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When a Kiss Can’t Make It All Better

April 18, 2012

This time last year we received Hope’s diagnosis on the FASD spectrum: ARND. I remember the tulips blooming.

That makes me very much a newbie in the FASD world. That’s my disclaimer: I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I just talk about what helps me.

For a long time I’ve pondered Hope’s ability to function relatively well outside our home with her highly variable behavior at home. Here, she can act like a child impaired by prenatal alcohol exposure. Out there in the real world, rarely.

Her first semester in public school has confirmed that pattern. Her teachers find her a delight –which is true :).

I guess that means she saves the challenging stuff for at home. Or gets it out of her system at home. Or maybe we bring it out of her at home? Something along those lines.

It is a mystery. But one little tiny insight clicked recently.

Little humans seem to come programmed with an emotional template that expects the big humans in their life to meet their needs. Major things can go haywire in a child’s ability to trust people when basic needs go unmet or are met chaotically. That’s Attachment 101.

Solid attachment, we are told, requires solid trust, something that develops over years of consistent reinforcement. This happens so naturally, easily in the course of parenting children. Every time a child comes to me with a wound (real or imagined 🙂 ) and I dispense a kiss and a band-aid and the child goes away feeling better, I reinforced the message: “You can trust me to help you. When you feel bad, I will help you feel better.”

Sometimes, when she’s overwhelmed, FASD takes Hope to an emotional place  so dark –a rage –that she dissociates to get away from herself. It is like she crawls into a closet in her mind and slams the door to get away from the feelings and the sounds and the sights of herself in that nightmare-ish state.

And maybe to get away from the unbearable pain of knowing there is nothing mommy and daddy can do to help her feel better.

Perhaps even worse, mommy and daddy are the ones who sometimes overwhelm her, who inadvertently trigger the emotional unspooling that plummets her into a mental/emotional place far beyond the reach of kisses or band aids.

Think about it: can there be an experience much worse than being alone with a person you believe should have the power to stop the misery you’re experiencing, but who (seemingly) sits idly by doing nothing?* Repeat the experience multiple times. Might not you form an opinion that this person you’re supposed to trust is not really trustworthy?
Is it any wonder that kids with FASD often present like kids with attachment challenges and often respond positively to attachment parenting strategies?

I think that regardless of the degree of “hard start” in a prenatally exposed child’s  life (some much harder than others), living with a brain that rages must be traumatizing in and of itself.

*****

*I added an asterisk here by way of explanation. I don’t suppose all kids who rage, rage alike. In her case, a rage is much like a day time (waking) night terror. If we try to comfort her or to restrain her or even talk to her in a soothing voice, it makes the rage worse –kind of like how if we try to comfort her during a night terror, we seem to enter into her dream as something fearful to be fought off. So we are not really sitting idly by. We’re being there for her to protect her if necessary during the portion of a rage she is out of touch with reality, and so that she finds us there when she starts coming out of it into the phase where she can accept comfort. I’m just supposing that from her point of view it might feel like she’s slipping over the edge of a cliff and no one is reaching out to grab her hands.

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