said them, the entire team and I had been missing them.
David has had an increase in behaviors for the past 2 years around his birthday in the end of January. His team was thinking that this was due to his birthday and all that surrounds a birthday for a young child. However, as the team described David, and as the camp director described our family life and the 3 boys, it became clear to the Dr that what we were seeing was David's response to the stress in his life.
David has always been an introverted child. Even when he was very, very young, David internalized everything. He shut down. He was hard to access on a good day, and if there was stress involved he was even harder to access. Often, especially over the last few years, there has been a lot of stress. During the times of stress, I focus first on calming Matthew down, second on helping calm Jacob's fears and then I check on David. In life, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. David almost never, ever squeaks until he screams. At home, it has been forever since David has squeaked. Or maybe it has been forever since I have heard him.
As the Dr was talking about us needing to form connections with David and the teachers and I needing to set up time to form relationships with David and create a strong bond, my heart was breaking. You see, David is so quiet, that after an outburst from Matthew or struggles with Matthew, I have learned to process with Jacob. Jacob's crying, and words make it clear that he needs me and is nervous. Jacob leans in for extra hugs. He checks in with me. I check in with him because he let's me know that he needs me.
After Matthew struggles, David is just as likely to go play blocks, or play on the IPAD or read a book. I forget, because he doesn't say anything, that he has also been witness to the trauma. That he is nervous or anxious and that he needs me to tell him it will all be ok.
When I took Jacob for therapy, I had David come with me 2 times because I thought he also could use a place to be a safe haven. Both times David came, he was out of control- throwing toys around, and just bonkers. I took this to mean that David wasn't ready for play therapy. In reality, it likely meant that he wasn't ready, but that is because he doesn't have the tools, not because he doesn't need the help.
David does not yet know, because of his brain issues, that the world is safe for him. He doesn't completely trust that he can get his needs met by the grown ups around him. He uses the out of control behavior as a way to ensure that his needs are met. He did this as a toddler as well- when he felt unsafe, he would throw things, and knock things over and a grown up would eventually pick him up and take him to a quieter area. When he was in a crowded place, he would act up so that I would put him on my shoulders and remove him from the chaos.
Because of the chaos around David at home some times, and David's brain issues and processing delays, he often responds with a long delay between when things occur and his response to the situation. Essentially, over the past few years Matthew has struggled in October and November, and been hospitalized at these times, and David has acted up in January. By January, typically Matthew has been hospitalized, the chaos has calmed and Matthew has returned home. This all in time for David to have processed all that occurred and to act up in response to the chaos. His acting up is essentially his way of screaming, "what is going on! I don't feel safe....I don't understand....help me". However, by the time he is responding, the rest of us are enjoying the calm after the storm. I hadn't taken into consideration David's slow processing time and the fact that he may just be processing what happened months before.
In addition to all of this, David relates very, very intensely to Jacob. They have 2 beds in their room, but almost nightly they sleep together. They almost never sit on the couch without David being on top of Jacob. It seems almost as if David could crawl inside David, he would.
Matthew almost nightly still antagonizes Jacob. In some ways it is typical big brother stuff, but some nights it goes beyond that, and Matthew simply does not grasp when he is crossing the line between bugging Jacob and bullying Jacob. The Dr today also said that as David watches all of this happen, it is raising his anxiety level and having a negative effect on David. Again, while I hate to see Jacob "bullied" by Matthew, for Jacob and Matthew it is something that they are working on and something I am supporting them through. While it is not good for Jacob, he seems to be coping with the stress and he and Matthew are forming a bond. Jacob also understands on a 6 year old level that his brother has limitations and he is aware that I am here to help keep him safe. However, it had not occurred to me that for David this was having a negative reaction. To watch his "safe person" be bullied is intense for David. He is worrying for Jacob, and scared and unable to communicate all of his feelings.
The goal, according to the brain injury specialist, is to build bridges and relationships with David. I have to teach David that the world is safe and I have to start by teaching him that I am here to keep him safe. We are going to spend time each night relating and just sharing space together- we will do puzzles, put together train tracks and do other activities that organize David. He loves to put things together, doing this will organize his brain and by doing it together we will form a connection. The hope is that as we strengthen our connection and as I help him to realize that he has to depend on the world around him to keep him safe that David will become less and less inside of himself and will become more open to the outside. The goal is that eventually I will give David the language to share his feelings.
I cannot believe that it took a stranger to highlight for me the importance of strengthening my connection with David. I know that David does not express his needs, or his wants. Even as simple as asking for food or a glass of water, he still does not have these skills consistently. How could I expect him to tell me he was sad, if he couldn't ask for water?
I know my bond with David is strong. Our love for each other is strong. However, he needs to learn to rely on me and to feel safe in me when he is scared. I have to teach him that which most babies know....I have to show him that the adults are here and we will keep him safe. I have to teach him the words to use, and how to attach those words to his emotions. . I would have said before today that I had it all under control. I would have told you that we were in good shape. I did not realize that I had a child screaming out without making a sound. I didn't realize that his lack of language was as strong as the loudest scream.
I hear you David! I am here and we will work and play together. Your world is safe. Mommy is here, and now I hear you!
- I am a single mom of three amazing boys! All three of my sons entered my family through adoption. All three of my boys have developmental disabilities. My oldest son, Matthew has been diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Bipolar Disorder. David, my middle son, has a genetic condition, he has a duplication on his 15th chromosome which leads to autism like symptoms, seizures and learning challenges. My youngest son, Jacob has learning disabilities. Each of my children bring unique challengs to our family and also bring their own personality and joys to our everyday life!