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The Last Piece of the Puzzle Print
Saturday, 24 March 2007
For almost three years we did everything we could to help our son heal. We sought guidance and support from everyone we believed could help our son or teach us what to do to meet his very complex needs. We faced attachment-strain, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism spectrum disorder, sensory integration dysfunction, chronic constipation, acid reflux, chronic stomachaches, food allergies/intolerances, and feeding issues. It was all so overwhelming. Little by little, with many coaches assisting “our team”, we put all the pieces of the puzzle together.

Our team included:
  • Attachment therapists
  • Feeding therapists
  • Speech therapists
  • Occupational therapists
  • A floortime therapist
  • A special instructor
  • Music therapists
  • An international adoption pediatric specialist
  • Gastro-intestinal doctors
  • Allergists
  • A neurologist
  • A developmental pediatrician
  • Child psychologists
  • A theraplay therapist
  • A neuro-biofeedback provider

With support from the team, our son made a great deal of progress. He was worlds away from where we started, but in the end there were some issues we just could not shake; the members of our team were unable to fully address the digestive, neurological, and emotional issues.

During this time I heard about bio-medical intervention and did some reading. We even tried a GF/CF (gluten-free/casein-free) diet. I didn’t further pursue bio-medicine because no one on our team--not one of those professionals--mentioned it at all aside from the neurologist who told me, “It is unfounded and they will steal your money.”

One year after our neurologist made that comment a very trusted member of our team felt we were missing something and she encouraged us to look into bio-medicine. Though this team member admitted she did not know much about it, she felt it just might be our missing link. She mentioned this at the same time our gastro-intestinal doctor claimed our son was perfectly healthy…perfectly healthy despite the constipation that still plagued him…perfectly healthy despite the countless times a day our son cried about his hurting belly…how could he be “perfectly healthy?”

I spent the next couple weeks reading as much as I could and talking to other mothers who sought and found healing through bio-medical interventions. One book I read that really spoke to me about my son’s residual issues was Gut and Psychology Syndrome, written by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. (Go to this page for book information.) It was after reading this book that I was convinced we needed to go from a GF/CF diet to a more selective one. We immediately started the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) outlined by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride in her book.

I will admit the first two weeks of the SCD diet were beyond difficult. Our son went through withdraw that was so intense that part of me just wanted to give in and give him back the foods his body craved, and the other part was reassured that this diet must be something he needed to heal. The reaction to not having the complex carbohydrates his body craved was not normal. It caused him to rage all day despite the fact that he had plenty to eat, including favorite foods from the past.

After about two weeks of the diet, our son calmed significantly. He was calmer and more regulated than any other time in his life, but that was not all. He was happy. It’s sad when a mother can look back and come to the conclusion that her child was never happy. He was not a happy baby. He was not a happy toddler. He had happy moments…minutes, days, even weeks. But overall he was never truly happy until we made dramatic changes to his diet that eased the stress of his digestive system; a system in need of major repair.

After we had our son stable on the diet we looked for more answers. We began consulting with a Clinical Nutritionist who ran tests that no one on our team had. It was through her findings that we received confirmation that our son’s digestive system was very toxic, and we finally had specific information that showed how his digestive system was impacting his neurological function and mood. The results were daunting, but at that point we were relieved to finally have real answers that we knew could be used to find more healing for our son.

Our Clinical Nutritionist prescribed a protocol of digestive enzymes and supplements. We immediately saw dramatic improvement in our son’s health, behavior, mood, and development. He ate better, he felt better, and he acted better. The child whose glass was always half empty was positive and excited about everything. The child whose mood could swing rapidly for little to no obvious reason let things fall right off his back. The child who could argue his way around and out of everything would smile and say, “Okay, if you say so!” The child who struggled with interaction and engagement with people quickly found ease in both. The child who obsessed over topics to avoid his thoughts and feelings began to use his favorite topics to share and interact with others. The child who struggled in situations that involved a great deal of sensory input ran right into a children’s gym and found friends to play with! The child who spoke mainly to have his needs and wants met began to have real conversations. His language exploded.

The changes were dramatic! The changes were easily noticeable to family and friends we saw often as well as family and friends we saw occasionally. They all wanted to know just where this child came from. The truth is he was not different…he was healing. He was finally healing! The issue we’d not been able to shake was the way his digestion affected his neurological function. We continue to add more professionals to our team in an effort to find more answers for our son through bio-medical interventions. We have so much hope that we have finally found the missing link to full healing.

I’ve been asked after sharing our story if our son ever really did have attachment-strain. Without a doubt, YES! However, in our situation recovery and healing involved many different approaches. The attachment professionals on our team were all helpful and necessary, but alone they would not have been enough for our son. I’ve always considered our son a complex puzzle. It would not be honest for me to say we did not struggle to navigate the very long and ever-changing road to healing. But it was through bio-medicine that we found the final missing link for our son to fully heal. We are grateful to all those who have helped us on this journey.

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Open Letter to Attachment Professionals Print
Friday, 16 March 2007
Dear Attachment Professionals,

Several years ago, I learned that my sweet toddler was suffering from the effects of separation from birth mother, foster mother, moves and transitions. After successfully parenting several other children, I thought I knew how to parent. I DID know how to parent. I just didn’t know how to parent a child who’d been adopted…and especially one who’d experienced a lot of change in a short life.

I was scared. I’d tried every parenting trick I’d successfully used with my other kids and many that were new to me. Nothing worked. And my child’s behaviors were escalating. I knew I had to find some help. But where?

I started reading; this helped and stressed me out at the same time. Many of the books made it clear what I should not do: no spanking, no time-outs, no isolating the child, no verbal reprimands, no talking during tantruming. I quickly became overwhelmed by all the things NOT to do and wondered what I SHOULD do. Family members looked at my child's escalating behaviors and wondered when I was going to discipline.

I did learn a few techniques in the books that seemed to improve our situation. But the books weren’t enough. I needed someone to teach me how to become a therapeutic parent. It didn’t take me long to understand that attachment therapists were hard to find. I read about parents who couldn’t locate one in their state and had to fly in a professional. I also learned that some states without attachment therapists wouldn’t accept professionals from out of state, leaving the parents without options.

Luckily, we eventually found a GREAT therapist. Attachment therapy, neuro work, therapeutic parenting, and a lot of hard work have brought healing. Several years have passed but I still remember the panic I felt.

So why am I telling you this? I’m speaking out because I regularly hear from folks just like myself. They need HELP. They are GOOD PARENTS. They are not having problems with their kids because of their own past “baggage”**; they are having problems because no one has taught them how to parent a child who began life in very stressful circumstances.

(**Once in a great while I do encounter a parent whose past is preventing them from helping their child to heal. But this is the extreme minority.)

Then I receive a book for review, hoping that this will be another resource I can recommend to struggling families. Yet what do I find? A book filled with negative comments about other attachment professionals. But I’m hearing that this is becoming the norm. Professional X is publicly distancing himself from Professional Y who does “that outdated form of attachment therapy.” Professional Y is distancing herself from Professional Z because “his methods aren’t proven.” Professional Z wants nothing to do with Professional O because Professional O is aligning himself with Professional X…and it goes on and on and on.

And meanwhile, I continue to hear from desperate families; families that are on the verge of implosion because they have NO ONE TO TURN TO. It’s very hard to find good attachment therapists and the job is made even more difficult by the leaders in the field who, like the group of kids caught with their hands in the cookie jar, all point to one another and scatter like bugs when someone yells RAID!

It’s obviously very stressful to be an attachment professional right now. You have very hard jobs that are being made even more difficult by both outside pressures and by infighting. But WE NEED YOU. We need you to teach us concrete ways to help us to heal our families.

I am always on the lookout for good therapists…in any state, in any nation. And I am looking for professionals who choose to focus on building their knowledge, helping their families, and healing, rather than on tearing down others in the field who are trying their best to do the same thing. My only goal is to help children and the families that love them. I hope to find more professionals who are striving to reach the same goal.


Cynthia Hockman-Chupp

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New Book for Children Print
Thursday, 15 March 2007
The new picture book by Christine Mitchell, Welcome Home, Forever Child, fills a need for children who were adopted post-infancy. While acknowledging that the new family may have missed many firsts—crawling, new teeth, first smiles—it also celebrates the firsts that the family will experience together: riding a horse, camping, swimming, school. In cheerful rhyme, the text also speaks of all the things the parents will do for the child: “count to twenty as you hide,” fix broken toys, kiss booboos, mark growth on the wall and more. The book, while appropriate for any adoption, especially meets the needs of trans-racial families as the main characters, cats, are all uniquely colored.

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Neuro Reorg at Home Print
Wednesday, 14 March 2007
Move to Learn

Since my introduction to neuro reorganization, I’ve always wondered why someone doesn’t make the information/exercises more readily available to the general public. The specific information our neurodevelopmentalist provided after assessing our child was invaluable; she looked at his individual movements and prescribed exactly what he needed to improve his neurological function, always with his early losses in mind. Unfortunately, at A4everFamily we often hear from people for whom hiring a private neurodevelopmentalist is virtually impossible due to finances or locale. For these families, we have searched for more accessible information.

Barbara Pheloung, a special education teacher in Australia, has spent the last 30 years studying the work of Doman, Delcato, and other founders of neuro reorganization. She has applied this knowledge to help learning disabled students, many of whom demonstrate neurological immaturities as well as issues with sensory integration, dominance, laterality, attention, food sensitivities and more…a list of issues that also seem to affect children who are adopted at a higher rate than other children.

On her video, Move to Learn, a sequence of nine movements is provided that, while not a miracle cure, have consistently demonstrated success with students who have learning disabilities. The list of movements looks promising, being very similar to what many children are being prescribed in neuro reorganization programs. The similarities are likely due to the fact that students with learning disabilities and children with early losses benefit from exercises that target neurological levels associated with early development.

Like anything else, neuro reorganization exercises are not a “one-size-fits-all” prescription. However, the similarities between her program and what many of us are doing with our kids are striking. If I wanted an introduction to neuro reorg exercises, could not afford to hire a private neurodevelopmentalist, or was in a location without neuro help, I would want to watch this video. Also check books by Pheloung including Help Your Child to Learn and Help Your Class to Learn .

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The Boy Who Was Raised As a Dog Print
Saturday, 24 February 2007
It’s not often that a book is published on the neurobiology of trauma. It’s even less often that I would read one, be completely riveted by it, and then want to discuss it with everyone I meet. But Bruce Perry’s newly released book, The Boy Who Was Raised As a Dog, meets all of those criteria and more, making it a must-read for parents, professionals and anyone who works with children.

Many of us grew up hearing the adage, “Children are resilient.” At last, Perry puts this myth to rest, saying, “Children are more vulnerable to trauma than adults.” (p. 38.) As parents many of us are told that our children cannot have trauma issues because they were adopted at young ages. Yet Perry dispels this, saying “The earlier [the trauma] starts, the more difficult it is to treat and the greater the damage is likely to be.” (p. 152.) Because of the immense change and malleability of the young brain, children are “rapidly and easily transformed by trauma.” And he has learned, as have many adoptive parents, that “though its effects may not always be visible to the untrained eye, when you know what trauma can do to children, sadly, you begin to see its aftermath everywhere.” (p. 39.)

With a combination of sad, but fascinating case studies, Perry shows the reader what happens to a child’s brain when the child undergoes trauma in the first few months or years of life. Although his stories are pictures of horrific abuse & neglect, it is easy to apply the understanding of how children who’ve experienced the early loss and separation inherent with adoption--and especially those who may have been neglected, however unintentionally, due to low ratios of caregivers in institutional settings—may experience some of the same problems. Dissociation, behavioral outbursts, sleep problems and hyperactivity are addressed. He writes, “In a classroom setting, unfortunately, both dissociation and hyper-arousal responses look remarkably like attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity or oppositional-defiant disorder. Dissociated children quite obviously are not paying attention: they seem to be daydreaming or “spacing out,” rather than focusing on schoolwork, and indeed they have tuned out the world around them. Hyper-aroused youth can look hyperactive or inattentive because what they are attending to is the teacher’s tone of voice or the other children’s body language, not the content of their lessons. The aggression and impulsivity that the fight or flight response provokes can also appear as defiance or opposition… While not all ADD, hyperactivity and oppositional-defiant disorder are trauma-related, it is likely that the symptoms that lead to these diagnoses are trauma-related more often than anyone has begun to suspect.” (p. 51)

But the exciting threads are those in which Perry describes his model designed to help children of trauma, called the “Neurosequential approach.” Perry understands what many parents of traumatized children have learned through trial and error, that “these children need patterned, repetitive experiences appropriate to their developmental needs, needs that reflect the age at which they’d missed important stimuli or had been traumatized, not their current chronological age.” He describes an amazing foster mother, “Mama P,” who instinctively knew to hold, rock and cuddle a seven-year-old, “providing the touch and rhythm that he’d missed as an infant, experience necessary for proper brain growth. A foundational principle of brain development is that neural systems organize and become functional in a sequential manner. Furthermore, the organization of a less mature region depends, in part, upon incoming signals from lower, more mature regions. If one system doesn’t get what it needs when it needs it, those that rely upon it may not function well either, even if the stimuli that the later developing system needs are being provided appropriately. The key to healthy development is getting the right experiences in the right amounts at the right time.” Perry’s neurosequential model focuses on treating the part of the brain at the level in which the child was “affected by neglect and trauma.” In this fashion, each brain level is addressed sequentially until the child reaches the point “where his biological age and his developmental age” match. (p. 139)

Oftentimes this means that parents must address the needs of a single child from many developmental levels. In talking to one family of a seven-year-old, adopted at three, Perry says, “The challenge is that, in one moment, you will need to have expectations and provide experiences that are appropriate for a five-year-old, for example, when you are teaching him a specific cognitive concept. Ten minutes later, however, the expectation and challenges will have to match those for a younger child, for example, when you are trying to teach him to interact socially. He is, developmentally, a moving target. This is why parenting these children is such a frustrating experience. One moment you are doing the correct thing and the next, you are out of sync.” (p. 223.)

Although the book is a must-read, two regrettable pieces were included. One is a description of an antiquated form of “holding therapy” that is more appropriately termed “rage reduction therapy.” Perry condemns the technique, yet he speaks of the marvelous work of the foster mother, “Mama P,” who instinctually knows to hold her children because they are “her babies.” The descriptions of the way that Mama P pulls her children close, helping them to become regulated in her calm presence, sounds like the type of holding that many of us would include under the umbrella of the term “holding therapy.” It’s unfortunate that assumptions are made that “holding therapy” is all bad, placing all types of holding under one broadly condemned category of therapy. A second regret is the designation of an entire chapter to a case where an adoptive mother with Munchausen’s by proxy syndrome (in which someone tries to make a child sick to bring attention to herself) attempts to make professionals believe her child has reactive attachment disorder. Munchausen by proxy is rare and it’s unfortunate that more doubt has been cast on the immensely hard job of parents of children with RAD through this story.

Yet despite the two reservations, this book is a powerful, informative, and immensely interesting read on the effects of trauma on the young, developing brain. It truly is a must-read for parents, professionals, and anyone who works with children.

Thank you, Dr. Perry, for helping us to help our children!

For information and materials regarding Dr. Perry's Neurosequential model, please visit his website.

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