How My Special Needs Parenting Confuses Most Of The World.

As adoptive and special needs parents, our style of parenting can be quite different from most parents. Because of our children’s traumatic pasts, there are reasons why we do the things we do, expect the things we expect, and redirect the way we redirect.


My son’s coach meant well. He really did. His fatherly instincts told him to comfort my son and try to remedy the situation by loaning him his gloves. The temperature at game time was a brisk 30 degrees. The sun was up, but slow to melt the frost that fell in the early morning hours when it was much colder. My son stood on the sideline shivering, crying, snot running down his upper lip, and looking as if he were close to death.

I stood on the opposite sideline, glaring at him as he did so, feeling absolutely no sympathy.

In fact, through my anger, I reflected back on the night before, when I was digging out knit caps and gloves in preparation for his game. And since I’m a college-educated person I paid attention to the evening weather report. I listened when the weather man said that the next morning would be below normal. He even went as far as to say, “If your son or daughter is playing soccer, football or fall baseball, you will want to dress them warm!” Ironic.

My son argued with me. He told me that he didn’t need to wear gloves, because none of the other kids would be wearing them. He shook his head and told me that football players are supposed to be tough and that wearing a knit cap would make him look like a sissy. Then, he obsessively walked around the house in his uniform pretending to be an NFL player who didn’t wear long sleeves in frigid temperatures. Big talk until he got out of the car the next morning and joined his teammates (who, by the way, were all wearing knit caps and gloves). He almost immediately started to shiver. I didn’t budge. “Life lesson learned,” I thought to myself. “He can freeze his ‘you-know-what’ off!”

Some of the parents nearby gave me nasty looks. Some tried to remedy the situation by getting involved. I’m sure I was labeled as a terrible father that day. But the highlight of this experience was the email I received from his coach, later that afternoon, saying “Next time we have a game with those temperatures please make sure to properly dress your son.” He then explained his strategy for making sure his son was dressed for chilly game-time temperatures.

And that’s when it hit me- This world will never understand how or why I parent my special-needs son the way I do, and that’s okay! Many would look at that experience and consider it normal 9-year old behavior. It was the farthest thing from it.

Noticed But Not Understood.

What people rarely see (unless they spend significant time with us) is the impulsive, illogical, obsessive behavior my child displays over nearly everything. He has a disconnect in his brain. It’s a permanent condition he inherited from the choice his birth mother made to consume drugs and alcohol when he was still in her womb. While other children may argue with their parents, push buttons, stomp their feet and demand their own way, my son makes it a campaign, battles us to sometimes violent levels, and refuses to listen to logic, even when logic is causing his ears and finger tips to turn blue and go numb.

  • “I’m blunt and to the point for a reason.”

When you live with a child who has brain damage, or has gone through significant trauma, you can’t leave an ounce of what you say up for interpretation. My son will fill in the blanks and many times that equals disaster or very bad choices. I have to be blunt and to the point always. I know I sound harsh. I know I sound unforgiving and belligerent. But my point must be crystal clear with my child. I stick to a strict schedule with him. Bedtime is always the same. So are trivial things like brushing teeth, household chores, and homework. Without a routine, my son will melt down.

Most parents of children with normal brains usually have to give gentle reminders to their children (usually). Even if they mess up and forget, a gentle reminder or two will do the trick. Not so with my child. If I gently remind him he won’t get it, or he’ll move into a 2-hour tantrum. If I resort to doing the task myself he’ll never learn nor come back to the task in his mind. I have to bluntly state my expectations and be ready with a consequence if he fails to do what was asked of him.

  • “I give the consequences I give for a reason.”

In his mind, he believes he is right and I am wrong all the time. Not only that, he can be extremely manipulative. This is a result of the disconnect in his brain. If he can get you to buy into his story, believe that I just didn’t want to give him gloves and hat for the freezing temperatures, he wins, and quite frankly, you lose. He doesn’t necessarily mean to do this but his brain has been damaged. He isn’t thinking logically and, although I reassure him and show him that moms and dads always take care of their children and are there for them, he reaches for something else. Many times, it’s a stranger or a person (like a coach or teacher) that he barely knows.

We’ve custom-designed boundaries because the only way he’ll learn how to live is through the structure I keep in place. Within his mind there is deep fear and anxiety that even he does not understand. This usually manifests itself through impulsive choices, and sometimes, obsessive-compulsive outbursts.

  • “I have to keep going even though I’m extremely exhausted.”

When you parent normal children, with normal brains, who pull normal child-like stunts, you often fail to understand that I have to be vigilant around the clock. I cannot take my foot off the gas. I have to read labels for ingredients you never give a second thought to. I have to ask questions at doctor’s appointments that most parents never have to ask. I have to mentally and physically prepare for something as simple as a trip to the grocery store. I have to make sure my son is following the same routine day after day after day.

It can take the life out of us.

While “normal” children can go off-routine during vacation or the weekend, mine cannot. The consequences of this could take days or weeks to undo. I don’t expect you to understand the way I parent my special-needs son, but I am asking for respect and a little less judgement. Until you walk in the shoes of a parent with a child who has special needs you will never understand the reasons why we do the things we do, and say the things we say.

It’s What Moms And Dads Do.

In case you’re wondering, I secretly brought his knit cap and gloves to the game that day. After allowing him to live with his consequence for a while, and refusing to let his coach bail him out, I walked over, reminded him that I was his parent, and that moms and dads always take care of their children, then handed him his cap and gloves.

Question: Are you raising a child with special needs? Perhaps you’re an adoptive mom or dad who has gone through the same thing. Share your story with us. You can leave a comment by clicking here.


Please note: We reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • I totally understand!

  • Sharon Hanna Canaday

    my children are supposed to have their ‘folder signed’ every day. They have just returned from a three day school trip, and this morning I said “I believe some of you still need your folders signed” (knowing that several of them – this child included – had not gotten them signed last Friday, but it had not mattered, because of the trip – but it WAS going to matter today) to which my RAD9 said “We don’t need our folders signed” – to which I said “Ok, fine, I won’t sign yours then.” Then the back paddling began… oh, but… But I stood firm. The knee jerk reaction of these kids is to doubt and argue. And – they do not care about any ‘system’ you might try to keep in place to make their or your life smoother. They just do not care. Their only concern (rightly learned) is self preservation – the challenge we face, E.V.E.R.Y. day is to convince them that we are on their side, even though every other parent figure they a have ever experienced has not been. The constant tension of mistrust, learned in those early formative years, is not easily ‘unwound’.

    • Sharon, I totally get where you are coming from. We faced similar challenges with our children. Good for you for standing your ground. Thanks for your comment.

    • Sharon, I so understand your comment. Been there. If you can find time to read, I recommend the book Ghosts From the Nursery by Robin Karr-Morse. Such incredible insights into the workings of their brains which are biologically altered by the early developmental stress and trauma they experience. For me, unraveling their puzzling behaviors and responses was so helpful in my ability to tolerate, to endure, to keep going when things looked incredibly hopeless. My kids have drastically improved over the years but it was slow going and their rate of change was almost imperceptible at times. Dealing with my own frustration became my challenge and this book and many others helped a lot.

  • LawProf61

    Understood. And sometimes even children without special needs need to learn the consequences of their actions. Didn’t remember to grab your lunchbox today (even though we reminded you)? Perhaps a few hunger pangs for a couple of hours will be a better reminder.

    • Absolutely. We have a few these as well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • Oh Donna

    bingo pajama. i am *right* there with our youngest RADish, my brutha. 🙁

  • Allisonm

    If I had a mere half-penny for every piece of well- (and not so well-) intentioned parenting advice I’ve been given by people who would N E V E R switch places with me, I would be financially set for life. My kids are world-class cute/handsome/beautiful, charming, funny, outgoing, and always ruthlessly prepared to do anything in the name of self-preservation, despite that there are no threats in sight. I don’t know about the hills every parent must be prepared to die on, but as the parent of three severely traumatized and attachment-challenged children, the hill I will die on is that we are their parents. That means that I have dedicated my mothering life to becoming attuned to my children, to understanding the ways that they perceive things, to knowing what conclusions they will draw from what happens, to honing my instinctual sense of what to do next to meet my children’s needs. So I nurture and comfort at times when other people think I should literally or figuratively take my child out to the woodshed, and I smile and say “that stinks” when my child is miserable because he refused to follow my advice or directions, and I hold the line in the face of rages and tantrums that have neighbors calling the police because they think no ten-year-old child could possible scream like that if he weren’t being tortured.

    I (try to) keep my eyes focused on the fact that God has already redeemed my children and this situation and that we are in the thick of the revelation of the glorious grace with which God has blessed us in His son. This road is hard–and largely thankless by the world’s standards. The rejection by other parents has been painful at times and just annoying at others. Parenting my children has been very lonely and has taught me how to live with a level of exhaustion that I would not have believed possible. But it has also made me develop a resilience and a confidence in God’s providence that I never had before.

    • Allison, you are absolutely right- you;re their parent and that’s final. Love your perspective. Thanks so much for the comment.

    • dkayhof

      I want to encourage you because my life resonates spot on with yours. We have 7 children, 2 bio and 5 adopted. Every single day brings something big and stressful to the table. People don’t get it. I know God does. I rely on Him for strength every day.

      • Thank you so much for your encouragement. Our hope is in our Heavenly Father too! Appreciate it.

      • Allisonm

        I think we may have had as many as ten days in the last 6.5 years as a family on which we didn’t have some kind of crisis. For the first four years, I can’t remember any time when we weren’t in a seemingly endless, rolling crisis. My youngest is in partial hospitalization for the next several months. He has thrown a major rage most nights when he gets home and several times at the program. I get so tired of avoiding injury. PTSD, RAD, and in-utero substance exposure make for an explosive combination. I see my son making bits of progress, but I don’t see how I am going to hold up. So I’m walking by faith, since there is so little hope in sight. My older kids have the same diagnoses except that my oldest also has Aspergers and some other issues, but they are doing better than my youngest.

        • dkayhof

          I am currently trying green tea with my children. The studies I have read said that it helps to grow more synapses in the brain! It certainly can’t hurt them. Also it’s good for focus for ADD and ADHD. We can’t rely on doctors and medications totally. God gave us these children because he knew we weren’t dumb. I will let you know if I start to see good results.

          • Allisonm

            Thanks. I’ll be interested to hear how it goes.

  • Vicky Cox

    It irritates me to no end when the school continues to bail my 16 yo daughter out. That’s why she’s repeating 10th grade.

    • Vicky, sorry you’re dealing with that. We dealt with that in our elementary school with our oldest son. So frustrating.

  • Ian Phimester

    I hear you loud and clear brother. Having a RAD child is not just exhausting but has destroyed many of our friendships and support systems. Your statement “This world will never understand how or why I parent my special-needs son the way I do” is a very heartfelt and accurate testament about the life we lead with the children we try to help and parent. The most difficult issue for us is the lack of effort from our closest supports and friends to try and understand what it is like to live with these kids when they can’t see them, always performing a their best. Hang in there. You are really not alone.


    • Hey Ian, thanks for sharing. It’s reassuring to know that there is a community of us parents who are in the trenches of parenting children with special needs. Thanks again.

  • Naomi, it;s my pleasure! We are right there with you. Hang in there.

  • WOW all I can say is EXACTLY! Well I guess that was a little more then 1 word huh….LOL

    • Ha ha, no problem at all. Thanks for your comment. Glad the post resonated with you!

  • Everything you described in your essay I can completely relate to. My son is now 18 and we still have to supervise almost every task he is asked to perform. Check and recheck. Keep him on schedule. He still has a bedtime at 9:30 each night even though he’s an Eagle Scout! I still have to coach him to brush his teeth, and believe it or not, even to eat. He forgets to eat or puts it off if he is busy like a much younger child would do. Then at bedtime he is famished. He finally slows down and has no distractions so he recognizes he is hungry. This is a feature of ARND (alcohol related neurological disorder) – another newer name for Fetal Alcohol Effects. The attachment disorder creates what I call “the little parent inside his brain”. This self parent gives him permission to do what he decides is best regardless of parental advice or directives. It causes untold trouble for him and us and can be so dangerous at times.

    • Oh man, you are describing what we’ve experienced with our son. Not an easy road. We know the effects of ARND first hand. Hang in there.

      • One of my biggest helps is reminding myself that this behavior might be normal for a younger child. . a younger child would require supervision, a younger child might require parental presence to accomplish ordinary tasks, a younger child needs more parenting. . . and our adopted children are developmentally delayed in scattered ways, so we can’t expect that same rate of progress we got with our bio kids. The best approach we have learned is to give them more parenting without resenting it and without expecting them to progress at normal pace. They do make progress and it pays to look back and remember how far they have come. Yes, he is making his bed! Yes, he is changing his underwear! Yes, he is learning to drive and is actually a careful driver at 18. But sending him off to college is not an option. We will be parents a few more years. . . . Fortunately, he is a sunny and sweet person most of the time. The storminess has subsided and he is content and happy if we keep our expectations in line with what he can deliver. Of course he will leave the lid off the chicken feed. . . . of course he will forget anything we said to him in a sequence except the first or the last thing. Of course he can play the guitar in a gifted fashion but cannot ever finish a song. . . . But he’s glad to be alive and we are glad to have him with us. He also has amazing gifts and he keeps us young. Love never fails.

        • Katherine, this is great advice. Thank you!

        • Linda White Wesseler

          The problem comes when they resent being parented like a younger child, despite lacking the maturity or sense of responsibility to be parented according to their chronological age. It really explodes when they reach 18 and are constantly reminded by society that they are now “adults” (interpreting that to mean they don’t need parents anymore and are under no obligation to respect our rules or boundaries). We are going thru this now with a 19 yr old, who’s not ready for college (and doesn’t want to apply enough academic effort to succeed there), and is even less ready to function as an independent adult on her own, but her insistence on being free of all parental rules, expectations or restraints (and resentment even at any gentle reminders about things she needs to or should do beyond socializing or entertaining herself) is making it impossible for all concerned, for her to continue living in our home with us. There just aren’t appropriate transitional living options (like the old safe, supervised boarding houses for young working women, more viable public transporation so a car wasn’t always necessary, etc–not to mention jobs that pay a living wage without a college degree or much experience
          ) that existed when I was her age in the late 60’s.

          • You nailed it, Linda. I have seen this over and over again with “emancipated” foster youth as well. Most kids harbor the vain fantasy that becoming an adult means they then can do whatever they want and not endure anyone “bossing” them. I continue to remind my 18 year old that becoming an adult has some rewards, but mostly increased responsibilities and duties. We all have to answer to someone our entire life long, and ultimately to God (that is my belief). One of my adopted adult sons who left our home at 17 because he refused to abide by even the simplest rule any longer lamented his decision for years afterwards. He told me that he made it a point to inform other youth he ran into on the streets (yes, he lived there after losing his living situations repeatedly) that nobody out in the world is going to love you like your parents do so stay home as long as you can! Unfortunately, that is only hindsight for most of these kids who blow out of caring home situations only to find themselves alone in a world where they cannot function without support. I do think that going into the military once provided that transitional situation for many young men when the draft was in force. It was structured, required them to perform, required respectful responses, gave them a paycheck, and yet kept a roof over their heads and medical care available to them during these early adult years. It also gave them a sense of purpose and helped to forge friendships. It allowed the parental ties to be cut, but the child not to be adrift. I think if you can find something akin to that for this child before he blows, it could be helpful for her. Schooling is useless with these children since they are not always motivated and have no means of support.. . except the current fool they are using. Would the military be an option for this girl? Or some kind of service? I wish we had options like a civilian corps for young people who have no business with a weapon. Or are not reliable enough to be alongside anybody in battle. But cleaning up public parks, helping children at summer camps, working on farms with animals and growing edibles. . things like that can be wonderful for this age group. There are internships at organic farms around the world with the organization: Worldwide Opportunities For Organic Farming. There they work for their food and board for three month periods.

          • By the way, if you notice I keep referring to “one of my sons” it is because I have seven of them! LOL The oldest is 41 and the youngest is 18. I also have one princess daughter who is married with a princess of her own and expecting again in June. And last but not least, I have one adopted daughter in heaven. I’m 61 and a semi retired LPN. 8 grandkids.

          • Linda White Wesseler

            My daughter did work all summer at a summer camp for developmentally disabled teens and adults, and loved it. It apparently gave her the sense of inclusion and comaraderie that the military and the coop living situation you described, did. Unfortunately many of the staff took their few days off to drink and party either at a campground or someone’s home where no parents were present. She also took up smoking while she was there, lied to us about her activities, and cruelly avoided any contact with us on her days off (she blew off a family trip to Yosemite and her cousin’s wedding, despite nonrefundable tickets, when she committed to take the job). It paid less than minimum wage and she extravagently blew every dime thru the summer, and went into debt for a new iphone. After a 10-day intensive that we persuaded her to do with us at Attachment Center of Central Fla, I do feel like she’s in a different place now, and she wants our blessing (we are conflicted about how much, if any, financial help to offer, whether to buy her a car, etc–should we put the same $ into this choice that we were prepared to put toward her 1st semester at college?)about going off on her own ready-or-not. She is working 2 days a week at a day program for developmentally disabled and hopes to get hired there full-time, though I think her odds of that aren’t as high as what she thinks they are, but hopefully she’ll soon know. She is not inclined toward any sort of outdoor or ecological efforts or endeavors or heavy physical work, her gift is for having fun with people (other than parents who’re trying to get her to do something productive or take some positive initiative), including those with severe special needs and developmental disabilities. I honestly think one motivating factor for her is that she feels competent & higher-functioning by comparison, but what’s wrong with that if it helps them as well as her. The pay is low and there’s no upward mobility (big gap between caregiver and OT’s and administrators, that require advanced degrees) but if she likes it and can manage to get by on the pay, I suppose it’s fine for a 19 yr old just starting out.

          • Sure sounds like you are doing all the right stuff. Her earning potential may not be that high but if she is willing to work, that is huge. Maybe you can fill in those other “at home” days with some volunteer work that will increase her skills and exposure and keep her connected with other adults that can provide guidance while she matures (other than you). Yes, if she feels she fits into that caregiving environment, so be it. What about CNA classes instead of college? That could be a good test of her ability to complete a training goal. Those classes are usually about 13 weeks and can be taken in the evening at junior colleges or adult education centers. It is low paying, but can be rewarding and is a good basic skill set. She could move into something like an activity director perhaps someday? If she has adequate organizational skills, which may not be the case. So many of these kids have poor executive function. But they do improve over time so remember she is 19 chronologically but where would you put her developmentally in age? If her work plans don’t unfold as expected, could you have her assessed and see if she qualifies for disability? Or could she work in a sheltered environment? I have a son with managed mental illness who has done so well in that situation. He struggled to work in the “big world” without any protection and it was sad to watch him be taken advantage of and lose jobs. Finally he found a spot at a local Goodwill and has been working there several years successfully. The staff is well acquainted with his condition and work him through his bad times. He used to resign on a regular basis but they would simply tell him to go home and sleep on it and if he still felt the same way the next day they would accept his resignation. He would always call them later that night and ask for his job back. Now he never resigns anymore. I am so grateful for Goodwill and their mission. Yes, I have heard of Americorps. I tried to get my son who left at 17 to join either the military or Americorps. He would not submit to anything structured by that time. Too bad I didn’t take him down to the recruiter before he left home. He has often regretted that he did not join back when he was young and healthy. Now he is 34 and in poor health. He blew his aortic valve out with meth at age 27 and had to have valve replacement. He does work at a fast food establishment and that has been his only form of employment. Yet, this was a child who got good grades in school, was gifted in music, had a fabulous memory for poetry and could recite flawlessly. . . . night manager at a fast food store, never finished high school or got his GED. He came to us at age 9 with a terrible history of abuse and neglect. We have to look at it as “limited success” and not failure. He is clean and employed and living independently. Nothing short of a miracle considering he was an addict for ten years and on the streets. He lives several states away from us and visits occasionally. When he comes we are happy to see him and when he leaves we are happy to see him leave. We love him dearly but know we would never want him living with us again. It was so traumatic to raise him and he remains a person who feels very entitled, even though now he does at least express gratitude for what we tried to do for him. He is puzzled by the way he treated us so poorly and has apologized repeatedly. We tell him we understand what happened and encourage him to get into therapy and sort out his issues but that will not occur. He is content to just be off the streets and have his own place with his own TV. And so are we.. . . now.

          • Linda White Wesseler

            She actually did JNROTC in high school but isn’t a good candidate for enlistment due to both physical and mental health history (if she’s truthful on the medical questionnaire) and poor fitness. Also she doesn’t test well and their military job assignments are based entirely on the results of the 3-hr ASVAB test. Despite completing 2 yrs of vocational high school training in dental assisting, she would not qualify for a Dental Tech job in the military without scoring high enough (91, with emphasis on the math–her weakness– and sciences–when general enlistment criteria is only 31!). The way the job market is these days, recruits are plentiful enough that military enlistment has become more selective (as it probably should be, esp when it comes to mental health considerations)–though it does seem like females have an advantage due to recruiter quotas to increase their numbers. There is Americorps, which has a special corp of youth 18-22 that offers group housing and meals, but it’s even more selective, with a months-long lead time after applying, to see if you’re accepted. Even if she could be convinced that was a good option, and was willing to leave our area and her current (mostly goal-less) friends for an assignment elsewhere, she is in the moment and can’t get interested in something so iffy and far into the future. There are international volunteer programs (trying to find one dental-related) we could pay her expenses for (and the 3 of us volunteered in Peru as a family a couple yrs ago for 6 weeks), but I doubt she’d go, esp for a longer-term situation. As a 19-yr-old, it’s her choice and she can’t see past hanging out with friends (her current ones–she makes new ones instantly, everywhere, yet has anxiety about that) and being free of parental expectations and restrictions.

          • Oh yes the instant best friend syndrome! Well, at least she seems to be able to make friends and hang out with them. My son always thought he had friends but nobody ever once called him to hang out. She sounds like she might be in the 11-13 year old range with those priorities. I suggest keeping her closer rather than farther away, but very busy in as structured situations as you can manage to get her into. Does she like animals at all? Hippotherapy nearby? It dovetails with her special needs kids interest, but could expand her skills a bit. Big animals are great for people who need motivation and structure. They provide enough danger and yet enough satisfaction to keep people motivated that are otherwise not. Just some ideas. Sounds like you are pretty resourceful. Parenting a 19 year old who is going on 13 can be exhausting. She will grow up, just more slowly. Keep her safe and supported and busy. You sound like a great mom.

          • Linda White Wesseler

            thmpae days of me getting her into anything are over. She highly resents anything she perceives as an attempt to control her choices. She has the job she has now (and hopes to get fulltime) due to my setting up a volunteer situation for her when she was 15 (had previously volunteered at an aquarium when she thought about being a marine biologist. Also set up job shadows for her with a OT, a music therapist and in dental offices). Anything I try to steer her toward now is likely to send her off in the opposite direction. I did try to get her to do some volunteer work on her off days but she wouldn’t even call the numbers to find out more about those opportunities and the list of numbers I typed for her got spilled on and lost in the mess in her room. The only help she wants from us is money or material things on her terms with no strings attached. She puts no value on our advice or guidance given out of love and years of life experience and the research and knowledge seeking that she will never bother to do for herself. Yes, I and others who have been around her enough to observe, put her maturity level at around 13 or 14. But she presents so well, when she wants to, that she fools people into thinking she is ty’pical or even more mature for her age. Right now she is talking about subletting an apt near her work, that the lady she’s been riding with is vacating for a son who went to jail. It’s a 1 bedroom and she wants to live there alone (though I suspect she fantacizes about her ex boyfriend, who is always working or at community college, moving in with her) rather than having a friend (my preference of course would be a responsible person a bit older) as a roommate. She doesn’t even know if therent would be affordable for her or how t it

          • Linda White Wesseler

            how it compares to other apts nearby. She likes the idea of not having a roommate to share closet space or complain about her mess, fight over the remote, etc and when I told her living with a roommate would be a good experience, she says she’s done that, as she hd foster sisters for a year and a half when she was 7! She has no concept of how different being a child with no responsibilities is from 2 young people living on their own! I almost think she would refuse even us buying her a car (so she can have more flexibility about where she lives and works, het to the grocery, etc, as there is very little public transp in our area) if we put any conditions on it or wont put it in her name immediately! The thought of

          • Linda White Wesseler

            her living alone is almost ludicrous, as only a couple weeks ago she came downstairs at night and wanted to crawl into our bed after hearing a “scary” noise (she loves horror flicks tthough they freak her out). she gets so bored by herself and has to have a constant parade oof friends to hang out with. But there is no getting her to weigh pros and cons or think about any decision in a rational way, and the more I try to influence her in one direction, the more inclined she is to go in the opposite one. She wants so much to assert her independence and to deny how much her age, learning disabilities, RAD issues, etc make her ill-equipped to take that plunge in the immediate cold turkey way she seems set on. Of course I also worry about how vulnerable she would be living alone, a potential target for criminal acts and exploitation in a neighborhood with plenty of potential exploiters (not to mention some ofe her own “friends”, one they know she has no roommate who might walk in at any time. One reason she finally came home before was her fear that a guy who livd upstairs, who liked her, had a crazy girlfriend with a gun, and her roommate there was gone alot working at McDonald’s. She has put that out of her mind now and doesn’t even even think how she could be putting herself in a similar or worse situation now.

          • It’s all so tragically familiar sounding. After our son moved out (his half sister agreed to take him in because he did not want to stay with us anymore and had taken to leaving the house without telling us anything, going to the neighbors house and telling them God knows what so they would let him hang there, and being totally belligerent at home). He left with our blessing and we actually believed him when he said he would finish high school! He was in his senior year and getting good grades. We sent his sister money each month to care for him. She bought him clothes, new furniture for his own room, fed him, and gave him ONE rule: wear a pager and let us know if you stay out all night. He would not even comply with that request and stayed out without telling them where. After a few short weeks he began stealing money from her purse and her husband kicked him out. He had obtained a decent job at a grocery store and signed up for school. That all went out the window when his sister got him his own apartment where he soon failed to pay the rent, got locked out so he could not get his work uniform, got fired, and lost his situation. This pattern was repeated a few times before he found himself on the streets. When he was still in touch with us, we tried to get him to open a bank account so we could deposit his monthly money (we felt it was his since it was our AAP for him). Like you said, because we had a condition (please open an account) he would never do it. I’m sure he wanted to avoid the hassle. He only likes cash handed to him like you said. . no strings attached. He used to call me and I would try to talk him into going to a shelter (the people there were dirty and they made you get up too early). I tried to talk him into Americorps or the military. Finally I realized that he did not want to hear anything like that from me and like you, any mention of one direction would send him in the opposite one. I began simply listening to his tall tales when he called. I wish I had some advice to give you but I don’t. I do think your daughter has gone past the point of allowing you to be her parent and is simply using you. How to find a humane way to end that is the question of the century. I thought that life would teach my son so I released him from our parenting because I thought maybe he would stop fighting us and begin agreeing with life. . . . it didn’t happen. Not for many years. He did learn his lessons in many ways but what hell he went through. At least he did not drag us with him. He was out of our lives far away and for that I am grateful. Truth is, he was not attached, even though we were. His feelings for us were no deeper than his many “friends” or the postman. He loves us as much as he can love anyone I believe. His strongest attachment is to his biological younger sister and fortunately she lives a very good life and keeps her same cell number so he can call her. Why she survived so well and he didn’t only God knows. It wasn’t for lack of love. So keeping her close isn’t an option as she is already gone in her heart it sounds like. I’m so sorry. It’s so incredibly painful, but it sounds like you have done everything a parent can do. Would you care to share a bit about her history and what age she was when she came to you? I have watched these kids strike out on their own and flop for the craziest reasons. They are simply children in an adult body but nobody out there can see it and once you lose your legal parental rights you can’t steer their lives. I doubt you could get her declared incompetent and she would hate you if you did. Disability might be a route to take if she would agree ,but only if you pulled the financial plug on her. I even did that and my son would not get help until his health broke and he ended up in hospital with the heart valve surgery. Then he got into the system and got a social worker I’m sure. They told him his illness was due to his “lifestyle”. Another little gal that I watched age out of the system who was being fostered by a friend of mine got a room right across the street from me. I tried to be supportive as I had known her for several years. She was abandoned by her mother at age 11 at a local park with her three younger siblings. That trauma froze her emotionally at 11. She grew into a six foot beautiful woman but internally was a frightened child. When she got out on her own she could not manage her eating and one time confessed to me that she ate an entire chicken she had cooked! Her anxiety manifested in that way. She got a job at a hospital gift shop and we were all thrilled but her foster mother could not get her to get up on time to get to work! It was a battle. (This was just before she left home and got the room). After two weeks on the job, she got hungry for lunch, closed up the shop and went to eat! Needless to say, they fired her. These are stories that only people like us understand. Like your daughter who crawls into bed with you, my son used to cuss at me for asking him to do something and then a few minutes later come and hand me his toothbrush and ask me to brush his teeth. He was 15 at the time! Nobody would dream he was like this outside of the home- the defiance or the dependence. He was charming and intelligent and presented so well. Very handsome with huge dimples. These are our children – the ones with the hidden disabilities. . the wheelchair on the inside. I appreciate your sharing and thank you for enduring mine. I hope I am not discouraging you. That was not my plan.

          • Linda White Wesseler

            Our daughter does already have a bank account, with a debit card that she used liberally to drain it of all her summer earnings and $ people had given her for graduation (we are so glad she finished high school before her major rebellion). It currently has 38 cents in it, but her pay is now being deposited into a savings accnt (which my name is also on, so I can see if she’s taking $ out. She has withdrawn $70 since we returned from the attachment intensive in Fla, Nov 12. She really didn’t need the $70, since we’ve been covering all her needs). She is supposed to be saving it all to pay off the iphone she went in debt for, which we agreed to put on our family plan after that (which costs us only $10 mo to do, vs her paying $50+). Initially some of the withdrawn $ went to cigs but I do think she gave that up now after realizing how it limits her socially since nonsmokers (the majority) avoid hanging around smokers. She also blows $ on fast-food and beauty supplies. We are disapointed that she went behind our backs to withdraw the $, but at least she didn’t drain her accnt again. After the phone’s paid for, she’s supposed to save for a rent deposit & 1st month’s rent. Though she oversleeps when not working, plays with her phone all the time & hardly lifts a finger at home and resents being asked to, I do think she works hard enough on the job, and her personality lights up peoples’ day (other staffers as well as the adults with severe mental disabilities who are the program participants). The 4 days she’s worked in the adult day program, she’s had to get up early each day and hasn’t complained. My husband has been taking her about 3 miles away to meet another staffer who she rides to work with. She came to us at 8 1/2 and we were able to finalize her adoption 7 months later. She was only in foster care, a single placement (keeps in touch with the foster mom’s daughter, who’s her age, works and attends college but is estranged from her mom and lives with indulgent grandparents), from age 7, was abandoned by her birthmom at 15 months and lived with her 40+ yr=old schizophrenic birthdad till he went to prison for crimes against others. She was certainly neglected early-on (and some of her learning issues make me suspect some prenatal alcohol and/or drug exposure) by her 17 yr old birthmom (who was already on disability for extreme executive functioning deficits) and poorly-parented (allowed to watch TV and pretty-much do whatever she wanted most of the time, as was also the case to a somewhat lesser degree in her foster home), but no abuse has been verified by therapists, soon after she entered foster care or since then. She has not displayed sexualized behaviors nor been promiscuous as a teen (may not have even become sexually active yet with the boyfriend of 6 months who I think she now fantacizes about moving in with her). Since our return from Fla, she has been much more respectful and considerate about telling us (even calling and msging to ask if it’s ok) where she is, who she’s with and when she’ll be home. She has not spent any more overnights outside our home since the last time she returned (mid-October). She has had some female friends spend the night, even several days over thanksgiving, here, with our permission. We have reason to hope things will work out. I don’t think she’ll ever be strongly attached, but she likes to say “I love you” frequently, and to hear it, and I always think “fake it until you make it!”, of course I don’t say that. She loved spending time with her much-younger (2nd) cousins over thanksgiving–including her favorites, an 8 and 10 yr old boy and girl adopted from Guatemala. I think those extended family connections help tie her to us. She worked today and txted me to ask if she could hang out with co-workers afterward for a Christmas party of sorts, then later said she’d be home around 9. She didn’t have to do that. We have not been giving her much $, and she thinks her theme park visit (Harry Potter World at Universal Studios) was her Christmas present and reward for doing the therapy intensive, so isn’t expecting anything else. I am still considering getting her an inexpensive laptop since she can use it for job hunting (if she doesn’t get on fulltime where she is) and needs to keep developing tech skills, so it wouldn’t just be for entertainment. She isn’t expecting us to buy her a car or help out with a rent deposit. If we do either, there WILL be strings attached, i.e. monthly payments that will go into an account toward her NEXT car and to pay the insurance, and will remain in our name for at least 3, maybe 5 years. She knows our goal is for her to be responsible and self-sufficient, and I do think that’s hers, as well, it just won’t be that easy for her. We aren’t going to let ourselves be used or enable irresponsible behavior. One thing we’re thinking about adding as a condition of any help we might offer, is a standing “date” to spend one evening a week having dinner with us either at home or out, and I’m thinking about adding a therapy session onto that, if we can find a good therapist to follow up to the intensive. An adoptive dad (whose wife passed away when their daughter was 8) who we know whose daughter is now 20, doing some data entry work for him and and living with her boyfriend (who’s still in h.s.) and his family, does that and it has helped ease his worries regularly hearing how she’s doing. He says their relationship has really improved since the rebelliousness he went thru with her a few years ago.

          • Your situation sounds very hopeful. She may just be latent in her teen rebellion. Our youngest son was a hellion for a couple of years and we began to panic due to the trauma we suffered with our older RAD son, but he has a better attachment to us (he came at 9 months of age) and we got through that period with some helps from Heather Forbes and her books Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control. We attended one of her workshops in Nashville and it was life changing . Just a change of perspective on our part eased our son’s anxiety and his behaviors changed accordingly. He has been almost smooth sailing since then. It’s hard work to parent him, but it’s rewarding and we see a lot of progress. It sounds like you are on top of your game Linda. When are you going to write the book? : ) You are so fortunate that she was not sexually exploited. That seems to create the most rage in children and presents a set of issues that are extremely difficult to manage. She does sound to me like she has the disconnects of alcohol or drug exposure in utero, but early developmental trauma creates some of those same symptoms. There are certainly genetic factors as well. Sounds like you are on the right track with her and you see that she will need your support. Good to hear you are wise to being used and manipulated and know how to draw those lines. These kids don’t do well at all without extended parental support as they transition into adult lives, but there are some that simply won’t allow it. As long as she allows you to work with her, she is saying yes she needs you. My daughter tolerated rules and requests until age 21 when she married and we figured as long as she stayed home and tolerated our requirements, she truly wanted to be with us. Normal kids are at risk during this time of life so we should expect our traumatized kids to need more time due to their delays. I think that date night with family is an excellent idea to keep your daughter tied in. They just float away if we don’t reach out and grab them. It took me a long time to figure that out about my daughter. She is 25 and married with a child, but she needs more reassurance than my other kids do. I have to make an effort to communicate and include her or she drifts further away emotionally. She came at five weeks of age and was heroin exposed. We have a good bond but there is still the usual adoption issues and she was very ADHD and mildly LD. We had our difficult times in her teens but they were more normal in scope and intensity. She is not RAD. But she still needs to know we love her and accept her as she is vulnerable to feeling that she is somehow a disappointment or doesn’t fit in. She can’t tolerate much correction or criticism at all or she feels rejected. So we try to be encouraging with her. She is a good mommy and we are very proud of that in her. All of my kids are a support for each other in adulthood. I am amazed at how they are there for each other. That has been a huge help throughout this parenting journey.

          • Linda White Wesseler

            Thanks for the advice and encouragement, Katherine! Sounds like you’re the one who should be writing a book! Though I’m a longtime, dedicated information-seeker (which makes it hard for me to relate to a child who finds thoughtful gathering and evaluating of useful information a total bore) we have only had two foster-to-adopt placements–our daughter and a 4-yr-old a couple yrs prior to her placement with us, who we had for 8 months and were heartbroken to lose (though we perhaps now should be grateful, based on what I’ve learned about the girl’s current situation at age 16) due to rocking the boat with our agency in trying to get the 4-yr-old the help she needed. Since that child’s RAD issues were so much more obvious and severe (and since our daughter was so good at mimicking emotions people expected her to have–till she reached an age when she decided she no longer needed to), ADHD misdiagnosis, etc, we were blindsided by our daughter’s behaviors for most of the 10+ years she’s been with us, or we would have sought attachment therapy and tried to parent her in a more structured, therapeutic manner. 20/20 hindsight, but I do think the 10-day intensive at Attachment Center of Central Florida had a positive impact, even at almost-19. If only we could find the right therapist now, locally (Cincinnati area), to help her sustain and build upon that foundation, and convince her to show up for regular sessions. BTW, the therapist in Orlando, Teresa Geruard, also did daily neurofeedback sessions with her using the NeurOptimal system from Zengar Institute. We all agreed that even within just the 10 days, it seemed to be making a positive difference in my daughter’s mental processing and self control, but those results are starting to erode since we’ve been unable to find a clinician locally who uses it or any other effective neurofeedback. Though I could purchase and train myself in using the system, my daughter’s beyond the age when she may have accepted me in that role (though she did so in 8th grade, with an attention-training program called Play Attention, which–like the Interactive Metronome therapy she had with an OT during 5th grade–showed measurable results for the training that unfortunately didn’t transfer to real-world task completion, impulse control or academics. Play Attention does apparently help many users, though, and it was a great company with outstanding, unlimited support services. I guess the same can be said for Interactive Metronome. When it comes to any attempt at brain re-wiring (or educational process or mental health treatment of any sort), there seems to be way fewer, if any, effective “one-size-fits-all” solutions than with physical health issues. Time to devote the research and development we put toward the space program back in the 60’s & 70’s and medical technology since then, into this largely unexplored “new frontier”.

          • You tried some very interesting therapies. I think it all helps them. My daughter with the ADHD and LD also had sensory integration dysfunction. That was so helpful to understand in her case. She had OT at four years old because the waiting list was so long it took a year to get her in once we figured out she needed that type of therapy. Like you, I can never give up if I think there is some answer out there. I will dig and search and read until I find something we can do. She improved dramatically in many ways through OT. Our understanding of her problem behaviors improved dramatically as well. We also had her tutored in her LD areas from third grade onward. She managed to get past high school and into her first year of junior college. She was on the honor roll (even though in special ed). When she married her husband who was in special ed during high school due to dyslexia that was undiagnosed, he told her that she was the smart one and that he hoped their baby would be “smarter than I am”. She told me in her casual and confident manner, “Mom, I just told him that he is smart too but he did not get all the early interventions I got. His parents didn’t help him like you did.” That was sure sweeeeeet to hear. And true too. He is a smart fellow and hard worker. Fortunately his work ethic has outshined his disabilities. His parents gave him that gift. I can’t say enough about the interventions we were able to give our kids. It all mattered. We were very fortunate. I wish we could have done more. Sure sounds like you did amazingly well in that regard. Here’s a fun one we did with our daughter: tap dancing. For two years we took her each week to a college class with other adults and I took them with her as well as her aunt! She was a great little tapper (so fast) but never tapped another step after the classes ended. Never practiced one time at home even though I was tapping all over the place myself. But all that time invested in her mattered. She learned to pay attention. She learned to take instruction. We could not put her in classes with other children her age because she became so distracted she couldn’t benefit. But like music lessons, the brain is stimulated in ways that benefit the child whether they realize it or meet any expectations. Same with piano,art, tumbling, martial arts, and theatre. . .all things we put her in hoping to help her develop. It all mattered.

          • Linda White Wesseler

            Our daughter tried volleyball, swim team, Girls on the Run, rock climbing, tennis and watersports camps, girl scouts in grades 3-8.and probably several other things I’ve forgotten about. She rode bikes with us and our adult friends, incl week-long tours in several states, mostly on the tandem with my husband but one on her single bike (have hardly gotten her on a bike since then). Skied both downhill and XC with us and our friends, starting with a ski club trip to Colorado just a few weeks after she was placed with us (had already booked it before we knew we’d have a placement, then were able to get her on it) and lots of hiking in places near and far. Our proudest moment was seeing her on stage playing Annie, in her musical theater class’ production in 8th grade. She was great, and enjoyed the experience with her classmates, but could not be persuaded to audition for community theater productions after that. She took piano, clarinet and saxophone lessons over an 8 year period (managed to play well enough in recitals and youth band performances, and 2 yrs of high school marching band, with very little practice, but has not touched an instrument since her senior yr band season except for a couple times on the piano playing part of the Titanic theme). Nothing really clicked with her to the point where she took any initiative to do it on her own with no parental prodding or social incentive, or at all once she got to the age when she could simply refuse and idly hang out with friends or alone, doing nothing. I am worn out trying to motivate her to apply any sort of physical or mental effort to anything in her free time now that she is in full control of it. How I ever thought she could succeed in college, I don’t know. I’d hoped she’d connect with a peer group who’d get her to join study groups, etc., but she would’ve gravitated to the party crowd (and admits that herself, saying she only wanted to go for “the wrong reasons”). She has been getting up on time for work (will be working every day this week, and if she proves herself on that schedule, may get offered the job fulltime) and I am impressed. I hope someday she will value all the therapies we tried and all the positive self-development and enrichment activities we managed to involve her in before she hit the age of flat-out-refusal. I know most, if not all of them benefited her in some way. We can’t possibly know how much since we don’t know where she’d be if she hadn’t done those things (I can only imagine, based on how her “low-functioning” birthmom has fared). She was our “only” and I’d retired early, so we were able to do more with and for her than most parents can. It has just been so frustrating to see all those efforts of both hers and mine come to a halt now. Any continued learning or growing that she does at this point will be unintentional and by osmosis, since that’s the only kind she’s open to right now. So we’ll see where that takes her in the next few years, and hope when she reaches another stage of life she might develop a renewed interest in a few of those things she got to experience as a girl and decide to put some time and effort into them as an adult.

          • You gave her a wonderful childhood. What more can we give them? I watched my daughter lose so much of what was poured into her life. She was like a pretty little sieve. She had no “emotional memory” for lack of a better term. My husband and I spent more time holding her than all the other children combined. For one thing it was the only time she was not frantically moving randomly. Her attention span was nonexistent for the first five years of her life. Yet she might say something like, “You never hold me.” What???? That’s all we do is hold you! I never told her that but that’s what I was screaming silently. I couldn’t tell her that because she honestly felt that way. It was genuine, her lack of memory. She could not retain the attention or devotion we showed her. With a normal child, a parent can spend just a few minutes “filling their tank” and that child would run off and play contentedly for maybe a half hour to an hour without needing parental nurture. Like a little car, one could fill them up and then watch them purr along entertaining themselves or interacting with other children. Our daughters tank had holes in it. She stuck to me like glue. Without physical contact she seemed lost in space. She couldn’t play creatively or imaginatively at all. She copied what she saw me do. That was about it as far as play went. She could not play normally with toys for the first couple of years. If you put her in a playpen with toys, she would toss them all out of the playpen, then turn to staking off her clothes down to her diaper, then cry to be taken out. If you put her in a play room, she would randomly take every toy from the shelves and dump them on the floor, then lie down and wrap herself in the throw rug and cry to be with mommy. Even if I was just outside the half door we created to contain her nonstop exploring. I remember sitting outside the door crying while she was inside the new playroom crying for me. I was so exhausted. Thank God she was a good sleeper. Once she fell asleep she never woke up at night unless she was ill. I would collapse into bed unable to read the page of a book before sleep overcame me. I don’t think I had a complete uninterrupted thought during the daytime without her behavior requiring my attention. It was like being pecked to death by a woodpecker. Her needs were that rapid fire and nonstop. Yet she had a pleasant disposition for the most part. She seemed happy. Just vacant and impulsive and hyperactive. Thankfully she did not have eating problems after she withdrew from the drugs as an infant, and she slept well. She was fragile health wise, but with therapeutic parenting she thrived. We all adored her. She was exquisitely beautiful with flawless brown skin, huge chocolate pudding eyes with long lashes, and an easy wide smile. Most people found her to be a darling child. They had no idea that we were living with a kangaroo/hummingbird/small racehorse. She literally bounced around the house, turning compulsive cartwheels at age 3, stomping and jumping down the stairs, always on the move, touching everything as she went like a blind person would. She was driven to seek all that kind of sensory input. She literally saw with her hands I finally figured out. Seeing was not enough sensory input for her. Me asking her not to touch was akin to me asking a person to close their eyes. When it dawned on me this was the case, all my irritation and frustration with her constant touching dissipated. She was so tactile that she did not learn the concept of letters until she built an A out of clay. We had inculcated her alphabet from age one with a fun musical tape from Discovery Toys. We played it for her at bedtime. We sang it in the car. She knew it by heart, letter by letter, sound by sound, yet she could not make the connection between that and written or printed letters. By age four I was starting to panic. We drew letters in the sand. We made letters with sandpaper for her to run her fingers over. We made them with pipecleaners. We drew them on frosty windows. We bought those foam letters for the bathtub and stuck them on the wall. We had letter magnets all over the frig. Still no connection. Then her OT brought a little container of red thera-putty and they sat at the table and built letters with clay. This tactile act got through. That week she looked up at a store sign and said “K”. “That’s a K.” We were off to the races. Reading was not easy for her, but she learned. We read to her every day from age six months. She was always addicted to any kind of television or movies. We didn’t even watch TV for her first thirteen years of life. I don’t think we sat down long enough! But we let her watch some videos .Winnie the Pooh was her favorite hands down. She is pretty much addicted to her I-phone now , but she certainly is not unique in that. She has no real interests or hobbies despite her enriched experiences or exposure to so much as a child. My sister would photograph and make memory books of all the things she did as a child. That way we could show her since she could never remember. I finally learned that planning a birthday extravaganza such as a trip to Disneyland did not please her any more than if we went out for ice cream or a hot dog. She lives in the moment and if you asked her after spending weeks of planning and oodles of money , “How did the trip go?” her answer would be one word, “great”. Onward! She was no more excited than if you said yes she could get something out of the vending machine! This ended all my efforts to gift her in that regard. I kept it simple and more frequent, the little things that made her happy. I guess I should write a book huh?

          • Special needs or not, letting a kid live with their choices, experiencing the consequences, is NOT BAD PARENTING! My gosh! To the parents that never let their kids experience true consequences for their choices and actions, boy, will their kids be in for a shock when real life hits. We feel (hubs and I) our jobs, our roles as parents, is to teach our kids how to be self-sufficient and capable when they grow up. Now obviously there are age appropriate and developmentally appropriate ways of doing that, but not having a hat and gloves? Really? That’s a crisis? Good golly. And for you special needs/therapeutic parents out there, I write a blog to encourage you, to support you, and if you’re interested… it’s at Seems like there’s so few of those around, that I thought I’d start one. 🙂

          • Cari Browne

            Have you thought about Jobcorps? It has a lot of the qualities you are describing. Goodwill also is a training program for many types of special needs

          • Anna Lopez

            Katherine, thanks for the info. If you know of any other organizations who pursue such opportunities, would you share them? Three months is not a long time 🙁 I know many of us wish we could plan for something more long-term when our kiddos graduate high school.

        • Love love love that we can foster these great discussions here. Linda and Katherine, thanks so much for joining the conversation!

          • Thank you for being so welcoming, Mike. I hope talking about some of the rather difficult outcomes won’t discourage you younger parents. I do think it is important to include parents in every phase of parenting. Many are hurting and there are precious few people who understand the particular challenges of parenting children with complex trauma. All outcomes are not good, but that is no reason not to hope. Many children with normal births and biological families have unfortunate outcomes too. My child who did so poorly taught me so much. I believe that every life matters and that our view of success is not always accurate.

          • Katherine, I love that you are sharing back and forth here. Keep it up. Thanks for contributing. You are right, there are many people hurting. We have much work to do. Thanks for your transparency and honesty!

  • Meriah Cutler Main

    I totally understand! My children are not special needs and I get it. I also think more parents should be like you in ways. Obviously, everything won’t always apply but I know a lot of children who have parents who simply don’t give consequences because it’s “mean”. Having to shiver some and deal with a snotty nose isn’t going to kill any one. The problem is people are quick to judge. I must admit, sadly, that if I’d have seen that I’d have been upset. I wouldn’t have imagined that you and your child had already been through the ordeal that you had and I would never have thought maybe his child has special needs. I’m sorry. Forgive me and all others like me for we know not what we do. It seems like you know you have to let other people be the idiots we are, so as to not go insane. That is sad and again, I’m sorry. We are thinking of a child’s well being,
    in our defense. Thinking of that may also be helpful. Again we still should not be judgemental. We should be letting you be a good parent. <3

    • Meriah, thanks for your open and honest comment. It’s a breath of fresh air for sure!

    • sharrellleigh

      DITTO!!! What she said so well!!

    • Di04

      Thank you for that!!

  • Hillary Alexander

    I really needed this today. I have gotten numerous barrages this week from my son’s school. He made abad choice that required me to pick him up. He sat in the principal’s office and cried, while the principal hugged him. Telling him he is afraid of me because I will punish him for the decision (too pee his pants). That I never hug him, and I don’t love him and he hasn’t been fed in over a week at home.
    The principal sat next to my son and ridiculed me over the phone. His consequence was to clean up his pee mess, and to go home and shower so he wouldn’t smell. The horror of it all!
    I can see how that would be abusive. How dare I teach my son hygiene. I must be stopped. My son hates touch he hasn’t initiated, so I don’t normally force him to hug me, except during a tantrum.
    I sat there and doubted everything. I to am direct, and leave no wiggle room. This let me see it’s not me being a bad mom, it’s the school not understanding. Tonight I don’t feel like crying

    • Hillary, so sorry this has happened to you this week. Glad you found hope through this post. Hang in there!

    • Naomi

      I go through this same scenario often! You are not alone!

    • Cheryl Faria

      I will never forget the day my son’s pediatrician told me in front of him that I was never to clean up his soiling again. That it was his responsibility not mine. I’ve been called in to CPS for not giving my son his medication when I did, for being too strict, and for not picking my son up in a timely manner when he wet himself. So frustrating!

  • Mark-Arica Griner

    Dear Mike,

    Where do I begin?!? I am the GREATEST stepmother in the WORLD!! There I’ve said I feel better. However, your child sounds so much like mine and then he doesn’t. Our stories are similar, in that they were both born to drug addicted mothers. I homeschool my stepson, Whom I claim as my own, and we don’t usually tell people any different. I am all he’s known.

    I feel your frustration. I worry constantly that people may think I am horrible because of the STRICT law I lay down in the home. My husband plays a large role, but he works like a dog and I am almost always the encourager and the disciplinarian. I hate it! Most days are full of loud voices and anger, on both ends. I sometimes feel helpless, because I don’t know anyone with a child who was born into that!

    I try to talk to different people, but I almost always get a response, like I don’t really have to worry about That. Well thank God you don’t. I go to bed some night feeling like a HUGE failure as a mom, teacher, and an encourager. I just wanted to say thank you for writing this and know there are other out there who struggle as much as I do on a daily basis.

    I am blessed in many ways. I didn’t ever think I could love a child that is not bio-mine, but I would die for my little guy! He is not who has to stick to a rigorous schedule anymore. He has learned with homeschool there really isn’t much of a schedule. However, he does have sit in the same place everyday and do the same work in order everyday.

    Again, Thank you Mike for being transparent. I am not so much!!!!!!

    Many Blessing,
    Arica G

    • Wow, thanks so much for sharing a part of your story. We understand the helpless feeling. We’re in the trenches with you. We know what it’s like to feel like all eyes are on us. It’s overwhelming. Stay strong. We’re there with you.

  • Michelle Thomassen

    My husband and I are foster/adoptive parents. For nine months we had a 3 year old girl who had an early but raging case of RAD. EVERY single thing was a a battle every single day. If I talked to my mom or the social worker while she was in the room, she would fake physical symptoms to get my attention. Peace unnerved her so she kicked up chaos constantly.
    From Everyone I heard “youre too hard on her”
    Mental response – I had to hold her in her bed on Christmas day to keep her safe because she was off her routine and overstimulated. How was your Christmas?
    “Three year olds cant lie and manipulate”
    Then she’s gifted arite. Con artists are more honest. The smaller the issue the bigger the lie.
    that’s not sexualized behavior. That’s normal.
    Oh yeah? Have a three year old after a bath grab her chest, say I have booties and dance like a stripper and then tell me its normal. Seriously all this child needed was a pole.
    guess that turned into a vent. But im more compassionate with other parents now

    • Michelle, I feel for you guys. We’ve been down this road before. And, it’s okay to vent. That’s what we’re here for. You’re doing a good job. Hang in there and keep leading your girl!

      • Michelle Thomassen

        Her and her brother left us in February. She needed to move to a behavioral home. It was getting unsafe here and we couldn’t control her anymore. We closed our license after that to focus on our adoption. We are reopening our license. Could be officially opened today

        • Michelle, I hope this goes well for you both!

    • dkayhof

      Michelle, Your daughter is so fortunate to have you! Bless her heart and yours. Hang in there. One foot in front of the other and model, model, model, love, love, love.

  • ARick64

    Oh my goodness…..You have hit the nail on the head! I have raised to adulthood my special needs adopted daughter (she came to us as a 2 year old in foster care). I have walked a mile in your shoes and can tell you that I have done the exact same thing that you did.

    • We’re in this together. Thanks for your comment!

  • Kim Kauffman Easdon

    I so hear all that you are saying. It is very difficult parenting the RAD child. Mine is 9 years old. Although we are on an even keel at the moment, I am “waiting” for something to happen. This child has been suspended from school & arrested. We just completed 6 months informal supervision as a result of her arrest. I am now homeschooling here while working–thankfully my job allows her to be in my office while I work. I have been turned in to SRS for emotional child abuse by my own mother. It is a tough tough road. We are currently working with an attachment counselor who is the first counselor to give us some hope for healing.

    • Kim, such a hard thing to deal with. So sorry to hear you were reported. Let us know how your time with the attachment counselor goes. That’s interesting.

    • Naomi

      Kim, sounds like our girls have much in common!

  • MKP

    This article could be written tailored for us! Haha. Both our children; daughter of nearly 7 years old now, and son of 9 years old, are Dx FASD like your son in this article, due to late birth mom’s substance abuse as well. We deal with this on a daily basis. Reason enough for us to stick to routines, and stick with the discipline the way you did, and consequences are very vital in parenting our children. J used to be like this too, and would sometimes refuse to do things, because he thought others would make fun of him! So we let him be his way and he learned
    his lesson. Last Sunday, we had a double birthday party of friends which they had hired a guy who does line dancing. It was tons of fun. Without even realizing until a friend of mine mentioned how well J did dancing, I then started to notice J ran out to the dance floor every song! I was more embarrassed dancing than he was. He did great with his lady friend of his age. But this has been a struggle in the past. So after sticking with the consequences and discipline, and our more than strict and teaching him life lessons way of parenting have had quite the impact, and that is WHY we do it that way. Because that is what works for him. (And for our daughter K). A lot of people also see his not following instructions as defiance (same goes for K), but they both miss that connect in their brains on many social and life skill aspects (both go to Playful Learning Pediatric Therapy (Occupational Therapy) to aide them in that). They have made tremendous strides in the year and a half we have had them (adopted in February of this past year :)), and yes, I am beyond exhausted. But knowing that they will be so much better out of all this growing towards adulthood (which will bring a whole other set of challenges with them, especially for our daughter with high risk FASD), makes it all worth-ed.
    In the mean time I have to keep notice of the fact that I should not mind what other parents think of our way of parenting, especially when they don’t know our family situation, and stop comparing our children to other kids without the daily struggles they go through.

    • Kristin and I know this type of exhaustion. You’re not alone. Hang in there.

  • My oldest doesn’t understand boundaries and personal space. He wants to
    be right up in your space, touching you while he talks. Poking you to
    get your attention. Tugging on your arm if you aren’t coming fast
    enough, etc. It doesn’t matter if he knows you or if you are a complete
    stranger. I am constantly telling him to back up, give space, giving him
    the verbal cues he needs to remember polite social behavior like not
    touching some stranger’s boobs because that happens to be the body part
    that is at eye level for him. Nothing frustrates me more then when a
    well meaning stranger says, “Oh, its okay. It’s not a big deal.” Yes, it
    is a big deal. He needs to learn social norms. You aren’t doing him any
    favors or me any favors when you contradict me.

    • Tiffany, I agree. It does absolutely no good when people contradict the parents. We’ve dealt with this too.

    • dkayhof

      Tiffany, in a therapy session we attended they had us play a game with small hula hoops. Everyone got a hoop and had to carry it about them. Then we were assigned tasks like, greet your partner side to side or greet your partner with a handshake. The rule was to never let any other person touch your hula hoop. Winners got sticks of gum!!! Good game to learn boundaries and to remind a child where they are.

    • My daughter had some boundary issues when she was little too. She had a fascination with hair and would play with even a strangers hair. Some people were not touchy and would allow it. Others would back away and glare at her like , “How dare you touch my hair, you strange child.” One day when she was grown I asked her if she remembered her hair fetish and I asked her why she loved touching people’s hair so much. “Oh mom, because it was so beautiful. There were so many colors and it was like rainbows.” Do any of you recall what a strand of hair looks like under a microscope? That is how she saw hair. Her sight was hyper acute as was her sense of smell and hearing. Many of these children have sensory issues that we can’t imagine. Touching is something they do for reasons we don’t understand. It isn’t always because they are not respecting normal boundaries. Of course we have to teach them normal boundaries, but it needs to be done with understanding, not rejection or disdain. My daughter also banged on me while trying to get attention. My occupational therapist showed me how my daughter has fewer touch receptors and her brain does not get the message. Where my brain would register a soft touch, her brain needs several hard bangs before it registers that she is touching me. We ended up teaching her to approach by rubbing our backs instead of whacking us on the leg or such. It still gave her sufficient sensory input but was not unpleasant for us. She had a lack of awareness of her distance to people and often stepped on our toes. Some were gracious about this weakness in her and others took offense and disliked her. Children behave in unacceptable ways sometimes, but there is usually a reason if it is consistent. For certain, get your child assessed for sensory integration dysfunction and then proceed with love and understanding to teach boundaries. Contradicting parents is never a good idea, but be grateful when someone accepts your child. It’s so much better for them than being rejected. My daughter grew up into a beautiful young woman who is married with an adorable child of her own now. I remember her invasions of my space with such fondness!

  • Laura

    Hmmm…I don’t have a special needs child but this sounds very close to home with my first, very headstrong child. I remember the looks and a comment or two after church one winter day because #1refused to wear a coat. It was the middle of winter in Alaska. She didn’t want to wear a coat and she wanted to play in the snow banks with her church shoes and thin stockings and unmittened hands. It was just the walk from the church doors to our car. I had a crying because her feet and hands were so cold child. But lesson learned. Really, the point is don’t judge. What works for you probably doesn’t work for someone else in a different home. What works for one child may not work for another from the very same home. As One blogging mother, I once read, put so well: every child as well as every parent is unique.

    • Laura, you are right. Judgement never does parents or children any good. Thanks for sharing.

  • Timothy P. Naylor

    I am really struggling with this. I am you. I feel your pain, I have seven children that came from hard places. They all have something: drug use during pregnancy; trauma; physical, mental, and sexual abuse; abandonment, autism. Most of them have multiple somethings. I often find myself in your shoes: knowing the challenge that is coming to them, pleading with them to take precautions, watching them spurn my words, and me; only to discover that they are not bullet proof, they are not clairvoyant, they are not omniscient. Most of the time I like you want them to remember that I was right, that I am their parent.

    The only problem with that is afterward unlike you convey in this situation, I feel bad. Unfortunately, when I toe the hard line and make them stand outside in the cold; my kids don’t think about how I was right, they only think about how THEY ARE WRONG. They don’t think about a poor choice they made, they think about how THEY ARE STUPID. They don’t think about the lesson they are learning, they think about how THEY SUFFER. Note that in the case of my kids, their dialog becomes about who they are, not what they did or chose. The problem with this logic is that it colludes to create the situation you are trying to fix. It reinforces that they can’t make their own decisions, that they are broken, that their parents are not looking out for them just like everyone in their past they let them suffer (just enough to teach them).

    When I am in the right place, like you I would bring the warm weather gear and possibly said something like: “HMMM looks like everyone has gloves and a wool hat” and smile and perhaps mockingly say “Umm, Who was right?” as I hold up the things I brought for him (probably dangling them). I might play keep away until he admits that I am right…then what does he learn? “My parents are right”, “They don’t let me suffer”, “They care about me”, “They want me to make good choices”, “With their help I can make good choices”…I’m not saying that I do that well enough or often enough, because I don’t. I slam them down and heap shame upon them because it works in the instant, it wins battles! The problem is that it loses wars. I am losing the war! I am losing the war generally because I am more worried about being “right” than I am worried about being “right with them”. I’m not advocating being their friends, my kids have enough friends, they need parents. I am talking about knowing that I did what I did for exactly the right reason, because I saw their humanity, and I love them too much to save them.

    When you talk about being blunt and giving consequences for a reason I am 100% on board. When I see them with eyes of love I can’t let them get away with chaos because I know it hurts them. It’s when I can’t let them get away with chaos because of how people will see me, or because I am tired that I know I am doing them harm. In fact the things I do might be exactly the same in both cases, it is the how I do them that is different. For some really good Research on the subject look at Dr. Karen Purvis, Brene Brown, or the Arbinger institute.

    The truth is I don’t know what your motivation was. There are a couple of paragraphs in the middle that give some indication. There was something about glaring, and fuming, and how you were seen by other parents; that indicate it may have been more about you, than about him that morning on the football field. That being said, I’m not sure that you were not acting 100% out of unfathomable love. What I am sure of, is that I felt a strong need to write this. I know that if I had not done it because I was afraid of offending you or anyone else, then that would just prove I didn’t see your humanity enough to “tell you your skirt was tucked into the back of your stockings”.

    I totally agree that we don’t see what others are going through, and only open dialog like this helps us understand that our normal is ok even though it is not most people’s normal. Sorry for the diatribe. I had a lot of emotion reading your piece, and I compounded it by having a glaring, fuming, and “pegged as a terrible father” evening. So this is probably more for me than it is for you. If you read all the way to the end, then thank you, and thank you for writing something that made me remember who I want to become as much as who I am.

    • Timothy, thanks so much for your thoughts and insight. Love your perspective. I have discovered that my journey with my son will forever teach me things about myself as much as it does about him. The good thing is that he is growing and learning and my wife and I have found a place of compassion for him (not always blunt and final..:-)). I am glad this post provoked thought in you. Thanks for sharing openly!

    • Allisonm

      I hear every word you said. Trying to keep my motives pure and still get at least some of my own needs met while I parent my children is an ongoing source of tension. Thanks for putting it out there in plain language.

    • Well said for many of us parents. The dilemma of being a “successful parent”. What is that? What is a successful relationship with a child somewhat unable to have one? How to nurture a child with a broken suck on an imperfect nipple might be a good mental picture. But they are still our child and we are still their nipple in life. And while the child may struggle to take the milk and the nipple may get sore and cracked, the dance goes on and there is always that incredible bond, however imperfect it may be.

  • Michelle Gockley

    I have a friend who has a child like this. I rarely give her advice or step in, but I do a lot of listening. My husband and I also take their children overnight on occasion to give them a chance to get away. I tell her all the time they have not walked in your shoes they have no idea. I know by having him overnight it has been an eye opener for me, but also a blessing. I guess what I am saying is instead of judging them support them.

    • Michelle, what a great gift you are giving your friends by being an ear for them to pour out to. You are blessing them more than you know.

  • Trish94903

    As the parent and step-parent to kids with special needs, I hear you! It is especially galling to get “the look” from another parent judging something she can’t possibly comprehend. Hang in there, and know you’re not alone!

    • Trish, we know “the look.” It’s frustrating. Thanks for your encouragement.

  • Nora Matthews

    I’ve had kind of the opposite situation, where I’ve been given advice that I’m not disciplining enough because when a child is mid-tantrum I’m speaking calmly, waiting for them to get tired, and not reprimanding them while it’s going on. It’s hard to explain that in my case I’ve had children for whom an emotional outburst may actually be a really good thing because their “normal” is acting like they have zero feelings at all because they’ve learned to cope with their lives’ chaos by turning themselves off. Or the simple fact that I choose not to engage with someone who’s completely irrational because talking to them about their behavior while they’re screaming doesn’t seem very productive. I provide feedback and consequences but I choose to have a rational conversation about poor behavior when they’ve found more equilibrium, and that may be after the exact moment we have witnesses. If I were parenting a typically developing child I would make a lot of choices differently, but because my kid seems to be like other kids to the naked eye it’s kind of frustrating that people imagine I’m just letting them be a brat sometimes.

    • Nora, you do have an interesting situation but you’re approaching it in a very healthy way. Anytime you can have rational, calm conversations with your children it’s a win. Thanks for sharing!

  • As the mom of five special needs kids (plus two who are “neuro-typical”), I can relate to the judgment you encounter and to the parents who think they can do it better than you can even though they have never had a child with the special need that yours does. I have gotten the looks, heard the whispers and even had people (relatives, friends and strangers) gently and not-so-gently suggest that I should give in to my child. If you are parenting a child who hasn’t had the background mine have, that advice may fly, but with my kids, it does more harm than good to let those things go.

    Thank you for sharing your story and helping get the word out just a bit more about what it’s like to parent kids from hard places.

    • Sharla, it’s my pleasure. And thank you for sharing part of your story as well!

  • Sarah

    Now that I have dealt with the difficulties in raising an autistic daughter, I have learned to never judge how parents handle their child’s temper tantrums. I cannot put into words as well as this parent did, but it is hard to discipline your child with special needs.

    • Sarah, that is so true. You have to discipline completely different at times.

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  • Sarah M

    This is so my life. Both of our adopted kids were drug/alcohol exposed and both of them exhibit very difficult behaviors. I feel like a parenting failure most of the time LOL 🙂 I freely admit that I hate parenting books because they contradict and nothing works the right way with these 2 kids. Nothing. Life is a daily battle and sometimes I feel like we are never going to make progress even though I know we really already have. When people learn all the methods we have tried, I get deer in the headlight looks. They often sputter out a…”but have you tried this” kind of comment and I know they have NO IDEA. Our situation feels more difficult because we have the bio grandparents involved. When we are dealing with very difficult behaviors, I have to take away time with them (because they will not follow our requests for boundaries/consequences) and I feel the need to explain why we are doing it. Sometimes they sort of get it but usually not. Additionally, I know other people see some of these behaviors in their non drug exposed kids, as I have seen them in my bio kids sometimes too, but there is something about the combination of behaviors and the fact that their development is delayed that makes it especially frustrating. Lately I have begun to realize that truly this battle is not of flesh and blood (even though I sometimes think it might be 😉 and my only real “weapon” is the Word of God. Satan wants to destroy these kids…they are super tough to raise. We recognize warfare in their lives and ours and we are beginning to use the Word as an active part of our lives. We talk about. We memorize it. We are learning to say it out loud to confront the true issues in each of our lives. Some days its hard to see the progress though. Thanks for you awesome article. I feel “normal” today!

    • Sarah it’s my pleasure. Glad it encouraged you!

    • Allisonm

      It’s hard to explain to people who tell me that all kids do [insert behavior here]. What they do not grasp is the relentless intensity with which my children do it and the degree to which traditional rewards and consequences have utterly failed to affect any change in the short run and only some progress over the course of years of enforcing the same rules. They test every rule every day, usually multiple times.

      We, too, realized that we were being assailed as a family, on a spiritual level. We consulted our pastor, who gave us a book called The Bondage Breaker, which we found helpful. We have found speaking biblical truths to be very powerful, since the Truth is wholly inconsistent with the father of lies.

  • MJ

    Wow. I can relate to this. My son will argue with me even after consequences have been issued and then say what did I do? Then it’s I will behave! Sorry, you will be punished and you will not win. Oppostional Defiance Disorder and ADHD make my life a living HELL with him some days. He then can be an angel when he wants to be or if he feels there is something in it for him. Drives me nuts and people often don’t understand why he has the consequences he does and why he has the bed time he does and why no, I just can’t let him have this one time. Ugh.

    • MJ, you are right. Most of the world just doesn’t get it!

  • Holly Vanderkamp Gordon

    I don’t have a child with special needs, but I do have a very strong willed child and a lot of what describe is also how I have to treat him. He can be a master manipulator and if you are not very clear with expectations and allow the consequences he will not learn. He is an aggressive data collector and he needs to know when he does x he gets y, EVERY time. If one time in five (10….15……) he gets a different answer he will keep testing the boundary.
    I would say that most parents would do better if they followed you parenting style. 🙂 God bless

    • Holly, thanks so much for commenting. We have dealt with the manipulator many many times. Sometimes the strong-willed child makes you feel like you’re serving a prison sentence. 🙂

  • Paula

    I have two teens one disabled, one special needs.When they got older I learned to ignore others and if it was me talking to that coach I would say, “You take care of raising your average child which will leave your home one day and is not dependent of what I call “toddler mode” of which will help that coach understand what you deal with daily. That is the part they cannot understand. Know matter how many times you tell a child of any age with a brain injury lets go it will not happen, or do this. The only time I saw my child go quickly is when we told her there is a tornado coming we need to go, she did not argue and we got out in 7 minutes. This usually took an hour or more of “toddler mode” my oldest will be 17 in a few days.We raised her to be independent as possible, and that means consequences.

    • Paula, I am with you on that one. Such great insight.

  • Sarah

    I feel like this article was written with my family in mind. I have a 6 yr old son who has been in behavioral therapy for the better part of 3 yrs. He displays behavior similar to that of a child with high functioning autism/asperger’s but doesn’t meet all the criteria for diagnosis. My mother and grandmother, in particular, enable him to make bad choices and the lack of consistency in structure between our home and theirs has caused me to limit contact. No matter how often my husband and I try to explain how their actions hurt him when he returns home and needs a wk to get back into routine or how his performance at school is affected, they don’t get it. My mother went so far as to threaten calling DCS, harassing his school principal, and blasting my in – laws over our parenting style. She threatened to come take him from us. I had to call the police and set up strict security measures at school to ensure his safety. We are slowly trying to reestablish a relationship of sorts with her, but she doesn’t understand that I no longer feel comfortable letting him go anywhere alone with her, much less spend the night. Maybe if she didn’t think it’s acceptable to let him watch R rated movies, play violent video games and eat sugary food- all of which has been shown to increase violent and impulsive behavior in him- or that he has no consequences/ discipline whatsoever when he is with her… That just isn’t the case. People don’t understand that my son likes pushing boundaries, that he seeks negative attention… that at the core of his being, he needs to know his limitations. It makes him feel more secure. Without the structure, he would be in alternative school instead of the incredible arts magnet school he attends. As intelligent as he is, my son (who has a 153 IQ) would not know how to persevere, try new things, or explore new academic interests. He would be using his fists instead of his words, and his much needed social interactions would be very limited. My husband and I work every day with him on everyday tasks that most children wouldn’t mind doing. He chooses to engage in power struggles that have lasted hours. He firmly believes he is an adult and that he has complete autonomy over his choices- problem is he doesn’t have the wisdom nor size to ensure he makes safe actions. We have to watch him closely for moments of impulsivity, redirect often, and prepare to follow through when consequences are needed. I hope many more parents and caregivers read this article. My hope is that it will open their eyes and hearts, to see that strict parents aren’t bad parents or abusers.

    • Sarah, thanks for sharing your story. We identify totally with your situation. We have had those threats and we’ve had to call the police. The heartbreak came when the child’s birth mother showed up demanding she come with her and the child screamed at the top of her lungs as she was being taken out of our home. Hang in there. Let us know how we can encourage you.

    • Sounds like you have had immense struggles with your child. I found out the hard way that ANY time away from our household proved to have negative consequences since any time our child was out from under our parenting authority, it took about a week to get him back. With attachment issues, we found it was imperative that our child stay under our roof and our bedtime routine if we wanted smoother sailing on a daily basis. Granted, we missed getting a break, but it was worth it not to have the battles getting him back on routine and recognizing we were his parents over and over again. Now that he is older, he can spend the night with appropriate family members. And by older, I mean 18! My son is very bright also, even though he has ARND and ADHD. He was tested at seven years of age at 135 I.Q. Imagine what it would have been without alcohol and drug exposure in utero and early developmental trauma of being moved six times before the age of nine months. I think you are very wise to limit contact with your mom and grandmother. Just invite them to visit at your house and don’t put your son under their authority. Their standards sound very dangerous for him. Yes, you know his needs because you live with him and are responsible for him. Keep him close and keep his mind busy on very positive activity and interests. These children can veer off into obsessions that are very unhealthy. Don’t allow it. And don’t feel bad about not allowing it!

  • Linda

    This article is spot on! I teach students with disabilities/autism etc. and have had students with alcohol fetal syndrome and oppositional defiance. Rather than see these kids end up in jail when they are older, I would rather see a strong parent able to provide “Love and Logic” with structure, consistency, and consequences or rewards.

    • Spot on Linda. I cannot figure out why parents wouldn’t want to parent with love and logic. It’s hard but so effective!

  • Di04

    We are in the EXACT same situation as you are with our adopted son! I totally get what you are saying. People don’t understand & they think that we are harsh at times as well. Children with this type of In Utero drug and alochol exposure can’t always control some of the things they do but we have to, as parents, constantly teach them the how & how not to’s, the what to do or what not to do’s. If we don’t prepare them for the “real world” they will be in big trouble as adults. And, although you absolutely have to do this with all kids it is different than “normal” children. We know this because we have another adopted child with no drugs or alcohol involved. We have been saying to our son since he was probably 18 mths old that his reaction may or may not be appropriate & show him what an appropriate reaction looks like. Just today it was his 12 year birthday & got an RC Car. His sister (who wasn’t exposed to alcohol or drugs & is 9 yr’s) wanted to take the car for a spin. Our son reluctantly gave her a turn, with our encouragement, & he was freaking out the whole time she had it, yelling & kind of scaring her. We had to calmly explain & ask him what is a better way to talk to her. This is just a small example. We get exasperated almost on a daily basis with his lack of empathy, rudeness to people if her perceives something as unjust, & over all disrespect for us, his parents. We are not lazy parents by any means. We have been researching, going to seminars, support groups, & counseling since we brought our son home. He is such a cool kid when he’s not ranting or throwing things or telling me everything wrong in his life is my fault! We love him so much, as I know you do your son but I’m very glad for bed time some days.

  • Lisa, our oldest son deals with self-preservation because he was malnourished as an infant when he was still with his birth mom. You are definitely NOT alone. Let us know how we can encourage you or pray for you!

  • Kate Ramsey

    I had a friend print up business cards thanking strangers who would comment for their concern for the well-being of her son. She then explained some of his disorders and how common discipline did not work.
    When my oldest was almost two I found a book called “Back in Control” and have loaned it out and replaced it multiple times. It helped me through most of my children’s behaviors. There were a few behaviors not addressed, or the method of making the child behave was never fruitful. As I get older follow thru is becoming harder, so my adult children offer assistance some.
    It sounds like your special needs child is far more difficult than any of my four challenges. I’m sorry his birth-mother didn’t think about consequences. You are wonderful for keeping such a tight rein on him. I hope I can pick up a point or two for use with mine, or at least be able to share stories of other people’s reactions.

    • Kate, thanks for your kind words. We have our good days and out bad ones. Thank for the book recommendation.

  • Teresa Ann

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for sharing this experience!! We have been there so many times. I am beyond being judged by others. It took along time for me to get there, but I am there. A story, we were fostering a 2 yo with RAD and other issues. He was a tantrum thrower and the only way to resolve the tantrum was to let it run its course. Sometimes it was short lived and sometimes it could last 30 minutes to a couple of hours. They didn’t always have triggers you could pin point. So, a trip to town, just him and I, a treat really for me, just 1 child to take in to the grocery store! Like a mini vacation! I put him the cart and everything is great! For a second. Then out of no where, a full blown tantrum. Kicking, screaming, hitting and pinching me. A nice lady came up to me and asked me if perhaps a cookie would help him, what child doesn’t like cookies? I said thank you, but that isn’t going to help. He just needs to get it out. She insists on giving him a cookie even after I said ever so politely no thank you. She hands him the cookie and he throws it as far as his little arm can muster! I am sorry, but I started laughing. You see, mam, a cookie won’t help him. So, the tantrum continues, he’s a danger to himself in the cart, so I take him out and we sit on the floor in the middle of the produce section of the grocery store and I hold him close, securing his limbs, and sing to him to try to calm him down. People walk by, ask if I need help, nope I say we’re good. (I would leave, but I really need bread and milk). 30 minutes later, he’s back in the cart happy as can be and life is good again. In the beginning of our foster journey, the judgmental looks, the “advice” from others, the comments and the whispering really bothered me. Really bothered me to the point I did not want to go in public with the children. It took me a few years to realize that they didn’t know my story anymore than I knew theirs and I needed to let it be. I am by far less judgmental of others and how they parent, and I am also quicker to shew people away that are trying to “help” me. Our first foster child was with us 6+ years and because of a flawed system was ordered to live with a bio dad she had never lived with. I miss her every second of every day. She had full blown RAD and all its ugliness. She had a very colorful mouth. She was angry for good reason. She was using some choice words in the grocery store to comment me, and to get through it you just had to ignore it. She was 2 at the time and had heard these words from her bio mom. The only way to deal with it was just to not deal with it which I know some of you will get that. So we are doing our shopping and she is blurting out these profanities and a friendly shopper suggest I discipline her. I said I did. I gave her hug. She asks why I would hug a child that just said that to me? Because she needed a hug, because I love her, and she needed a hug. The outside world may never get it. I am just glad I found people who do.

    • Teresa, you are most welcome. Glad our words have helped!

  • We’ve adopted two children of traumatized backgrounds. They don’t have diagnosable “special needs” but OH are their needs unique all the same. But because they LOOK like typical teenagers, people don’t get it. We get people ALL. THE. TIME. who just don’t understand why we parent they way we do. We live in a small community which makes it both extra difficult and extra rich. One child slanders us to the whole community, taking a fragment of truth and sensationalizing it to get attention. Oh boy. If people could just understand your three bold points… if everyone didn’t somehow feel invited into our parenting relationship with our kids… this would be MUCH easier. Sadly, a good chunk (though not the majority) of what makes raising children with unique needs so difficult is the people around you who judge the choices you make while raising them. Thank you for your post… it’s always affirming to find others in the same boat who are bold enough to put it to words. Bless you!

    • Marcy, it’s our pleasure! We find it easier to walk this road when we know we are not alone! Thanks for your comment!

  • Allisonm

    We did an extended trial of fish oil gummies several years ago, but our kids were so severely dysregulated back then that it didn’t make a noticeable difference and they didn’t like the stomach upset they got from the fish oil. It may be time for another trial, since they are a lot better regulated than they were for those first several years.

    • Yes, might be worth another try and find a better source perhaps. If they can take a capsule, Nordic Naturals makes Ultra Omega which are the tiny gel caps. Another approach we found works with my granddaughter is cod liver oil. We use Twinlab Norwegian Cod Liver Oil. Just a teaspoon a day. It is flavored nicely with lemon or cherry and quite palatable. Give with meals to prevent the fish oil aftertaste or tummy upset. The enteric coated caps help with that also. There is a wide variety of supplements but only a few that have what is truly needed for the results you want. Read around it and see if you want to give it another go. It’s actually a healthy practice for most of us since we are deficient in Vitamin D3 as well in America and it is a very good source of that as well. Also vitamin A. So happy to hear you are trying supplementation. We have had amazing results by cutting out all dairy and eating as organically as possible. Some people find cutting out gluten is very good too. My granddaughter acted autistic when she consumed cows milk. It was not the lactose. It is the casein (milk protein). She does very well on goatmilk.

    • Janelle

      Fish oil gummies really aren’t any good…not usually a high grade oil and not a very high dose plus they usually just have more of the stuff we don’t need/want. Try the Nordic naturals brand that Katherine suggested. That’s a good, high quality brand and you may see better results (I don’t work for Nordic but I’m an RN and a I’m very experienced w/ supplements)

  • mainekate

    This article is so helpful. I have several friends that have adopted and go through what you do everyday. Its a daily battle that many other parents couldn’t do. I am so tired of mommy judging. We need to support each parent, not tear them down.

    • So glad it helped. Thanks for sharing.

  • Carol Langeman Rice

    I can understand where this parent is coming from! I have adopted four children with various needs and issues. They have been a tremendous blessing and joy to me and my husband, but also very very exhausting! Our day can “turn on a dime”. It feels like getting sucker punched sometimes. We have to be hyper-vigilant and walk the tight rope of being prepared for things that might happen, yet not letting those thoughts about tomorrow steal our joy for today. It’s a constant juggle to keep balanced – and so exhausting. Most parents don’t understand how traumatic it is on a weekly basis. We have become less social because we can’t really make plans without having to cancel half of the time. I have learned to take things one day at a time, which is a valuable lesson to have learned. I’d like to say that I walk that out every day, but there are days when I think about certain things in the future and I get in panic mode….and eat ice cream…lots of ice cream….its my happy place. Through my children and their challenging needs/behavior, I have actually learned quite a bit about myself : ) Some good, some bad. I can learn from them, too. Hopefully, I take those lessons and apply them to becoming a better person and parent, which in turn helps them, too. It’s a difficult and challenging road to walk down, but I have found to cherish the days that are without trauma/drama and hold on to them until the next one! We CAN do this, right?! : )

    • Hey Carol, thanks for sharing honestly and openly here! Yes you CAN do this! We’re cheering for you. 🙂

      • Carol Langeman Rice

        Thank you!

  • Michelle Schumacher Damerow

    Found this so close to home. Although some don’t -nor can understand our parenting style, its alright for we do is necessary to help our children mature, thrive and improve. Cool thing is,it is working!

    • Michelle, yes the world is filled with many who do not and cannot understand. It’s unfortunate

  • Sherri Lynn Valenzuela

    What’s worse, from my POV, is when it comes from family who should know better!

    My mother has had RAD explained to her countless times over the past 8 years. Yet she is still the loudest critic.

    Recent example: RAD daughter (age 12) had been given some posters last Christmas as gifts, for her room. We were renting at the time and had some of that sticky poster putty. We told her to decide what she wanted to go where and we’d come and help her with the poster putty but we couldn’t use thumbtacks or pushpins because of the rental agreement.

    For the usual control reasons a RAD child is prone to exhibit, she instead snuck into the kitchen drawer and stole a large box of pushpins and went ahead with not only putting the posters up, but a dozen other paper items. She also got some glue and actually glued some book pages and papers to her wall and door.

    Needless to to say we decided she wasn’t ready to have that sort of decor, period, and she spent some time removing things and filling holes and re-painting so we wouldn’t lose our deposit.

    Fast forward a few months and we’re moving in to a place that my mom owns. My mother made the comment to RAD along the lines of “Now that you live in a place that is not a rental, y’all can put things up on the wall here, isn’t that great?” RAD responds right away with “Oh, they won’t let me have posters or wall decorations at all. I’m not allowed.”

    Of course, no backstory included in RAD’s declaration.. And of course, my mother comes angrily storming in to confront us as to how mean we are, how every child should be allowed to put posters up and decorate and make their room “their own” and what’s wrong with us?

    :::sigh::: And so it usually goes. I have dozens of stories like that too, sadly, and most from family or others who are close enough to us that you’d think they’d get it by now.

    • Sherri, we’ve been down this road. So sorry you have to deal with this!

  • anon

    I totally get this, although I have to parent my son the opposite way. I have been accused (and rightfully so) of being a super helicopter parent to my special needs 8 year old son. My response has become, “When your child jumps from 12 foot slides, eats random mushrooms in fields, runs out into Chicago traffic without thinking, drinks liquids from random containers without considering what they may be, and pulls many other dangerous stunts without even thinking a little bit, then you will be a proud helicopter parent too.” I have to protect my son, who unfortunately right now has no fear and very little common sense, regardless of how I am perceived.

    • We totally understand this? Have you seen Kristin’s post on Helicopter parenting? Use the search bar above, right, and you should be able to find it. Thanks for sharing here.

  • Kaye Harney

    I know and see ‘normal’ kids’ that have the same issues. But their parents aren’t even trying to do half of what you are doing. I see a lot of entitilement issues in kids. It won’t hurt a child to suffer the consequences of their choices. Don’t let the judgements of others keep you from being the good parent that you are!

    • Kaye, absolutely! Spot on with this comment. Thanks for sharing.

  • Jason & Dawn Wright

    What do you guys think about the materials from Empowered To Connect?

    • We love the content from Empowered To Connect. It’s helped us tremendously with our son.

  • As an adult who experienced early trauma (ACE score of 5), has Aspergers and sensory issues who held my ground with my parents even when it went against the health and well-being of others… it seems to me that your inflexibility is not teaching him lessons, but teaching him that he is unworthy accommodations.

    You brought the hat and gloves… why was that not an option before. “I’ll pack your gloves, you”ll have them if you change your mind.”

    You imply that the parental imposed consequence of letting him stand cold while you determine whether he has suffered enough and felt enough pain will somehow translate into a learning moment. In one breath you say he is permanently damaged and in another you say he must feel the consequences to learn. Either he can learn or not – but learning is social and emotional – not punitive. His brain will develop and catch-up with empathy, supportive relationships and mindfulness skills – consequences that are delivered to “teach lessons” have a short shelf-life.

    • Lori, I appreciate your perspective and can agree with some of what you stated, however, boundaries are an important aspect of raising children with special needs. Not only boundaries for them but boundaries for the world around who often feel the need to “rescue” or “bail” my child out. Fact is, that’s what his coach and several of the parents were trying to do that day. We are trying to build a bond and instill an understanding in our son that we are his forever mom and dad. In the past he has often gravitated toward the people who try to rescue him. That sets him up for failure in the future. Even though he has FASD and it is permanent, he will still have to learn to live and function in a real world that may not be understanding. We spend lots of time gently walking alongside of him and helping him, guiding him step by step. But there is a moment when we have to let him learn life lessons. Thanks for your comment. We are glad you are taking part in the conversation.

      • Thanks for the reply. To clarify, I did not state nor would I imply that boundaries are unnecessary. I also don’t think providing gloves to a cold child who made a poor choice is rescuing. Had you not been at the field – and he remained cold – that’s a natural consequence. If you then drove over to bring him gloves that he refused to wear – that would be “rescuing.” I don’t believe life lessons from our attachment figures need to come in harsh packages .

  • Karen

    I am a parent like you, and I also teach our local MAPP class. I always tell my prospective parents that when you choose to foster or adopt any child, the people sitting around you will become like your family. If you have never parented a child who has experienced trauma, born drug addicted, or just has special needs, then you will now become part of a group of parents that will understand how you parent and why you parent the way you do. They will support you and you will support them, and you will understand you aren’t alone in this. Just as you have spawned a discussion and supportive environment here. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Ted Wollnik Jr

    Amen! Isnt it the truth. Why are you so hard on them? If I had a nickel for every time I heard that, we might actually have the $$ to use residential care and get some respite.

    • Yes, yes, yes. We’ve dealt with that! 🙂

  • Unless you have raised a RAD child, you have no idea. Great article.

    • Absolutely. Glad you liked the post. Thanks!

  • Gail Finke

    Such a great piece. My son has different problems but he too is always right. I’m always right and he’s extremely manipulative. Been there!!!! He is now 19 and, sad to say, we did not manage to teach him a lot of things he should know, NOT for want of trying 24/7. Good luck, and great explanation!

    • Gail, so glad you liked the post. Sounds like we’re in the same trench with this!

  • FLFosterMom

    While I understand what you’re saying and agree with most of it… I disagree with letting your child freeze his you-know-what off. We’ve fostered for almost a decade and have had kids with a wide variety of issues, ranging from physical to emotional to mental. There’s discipline and there’s cruelty. Pack the things he needs and when he learns the lesson, have him fetch his things from the car. Kids with things like RAD do tend to reach out to a stranger (like you mentioned, a teacher, coach, etc) and teaching boundaries is hard work, but extending a little grace sometimes isn’t going to take away from the lesson – it’ll in fact teach him that kindness is important. And it’ll still reinforce the point that mom knows best and it would be wise to heed her advice. Good luck, parenting is hard and parenting special needs kids is even harder. God bless!

    • I think you’re reading a bit into this post. I was not cruel at all. This is a blog post not a full chapter book where I can explain everything detail by detail that happened. He stood on the sideline for 1 quarter (10 minutes or so) until I walked over and handed him his gloves. It was a lesson in trusting that moms and dads always provide (remember- I gracefully walked him through what he needed to be prepared the night before). Thanks for your comment!

  • LJ

    I have lost friends and neighbors over this very thing. I am often judged and undermined by well meaning onlookers. It is frustrating when others feel the need to play hero to my son. He is not the “poor orphan child” they believe him to be. He is masterfully manipulative, but not by his own intention. He does not even realize it. His actions are survival skills he learned as a result of years of trauma. I only wish others would see how much we truly love him and how their actions are played out in our family dynamic. Yes he is an awesome kid….I agree, but please do not “gift” our child with things he has led you to believe we cannot afford or that we lack. The reality is that he has structure in place to earn such things to teach him respect for his and others belongings. This is such a sore subject with me as I continue to struggle with others respecting our parental boundaries. They never crossed these boundaries with our bio kids, why do they feel it is appropriate with our adoptive son? Thank you for putting this into words.

    • LJ, we understand this and have gone through it. You’re not alone. We’re in your corner.

  • Sandra Zimmerman

    Very well written. I have a blog … where I write about our sons challenges. May I post your post on my blog? I will link it back to your blog. It is so very well written and quite frankly I am often viewed as “one of those” parents. You have verified everything I have been trying to get across for years.

    • Sandra, definitely. You are free to share the blog. Make sure you check our writing and sharing policy on our About Us page (top of the header on the blog).

  • Shari M

    You sound harsh. But I totally get it. I was there. And I didn’t do it all right. But I totally understand what you are saying. And others around did not understand me either. She was adopted at age twelve. I should pour out love, love, love. Not all those boundaries. Not be so strict. I won’t defend myself. I was harsh. Too harsh sometimes. I tried so hard. It didn’t all pay off in the end. But I totally get what you are saying. Not only do I get it, I want to thank you for saying it. Thank you, even though you don’t know me or my walk, your words comforted me.

    • Shari, you are most welcome. Glad our words could bring comfort.

  • Marg

    You describe my life! I have a 10 year old nephew who is in foster care with us due to drug abuse in womb and a genetic loading of challenges on both side of the family. He is 10 going of 5 or 7 ( when his medication is active). He has ADHD and ASD and ODD. For years friends advised me to “lighten up” with him but seriously, the micromanagement and basic skill re-training that needs to happen all the time is phenomenal really. Some friends now “get it” and I have given up on the ones who don’t. I have two other boys so I know (and appreciate) the difference. I am also fortunate to have more than 20 years experience working with children with special needs and even so the challenges never cease to amaze me.
    Thank for your article. Much appreciated.

  • Naomi

    Oh my Gosh, the article and comments here are helping sooooo much! I adopted my daughter when I married my husband who had been widowed a year before, have been parenting my daughter since she was 4, mostly alone since my husband was active duty military and now long haul truck driving. She is now 11. She was diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder about 2 yrs ago and intensive counseling and our first shot at drugs has not worked at all. She has been dropped by 5 different counselors and it seems like nobody wants to work with her. Nobody seems to have any way to help us, but my instincts tell me this style of parenting gets us the most amount of peace in our home and is safest for the rest of our family. We have to be consistent, use tough love a lot and allow our daughter to experience the consequences she creates for herself. So many people looking in from the outside want to give advice and opinions, but they don’t live with her or experience what she is really like. I am tired of feeling judged all the time, I know her better than anyone on this planet, I love her and want her to grow into a happy and productive woman, this is what works and although progress is slow, I am going to persevere and keep on doing this sometimes exhausting parenting… because I know in my heart it will pay off….

    • Naomi, so glad it has resonated and is helping. We know the exhaustion you are going through.

  • Kelley E. Bortner Senkowski

    WOW, that’s our life, x2 – an 11 yr old and his 9 yr old brother. ALWAYS ‘on’ and prepared for the next onslaught emotionally. It is terminally exhausting physically. Plus bio 16, 19 & 20 yr olds. The 11 yr old sucks the life out of us daily and causes constant chaos due to his anxieties, lack of trust and wanting control – of everyone and every situation. Staying firm on daily house rules and expectations is absolutely necessary. Stating the same reprimands, reminders and redirects every day, draining. We have seen doctors, psychologists, specialists and counselors for years and he manipulates them all. No one understands the level they are dealing with, and to my son, it’s his way of self preservation. You understand. Thank you.

    • Kelley, you are welcome. We totally get it! Hang in there.

  • Christina

    I get what you’re saying!!

    But my first thought was “I wouldn’t let my neurotypical kids off the hook either!! They’d be standing right with your son, freezing their tukuses off!” Hah!! 🙂

    • Ha, this made me laugh! Thanks Christina.

  • Kathy Paskevicius Rau

    I wrote this one day after a rough few years. Thought I would share it with you. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Shieron Phillips

    I am a mother of four children three of whom have been adopted and 1 bio. I have been through this and similar kinds of things over the years. The first time, I remember being in a store with my oldest daughter and my new born awaiting a cab to go home when my daughter wanted something that I said, “No!” to began to have a melt down. While she melted down I sat waiting patiently, often letting her know that I was still there and could hear her. When a man coming into the store and approached my child and began to sooth her. I can tell you I was furious, because he approached her without my permission and also because he thought he was doing me a favour. He was not, he did not show me the respect as a parent and showed her in that moment that neither did she, also she only listened and attached herself to men. I knew no matter what I said, or how often I would try to console her she would not stop. She also use to run up to other women and call them mommy, it hurt at first, but I also knew that it was an attachment issue, that I had to learn about. Boy! I learned a lot.

  • Garey Braid

    I stopped reading after the 2nd paragraph.
    How you parent is how you parent, but you don’t need to be educated to look at the weather. Also, it’s not ironic that the weather man mentions sports, it’s coincidental. Of course, you knew that because you are educated.

  • Cheryl Faria

    Just the other day my 11year old had to go to school without his coat. He left it at school and I reminded him and told him the consequences if he didn’t bring it home. The next morning as he went to the bus coat less, I told the bus driver that he left his coat at school. That afternoon he brought it home. 😃

  • Travis Brubaker

    “It can take the life out of us” – yes, yes it can. That is exactly how I feel today. Exhausted.

    • We are so sorry you go through this. We understand. You’re not alone. 🙂

      • Travis Brubaker

        “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Heb. 6:19

  • Ryan or Janelle M.

    If only… I just finally got my son into a church where he has a small classroom and feels safe enough and can manage his emotions for the 30-40 min time frame. Thank God! We homeschool due to his needs and mommy is D-O-N-E and fried on a 24/7 basis. So when it came time to volunteer to be in the kids church class I openly declined. No. Way. I’m going to church, on my own, without a kid to fill my brain with intellectual material so I can refresh and remind myself if what it feels like to have a working brain, a master’s degree and a personal space bubble. I got flack. Normal parents can truly enrich their child’s life by investing their time, etc etc etc… Ok. We aren’t normal. And no, I cannot enrich my child’s life if I’ve exhausted all my resources and have nothing left to give. Judge-y McJudgerson needs to find someone else for the classroom duties. Simple as that.

  • Becky Roop

    Amen. This is 100 precent our reality with our adopted 8 year old son. Thank you for sharing. Helps to not feel so alone.

  • Amanda Hill Conway

    I’ve been there, Mike. It’s easy for many biological and adoptive parents to say they’d handle this in a “kind, connected” way instead of the “mean, vindictive” manner that you did. What I understand is that the words and feelings you share online with us are mostly to let us know we’re not in this alone. They’re not the exact words and feelings you share with your special needs child. They are something that needs to be shared with other parents so they understand the what’s happening in the background instead of only seeing the moment. Toward a child, especially one with FASD, the vague, connected, or helicopter strategy just gets lost and creates more anxiety. I get it. Hang in there.

  • Carla Hall

    I have a son that is 10 years old. He is great at school. But once we get home it is a nightmare. I’m so tired of trying to stop the aggressive behavior. He is being for ADHD now. Several doctors and therapist are saying autism spectrum. Now they are wanting me to let him go to a hospital for 30 days. I’m not sure I can do this. I don’t want the “change” to set him back further than he already is. Anyone that has any suggestions I am listening. Thank you for letting me know I’m not the only one.