Monday, February 29, 2016


There are not as many advocates for attachment disorder awareness as there are for the other areas of advocacy I explore, such as adoption, autism, and sensory processing differences. For this reason, I regularly revisit this theme for this one-topic anniversary post.

Over the years, I’ve tended in this blog to focus more on autism awareness and advocacy because our experiences with attachment disorder feel somehow more private, more inflicted. Attachment disorders cause children (and adults) to act in ways that are often unhealthy, even anti-social, all because of negative childhood or early life situations that did not allow them to form healthy attachments, or prematurely severed such connections.  Unlike autism and other neurological differences, typically inborn states that do not fundamentally need to be “cured” (I write a great deal on this elsewhere), attachment disorders are a sometimes incapacitating psychological condition that can benefit from intensive treatment, primarily through therapeutic parenting or work with an experienced therapist.

I share our Full Spectrum family struggles with my daughter Z’s attachment disorder for two reasons. First, because families all or partly formed by adoption or fostering may be facing this condition unawares, and may be desperate for help; and, second, because one of the central reasons we are a Full spectrum is because my children are so divergent – and this is partly because of Z’s attachment disorder. 

I will offer a little background. As you read about my daughter, please do so bearing in mind that her condition was/is not her “fault” – and is therefore nothing to be ashamed of...

When Z came home she was furious - with good reason. She was ultra-demanding, starving, relentless.  As she got older she began to steal, hoard, and lie compulsively. She became controlling - and a master manipulator. Constant power struggles with a tiny person were exhausting for the whole family (including Z!). Her tantrums continued to disrupt almost any environment she found herself in, well into her ninth year.

Her acting out was most overt with me, her mother, because she trusted me the most -- and thus needed to constantly test me. Highly challenging attachment-disordered behaviors may well be reserved for the home environment, or particular individuals, such as a parent or teacher.

While she was small of stature, adorable, and enormously charming – traits which her therapist pointed out were actually a disadvantage to healing, because they masked the ugliness of her behavior – Z’s behavior much of the time was destructive in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

If you have a child who is exhibiting such behaviors, GET HELP. Trust me, you’re going to need to learn to do things very differently than you might expect! For example, many families with children who were adopted attempt to make up for any pain caused by the loss and turmoil of the adoption process by being indulgent and extra-doting with their children. Conceding to a child’s every demand, even with loving intent, can be a recipe for disaster with a child who has an attachment disorder. Look for a therapist with expertise in this area, and read everything you can find. I’ve talked about some specific strategies here and here and here, as well as below.

Children (and adults) with attachment disorders desperately need to feel SAFE. To that end, they try to control the things and people around them.  It might sound counterintuitive, but – in a very real way – such attachment disordered behaviors emerge in a painful search for safe, strong attachments. Unfortunately, attachment disordered actions tend to result in forming primarily conflict- and need-based relationships, rather than healthy, loving ones.

TMI? Successful therapeutic parenting in one sentence? Yes:

Create an environment with
          so that your child can feel safe
-- and so can channel his or her energy into healing and growth.

As unknown as they are, attachment disorders are very real. They can be debilitating for families; they are also sometimes almost completely curable. In our family, many years of consistent therapeutic parenting, at times under the care of a therapist who specializes in attachment disorders, have resulted in a child who is light years healthier and happier than she would have been without this specific mode of therapy.

As Z heals, her true character – brave, loyal, funny, quick, loving - begins to emerge, unhindered by a condition imposed upon her by chance through her birth circumstances. She’s strong, in her own words, “Tiny on the outside but HUGE on the inside!” She’s a wonderfully practical girl, sometimes a bit more blunt than she was raised to be...but these things are characterological, part of her disposition, not just a result of trauma. In fact, we see a myriad of traits, such as being an astute judge of character, that merge positive aspects of her natural self with lessons learned from living through an attachment disorder. Perhaps best of all, while she’s never going to be the world’s most sentimental person, she’s cuddly in a way I could not have dreamed of even a few years ago.  

She feels safe enough to relax in my arms...versus her previous inclination to demand that I carry her around at all times. The wonderfulness of this shift cannot be overestimated.

Children are terrifically resilient and, like plants, they just want to GROW. They just need the right conditions to do so in the healthiest way possible for their unique needs.

Full Spectrum Mama

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


In IS IT TOUCHING?, I explored how the traditional view of sensitivity is limited --and somewhat discriminatory toward highly sensitive people and people with sensory processing differences (SPD).  I meant to put forth the idea that the way we perceive and process things should be recognized as a sort of neurological/physical/emotional/temperamental spectrum. Simply put, we have widely divergent levels of physical and emotional sensitivity. Furthermore, as self-advocates and advocates for our children and loved ones, it is up to us to decide whether our sensory (I include emotions as feelings here) processing differences are problematic, or glorious, or both, or neither...

This post was one of my most-read ever, and elicited many responses, both public and private.

One interesting theme that emerged from these conversations was that of EXPRESSION. I heard from people who have incredibly strong sensory and/or emotional feelings – but hardly express them at all. And I heard from people who feel they are “all over the place” in a sort of hot mess way and want to calm their actions, reactions and attitudes down (here is where some calming sensory activities might come in handy!). I heard from parents with super-sensitive, expressive children whom they are trying to understand...In short, it emerged that what we show (in those actions, reactions, and attitudes) is not just an exact reflection of what we feel.

So, this month, I’d like to bring your attention to the possibility that sensitivity does not correlate directly or evenly with expression or external reactivity. Some people develop coping mechanisms to hamper their reactions because of cultural or familial pressures. Some are naturally less expressive. Some people stuff their feelings. Others let it all hang out, sometimes in spades – intentionally, or because they cannot suppress the expression of their reactions.

Another manifestation of the sensitivity/expression interplay may be seen in those of us with sensory processing differences where certain stimuli that might seem minor to others (tags on clothing, bright lights, strong tastes or textures in food, temperature variations...) are interpreted by the brain as major. This may then result, expression-wise, in sensory overload or “acting out” or “shutting down” or...

At the extremes, you get people who may appear histrionic – your drama kings and queens who scream when stepping into a puddle of water (guilty) or a person gives them side eye; or your heartless stoics, who don’t even flinch when a finger is cut off or a loved one dies.

Notably, the histrionics and the stoicism may reflect/express SIMILAR levels of sensitivity, exteriorized in different ways. What we are experiencing inside is not always expressed in ways that exactly match our inner experience of intensity. People can be low on the sensitivity scale, but high on the expression scale; or they may feel deeply, yet not be expressive of that externally...

We may feel or express less – the proverbial “stone;” we may feel or express more, experiencing or acting explosively, like “fireworks.” These two things – what we feel and what we show - don’t usually occur in a matchy-matchy fashion.

What’s more, sensitivity itself can be emotional, physical, neurological...; while expression can be through actions, words, attitudes, moods...AND, as this scale shows, these factors can intersect in a Full Spectrum of ways!

Figure I – Showing Chart: Sensitivity and Expression: Stone to Fireworks, Squared

In addition, our attempts to modulate our expression are not always in line with our intentions.

As I wrote in IS IT TOUCHING?, I am a total sap and literally – embarrassingly! -  unable to not cry under a variety of circumstances, from funerals and other clearly sad occasions to anything touching (try this for a tear test), sentimental, or even joyous.

On the other hand, things that move me powerfully but are hurtful, complicated, or angering can overwhelm me and cause me to shut down and seem withdrawn or even cause a meltdown (internally!). And I am just one feeling/expressing person, a fraction of my Full Spectrum family. I am still trying to figure out my son, who sometimes can appear extremely insensitive as a reaction to sensory overload; my daughter, who seems impervious to all but a very few extremely, tremendously sensitive areas; and Pardner, who has the rare gift of being sensitive but non-reactive, observant and caring, yet as steady as can be. But Pardner has his areas of sensitivity, too: do not put your bike up against his car, nor, if you are a child with potential child gore on your hands, or a hairy cat in your arms, should you “touch the threads.”

So, finally, our sensitivities and expressions thereof can also vary from experience to experience, with different situations being more or less
and/or expressed

In the neurodiverse world, terms like “over-responder” and “under-responder” get thrown around, as if there is a mean level of response that is correct. Add on different ideas about social cues and behavior, reactions that may be judged “inappropriate,” or “unexpected”...Whew. I’m looking to expand our perspective on what’s a natural part of the range of human being, not criticize people. Human sensitivity and expression weave together in diverse, complex and fascinating ways, in a dynamic matrix represented here by a spectrum from stones to fireworks.  

What holds for all of us is that we want to be our healthiest selves. We have the privilege and responsibility of figuring out what that means - for our children, for ourselves, for our communities.

Full Spectrum Mama

Welcome to the Sensory Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from sensory bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about what it’s like to have Sensory Processing Disorder and to raise a sensory kiddo!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


When is helping not helping?

How can we tell when our conceptions of our children get in the way of clear perception of our children?

Protect or Trust?