Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Aggressive Spring

This time of year is always so crazy because there is so much going on with the kids schedule. Every extracurricular thing wraps up. The school crams in a bunch of field trips. Kevin takes off for a week for work. I take off for a weekend to meet my girlfriends. All the rained out Little League games need to be made up. And then the twins have their birthday right around the last day of school. No wonder I'm a stress monkey.

No wonder M is acting up.... hmmm.

Her aggression has really taken off. If there's something she doesn't want to do and we try to get her to do it, she just immediately goes for the hair pull, or scratching, or biting. She lays on the floor and kicks. And these things I can take in stride and work with (through many hours of parent training, and many more to come) when I don't have to get her out the door somewhere -right now -, or we're out in public. Ugh. I hope it's just a phase. She's not talking yet and this creates much frustration for her. She's really good now at letting us know what she wants. She comes and gets us when she realizes she needs something. She's also too good at getting things herself, so we're constantly training her to not grab, but point. But she can be so impatient sometimes that if you're not completely "ON" and paying attention to her... anticipating what she's going to do, then she takes advantage, which is very reinforcing. It's exhausting.

Somehow the aggression is being reinforced too... and we're scratching our heads. She doesn't get away with anything as a result of being aggressive. But there's always the battle to get her pants on, or keep the shirt on, or to hold our hand. The therapists see the aggression a lot during her sessions because when she decides she doesn't want to work they have to continue the work by doing the hand over hand actions. Sometimes she's passive aggressive and sits there like a ragdoll. Sometimes it ends up being a brawl. They are constantly changing their tactics to see what will work best with her. And she constantly changes too... she used to cry to get out of working. Now she goes for the hair pull.

I consider what it would be like if we just relaxed a little with the therapy.... but then I remember what she was like when we started. She was completely shut down. Her eyes closed to avoid anything too stimulating. She couldn't track. She wasn't listening. She would not imitate. Absolutely no attention for anything. And if you tried to sit her down and play with a toy she would cry and squirm away. You couldn't teach her anything. She would still be like this if we didn't push her through the hard parts. It was hard on all of us. Now see where she is... She's imitating. She's paying attention. Her listening and receptive language is great. She values toys and will play with them, almost appropriately. She enjoys watching us play with her toys. She will sit at the table with me and do little tasks that I ask her to do (I've been working on fine motor skills). Her attention span, while not great, is so much better. I think the ABA therapy has given her these gains because I certainly haven't. And she was perfectly content in the beginning to hide out with the shoe basket sucking on shoe laces or fingering plastic bags.

The ABA director is constantly changing her program to maximize what works for her and to make sure she continues learning. Sometimes they push hard, and then they have to back off. She is getting lots of exercise breaks. She has play time on the floor and work time at the table. She comes downstairs and does work around the house, outside and even some play time outside. They are trying to teach her how to ask for a break by using a 'break' card between each work period.

My job is to keep her fed. Most of her outbreaks are when she's hungry. She goes ballistic if she's being asked to do something she doesn't want to do and it's right before meal time. It makes me wonder if some survival instinct is being triggered and her ability to fight increases because she's unconsciously reminded of not having her hunger needs met when she was in the orphanage. It's like she's fighting to stay alive.

It's tough... we try to meet her needs the best we can. And yet, we can't reinforce the behavior when it occurring because that would just strengthen it. Not the usual parenting. At. All.


Anonymous said...

It is so awesome to read this post. Yes, it's hard work, but you're seeing the results. So very awesome.

I'm drafting a blog about food issues with post-institutionalized kids, btw. Great minds think alike!


Anna Scott Graham said...

I find it incredibly striking and touching reading these posts, the love and time and care and energy you and Kevin and the twins and M are constantly putting out. Your last three sentences say it perfectly; my love and prayers are with everyone!