Disclaimer: We are not adoption professionals.
We are adoptive parents hoping to help other adoptive parents.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lost in the Alphabet Soup

We decided to adopt a child from Russia. It was all very exciting. We found an adoption agency. They were fantastic and guided us through all the mounds of paperwork. After months of paper-chasing, we finally submitted our dossier. And then we waited for a referral.

While we were waiting, we did all kinds of fun things to prepare. We got the nursery ready. We made lists of things we'd need to care for a child. We made lists of things we'd need to pack to take to Russia. We read about Russia's culture. We joined yahoo groups and talked with anyone who would listen about our adoption. We had baby showers, we got lots of advice from other parents. And we waited.

While we were waiting, our adoption agency would sometimes send us information on books to read and websites to investigate. They would mention letters like RAD, SPD, ADHD, PTSD, FAS.

And so we researched, just like we were told. We didn't like what we found. Attachment Disorder. Sensory Processing Disorder. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. We'd read a little but it got scary. So we went back to the fun stuff. After all, the baby's room still needed painted....

But you can't easily forget that kind of research. Every once in awhile, I'd see a friend's child scratching at their tag on their shirt. "Hum", I'd find myself thinking, "My friend's child has SPD and she doesn't even know it." Later, I'd see another child who couldn't sit still. "Hum", I'd think again, "That child has ADHD. I wonder if they've looked into that."

I became a diagnoser of the Alphabet Soup without even knowing any details. I was, after all, just a superficial reader of these acronyms.

When we finally brought our child home, I noticed some of these behaviors. Up close and personal. Instead of scratching at his tag, he'd freak out if there were too many toys around him. Instead of not being able to sit still, he'd be hyper-focused on one object.

As time went on, more behaviors surfaced. Was he really just humping his pillow? He is only 3! Does he really cry hysterically over something that really isn't that big of a deal? Does he really shut himself down and almost stops functioning when something doesn't go his way?

I pulled out the books and re-found the websites. I started reading all of this again from a new perspective. I was amazed - I thought these things had been written specifically about my son. Who observed him and then wrote a book about him???

I did what I do when I am in information-overload. I ask a lot of people a lot of questions.

I contacted our home study agency. "Boys will be boys", she said. "He is adjusting fine. You are doing a great job."

I contacted the local social services that focus on child development. They evaluated him. Except the evaluation was language intensive and he didn't quite understand English yet. So the screener talked slower and louder to him. Ugh.

I got on my cyber-groups where there were other adoptive parents. It seemed like everyone had letters tagged onto their kids - and talked about it freely. I felt silly asking any questions. What kind of adoptive mother wouldn't know this stuff anyway??

I talked with my friends who have biological children. "Oh my kid does the same thing" they would tell me. "Don't make a big deal out of it, all kids do that."

His pediatrician said, "Of course he will experience some of these issues, give him time to adjust."

My head started spinning. Was it boys will be boys? Post-institutionalized trauma? How much did his brain not form while he was deprived in the orphanage? How much is biological - and we have no clue what to expect? Should I have him officially diagnosed so he can have letters after his name too?

I didn't know what to think or what to do or how to help him.

Fast forward 4 years. He still has 'issues'. Behaviors will rear up and I'll find myself thinking, "I wonder....." We have had him professionally evaluated and we have no official diagnosis. I am no smarter now about the Alphabet Soup than I was while we were waiting for him to come home.

Perhaps he is border-line in some issues and that is why it hasn't been diagnosed yet. Perhaps we will learn more as time goes on. Perhaps boys will be boys. Perhaps we are missing something. Perhaps we are overlooking something.

Or - Perhaps this is just the way God made him.

Yes, I am sure his past has had a huge effect on his development. Yes, I know he will have those scars for the rest of his life. And yes, it is good to at least have a bit of a grasp on the Alphabet Soup.

However, the Alphabet Soup was drowning me. It was drowing us. I was so consumed with wondering what letters described my son that I was missing a very important point: He is my son and God made him special. And no matter what his "issues", God has big plans for him as he grows. And I need to nuture him just the way he is.

And that seems to make the Alphabet Soup disappear just a bit.... And then the real personality of who my son is - who he was created to be - can shine just a little bit brighter.

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