Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thoughts on sensory development in adoption

It makes sense to me that sensory issues can play a very large part of shaping the world of some adoptees.  While there are many possible reasons for challenges in this area, one is that the living conditions in which many international adoptees begin their lives are less than optimal.  I thought I might try to to explain some of it.

Let's imagine the world of a newborn. It is unknown, uncertain, stimulating and magically gratifying. The baby poops, and he is cleaned up with loving tenderness; he is hungry and a warm breast (or bottle) appears making the world right again; too cold and he is warmed with a cuddle and  a "blankie"; too loud and people are "shushed". There is fun cooing, smiling and singing when he is awake, and darkness when he needs to sleep. All is okay, enough of the time.

Let's switch to another possible scenario. This baby is in an orphanage  He is likely in a crib most of the day, rarely held, fed from a bottle, propped up on a pillow, too awkward to reach; the air is too cold, or too hot; he poops but it takes a while to be cleaned up and it is in a hurried, brusque manner. He cries, but he must wait his turn, so he stops. He learns to play with his toes and fingers, sucks his thumb, plays with his hair...there are few toys. He grows and though his brain is ready to receive and use language there is little to hear and less to say. The precious window of opportunity when the brain is forming ways to integrate stimuli is slipping by, there is too little stimulation to learn how to organize it, how to focus on words through the sights and sounds around him, nor to regulate his impulses.

Fast, he needs help to foster the capacity to integrate stimuli, to focus on what's important, to un-attend to the irrelevant.  The sensory system is on overload and short-circuits.  Until he learns this process, behavior can be impulsive, out of control.  With wisdom, acceptance and knowledgeable people to help take him through these developmental steps, he can begin to master the process that he missed. Then, learning can make leaps and bounds...

Saturday, December 5, 2009


by Barbara A. Holton. LCSW 
Hmmm.....well, once again around this time of year, those with young children in kindergarten and first grade must prepare themselves for projects that deal with the family and child.  The family tree, genograms, your child's life line, star of the day, star of the week and so on.  This is the first time your child might be asked to reveal his personal and private information in a public setting.  It is a pivotal time that suggests using some thought and planning.  

A basic question is whether or not anything truly must be shared about your child's adoption.  Parents may not realize it, but they can determine how to handle these projects.  Parents must decide what and how to share this precious information.  Parents can ask themselves, "should  the teacher handle explaining adoption to the class?  Does he/she have the knowledge to handle adoption related questions with my child's best interests in mind?  Does he/she know the words to say?  Do educators learn how to handle these matters in their training?  Are there other adoptive families in the community with whom I can talk in order to learn how sensitively teachers in the school addressed adoption in the classroom with their child?" 

It is not uncommon to have doubts about what to do. "But we are a family.  Why should I even bring this up?  My child isn't asking about their birth parents so why should I?  Am I just making a mountain out of a molehill?  No one prepared me for how to handle this stuff.  I want to help my child so I guess I have to talk to them about it?  How can we leave out their birth family if we are doing a family tree?  Their birth parents are their roots, they have a connection that existed before we entered their lives."

Here's an example of a situation that I came across recently.  A child brought home a school assignment to create a family tree with apples, one for each member of the family.  But two were missing--her daughter's birth mother and birth father.  So, sensitively the parent asked her daughter how she wished to handle it.  Initially, she just wanted to leave out her birth parents.  But when they discussed the image of the tree and the implications of leaving out her birth parents, she changed her mind.  Whatever she decided to do would have been fine with this parent, but she recalled that at age 5 a similar assignment had provided an opportunity to have a talk about adoption.  She was able to capitalize on this potentially difficult emotional challenge to help her child organize and express her feelings and thoughts. These windows of opportunity can be opened along developmental lines so that children can sort out their thoughts, feelings & questions as they arise, organically.
How have others handled these types of projects???   Please share, we all need one another as there isn't a right or wrong way, just the best way for our child, our family and our schools.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Film review:: "Adopted" by Barb Lee

In my town, there is a sizable adoption community.  There is a wonderful adoption group that meets regularly to offer support, exchange experiences and address concerns in regard to adoption issues as they arise in the neighborhood.  The school district graciously offered a meeting space and sent a representative to be a liaison.  Several school issues were addressed.

And one of the members arranged with the town library to acquire a wonderful film and offer to show it with a discussion period saved for the end. I want to promote the film.  It's not easy to watch.  It's not a pretty picture.  But, it is important to see and GET this version of the adoption experience. I highly recommend it.  It is not for the faint of heart.  It is only for people who are ready to look at the tough issues for all involved,

Click on the link to see the film's web page
"Adopted" by Barb Lee.  Point Made Films

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Workshops at APC Conference

I have been attending workshops lately.  Mainly about adoption, but last night I went to one on blogging!  I thought it would be stimulating to have some other people who might be interested in this topic, to blog here along with me.  Anyone who might be interested, let me know!

I want to encourage anyone reading this, to attend the APC conference on Sunday.  It is an annual event that occurs each November.  Many publishers of adoption-related books are there, many agencies are represented to give you information, and the main events are wonderful workshops.  To learn more here is the link again:

9th APC Adoption Conference Nov. 22, 2009

There are wonderful workshops on Parenting over the age of 40, on life cycle issues, medical issues, fetal alcohol effects.  There is assistance with understanding the home study, and there are adoptee experiences presented to tell another point of view.  Wonderful, knowledeable presenters are there in an intimate open setting.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Adoption is not an event

"Adoption is not an event Adoption is not a snapshot in time. It is a moving picture that goes on through this life and into the one that follows. " Pavao, Joyce The Family of Adoption

I came across this quote in a workshop I attended this week and it kept floating around in my mind. This is such an important concept. It's simple, yet so many of us focus on the act of adoption and then stop thinking about the rest of the process. Just like giving birth it is part of an experience of life. However, it is easy to forget that life began prior to the moment that adoptive parents entered the scene and the impact of it will continue on into the future

In biological families, it is a given that children learn where they came from and come to understand who they are in the context of their family.  Adoptive children need help to come to know who they are, where they came from and support to form their own, unique identity.  They have perhaps, several families, and many people, known and fantasied who comprise them.  All of these people combine to have an impact on one's sense of self.  It's really important to acknowledge their existence.

I guess the message is: talk, talk, talk...listen, listen listen...all in due time.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

29th APC Adoption Conference Nov. 22, 2009

Another great conference in the area that goes on annually is run by this wonderful organization. The Adoptive Parents Committee has chapters all over the country and most likely has one in your area. They offer monthly meetings run by parents who get together to support each other. Bigger than the conference in NJ, this one is run in New York at different locations around the region each time. This year it is in Brooklyn, NY. Here's the link:

29th APC Adoption Conference Nov. 22, 2009
Adoption: Where the Joy Begins...

Please check it out. Workshops cover a wide variety of issues in the field of adoption for everybody involved: birthparents, adoptive parents, men, women, children,'s very informative. Agencies send representatives to meet who can provide information to anyone interested in the beginning stages of adoption.

Friday, October 23, 2009

why is it so hard for my child to go to sleep?!

This was a question someone asked, I think in exasperation. I thought wow. My son has trouble too. Sometimes, it is so painful to him and I am so tired myself that I want to cry. I want to have adult time. I want to be with my husband. I want to spend time with my the rest of my family. Is there some thread common to adopted children that makes sleep a dreaded experience? All kids, I guess have times when they don't want to miss out on what's happening. Even children who are not adopted have sleep disturbances. I am not suggesting that adoption is the answer to all questions pertaining to issues of childhood with adopted kids. But, I think the fear of monsters, of something bad happening is prevalent and perhaps, prolonged with children who have already experienced trauma. And while yes, there are wonderful, joyous aspects to it, adoption is also a trauma. Fears of being taken away from all we love are not so irrational, when they have already happened. The meaning of monsters takes on greater fear when it is known that bad things DO happen. I heard someone share that as a child, every time the family would pack to go on vacation, he would retreat inside himself and worry that he would be left with another family. Never mentioned it to a soul. Going to sleep means letting down one's guard, surrendering to the world of conscious awareness....letting go of control. Not something so easy to do for many adopted kids. Of course, there may be another explanation....

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Seems to me that while everyone focuses on the joys and miracle of adoption, the love we can pour into a child and the love we get back, there is a tremendous need to acknowledge a bunch of other feelings too! Not to be a downer, but EVERYONE in this experience loses, before we gain, right?! The child loses their birthparents often a few moments after coming into the world; the birthparents experience loss at the same time, or even before as they know what's going to happen from the moment they signed away parental rights; and the adoptive parents, well....most likely they had losses in order to get to adoption, and then they have to cope with losing their own experience of having a child that looks like them, thinks and reacts like them, losing their ability to carry a child and the feelings that go along with it...hey, I can go on! How 'bout dealing with so many people discussing whether or not this is your REAL child (even your child himself!)...WHEW. I just think it's important to be able to own ALL the feelings, to be open to true experience and that we must give the message to our children that this is all okay to discuss. By keeping the realities of adoption (ALL of them) out in the open, we foster pride and self-esteem, even in our differences. We model and teach our children how to cope with a wide array of emotions, not just easy ones. By making it clear that there are feelings and realities that are unspeakable, we foster shame and isolation, hiding and often, depression.

This is not easy. I believe this is when we need each other to help figure out how to say compare experiences, to figure out what is the "normal" here; to share how to cope with issues that just don't happen in the same way in biological families; to help make understandable what seems totally baffling. It is my hope that readers of these postings will chime in to share and discuss...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

the need to belong

more beginning thoughts...
As I focused on what to write here, what to share about adoption that might be useful to others, an old childhood memory came floating through my mind.   I used to love having the Little Golden Book version of Cinderella read to me over and over again.  The story was good, but I especially loved when we would get to the last page.  It was a picture of Prince Charming and Cinderella holding hands, the Prince dressed in his military regalia, Cinderella in what looked like a wedding dress, their backs to us, gazing off into the sunset.  The caption read: “…and they lived happily ever after.”  I used to stare at it squinting, trying to get him to turn around so I could see what my Prince Charming would look like, and trying to see myself as a bride.  I never could quite get there.  While I didn’t know what happily ever after looked like, I was certain of one thing…without any need for doubt.  I took it for granted that I would have a family and I would be a mom.  Well, things don’t always work out as we plan or expect.  Sometimes, they take a turn and we must be ready to continue, to keep going forward, to go outside the lines.

I keep thinking about the adoption process.  For many, there is a moment when we are faced with a fork in the road and we must choose the next direction in life.  Some choose the familiar; some stay stuck waiting for a sign from elsewhere to guide them; and still others take a risk.  Though some have always planned to adopt as a way to grow their family,  so many choose it after agonizing life events.  Recognizing the loss, mourning the dream, letting go of the story we had expected to live can allow a new chapter to be written.   The chapter can be a new route for getting to the same place - family.  And it is this challenge to dream anew, this process, this journey to belong to each other, to foster that sense of entitlement to be a family that is the task in adoption.

Monday, October 19, 2009

November is National Adoption Awareness Month

November is National Adoption Awareness Month and there are some really great things going on around here.  The one I have gone to many times is the all day experience called, "Let's Talk Adoption."  This year it's at Rutgers University in Piscataway, NJ on  November 7.  Here's the link to the program in order to see if you are interested.  I highly recommend it.
Let's Talk Adoption Conference    It's sponsored by Concerned Persons for Adoption, a wonderful organization  dedicated to offering educational and resource information for those who wish to or who already have adopted.  Workshops are offered on everything about adoption from the beginning of the process, through the early years and on through the whole life-cycle (with the myriad of issues in between).  There is a wonderful keynote speaker.  I always well up with tears at their presentations, as they talk with such personal vulnerability about their own experiences.  Anyone in the area who is considering adoption as a way to grow their family, as well as others further on in their adoption journey would benefit from attending.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

and so we begin...

Working in the adoption world and being an adoptive parent myself, I thought it would be a helpful endeavor to create a forum to talk about the experience and just plain ol' share related thoughts and feelings about almost anything.  I want to share a great book that I am reading..."Hard to Place" by Marion Goldstein is one of those books that takes my breath away.  Alost everything does, if it is well-written (which this is) and pertaining to adoption and/or child loss.  Would love to hear about any recommendations for good adoption literature.

I've also been thinking a lot about the journey to adoption.  In my office, I have found many people wishing to grow a family, only to find that what is taken for granted among accomplished, hard-working people (they can have a baby whenever they want), is not always so simple.  Among people who are used to reaching almost any goal they set for themselves, the fact that they just don't seem to be able to get pregnant is a devastating awareness.  Not only because they want a child, but also because it challenges their self-esteem.  The next logical stage is to get on the fertility procedure treadmill.  This can offer an amazing opportunity for more people to succeed in pregnancy, but for many others it too, doesn't work.  For these people, the decision to stop is agonizing.  Adoption can offer hope and a wonderful opportunity to fulfill that life dream.  It takes moving through a process, though.  It takes the willingness and ability to give up the generation of one's own genetic material.  It takes coping with loss, with uncertainty and so many other issues.  It takes a big heart.  It takes patience.  But, in the end...there is hope.  And, there is family.