Adoption, attachment, autism and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) all create complexity for individuals and family members when experienced in isolation, but combine all of these labels into one person and stress levels are stratospheric!
We adopted three children, one of whom fell into this extremely complex category. The stress experienced at home on a daily basis was exacerbated when we encountered professionals from various stables; Social Workers, Mental Health workers, educationalists. Unfortunately, the 'helping professions' were not always very helpful!
Many of the meetings that we went to about our son, were adversarial in nature. The lead people in the meetings considered themselves to be the experts but very few actually met him and if they did they failed to fully grasp his many facets. We were in the position of trying to inform them about our son, but were perceived as being demanding or unreasonable. All we were actually seeking was the correct support for 'Eric', to enable him to meet his educational potential and learn how to socialise with his peers.
I have always avoided labelling people. I believe that no one can be fully categorised by a single term that identifies a disability or difficulty that they have. No one should be a sum of the one thing that they cannot do, as this limits their view of what they are and what they can achieve. It curtails expectations on all fronts. Eric needed additional support at school. He needed help understanding himself and his world, by empathic individuals. He needed to feel safe and liked because this was the fundamental thing that was missing. Adoption is synonymous with loss. It creates trauma. To lose a mother is a tragedy, an action of last resort and an action that is not taken lightly by social services.
Attachment disorder was not as commonly spoken about when Eric was in primary school but as a concept, is still, apparently, difficult for many professionals to grasp. It is a feeling of chaos, a feeling of fear, a fear of death, because if a baby is not cared for than they will die. This feeling stays with the child as they grow up. Attachment issues and autism can present in very similar ways. Eric ended up being diagnosed with autism and ADHD when he was 12 years old. He was prescribed ADHD medication 6 months later, even though he scored 90% in the test for ADHD. Medication was the only answer offered to us.
Eric now proudly holds many labels, non of which fully encapsulate him. The autism label helps him have 4 hours 1:1 support once a week, the ADHD gives him medication that helps to calm down his busy brain, allowing him to think before he acts - most of the time.
Recent news stories about special needs support indicate that things have not changed. Lack of money and time are cited as the reason for support being hard to acquire, but I believe that everyone can be the best that they can be within their sphere of influence. Why not use resources to meet needs, rather than trying to make needs meet resources? Kindness and empathy are free but they go a long way to make the life a parent dealing with an extremely challenging teenager more bearable. I lose count of the number of times we asked ourselves after meetings, 'where has empathy gone?' To be open, to listen and think creatively is also free, but often in too short a supply. Children like Eric need adults around them to have curious, enquiring minds.
The things that worked for our family were not prohibitively expensive. We had, after a long battle, family support from an Educational Psychologist once a month for under a year. She helped us feel heard and worked therapeutically with two of our children using Lifespan Integration Therapy to heal the attachment disordered wounds. Eric's autistic label allowed him to go into the autistic hub at school, a 'nurture' model of schooling. This meant excellent communication between home and school, allowing Eric to feel 'held' between the two worlds. The staff liked him. He had medication for his ADHD.
The book 'Loving Eric' is a road map of when things go wrong but also of the effect that a few 'good' people can have in righting wrongs and helping a vulnerable boy have opportunities in life. The book is a raw, very personal account of the difficulties we faced and how we overcame the obstacles presented. I wanted parents to feel less alone and encourage professionals to reflect on their interactions with children and parents.