04 May 2011

An email from Julia's special ed teacher. She is a sub until the end of the year, taking the place of a much beloved teacher who has been with Julia all year.

Hi, Suzanne.
I just talked to Mr. B (Joradan) and also Shannon how things are going for Julia. Sounds like she isn't having the best afternoon... Shannon noticed Julia kept scratching/picking, so she told Julia "no picking." And Julia was upset. Also when her class was leaving for classroom from the computer lab, Julia wasn't lining up but blocking her peers. So, Mr. B told Julia to line up. In stead of lining up, she grabbed Mr. B's wrist and squeezed really hard. And she told him that she was going to kill him. I don't know what happened after I saw her, but she is not having a good afternoon... :(

Anyway, if you can give me some advice when she starts scratching or picking, let me know. Or any sign she might be going to do. That will also help.

I know it is not a good news to tell you, but if you know what might cause her picking or her making upset, let me know.

Now, as concerning as this is, and I am concerned. Of course. I have had very, very few of these communications this year. Last year, it was almost every day something like this (or worse) would happen. So, I am both concerned and jubilant!!

My response:

Hi Tomo,

Don't worry about not giving me good news all the time. Julia has her ups and downs. Actually, what you describe as "bad" behavior would have been considered really okay last year. Julia has gotten so much better about controlling her behavior this year. I think that all of Franklin know how loud and how disruptive Julia could be. So, a bit of advice:

scratching/picking: What causes it? I think anxiousness and boredom. When she does it she recedes into her own world -- not exactly stimming but close in purpose. It replaces another behavior which took her much further away from us. What works best is to get on her side and correct from there. I tell her how much I love and care about her head/ears/lips -- whatever she is picking on. And tell her that I want to keep her healthy and beautiful. Then, I ask her not to pick. Right now, in her backpack, there is gum and also a squishy ball for her to chew or play when she needs something to do. She also wears a silly band that she can "pluck" when she wants to pick (I wear a silly band as well and tell her that I pluck it during the day to think of her and to help keep her healthy.) My aim is to keep her present. Julia used to spend a lot of time hiding in her own world and probably when she was very young, this was a very healthy survival tool. Life was awful. So, I believe that we have to respect what she used to survive and use love and persuasion to move her out of these habits.

aggressive words and deeds: To put this in perspective, at least Julia is not screaming on the floor, trying to hit, bite, scratch, etc. But . . . I think some of these behaviors are due to Mrs. Rumpf's leaving. I know it is a week and a half later, but Julia attaches hard and has a hard time giving up people. She also is now faced with the fact that she has to replace Mrs. Rumpf with you and Mr. B. She has to let you in, and risk losing you as well. For a child who had many caregivers as a youngster, her behavior is pretty typical.

How to handle aggressive words or deeds: First, get through the incident. Julia is usually angry or upset about something. It is still hard for her to say why she is upset but she is getting better about knowing that she is angry. We "get her angries out" with a hug (with some pressure on her back), punching something soft, doing something physical (finger pulls, wall pushes), taking big deep breaths. This does take a bit of time, but less all the time. It used to be hours!

Second, we talk about how to handle getting angry and upset (Again, this all takes time, ruins transitions, messes up plans, but again, less so all the time).
Julia is sensitive to how others feel, and so, I usually tell her that squeezing my hand hurts me and makes me feel very badly. As do her words. We have a rule in our house that we try very hard not to hurt anyone with words or our bodies -- there is a Franklin peacemaker rule that is about the same. Sometime I ask her how she would feel if I did what she did. Sometimes I ask her what she might do next time she feels that way. She needs to understand that you and Mr. B have feelings just like she does, that you care about her, and that you want her to grow, learn, and be healthy.

I believe that much of the behavior that is disturbing and disruptive is caused by early trauma, what is called complex trauma or developmental trauma disorder. Complex trauma describes multiple traumatic events that begin at a very young age, and are caused by adults who should have been caring for and protecting the child. I use principles of trauma informed parenting with Julia and it has worked very well. The last principle is to reframe and integrate traumatic experiences. Complex trauma cannot be erased from memory; but a child can learn to how to manage her reactions, enhance coping skills, and cultivate present-oriented responses to stress. (Think PTSD and ex-soldiers - in a sense, Julia is no different) What we are all doing right now is to teach Julia to manage reactions, use coping skills, and work on her responses to stress.

I've probably told you more than you wanted to know, but if you have further questions, don't hesitate to ask. I am not an educator or a therapist but I know my girl.

All the best,

Does it sound like I just gave the trauma presentation? LOL! And this really feeds right into my revelation today -- What I want to do is be a Parent Partner at an International Adoption Clinic and help with evaluations/treatments of adopted kids. This position is used in Developmental Delay clinics. I have no idea if IA clinics would consider such a thing, but I believe that there is a need for it. There is no career path for this one, no course list to check off, but what a great job.


Cindi Campbell said...

Wonderfully presented. You are needed in this field helping parents understand and cope with difficult behaviors. Hope the rest of the school year is better.

Maps of China said...

WOW! I think it is definitely something all families need to some degree. And should be required at the first visit. There is so much to be learned. Do you realize how much more you know than the average AP???? I hope you can create your own niche. You will be great at it.

Traci said...


You know the story of our oldest bio. What you wrote has helped me TODAY. In some ways when you describe Julia, you describe V. I know it might be hard for you to see the correlation but your writings here are abslutely dead on in our work with V. The only difference is that we're way behind you in understanding and doing our work, but we're catching up. The cool part is that as we do the work we are making GRAND strides. Thank you for putting this out there - you helped this Mom & Dad today.

Love you!

Chasing Starshine said...

What a splendid career idea! I can imagine how helpful it would be to overwhelmed parents to have a more experienced parent to walk them through an evaluation. And someone to take their concerns seriously and not just tell them "S/he'll grow out of it; s/he's doing great for just X time home."