I have been meaning to write a post about this for a long time. There are lots of reasons I haven’t, but I really wanted to share my experience after Sharon’s posts this week. You can read those here and here, but I am sure that you have.
After we had finished our screening for adoption number two earlier this year we decided to start speaking to Jayden about baby number two. We simply asked him if he would like a brother or sister and told him that maybe he would have one soon. We didn’t make a huge deal of it, but we felt that it was a good idea to just speak about it casually. We started to notice a lot of aggressive behavior and he became very clingy. He would also have melt downs for the smallest things where he would sob for ages; it was very difficult to console him.
At this stage we thought he was just going through a stage and we tried to implement stronger boundaries. This only made it worse and we found ourselves in a place where we didn’t know what to do or how to handle him. We were at our wits end!
Then we got a new puppy for my hubby’s 40th. Jayden’s reaction wasn’t really positive and we thought it would just take time for him to accept the new addition, but that wasn’t the case. He began to speak like a baby, which drove us up the wall. I remember tweeting about it and being reassured that this was normal, but this quickly progressed to not speaking at all! I am serious! As I remember, there were about ten days with not one word. The only way he would communicate with us was through grunts and gestures. Of course we were very concerned and an FB friend suggested we try some play therapy.
I booked an appointment and after two session the play therapist confirmed that this was a case of selective mutism. Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder where a person experiences such high anxiety levels that he or she makes the decision not to speak. She explained to us that this was linked to the trauma he experienced as a result of his placement. It was a way of controlling something when he felt that the world around him was out of control. He was feeling anxious because of the talk of another baby and the arrival of the new puppy and was worried that he was going to be replaced and rejected.
I was quite surprised at the diagnosis because we met Jayden the day he was born. He was alone in an incubator for only an hour and I never left his side once we had met him. She further explained that the trauma of placement happens on a cellular level. He was born via cesarean section and his BM was fully anesthetized so his first experience of this world was coming into a cold sterile hospital theater and then taken straight to an incubator to wait for us alone. No cuddles, no kisses and no familiar voices. This effects the reptilian brain and in turn also effects the limbic system which means that Jayden was experiencing anxiety as a result of trauma. She also explained that he may have sensory processing disorder and attachment disorder. The recommendation was that we do four sessions of play therapy to help him cope with his sense of loss and anxiety.
We went for the four sessions and it made a massive difference in Jayden. He was talking again, in fact he was a complete chatter box, and he was happy.We ended up going for about 16 play therapy sessions. They helped Jayden, and they also helped us as parents. We found ourselves in a much happier home. Of course, we still had days where we wanted to pull our hair out …..and we still do, but we didn’t have that intense feeling that something is wrong. Its helped us understand what Jayden is feeling and how we should react to that.
We feel that we have honestly done the absolute best for our boy, and I’m actually glad this has all happened before number two arrives; because we feel we are prepared to deal with any anxiety he may be feeling. We did a lot of attachment work with Jayden through out the play therapy and we can see that he has responded well to this; but this is something that we have to constantly work at. I think that we will probably have to do some OT work with him in the future because he is orally defensive, which is why we have such a hard time feeding him. He also still has times where I can see him shutting down if he is anxious. He will then revert to using one or two words, but with a little reassurance he comes out of it.
I have seen the signs once again this week as we prepare for our daughter to come home. He screamed for 45 minutes when hubby left for work on Wednesday morning and we are once again battling with food in the evenings.
I know that there are lots of people who would say that this is just normal behavior and its actually really difficult to explain just how much I can see the hurt in him in a blog post. We have only discussed the selective mutism and attachment disorder with a few people and we have had various reactions. But I must mention, that our play therapist says she sees this in a lot of adoptive children.
We will not let this define him as a person, but we do feel that we have to parent him gently while still instilling strong boundaries. I honestly believe that adopted children do experience trauma as a result of placement. This plays out in different ways and it also varies in severity…..But its definitely a thing!!