Since Dr. F gave his opinion that many of Taz's issues are related to early childhood trauma, I've been doing some reading up. But first, here's some background.
Taz spent almost his first year of life with a very loving kind older woman who fostered babies until they went home or to pre-adoptive families. When Taz was about to turn one, two very traumatic events took place.
One, he had his palate surgery, which is a big operation. And two, he moved from the only mom he ever knew to a pre-adoptive family. So, as he was healing from his surgery, he was also transitioning to a new family. One that included a mom, dad, and 6 yr old brother. Oh, and an entire farm.
Taz went from living in a quiet environment with one caregiver in a small home to living on a farm with a family of four. All the while, healing from a major operation.
He had just turned one, which is significant in my mind. A lot of developmental growth happens just before and after 12 months of age. Most are exploring how to use their legs for walking instead of crawling. Many babies are also beginning to communicate with words or gestures. They are also in the throes of stranger anxiety and making significant relationships with other adults outside their family. They are quickly developing fine motor skills like feeding themselves and drinking from a cup. There's a lot going on for a one year old!
Taz should have been going through all these stages, but instead he was dropped from one traumatic event, surgery, to another, a complete change in environment and losing the one caregiver he felt safe with.
So, he was supposed to be healing from surgery, meeting major gross motor and language skills, all without the support from anyone he knew and trusted. We know from Maslow's Hierarchy of needs there can be no growth or development if safety is not first achieved.
Taz did not feel safe, therefore he did not learn to walk or talk when he should have.
We also know how important bonding and attachment is to a child. Studies have shown that attachment within the first year of life is crucial to the development of most social skills (and sometimes even survival as the case of overcrowded orphanages with high infant death rates). This pre-adopt family didn't understand that. I believe that for the three months that Taz was in this pre-adoptive home, he had no bond or attachment with anyone.
He was lost.
Taz's speech therapist had visited Taz at the pre-adoptive family's home during this time. She said Taz sat in the middle of the room with his back towards everyone and didn't smile at all, as if he were depressed.
This family probably had all the best intentions in the world, but they had a farm to attend to. Taz was a very high needs baby. He needed someone to be with him ALL the time. To hold him, rock him, feed him, sing to him, carry him around constantly, for at least the first few months.
I think this family expected Taz to fit into their world instead of going into his.
They expected him to be a typical one year old. Actually, I think they expected him to be better than a typical one year old.
I received a letter when Taz came to us from this mother, mostly about his schedule and what kind of foods he liked. But there were several parts that jumped out at me that I've written below. Now remember, this is a very traumatized one year old we're talking about.
"Taz is selfish and thinks the whole world revolves around him. He needs to learn to wait and that other people have needs too."
"Taz is lazy so you have to hold his hands and make him walk everywhere. We are also making him use sign language to communicate."
Think about this for a minute.
Taz is one. All one year olds are selfish and think the world revolves around them! Not just that but he really needed someone to give him extra attention and extra love and meet his needs extra fast so he knew he was safe.
Also, they didn't seem to recognize that this was a fragile child that needed lots of time to acclimate to a new living environment and a new family. Instead they pushed him into the developmental stages they felt he should be doing way before he was ready. Before he knew he was safe.
Here's the sad part. When Taz came to us (I'll get into that trauma in a minute), any time we tried to stand him on his feet while holding his hands for balance he would start screaming bloody murder. When we stopped, he would stop. I think he had negative feelings associated with being on his feet. No wonder he didn't walk until almost 18 months!
He was also in no place to learn to communicate. He needed to know he could depend on his new family to meet his needs no matter what.
I've been told by an unnamed source that there was a referral on this couple called in for possible abuse and neglect. I don't really know what happened there. I don't think they abused him but I don't think they were particularly good to him either. They may have left him in his crib crying for long periods of time. At least that's what I heard. But before social workers could investigate the family called to say they wanted Taz out of the house by the end of the week. Their reason was because "he cried too much".
So the department of children and families had an emergency meeting to pick out a new pre-adoptive family for Taz. That's when we entered the picture. With two days notice, they told us about Taz. Then the social worker picked him up from the home he'd been in for 3 months, dropped him off at our house, then said goodbye and good luck, all in one day.
Trauma number three. Even though Taz didn't bond with the last family, it didn't do him any good to dump him with yet another family he didn't know within mere months of the last move. All he knew was that the last two sets of caregivers had disappeared and (even though we ultimately turned out to be pretty cool people) again he had to navigate a new environment and more strangers. New sounds, new smells, maybe new types of foods, new pets, new routine, etc. How scary!
If we had neglected his needs for nurturing and instead pushed his development like the last family, Taz would probably have RAD (reactive attachment disorder). But we didn't. I quit my job to stay home with him. We didn't let anyone babysit for several months. We held him all the time. I carried him in a sling. We rocked him to sleep every night. We spent tons of time with him, playing peek-a-boo, bathing, massaging, cuddling.
We didn't push him to walk or talk. We met all of his needs for him whether he was able to on his own or not. We made him depend on us for everything. Gradually he learned to trust us. And only then did he start meeting his milestones. Very late. But late is better than never. And late is better than RAD.
I've been reading a book by a psychiatrist who specializes in childhood trauma. I've learned a lot.
First, trauma, no matter how small, impacts the brain. The earlier it happens the more devastating the effects are. Taz certainly shows some effects from his early trauma. For one, I believe this triggered the bipolar symptoms. Two, he's very anxious. Three, he has the survival instinct that kids with traumatic backgrounds do. Four, he has trust issues.
I think trauma does account for some of the "fight or flight" response we see.
BUT. I don't think it's everything.
Because Taz did have his first foster mom who nurtured him and loved him and took care of him, I think he fared better than others. The first twelve months of life are so important. I hate to sound so drastic but the first year could possibly be the difference between becoming a sociopath and being able to heal and have significant relationships in life.
Two stories in the book I read are perfect examples of this.
One 16 year old boy was in maximum security prison for violently murdering and raping two young girls. He came from a loving hardworking family with high morals. None of his siblings had any criminal history. This boy was deemed to be a sociopath, meaning he had no feelings for anyone but himself and couldn't empathize or connect with other people, and ultimately would spend his life in prison.
A 6 year old boy was found living in a cage with the dogs his caretaker had a business breeding. His basic needs were met for food, clothing, and water but his caretaker (an elderly man with no experience with children) treated him like the dogs he bred. The boy could not walk or talk. But once he was put in a home with a loving patient family, he very quickly began catching up developmentally to his peers and was able to have lasting relationships with others.
What was the difference?
Well, the first boy, the sociopath, after investigating his background had found his mother (who had a low IQ) had become overwhelmed caring for two children (he had an older brother) and left the infant home alone most of the day while taking the older son out for long walks and errands. His father worked long hours and also did not interact with the infant much. He had little to no human interaction the first year of life. Once he got older and they found he was delayed and acting out they got him specialized services and he went to special schools. His parents were very loving towards him and tried to help him the best way they could, but it was too late. The damage was already done.
The boy raised by dogs, however, had been nurtured, cared-for, and loved by the dog breeder's wife for the first year of his life before she died. After she died was when the neglect had started. But he was already able to associate human contact with pleasure by that point.
Two extreme stories of course, but you get the idea.
Taz had major trauma early in life that contributes some what to his current (and probably lasting) issues. But his infant experience of nurturing essentially saved him from even more devastating problems than Bipolar Disorder. And for that, I'm thankful.
Trauma vs. mental illness:
- Taz is able to have significant deep relationships and attachments (Nana, Grampa, daycare teachers, friends, etc)
- Taz's behaviors are mostly dictated by his mood, not by fear or by the need to control a situation. He is fearful, but that doesn't account for his behavior. He is afraid of many things but he tells us and we reassure him, like a typical child.
- Taz is not a sociopath. He is compassionate and can empathize with others (when his bipolar mask isn't in place)
- Taz's behaviors are not triggered by situations that relate to his trauma (at least not most of the time) as the doctor said. He is in an internal battle, it's often within himself. That's why one day he can handle getting himself dress, and the next he can't. One day the battle is calm, the next day it's raging.
- Taz is not manipulative
- Taz allows himself to be loved and can love others
Now if I could only make those know-it-all professionals see.