Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Stealing and revealing

As promised, today I'm going to write about stealing, trying to show this more from the my kids' point of view.  Because one of the things our social workers tell us over and over again is that we have to try to understand where the behavior is coming from.  This is the part of the process I'm the least comfortable with; it seems "touchy-feely" to me.  I'm on more solid ground when I can talk about concrete things (like locks on cabinets) or about rewards and consequences.  I'll leave those for future posts.

To see why this part is important, though, I'll give you an example of a completely different issue; it's an example that comes up over and over again in foster care classes.  Why does a child wet her bed every night?  For most parents, they might suspect bladder issues or some such "ordinary" answer.  But for some foster kids, it's a defense mechanism.  Peeing the bed keeps them from getting molested by the creep their birth mom has been dating.   You hear that, and you realize that most of the "normal" methods for keeping a kid dry at night just aren't going to work here.
Me and the toddler N-son, back in the year 2001.

For all of my sons, impulse control is a real issue.  We brought N-son to our home at the delicate age of 6 weeks, so you think he'd be pretty much like any of our own birth children.  But the prenatal care that his birth mom had consisted of this:  she walked into the hospital, announced she was in labor, and said she wanted to place him for adoption.  He'd had a stroke in utero; he had seizures when he was two days old.  His right side has always lagged behind his left side -- he essentially can't see out of one eye.

I say all that because there are people who worry about over-diagnosing ADHD.  My son has clearly had something messing with his brain since before he was born.  With N-son, when he's not on his concerta, he gets so clumsy he hurts himself.  Even on his meds, he can alternate between flinching at any physical touch at one extreme, and standing way too close at the other.  (The code word we use is "Bubble!", as in "give the other person a bubble of space".  I say that and he knows to step back one step).

Impulse control comes and goes with N-son.  He started pilfering candy and spare change at night, while we were asleep, only after he saw his brother J-son doing it, and -- like many bad habits started carelessly -- it became a very difficult habit to break.  I think he really doesn't want to do it, any more than many smokers want to keep smoking . . . but candy and snacks are just too hard to resist.

J-son was taken from his birth mom when he was in kindergarden -- I should say, the first time he was in kindergarden.  He had to repeat that grade.  Like N-son, J-son's prenatal care was minimal; but he had additional physical problems his first few years:  pulmonary trouble, encopresis (constipation so bad that he'd leak and soil his underwear), and a lot of times when he wasn't sure he'd get dinner.  He doesn't talk about it much with me, but when he gets on the telephone with his birth sister, he'll say things like, "Remember the time the police came to our house?  Remember how there was never anything to eat?"
J-son cares for the baby of a friend.
He's impulsive; he's also
a real people-person who loves kids.

When he moved in with his foster mom, he was so hyper that his foster mom installed a mini trampoline in her living room, and he'd practice his ABC's while he jumped up and down.  Once his foster mom got permission to start him on ritalin, he started earning A's in school.   He's calmed down enough that he almost seems not to need his meds; unlike N-son, J-son's ADHD isn't mostly physical.  But it's definitely behavioral.  

J-son started taking things a year after he moved in with us; it was also the time we officially adopted him.  It was also the time we lowered his ADHD meds because he was doing so well, and who wants to put kids on high doses of unnecessary meds, anyway?

What caused the theft?  He'd certainly been around other kids in other houses who took stuff, so it could have been imitation.  It also might have been hunger -- he has a high metabolism and doesn't sleep well at night, so it makes sense that he'd get up and raid the kitchen cabinets for jars of peanut butter, or take candy.  And while he's there, take money for the school vending machine.  Food insecurity, come back to haunt him.   And it could also be the impulse/medication issue.  Of all our kids, J-son clearly has the most difficulty with delayed gratification -- he just can't seem to wait for anything.  

Lots of anguish, lots of punishment and restriction and rewards later, the N-and-J-son stealing is under control.   Part of the solution was filling up a giant box with cans of soup that the boys can eat if they get hungry at night -- and emphasizing that there's a right way to get a midnight snack.  But I admit that another part of it was upping the drugs to their original levels.

And C-son?  It's so hard to tell what goes on in his head, because he doesn't talk much.  He moved in with us just three months ago.  At age 15, he's lived in over 20 different homes in his life.  That alone is hard to fathom.  It gets more unfathomable.  He was adopted once before, and that family abused him; during that time he got in trouble with the law and ended up in a mental hospital.  Another time, the foster mom he was living with had a heart attack and died while the paramedics were working on her, while he was in the house.  Again, behavior problems followed.
C-son gently "touches up" a hair cut for J-son.
C-son loves tools and is highly detail oriented.

For C-son, what is surprising is not that he's started taking things.  What's amazing to me is what he doesn't do.  He has never destroyed something in our home.  He's never hit his brothers in anger.  When he gets upset, he doesn't yell, thrash, or become violent -- he just storms out of the home for 10 minutes, and then comes back to sulk/hide in his room.  He shuts down and becomes unresponsive, but he doesn't make himself a danger to himself or others.

Part of the issue, we're slowly realizing, is that he takes things that enable him to log onto Facebook.  For a kids who has moved around as much as he has, staying connected to current and former friends (and even -- sort of scary to us -- to his birth family) is important to him.  And we've been so concerned about internet addiction that we've severely restricted internet access in the home.  In a way, he's just trying to rebalance what we've done to him.

But that's not the only aspect of his taking/hoarding.  He seems to have more self control than the other boys, but also to seem to just want stuff.  To keep things, like a magpie.  Or like a dragon, sitting on his gold.  It might be because he's moved so many times and therefore had to give things up so much.  It might be a control issue: he loves tinkering with things, figuring out how they work, and he's especially drawn to things that are mechanical and electrical.  We're still trying to figure this one out.

I don't seem to be trying to convince anyone to consider adoption, do I?  I re-read this and realize it sounds horribly, horribly depressing and difficult.  That's the down side of this touchy-feely stuff; getting bogged down in gloominess.  Because there's a lot of good stuff, too.   So let me just remind you that these are the same kids who learned to use the sewing machine and made me bean bags as a surprise gift; the same kids who willingly and proudly spent the summer doing chores; the same kids who sit quietly beside us in church.  The same kids who giggle together, and who riff on the guitar to "Bille Jean's not my lover".  The depressing past doesn't really predict the future.  

But this week is the depressing stuff.  More on stealing tomorrow.

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