Early Therapy Proves Successful


Our daughter was 8 1/2 months old when we first met her in China. As soon as I saw her, I had a feeling that something wasn't right. I had seen her on the other side of the room with her nanny, crying and twisting around in the nanny's arms. It was obvious that either she wasn't happy in the new setting of the hotel, or she didn't like the nanny. She fell asleep in the nanny's arms, and was sleeping when we received her. She woke up a short time later, and didn't even acknowledge our presence. She kept arching back to look at the ceiling lights, and didn't even give us fleeting eye contact. She cried constantly. We were told that she was in shock at the new situation, and to give her time to adjust. We returned to our hotel room, and tried to comfort her and calm her. Four days later, she still wasn't calm! She couldn't tolerate being held in an upright position, and clearly wasn't comfortable being held at all. We paced the hotel room those first four days, holding her in a horizontal position to try and calm her. We kept all lights turned off, in the hopes that she would finally look at us instead of staring at the lights. She looked at us a few times, and laughed when we bounced her hard. Those few moments gave us hope that she would make progress as she got to know us better.

Progress didn't seem to happen. Two months after coming home, she was still very unresponsive, and avoided eye contact. She still would arch back if I tried to hold her, or would twist around to keep her back to me. Her body was tense all the time, and she couldn't seem to relax. She didn't hold on when held, like typical babies do. When she woke up during the night, she could not be comforted by me. She only wanted her bottle. It was so difficult for me to be unable to comfort my own child. The constant rejection was very draining.

She had other unusual behaviors, such as watching her hands as she crossed and uncrossed her fingers, and scratching at things constantly. The scratching was all-consuming it seemed, and it was very hard to distract her. Many post-institutionalized children have self-stimulating behaviors like those, but our daughter's seemed to be used as a means of avoiding interaction with people. We began researching autism, as many of her behaviors were on the autism symptoms lists. But then I read about attachment disorder on the internet, and found out that one of the symptoms of attachment disorder is autistic-like withdrawal. As I read the symptoms list for RAD, I saw my daughter in the various descriptions. We began to research attachment therapies in earnest.

We began by taking our daughter (at 11 months of age) to an attachment therapist at a well-known clinic. That therapist recommended that we practice basic attachment parenting. We had already been doing that instinctively, but we strengthened our efforts. I stayed with our daughter at all times. I carried her in a chest carrier most of the day. I bathed with her and held her in my lap at mealtimes. I was her sole caretaker, and used every opportunity I could to be in front of her face. We identified her favorite toys, and I was the only one who played with those with her. We began doing Theraplay activities to encourage eye contact and responsiveness, and those were very helpful. We made progress, and a few weeks later, separation anxiety kicked in a big way. I was unable to even leave the room without her crying. It was a good sign, because at least she was acknowledging my presence! But her attachment was obviously insecure, because she couldn't trust that I would return if she lost sight of me.

We reached a plateau with our daughter's progress, so I took her to a one-day intensive workshop in Holding Time. She was 13 months old at the time. That workshop gave us another jumpstart in her progress. Shortly after that intensive, we took her to an international adoption clinic to have her evaluated. With her myriad of unusual behaviors, we wanted to be sure that we were covering all of our bases. The pediatrician and occupational therapist there had a great deal of experience with post-institutionalized kids, and their observations were very helpful and very encouraging. They taught us how to do Floortime therapy with our daughter, which was extremely effective in breaking through her avoidant behaviors. We also learned that many of her autistic-like behaviors were rooted in sensory problems, and we learned how to help her with those. We continued to do Holding Time at home for a few months. She didn't rage as often anymore, and she was gradually becoming more responsive. While Holding Time was very beneficial for us, it wasn't enough. We have continued to do Theraplay, Floortime, sensory therapy and Love and Logic parenting. It sounds very time-consuming, and it was initially. But as she has improved, the time commitment has lessened. Now I see her therapy as just a different approach to parenting, and a different approach to our playtime together.

For the most part, we have done therapy on our own, because there are no attachment therapists nearby. I would love to have had a good therapist nearby to give me an objective opinion. But even if we had a therapist nearby, many of them limit their practice to one type of therapy, whether it is Holding Time, Theraplay, or Nancy Thomas methods. Our daughter really needed the combination of therapies, and I know that if we had limited our therapy to just Holding Time or Theraplay, we wouldn't be where we are today. My advice to parents who are seeking out therapists is to look for a therapist who has lots of tools in their tool belt. You never know when or if you'll need them.

Our daughter has been home for 18 months, and we are extremely pleased with her progress. She came home with a long list of symptoms of attachment disorder, and now her symptoms are very minimal. It has been interesting to see her make progress in other developmental areas, as her attachment has become more secure. For many months, we thought that she would have significant long-term cognitive delays. We have been surprised to find out just how smart she is! She is above age level in most cognitive skills, and continues to amaze us with what she knows. She is now a responsive, interactive, funny, and cuddly kid. She loves to have our special cuddle time first thing in the morning after she wakes up. That wouldn't be a big deal for many parents whose children have always been securely attached. But for us, it is a major miracle. I will be forever grateful that we jumped into therapy as early as we did.


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Lynne Lyon, LCSW

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“Well, I must endure the presence of two or three caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies.”

The Little Prince by Antoine de