Tuesday, August 02, 2005


All right. Let’s talk Reactive Attachment Disorder. Sounds fun, eh? I’ll call the child in question, my godson, ‘Nicolai’ for an assortment of reasons.

First of all: yes, there is the recognition on all the adults’ parts that this is just another pigeonhole in which to shove “problem children.” Still, if the hole fits, in goes the peg. We have friends who have done foster care for several kids. They have legally adopted two of them (so far), and one of those two has been diagnosed with RAD. She mentioned it to me as a diagnosis last winter about two months before Nicolai’s parents said anything to us about it. It is the up-and-coming pigeonhole, like autism was, like dyslexia was, like whatever-whatever was. Unfortunately, as easy as it is to toss the baby out with the bathwater with the “pigeonholing” sneer, some of the kids in those slots ARE autistic, dyslexic, whatever ... and RADistic.

Nicolai and his brother were adopted by our friends almost 7 years ago. He was 4½; his brother was 3. At that time our friends also had a biological child who was about 2½ years old. The two boys were adopted from Romania, land of formerly inaccessible (illegal) abortion and birth control during the reign of Ceausescu. Orphanages were rampant (still are, most likely). They were, if you remember back ten years ago, In The News. All those big-eyed babies in ancient metal beds, 30+ to a room. Who could resist the pull? Certainly not people who wanted a big family, but for medical reasons didn’t have that biological option.

Both of these boys have those big, dark, long-lashed, gorgeous eyes. Nicolai especially was gorgeous in the photos and videos the adoption agency sent. I fell for him at first sight; so did his parents. He is one of the most angelic-looking children I’ve ever seen. Experience colors perception. He no longer looks malnourished; he looks manipulative.

So they arrive. There’s a long story there that I won’t go into except to say that the paperwork was in order, but Nicolai wasn’t as angelic upon first meeting him as he seemed. Still, he and his brother arrived in America on September 11, 1998. That date wasn’t ominous then.

Obviously, the transition from orphanage life to family life was difficult. The family overcame multiple hurdles, taking the boys (over the years) to doctor after doctor. They were both diagnosed with ADHD about 4 years ago, and the medication for that helped the younger boy tremendously – and continues to do so. The same medication simply damped down the fires inside Nicolai’s soul, where they smoldered mostly under control until about 18 months ago.

In the middle of third grade, his behavior patterns escalated to the point of putting people in danger. Increasingly, he was found to be behaving in completely aberrant ways. Every new psychologist chalked it up to ADHD, or acting out, or learning disability or, blahblah, or flavoroftheweek. Or he was misunderstood. Or our friends needed to use different parenting mechanisms. [Do you hear the song from “West Side Story” playing in the background: “Dear Kindly Sergeant Krupke”?]

Around December last year, he really ramped up:
  • Pushed his youngest brother (age 3) into traffic in a parking lot
  • Began to steal from the teachers at his school
  • Commenced throwing furniture (chairs, outdoor hassocks, etc.) at his mom
  • Pulled a knife on his dad (at least once)
  • Called 911 and reported himself and his siblings being abused, and his parents as alcoholics and drug users (three times)
  • Serially endangered himself and the rest of the family, kids at school, etc.
He was placed in a children’s mental health facility for ten days—where he shared a room with an 8-year-old who tried to stab and kill his baby sister—after which his folks yanked him because the doctors there could find nothing wrong with him, and because their insurance wouldn’t cover any more. He seemed to be calmer.


They changed psychologists again. And again. They took him to the nearest Children’s Hospital for evaluation (and that’s when RAD reared its head). He refused to take any meds prescribed while he was hospitalized. This caused him to go completely ballistic. The calls from school now occurred daily, causing his folks to have to explain the same thing over and over, telling the principal to call the police, to call social services, to call SOMEone to help. Nope; the schools are there for the kids’ self-esteem. Calling the police isn’t going to help anyone’s self-esteem, therefore they won’t call in the troops. Just the parents. Who are at the end of the rope with nowhere to turn.

Fast forward to summer. Nicolai is back on meds. His parents find out from a new, REAL (and good) doctor, that going cold turkey off one of those meds can cause a stroke. Great. His meds are readjusted. Again. And again. He is somewhat more compliant, but still stealing and lying consistently. He spends his days this summer at a daycamp for “troubled youth,” with more of the really scary kids like at the mental hospital.

Our friends have incurred about $100,000 debt because of Nicolai’s “issues” since January. All uninsured. All not covered by county, state, federal agencies. No one has helped them—until the current psychologist—in any way. Most of the doctors feel that our friends are to blame. As does the school.

Last month, they appeared in court with him. He is now legally restricted in every area of his life: no electronics, no fighting, no extra-curricular activities, no free time. If he commits one more criminal act, if the police are called for any reason and he’s involved, he will be placed in juvenile detention, which will solve some problems and create others. I think ultimately he may end up in the foster care system.

He is Ted Bundy, at age 11. He is still beautiful to look at, with a puppy-dog face that could melt anyone’s heart…before they get to know him. He lies. He cheats. He steals. He simulates sex with his sister and makes inappropriate sexual comments to women and girls. He instigates fights between others and then reports them for fighting. He is absolutely not to be trusted in any way, shape, or form.

Maybe this is why I won’t consent to being a godparent every again. Maybe this is why I’m a cynic. Maybe this is (part of) why I don’t want any more kids of my, and have no interest in mentoring the ‘troubled children’ locally.

No comments: