The Attach-China/International Story


When my daughter came home with me, she was bright, happy and well nourished - 17 pounds at 9 months of age. She caught up with language and physical development in two months. Even bedtime seemed idyllic. I would give her a bottle, sing special lullabies, and rock her to sleep. As time passed, instead of falling asleep in my arms, she would reach out to her crib and fall asleep on her own. I thought this was great.

It all changed when I returned to work full time 5 months later. She would only nap for 15 to 30 minutes at daycare. She started to get asthma at night and would wake up coughing. I brought her into my bed because I needed to sleep, and she would stop coughing as long as she was in bed with me. I finally let her sleep with me permanently. Then she started having trouble falling asleep and would become hysterical if I left the room. After trying everything, I resorted to the Ferber method. I let her cry it out while periodically going back in to reassure her. She was completely hysterical each time, and after a week developed such a severe case of asthma that she was nearly hospitalized. I had a hunch that the mind/body connection was at work here and have since learned that asthma attacks of this sort are a symptom of PTSD

After that she was terrified of going to sleep. She became hypervigilant. She couldn't fall asleep unless I was already asleep for fear that I would leave her. Some nights she would stay awake until 11 or 12. Some nights she would rage if I lay down with her, kicking me out of the bed. Then she would rage if I took a step away from the bed. She wouldn't let me rock her, but also wouldn't let me put her down. If I tried to keep her in bed while I sat on the edge of the bed, she seemed to comply, but would rage at me constantly the next day. At preschool she became violent toward other kids.

Her fear of abandonment intensified in other ways too. She became very clingy - I couldn't go into another room without her or pay attention to anyone but her. After her first time with a babysitter, she became hysterical when she saw any of our friends, afraid that I would leave her with them. After working late one night, she became totally hysterical and disoriented when I picked her up at our friend's house. Since they had changed her into PJs, she thought I was giving her to another family, and she raged for two hours. It was one of the most scary experiences I've ever had -- not knowing how to comfort my daughter who was so obviously terrified and hysterical.

By then, I knew something was very wrong, but despite consulting many professionals, I couldn't find anyone who understood the severity of the terror which I was seeing in my child. After a year and a half, I finally found someone who knew exactly what I was describing. She diagnosed RAD, and taught me Holding Time. After the first time I did Holding Time with my daughter, her behavior changed instantly. She had become very destructive when angry, typically sweeping everything off of the coffee table. This time, she very carefully moved an object just to the edge of the table, looked at me, and ran to the kitchen, saying "Don't hold me. Hold me. Hold me."

Recently my daughter has also been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), both because of the trauma of her abandonment and because of an injury she received in the orphanage. PTSD in a child is difficult to diagnose, because not only can a small child not verbalize what is wrong, but many PTSD behaviors look like oppositional defiant behaviors, when in reality they are the child's attempt to maintain control of her fear and environment. In my daughter's case, her day dreaming, spacing out in day care; her expressions of anger when she is afraid - because something in the present is reminding her of the past; her terror at falling asleep, and the disruption of her circadian rhythm; her extreme car sickness (a psychosomatic symptom), which eventually was revealed to be connected to her fear of being kidnapped - all of these are symptoms of PTSD.

Because of this, I cannot do something as routine as help a friend's daughter with her seat belt or go to a Families with Children from China meeting without my daughter becoming terrified that I am going to trade her in for another child. It seems unthinkable, but in her experience it's perfectly logical. After all, her birth mother left her, and so did her Ayi (caregiver) in China. I'm actually her third mother, in a sense, and logic would dictate that history will repeat itself.

I started the Attach-China e-mail list and web site, because from my extensive reading about RAD, I knew that many more children adopted from China had to be experiencing the same thing, and I didn't want other parents to waste time not knowing where to find help. It is my effort to change poison into medicine.

I recently had my daughter evaluated to find the best school situation for her given her PTSD. She tested as gifted, and therefore is not eligible for special needs help. We will be homeschooling next year to continue working on her feelings of attachment and security. While I am grateful that she is so bright, I am still grieving the loss of having a normal, securely attached child, and sharing her grief for the terrors she has and still is experiencing.

But, I am very encouraged by the great progress of our therapy, and feel confident that since we have started doing this work now, she will fully recover to become an empathetic teenager and adult who is capable of loving her husband and children.

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Lynne Lyon, LCSW

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Stitch: This is my family. I found it all on my own. It’s little and broken, but still good. Yah. Still good.

from Lilo & Stitch (2027, Movie)