Tag Archives: autism

ICONz for Ozzie

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Recently Ozzie has started taking part in an activity that is solely his…

And is loving it!

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A few months ago our Family Based therapy team connected us with the amazing people at Parents in Toto. This non-profit organization, based out of Zelienople, offers support to individuals on the Autism spectrum including parental support, social skills groups and family activities multiple times a month. This year they are also offering a free ICONz class at their center, made possible through a state grant.

While visiting Parents in Toto, we were introduced to the ICONz program and knew that it was a program that would benefit both Ozzie and the entire family. In addition to teaching needed skills, this class allows Ozzie to meet twice a week with other 13-18 year olds  on the spectrum and hone his social skills in a fun and engaging way.

So, what is the ICONz® Program?

The program is designed for students to learn positive ways of responding to social situations and the underlying complexities of these interactions.

The ICONz® Program is uniquely based on research conducted in local high schools with curriculum written and developed by Russell Johnson, PhD, founder and principle of ICONz® Associates, LLC.

How does the program work?

The program uses a series of stories that describe characters in everyday social encounters. Students are introduced to visually-based concepts/cues that help the main character achieve a positive outcome. The ICONz® Social Concept Cues enable students to understand the complexity of social expectations and choose positive responses. This language-based curriculum requires basic verbal ability to participate in the exchange of ideas.

 The program is most successful when the ICONz® language is used in the group and at home.

The ICONz® Toolbox Curriculum

Dr. Johnson’s experience with verbal adolescents and adults with ASD is consistent with recent advances in autism research suggesting that these individuals are better able to perform behaviors which he calls Information Processing Skills but perform less well on tasks which focus on Social Relationship-Building Skills.

Based on his research, Dr. Johnson has developed a curriculum that integrates practices that have been found to be helpful in working with verbal individuals on the autism scale. The ICONz® Toolbox Curriculum is based on the use of ICONz® Social Concept Cues, a set of easy-to-remember visual cues and their accompanying reminder phrases. The ICONz® Curriculum contains a series of lessons that illustrate how to use the ICONz® Social Concept Cues in everyday life through stories, social autopsies, brainstorming other options, journaling, and life application.

The ICONz® Curriculum helps verbal individuals with ASD learn more effective Social Relationship-Building Skills and improve their ability to balance relationship-building and Information Processing Skills in everyday social life. The goal is to help individuals with ASD learn to improve the quality of their lives in terms of independence and overall satisfaction in their relationships with other people.

ICONz® Social Concept Cues

The proprietary ICONz® Social Concept Cues are a specialized visual language designed to help individuals learn, remember, and apply basic social concepts and behaviors in every day life. These vivid, compact symbols serve as powerful visual cues to activate social behaviors learned in conjunction with the ICONz® Toolbox Curriculum. Some targeted social behaviors include compromise, self control, and “getting the big picture” (context). These and other verbal and social behaviors are especially difficult for individuals with ASD.

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Ozzie has now been participating in his ICONz group for a few weeks and is LOVING it. The setting is interactive and engaging and the affect of that engagement is understanding and retention of the concepts taught.

We have also begun introducing each of these principles in our home in an attempt to have these key phrases become part of our common vocabulary. While developed for those on the spectrum, the principles are good basic human skills that everyone can benefit from applying to their interactions with others. I have especially seen how this ICONz  model could be beneficial for parenting children who have experienced trauma. The visual cues and short/clear verbal prompts are a great fit for the way the brain works in a child who has experienced the physiological effects trauma has on the brain.

Ozzie meets with his group two evenings a week and wishes it was more!

Thank you, Parents in Toto, for blessing our lives with ICONz,

What an amazing program!

Finding Healing through Horses

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Both Tyler and Ozzie have been on a journey to find healing through horses. For Ozzie, that therapeutic journey is just beginning, but for Tyler we are now eight months into his equine experience.

Both boys receive equine therapy through Glade Run Adventures, and although both boys work with the same therapist their sessions look very different. This is because each program is built around each client’s particular needs.

At the start of each boy’s therapeutic journey with Glade Run Adventures we sat down and discussed our goals for the program and the unique strengths and struggles of each child. The program was then tailored to meet that child’s needs.

For Tyler our goal for equine therapy was increased mindfulness, decreased anxiety, increased confidence, and trauma healing. We know that one of the most successful therapeutic tools for Tyler is animals. He connects with animals easily and is able to open up and express emotions with animals in a way that traditional talk therapy doesn’t  always work.

Tyler has found a level of comfort and confidence on the back of his horse that isn’t always seen in other areas of his life. He LOVES equine therapy and has blossomed under this form of therapeutic care.

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After eight months of lessons he is now capable and comfortable grooming his own horse, mounting and dismounting independently, walking and trotting. This last week he was thrilled to discover he had graduated from lessons in the arena to his first trail ride. This was a big deal because he is “drove” his horse without the leading of his therapist. She followed as he took the lead.

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Ozzie’s first lesson was this past Wednesday. He also has an overall goal of trauma healing but has other objectives that differ from Tyler. For Ozzie our therapeutic goals include connecting and empathizing with his horse, mindfulness, body awareness, and sensory imput. Both my boys have sensory seeking behaviors- something that is commonly seen in children from hard places- but Ozzie’s added diagnoses of autism increases the need for sensory input even more. Our hope is that we will be able to really feed that need through horse therapy. Because Ozzie’s goals are a bit different than Tyler’s goals, more of Ozzie’s lesson time will be spent off the horse and focused on grooming. By grooming an animal Ozzie will be able to learn how to connect through showing care to another.

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He will strengthen his ability to read social cues by watching the horse’s reactions. He will get bathed in a sensory rich environment as he pets, brushes and squeezes the animal. He favorite think to do is rub his face in his horse’s mane.

Equine therapy is just one more tool we are applying to help our boys find help and healing.

Here is a little more information on this therapeutic tool as taken from equestriantherapy.com:

“Equestrian therapy (also known as equine therapy or equine-assisted therapy) is a form of therapy that makes use of horses to help promote emotional growth. Equestrian therapy is particularly applied to patients with ADD, anxiety, autism, dementia, delay in mental development, down syndrome and other genetic syndromes, depression, trauma and brain injuries, behavior and abuse issues and other mental health issues.

In many instances, riders with disabilities have proven their remarkable equestrian skills in various national and international competitions. This is the reason why equestrian therapy has been recognized as an important area in the medical field in many countries.

Equestrian or equine therapy is also an effective technique for many therapists to teach troubled youth on how they learn, react and follow instructions. For example in a  beginners’ horse therapy, a student may be asked to get the horse move outside of a circle without even touching it. Students may try to clap, yell and whistle but the horse won’t heed the signal. In the same manner, parents, friends and others who are part of a troubled youth’s therapy would learn that yelling, clapping and forcing would not be the best way to make the person do something.

Why horses for therapy

Horses are the most popularly used animal for therapy although elephants, dolphins, cats and dogs may also be used. This is because horses have the ability to respond immediately and give feedback to the rider’s action or behavior. Horses are also able to mirror the rider’s emotion.

The basis of the therapy is that because horses behave similarly like human beings do in their social and responsive behavior; it is always easy for patients to establish connection with the horse.

Therapeutic benefits of equestrian training

People with cognitive, psycho-motor and behavioral disabilities have shown positive results when equestrian or equine therapy is taught correctly by certified equine therapists. Just like other therapies such as physical, occupational and speech-language therapy, people with disabilities are being helped or assisted by certified therapists to cope with their disability like regular or normal people can. However, equine therapy combines all three in such a way that the patients or students do not feel that they are actually under therapy.

In the process, equestrian or equine therapy aims for its patients or students to:

  • Build sense of self-worth, self-concept
  • Improve communication
  • Build trust and self-efficiency
  • Develop socialization skills and decrease isolation
  • Learn impulse control and emotional management
  • Set perspective

Equine therapeutic activities

What are the equine-related activities for therapeutic purposes? The activities are not limited to horseback riding. Many students may feel intimidated by the horse’s size and features and may take some time to develop trust when around the horse. So included in the therapy program are lessons on horse care, horse grooming, saddling and basic equestrian.

How does equine therapist suit the activity to the patient’s needs? The process or technique to be applied during the session depends on the type of disorder and its severity. But the primary techniques are:

  • Cognitive therapy
  • Practicing activities
  • Activity scheduling
  • Play therapy
  • Storytelling and talk therapy

Watch this video from Oprah Show on how equine therapy helps an army veteran cope with post traumatic stress.

Gotcha Day!

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I must say that on my short list of experiences I dread, right up near the top with root canals and cleaning the oven, is car shopping. I find it painful. I hate everything about it…the decision making, the financing, the pressure from the pushy salesman, the hours spent in the dingy back office signing paperwork, and the knot you get in your stomach  when you realize you are back to having a monthly car payment.

ICK, ICK, ICK…I hate it all.

I would rather dump good money after bad into a vehicle that is on death’s door, if it means avoiding a trip to the car lot, than have to go car shopping.

My son doesn’t agree.

Ozzie’s idea of heaven on earth is an afternoon spent at a car lot reading the information stickers posted on the side window of each car. Ozzie loves cars and has extensive knowledge of every vehicle that ever landed on the road. He can tell you how the design changed from year to year, what special features each one offers, and the year certain vehicles stopped being manufactured.

Before Ozzie left for his inpatient stay he asked if we could celebrate his “Gotcha Day” a few months early. In the world of adoption, a “Gotcha Day” is the anniversary of a child’s adoption into a family…the day we “gotcha.” As a family we celebrate Tyler and Ozzie’s gotcha days much like we celebrate a child’s birthday, as we consider that day the day they were “born” into our family.

It was important to Ozzie that he get to celebrate this special day with his family. His actual “Gotcha Day” is November 22, but since we were uncertain as to where he would be in his treatment journey, and since we didn’t know if we would be able to take him out that day, we opted to celebrate early.

His request for his “Gotcha Day” this year was a trip to local car lots. He explained that what he wanted to do more than anything was to visit all the car lots in our area, as a family, and look at the cars that were for sale, and then go out for dinner.

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It was an unusual request, but a feasible one, so we made plans to spend the afternoon “car shopping.” This was really a testament to how deeply I love Ozzie, as this is a request I would not answer yes to with just anyone.

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The pain of car shopping was magnified on Saturday as, in addition to all the normal car shopping pains, I now had to explain to the pushy salesman that we weren’t actually there to buy a car, we were just looking.

They would inevitably pushed back with, “Well, what sort of vehicle are you looking for. I’m sure we can find just the thing for you.”

“No, I mean we are really just looking,” I explained, “Like for fun…like we don’t need a car. We are just out for a family outing.”

At this point confusion would wash over the salesman’s face, uncertain if he was getting the brush off and should keep pushing, or if we are in fact a crazy family just out for a fun afternoon browsing car lots.

The fact that I had a camera around my neck and was taking pictures of Ozzie next to the various vehicles confirmed the latter.

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At one car lot, however, the salesman demanded a more thorough explanation, as he couldn’t wrap his brain around the idea that someone would visit a car lot for fun..so we explained it was Ozzie’s “Gotcha Day,” the anniversary of his adoption, and this is how he wanted to spend the day.

The man turned to Ozzie, offered his congratulations, and asked, “So, do you want to sell cars when you grow up?”

Ozzie nodded his head with an enthusiastic, “YES!”

To which the salesman deadpanned, “Don’t do it kid. Life’s too short.”

I died.

The man then invited Ozzie in to the office and let him pick out a stack of vehicle brochures. Ozzie was in heaven!

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When we were done visiting all our local car lots, we headed over to Ponderosa for Ozzie’s “Gotcha Day” dinner, per his request.

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It was a crazy way to celebrate the anniversary of Ozzie’s adoption, but so perfectly Ozzie. He loved it, which is all that matters. That is what “Gotcha Days” are all about. It is our opportunity to celebrate that special child and the unique gifts, talents and spirit they bring to our family…

And that is just what we did.

Happy early “Gotcha Day,” Ozzie. We love you to the moon and back!

Meet Olive!

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Well, we are home.

And while home is a lovely place to be I must admit the transition from life as a gypsy back to a life filled with schedules, appointments, farm chores, phone calls, and responsibility has been a tough adjustment.

I finally feel like I have my footing again and have adjusted to the point that I can blog and share what is new with us at Patchwork Farm.

I wasn’t the only one who struggled with the adjustment from life on the road back to life at home. It was an interesting experiment in character and temperament to see which kids relished the nomadic lifestyle and which ones struggled with life on the road.

Overall  everyone did well and enjoyed our once in a lifetime adventure, but some “thrived” while others simply “managed.”

This was most notable with our two youngest.

I anticipated that this trip might challenge Ozzie. Ozzie is a child who does best with a rigid routine, predictability, quiet time, and opportunities to isolate from others. This trip offered little of that. In the months leading up to our trip we worked with our therapist to identify possible struggles and make a plan that Ozzie could use to find some quiet time in our travels. Even with that preparation this lifestyle was not one that suited Ozzie’s temperament and he struggled with the abundance of family togetherness, a tough thing for Reactive Attachment kids.

For a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder and Autism, a life of living on the road, with intense family bonding experiences and little routine or predictability, is very hard.

He loved the vacation. He loved the sites and the opportunities to see and learn but there was a noticeable exhale of relief when we pulled into the driveway and he could run up to his room and shut the door.

Tyler on the other hand came to life on this vacation. He was a different child. He was joyful and engaged. He was extroverted and confident. He was eager to learn and willingly put himself in social situations that would have shut him down emotionally had we been at home.

For a child with PTSD and ADHD, a life of constant changing experiences, exciting new sights, and new people to meet, all while living in close proximity to the people who bring a sense of safety and security, resulted in miraculous changes.

Tyler’s anxiety all but disappeared as he spent 24/7 surrounded by people who could keep him safe, all within arm reach from any corner of the bus.

Coming home has been hard for Tyler.

On the first night home he broke down in tears and asked, “Why can’t we just all live in the bus?”

I often tell people that we could not have adopted little boys who were more different.. They are extreme opposites in their looks, stature, strengths, weaknesses and even in their struggles. This extreme contradiction makes parenting them a challenge because in my efforts to meet the needs of one child I am giving the other child the opposite of what they stand in need of. Case in point: this trip. One thrived. One struggled. Now that we are home the other is thriving and little brother struggles.

It is a challenging juggling act and that description is a simplification of reality because there are also three other children and a husband whose wants and needs need to be considered.

It seems that, whether right or wrong, my way of meeting the diverse needs of everyone is to “triage.” I do this by meeting the needs of the child most in crisis at the moment, as I shared in this previous blog post:

https://ktmccleery.wordpress.com/2015/02/05/love-is-a-battlefield/

I now find myself trying to save Tyler from a heart gushing wound as he faces the fears that have consumed him for years but have reemerged after a two month vacation that did more to address his anxiety than all the medication management in the world.

Tyler’s early childhood has a storyline that would shake you to the core and leave you sleepless. The horrors of Hollywood films don’t hold a candle to the horrors he experienced at the hands of the very people that were entrusted to protect him. The result is severe PTSD. He lives with constant fear but is debilitated by the fears that awake as night approaches. Like most little boys he fears the monsters that lurk in the dark corners of his room. The difference, however, is he knows what the faces of those monsters look like. He knows they are real. He knows the hurts they can inflict, and he is terrified they will return.

For over a year Tyler’s anxiety has increased. I won’t go into all that results from such severe trauma memories but suffice it to say that I am dead on my feet after a 4-5 hour bedtime routine every night. My heart breaks for him and rages against the adults responsible. I consider myself a forgiving individual but after parenting the trauma inflicted on both my boys by the very people that were supposed to protect them I am convinced there is a special corner of hell reserved for those that hurt the innocents of the world.

About a year ago, as we were discussing treatment options with Tina, our therapist, she suggested a emotional support dog for Tyler. She shared that she had been praying about Tyler and how to help him and this came to mind. She spoke of the success she has seen with a friend that raises and trains dogs for soldiers returning from Afghanistan who also suffer from PTSD.

Long story, short, we spent this last year praying for the right dog and the right time and through a series of “God-incidences” we find ourselves with a new addition.

Her name is Olive.

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She is a 10 week old Great Dane.

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It was after speaking with the trainer and her suggestions for breeds that would be a good match for Tyler that we decided on Olive.

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We needed a breed that had a impressive, threatening stature that Tyler could believe would physically be able to protect him from the father he believes is going to try to come and kill him,

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Olive’s Dad.

 

but also a breed that is incredibly gentle and loyal.

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Olive came home on Monday night.

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Tyler has slept in his room with Olive at his feet ever since.  For the first time in over a year we have been able to get him to sleep in his room without acting out in his anxiety with destructive or self-injurious behaviors. He has fallen asleep within minutes rather than fighting to stay awake for hours  in fear of what will happen when he closes his eyes.

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He finally feels safe.

I wish I could convey the weight that has been lifted from this Momma’s shoulders. I could weep with joy at the rest I see in Tyler’s body and the peace I see in his eyes.

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Toby leaves to go back to Michigan to finish my sister’s addition in a day or two and he will be gone for 6 weeks. This will be the true test of Tyler’s confidence and trust in Olive. With Daddy gone can he still feel safe?

I pray that is the case!

“Blue Bunny”

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“Blue Bunny” is the word of the week.

This past week, in therapy, we talked about how quickly escalating emotions have become common place, particularly following therapy sessions for Ozzie. He can go from 0 to 60 in 3.4 seconds over what the untrained eye might see as unimportant or trivial. With Ozzie out of the room I shared with Tina my struggles to properly parent these hyper-speed mood swings.

She explained that part of what we are dealing with, in addition to the other diagnoses, is classic PTSD. The trauma he has experienced is the cause of  much of the behaviors we are dealing with. Angry outbursts are one of the symptoms.

She called Ozzie back into the room to share with us another tool to add to our “tool box”… and I eagerly agreed to give it a try since we have had such amazing success with all of our other homework.

(Have I mentioned how much I love this woman!)

She told us we need a safe word…a word that can be uttered by Ozzie or I (or any other member of the family) when emotions are starting to escalate and we need to push the pause button. It is, in essence, like calling a time out. Everyone stops the conversation, retreats, applies the coping tools we have been working on like the shoulder tapping and deep breathing, and when everyone is back at their baseline we come back together to try the conversation again.

It has been amazing!

We had multiple opportunities to put it to the test this week. Each time when things were just beginning to get heated (The key is to use the safe word as early in the escalation as possible) one of us would yell “Blue Bunny” and the conversation stopped.

Its effect is much like throwing a bucket of cold water on fighting dogs. It snaps the brain out of its current mode, makes you smile at the silliness of the word, and allows everyone to decompress and then try the conversation again.

You hit pause, rewind the tape, and press play again when both family members are ready.

While this has been hugely effective with my traumatized son I would imagine it would be a helpful tool to add to any parenting toolbox…or marital toolbox, for that matter.

Just imagine the look on  your defiant 18 year old’s face if in the heat of the moment you yelled out,

” Pickled Platypus.”  🙂

It certainly derails the tantrum, if only for a while.

All of these coping tools we have been working on with Ozzie are in preparation for the EMDR work that his therapist will be beginning with him soon.

Here is a little summary of what EMDR is according to WebMD:

“Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a fairly new, nontraditional type of psychotherapy. It’s growing in popularity, particularly for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD often occurs after experiences such as military combat, physical assault, rape, or car accidents.

At first glance, EMDR appears to approach psychological issues in an unusual way. It does not rely on talk therapy or medications. Instead, EMDR uses a patient’s own rapid, rhythmic eye movements. These eye movements dampen the power of emotionally charged memories of past traumatic events.

Your therapist will move his or her fingers back and forth in front of your face and ask you to follow these hand motions with your eyes. At the same time, the EMDR therapist will have you recall a disturbing event. This will include the emotions and body sensations that go along with it.

Gradually, the therapist will guide you to shift your thoughts to more pleasant ones. Some therapists use alternatives to finger movements, such as hand or toe tapping or musical tones.

People who use the technique argue that EMDR can weaken the effect of negative emotions. Before and after each EMDR treatment, your therapist will ask you to rate your level of distress. The hope is that your disturbing memories will become less disabling.

Although most research into EMDR has examined its use in people with PTSD, EMDR is also used to treat many other psychological problems.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has noted that EMDR is effective for treating symptoms of acute and chronic PTSD. According to the APA, EMDR may be particularly useful for people who have trouble talking about the traumatic events they’ve experienced.

The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense have jointly issued clinical practice guidelines. These guidelines “strongly recommended” EDMR for the treatment of PTSD in both military and non-military populations.”

Ozzie’s therapist is hopeful that Ozzie will experience emotional healing as a result of EMDR work, but she has made it clear that the road to healing is a long one,  a hard one, and the effects of opening those doors to the memories of his past trauma will affect the entire family as we help him cope with the emotional fallout.

It is a delicate dance…

opening the door to the past.

If you open it too wide, too quickly, Ozzie will shut down. Yet if we leave those doors firmly shut the pressure just builds until the force of those traumatic memories push the door open with explosive force. I would love to just lock the door to the past, throw away the key, and never open that door again, but for Ozzie to heal we must open that door and walk into a very dark, scary place to face the demons.

Oh, how I wish I could do it for him and let him remain untouched by the darkness,

but that is naïve…for he has already been consumed by a darkness that I will never fully understand and the only way to loosen the hold of the nightmares that consume him is to face those nightmares again by revisiting those memories.

I can not protect him from his past…for he has already been scarred. All I can do is walk with him on his crusade toward healing and promise him he will never have to face those demons alone again.

At the end of a hard therapy session he crawled into my lap and whispered, “no more.” The therapist, seeing we had gone to the limit, ended the session

and I just held him.

This was turning point in our relationship. Ozzie, who never shows me pure, emotion-driven, physical affection, initiated a hug. In the midst of overwhelming emotion he clung to me for comfort.

And that means he is bonding…

slowly, but surely, he is seeing me as his caretaker, his protector, his ally, his Momma.

We both left therapy completely drained.

This past Monday we also had our adoption support group for parents of traumatized kids. In this week’s session we talked about giving them a new internal voice. A voice to drowned out the voice of their past that whispers:

“You will always be a bad boy.”

“You can never be trusted.”

“They will get rid of you as soon as you are bad, so you might as well get it over with.”

“This is all your fault. If you had been good your father wouldn’t have hurt you.”

“You’re just stupid and worthless.”

“No one will ever love you.”

As we talked about the importance of affirmation,  kindly correcting, looking for opportunities to say “yes” instead of always saying “no,” and looking for behaviors to praise more than you notice behaviors to correct, we also worked on a project for our kids. Every set of parents was given one mirror for each child they had.

Around the edge of each mirror we were told to write words that described that child. As Toby and I sat and worked on each mirror we gave much thought to the adjectives that best described the positive attributes of each child. It was a powerful exercise and we found ourselves reflecting on the blessing of each child and the special, God-given attributes, they bring to our family.

When we arrived home we sat the kids down and told them about the activity we did upstairs while they were meeting downstairs. We then gave them their mirrors. It was touching to see the impact our words had on them. When I asked the kids which word (That we used to describe them) meant the most to them it was fascinating to hear their answers,

and I believe reflective of the traits they value most in themselves.

Grace chose: Diligent

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Molly chose: Generous

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Rusty chose: Talented

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Ozzie chose: Imaginative

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Tyler chose: Strong

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How we see ourselves, when we look in the mirror, is on point with the self talk we hear in our minds. I hope each time my children look into these mirrors they will read the words and be reminded of their great, infinite, divine worth.

Mirrors are powerful things and have great influence on how we see ourselves.

So we must remember to turn the one who holds the only mirror which is true, and clear, and NOT distorted. It is here we will see ourselves as He sees us and we will see those we love through His eyes. It is through our Savior that we see the divine beauty in ourselves and others.

As Lynn G. Robbins said:

“Heavenly Father sees our divine nature. We are His children. They way He sees us, because of His love for us, is perfect. The mirror which He holds constantly before us, if we would only raise our sight to look, is the one in which we should trust. Its image is always true and never distorted.”

“It has Been 6 Days Since our Last Explosion”

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When things are going smoothly at our house I find myself holding my breath. I hesitate to begin cheering and celebrating for fear of jinxing an already precarious situation. I often find myself debating whether to share the success stories, knowing that as soon as I type up the blog and hit publish, inevitably “it” will all hit the fan.

But I also realize that each success, however small or short-lived is a miracle…a tender mercy. This past week has been full of many miracles, both small and large. It is with a thankful heart I share our stories.

To begin I must give enormous accolades to our God-sent therapist. We have been working with her for the last few weeks and I could cry tears of gratitude for the blessing she has been. I feel like I have an ally in this war we are waging with Ozzie’s past. She gets it. She is loving and kind and funny, but Oh So REAL! She sees it all and is immune to deceit and manipulation. She lovingly calls Ozzie out on his games and asks him to stretch himself far beyond his comfort zone, praising him through his efforts.

In addition to finally feeling like I have the support we have needed, I have also discovered in her an amazing resource of ideas and wisdom in those one hour sessions. It was Tina (our therapist) who shared with us the necessity of adding more “creative chaos” to our lives, (which has been hugely beneficial) but she has also given me insight into how to effectively parent the temper tantrums that have been a daily struggle. She has helped me see that although the way we were parenting the tantrums was on point, our timing was off. Thus making our parenting less effective.

She took out a piece of paper and sketched out a picture of a bell curve. At the top of the curve she made a mark and explained that this was where we were currently using our parenting strategies. She explained that no matter how good the strategy was, if we used them at the top point of the tantrum, during the worst of the rage, we would always fail. “You can’t reason with rage.”

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She explained that we must address the emotions that come before the rage…before Ozzie escalates. She then sat down with Ozzie, drew a picture of him, and had him identify the physical changes that happen to his body as he is entering a tantrum. We circled the parts of his body that change with anger on the sketch. We drew clenched fists, furrowed brows, tight shoulders, etc.

She then explained that my job was then to make Ozzie aware of these changes, as he begins to get upset, by asking him to “check his body.” When he saw that he was having physical signs of anger she then gave us a tool to use to dispel that anger. We practiced. He was asked to cross his arms over his chest with each hand resting on the opposite shoulder and alternate tapping his shoulders while counting to 100. She explained that this strategy works for a number of reasons. She told us that in children who have been abused there is often a blockage between the left and right hemisphere of the brain. The alternating tapping opens those pathways of the brain and allows better reasoning. It also gives the child something to refocus on rather than what they are angry about, and it gives them time to decompress. (It takes a while to count to 100.)

We left with the new information and had the opportunity to try this new strategy almost immediately. I was amazed. The anger began and then dissipated in minutes without ever escalating into a temper tantrum. We continued to practice and apply this all week and went 6 days without a fight or a temper tantrum.

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This week also brought other excitement. On Monday I was folding laundry in my bedroom during the kids’ lunch break when there was a knock at my bedroom door. I opened it to find Molly standing there in only a towel, dripping with water.

“I smell gas,” she said.

I breathed deep, looked at her like she was crazy, and said, “I don’t smell anything.”

(Granted my nose wasn’t all that reliable. I was battling a cold.)

“No really,” she said, “Smell the register.”

I still couldn’t smell anything but took evasive action when 4 of the 5 kids confirmed that they smelled gas and weren’t feeling well. They complained of headaches and nausea. I had a horrible headache too but assumed it was the cold I was fighting.

I told the kids to put on coats and boots and go wait by the playland with the dogs while I investigated. I figured it was better that I be the only one to blow up…you know,  in case of a gas explosion. 😉

So I called Toby,

lit a candle to get rid of the smell…

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Kidding!

I just wanted to see if you were really paying attention to my story. 🙂

On the phone Toby walked me through how to turn off the gas main. I opened windows and waited for Toby to come home and help us figure out where the gas leak was coming from.

When he got home he went down to the basement first and saw the source of our problem. The outside of the hot water heater was melted and charred. It had caught on fire and resulted in the gas leak.

He looked at me with concern that during MY investigation of the house I hadn’t noticed the flames licking up the outside of the hot water tank. I explained that it hadn’t looked like that when I was down there…although I had checked to make sure the pilot light was lit and was impressed with how big and bright the flame was…oops.

Little did I know there was a fire raging inside.

Thank goodness for God’s protection. Our guardian angels have been working overtime!

But from both of these experiences I have learned a valuable lesson…

If you wait until the explosion, it is too late.

The signs of danger are there before the catastrophe hits.

Watch, listen, act and address the signs of danger BEFORE  someone loses a limb…

and that’s probably true for a gas leak too! 🙂

Camping in a war zone

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Sunday should have been an easy day.

We got the call early…church was canceled.

The roads were bad. The snow was coming down.

We were all excited at the thought of a stay at home, nowhere to go, snowed in, sort of day.

It all went down hill very quickly.

The explosion came as a result of a small act of unkindness…a small act of teasing. Tyler asked Ozzie if he would go outside and play in the snow with him. Ozzie relied with an enthusiastic, “Yes!” Tyler ran to get dressed. He layered on his snowsuit, extra socks, hats, mittens and boots and when he was all bundled up, ready to go ,Ozzie smiled and said, “Just kidding, I don’t want to play with you.”

Tyler was hurt. I saw the mean way Oz set his brother up with an intent to hurt and we informed him that he was going outside to play. This is when the tantrum began. Words began to fly:

“You can’t make me!”

“I am never going to play with Tyler.”

“I hate Tyler!”

All these words were being thrown at Toby and I with the intention to get a reaction…get an explosion. He was having a hard day. Emotionally he was vulnerable. He was feeling too good, too loved, too close so he pushed us back. He pushed hoping for a reaction. He wanted us to yell…to hurt…to hit. He wanted us to react in the way that his biological parents did. That is what he is comfortable with. To Ozzie, this normal (and I say that loosely) 🙂 functioning family feels like an emotionally itchy wool sweater that he just wants to rip off his back. The closer we grow to him, the more we bond, the tighter that sweater gets. That is when he becomes his most unlovable, in hopes of pushing us away.

Our challenge as parents (and siblings) is to not react. He wants to create chaos and dissension so we must react in a non emotional way. It is hard.

The battle moved to the front hall where Ozzie refused to put on his winter gear. Rather than engaging in a physical wrestling match (which is what he wanted) Toby just gently shooed him out the door and dropped his pile of winter clothes at his feet and told him to get dressed. The pile of boots, coat and mittens were soon thrown into the yard.

Ozzie stood on the porch and raged that he was freezing and that this was child abuse. We explained that he would be plenty warm if he would put on his winter clothes. I gathered his strewn objects from the yard and placed them at his feet again. They were immediately tossed back into the yard. After a few attempts Oz finally got cold enough to put on his warm clothes. It was at this point Ozzie started targeting Toby.

Ozzie ran up to Toby, who was standing against the door, and started shouting hurtful things. He then pushed against Toby and began yelling, “Just hit me! You know you want to punch me. Just hit me!” Toby calmly responded with, “I’m not going to hit you, Ozzie. We love you.”

Ozzie began to cry as the anger overwhelmed him. “Why won’t you just hit me?!”

When Toby wouldn’t react Ozzie approached Tyler who was playing in the snow nearby. He charged at him from behind, pushing him face first into the snow.

“Hit me, Tyler. Just hit me as hard as you can!”

Tyler looked at us, turned away, and kept playing in the snow.

Ozzie moved toward Tyler again when Toby said, “Do not touch your little brother again.”

“Why won’t anyone hit me!” Ozzie yelled in frustration.

He then moved back onto the porch where he started to move toward me. Toby stepped between us and pushed Ozzie’s swinging fist away from me. “Don’t you ever touch your mother,” he commanded, to which Ozzie replied, “You pushed me! You hurt me. I’m going to tell someone and then they will take me away and I can be free from this family!”

“I am just going to my room,” Ozzie declared as he headed for the door. “I am going to stay in my room forever so I never have to look at any of you ever again! I hate you all!”

Toby told him that the only place he was going was to the fence post for a time out.

“No, not a time out! Fine, I’ll play with Tyler,” Ozzie yelled…but he soon discovered that ship had long sailed. 🙂

When Oz was seated on the fence post Toby called everyone in and told them to move quickly. He had a job for them. In a matter of 5 minutes Toby had everything emptied out of Ozzie’s room except his bed. The furniture was quickly placed in Molly and Rusty’s rooms and the door were shut.

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When Ozzie was called back in he pushed past Toby as he yelled, “I’m spending all day in my room and never coming out. Maybe I’ll even spend my whole life in there!”

“Ok, have fun,” was Toby’s only reply.

Well you can just imagine the explosion that followed. The next few hours were spent with me sitting in Ozzie’s empty room, my back pressed against the door, while Ozzie raged. He screamed and let me know how much he hated me and the whole family. I just responded with, “I love you, Ozzie.”

He wanted me to engage. He wanted me to argue, to contradict, to yell back. I knew what he wanted. I also knew what needed to be done. The more he pushed me away with his words, the more I pulled him back.

“I love you, Ozzie. There is nothing you can do to change that.”

He eventually raged himself out. He fell asleep and I snuck out… exhausted, discouraged, and weary.

Parenting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder is like going on a family trip and pitching your tent on a battlefield. The bullets are flying, the sound of bombs exploding are deafening. You live in a constant hyper alert state, waiting for the next shell to explode. You tip toe, always watching the ground, trying to avoid the hidden mines that could explode at any moment…

All while trying to protect those hunkered down in the tent with you.

All while trying to maintain some sense of normalcy.

All while trying to find joy in the journey.

It is hard, but we do it because we believe in what we are fighting for.

We are not battling this 11-year-old boy, we are battling FOR this 11-year-old boy.

We are fighting for our family.

We are fighting for his trust.

We are fighting for his heart.

And I know, that although battles may sometimes be lost, we will win this war…

because our son is worth fighting for.

Ozzie

Ozzie