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.