I doubt there are many adopters that can read the title of this blog without a shudder of sheer horror running down their spine.
‘Change’ is difficult for most adopted children. In the same way that the Autistic child thrives on routine, structure and familiarity, the Adopted child feels safe when there is routine, structure and familiarity.
For the adopted child, this stems from their past traumas. At times of change in their past, bad things happened.
A new violent boyfriend moved in,
A change in mood was the difference between being safe or not,
Social workers changed everything when they removed them,
A change in foster carer turned their world upside down again,
A new family took them away from everything they knew, more change.
Change was always very scary, so why should they believe that change can ever be anything other than scary. Its not just a memory, a fear or a feeling, scientific evidence shows the traumatized brain of an infant develops and reacts differently to stress, than that of healthy typical infant brain.
Quick Science Lesson
The typical healthy child feels secure in their environment and operates from the Intellectual part of the brain called the Neocortex. This is the newest part of the brain. So during times of stress the neurons are ignited in the prefrontal Cortex part of the brain, this is the thinking part. This enables rational thinking and in-turn rational responses. Meaning the stress is managed.
However, the traumatized child is in a constant state of survival meaning they function from the Primitive parts of the brain. These are the parts of the brain that developed first, they kept us alive when we lived in caves and life was all about survival, they are the Limbic System and the Reptilian Brain. The Limbic System is the part of the brain which handles things like emotions, memories and mood control. The reptilian brain is the part that controls instinctive reactions such as freeze/flight/fight responses. So during times of stress neurons are activated in the Limbic system and Reptilian Brain, in particular the Amygdala with is buried deep inside the middle of the Reptilian brain. These primitive parts of the brain manage stress with emotional survival based responses without the benefits of rational thinking from the Neocortex. Meaning the stress is not managed.
Ok science lesson over, basically, change is hard for adopted kids and its not something they can learn to control overnight. In fact lots and lots of trust, love, consistency, predictability and stability is what is needed to help the primitive brain chill out, step aside and allow the intellectual brain to thrive.
We’re having a tricky time here at the moment, Change is attacking us from all angles. There was sports day, Mr FO5’s birthday, Fathers Day last week. This week is/was Health & Hygiene talks, school trips, visitors in school playing noisy oil drums and taking up space in the hall meaning schedules need to be changed, there are sporting activities taking place for tournaments meaning more changes to schedules and then there is the build up to class assemblies. Next week there are class assemblies, more sporting activities, and the build up to the end of the year. It continues like this for several weeks.
Is it any wonder my girls are fretting each morning about whether they need to remove their earrings for PE or not. Whether they’ll be doing phonics today or not. Whether they’ll have assembly today or not. Whether their teacher will be busy with a sporting activity leaving only the TA in class or not. It sounds so unimportant doesn’t it but in reality the primitive parts of their brains are in override, they’re in a state of panic because they don’t know what is going to happen next. They cant cope with the unpredictability of change. They contain this panic and fear all day, they hide behind their smiles and pretend everything is ok, because they reason that ‘if I’m ok, then your ok’ and that’s the best way they can keep themselves safe. Then they come home, emotionally drained and exhausted, they feel safer, and it all comes out. Its not much fun. There are lots of tears, sometimes mine too.
I put so much effort in to making my girls feel safe, we have the most predictable, consistent mundane lives you could imagine, I teach and pre-teach everything, I prepare and protect, I listen to them and meet their needs and slowly I’m seeing the benefits of this. Slowly, very slowly, they’re starting to feel more secure, they’re comfortable within their boundaries which is why they bring their stress home, they know they can safely let off stream at home without the fear of being taken away.
I also put a lot of effort in to helping others to understand the importance of helping the girls to feel safe outside of our home so that they don’t have to let it build up all day and bring it home. In particular school, after all the girls spend more of their waking days there and school is the primary source of all of their stress and anxiety. Change happens, I understand that, but these frightened children need to be prepared for change in much better ways. I cant be sure that all of their anxiety is driven from their past trauma’s, they all also have Autistic Spectrum Condition diagnosis’s so some could also be attributed to that, but either way the rules for ‘Change’ are the same, Prepare Prepare Prepare.
Managing the girls stress levels is draining and exhausting. There isn’t much energy left for fighting the same fight over and over, and I shouldn’t have to, It shouldn’t be this hard, I’m not making it all up, Its Brain Science!