A year ago we were beginning to despair of finding anything that would help K behave like a normal first grader and stop the fits of rage that were ruining everything. I remember sitting up one night talking to her after weeks of hitting and acting out on an almost daily basis at school. She said, “Mommy, I don’t want to be like this”, in a sad, sad voice that seemed devoid of any hope. DH and I were also afraid to hope anymore. Her behavior, always a problem, had gotten steadily worse since beginning first grade. Two solid years of therapy and she only seemed more unhappy, her behavior more extreme.
Today it’s like we’ve scrubbed away a dirty film of anger and self hate to reveal an amazingly mature and empathetic eight year old. She has friends, does well in school, excels in sports and is becoming more social. I don’t really know how we managed to get from there to here, but a lot of things have changed. We “gave in” and put her on meds. That alone made a huge difference, but the anger was still there, it was just less extreme. We finally managed to end the relationship with a therapist we didn’t feel great about, and instead K is focusing her time on riding therapy. I’m not suggesting one is better than another, just that after three years of therapy with no breaks at all, perhaps the focus on a more physical therapy is what she needed.
We chose riding therapy because of the focus on animals. She’s hysterically afraid of animals. When we first went to the stables, she was completely on edge since chickens, dogs, cats and horses seemed to appear out of nowhere. I asked her if she wanted to go back to the car, but she said she wanted to “deal with the challenge”. She’s been going for more than a month now, enjoys it and is more relaxed around the animals. She still hates the chickens though.
The fear of animals goes back for as long as we can remember. I think it may be related to her first time ever seeing crowds of people walking and riding bikes, and dogs and children seeminly running in circles all around her.
When we first brought her home, we didn’t get any specific advice on integrating an orphanage child into our modern lifestyle. Today I know that both my children suffer from different effects of being denied sensory experiences. Both have issues related to sensory integration. Both dislike loud noises and crowds. When we adopted her, Karen had never been outside of the baby home grounds, and rarely left the single room that acted as both playroom, dining room and bedroom. She had never been in a car until we took her to get passport photos at age 2. She had never touched, or even seen a live animal.
We brought her back to Israel and our first full day home was sunny and warm. We made plans to meet up with another local couple who had shared our adoption journey. Both our families arrived home from Kiev on the same day. We were happy to follow their lead and meet them at the park with both our newly adopted children.
We met in a crowded Tel Aviv park full of people and animals, all moving faster than K had ever seen before. It must have overwhelmed her because after we got home she went into shock, refusing food and water, and lay on the floor with a blank look on her face. Our acupuncturist, Dr. Barak, advised me to put on a Russian language tv station so she would hear something familiar. Karen is a survivor and eventually snapped out of it. But it seems that the fear of dogs may be left over from that critical time when we exposed her to too much stimulation before she was ready for it.
Last year, when the phone rang, we always worried it was the school or an angry parent. “What did K do now?”. She still has fights with other children, after all, she’s still our strong-willed K, but today it’s always an issue of how she managed to turn the situation around, or at least to maintain self control. Adults who work with her often comment on how self aware she is for an 8 year old. She learned the hard way, but seems to have gained so much from the struggle.