Dean and Dianna adopted Caylee from Russia at age 2. After parenting their three biological sons, they figured they’d bring Caylee into the family fairly easily. They did realize that Caylee was different from other children at a very young age—she was a bit quirky and needed a lot of attention. “We thought we’d just parent her the way we had our other children…and that we would just love her and everything would be fine,“ said Dianna. Yet, they didn’t realize how Caylee’s differences would put them on a much different parenting journey than they previously knew.
A path of different diagnoses
Over time, Dean and Dianna realized that they couldn’t love or parent away Caylee’s attention-seeking and inappropriate behaviors. And so the search began. By age 8, Caylee was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) disorder. Dean and Dianna focused on that diagnosis alone for a while. The medication did help and allowed her to focus better. By eighth grade, however, they realized Caylee needed something more. Her different behaviors had only become more overwhelming with age.
Dean and Dianna took Caylee to a therapist who recognized Caylee’s reactive attachment disorder (RAD). They felt relieved to find an accurate diagnosis for Caylee. They discovered, however, that her diagnosis was only the beginning of their journey and certainly not the end. Although Caylee’s therapist recognized her reactive attachment disorder, she was unable to effectively work with Caylee. It was the little things that made this apparent to Dianna. Caylee continued to go into the therapy office without Dean or Dianna. The therapist gave Caylee hot chocolate every time she asked for it, even when Dianna specifically requested her not to give it. Caylee had learned, as she did in most situations, how to manipulate the situation. Children with reactive attachment disorder need to be in control of their surroundings. Due to early neglect and abuse, it is their way of survival. To gain control means to control their chances of vulnerability, and therefore, hurt. When Dean and Dianna realized Caylee could manipulate her therapist they realized, yet again, that they needed something more.
A sampling of therapists
Along their journey, Dean and Dianna eventually found a specialized attachment therapist, Connie Hornyak, who finally understood what their daughter needed. She helped them to thoroughly understand reactive attachment disorder and also diagnosed Caylee with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Their work with Connie led them to learn more about Caylee’s diagnoses. That knowledge led them to feel guilty that they didn’t know more before though. “It’s the kind of thing that if you saw someone in a wheelchair, you wouldn’t expect certain things of them,” said Dean. “Caylee doesn’t have that banner on her face that reads ‘I’m disabled, treat me differently’ so we didn’t know and other people didn’t know.” For six months, they drove 75 minutes each way from their home, 2 days a week to see Connie. “That’s how hard it is to find this kind of therapist,” said Dianna.
Yet still, their journey continued.
After six months of working with Connie, Dianna and Dean came across another obstacle. The found out that Caylee, a high school freshman at the time, had created a pseudonym on Facebook and was cyber bulling her cousin, best friend, and church clergy. The reasons behind her actions alarmed her parents. They learned that Caylee did so to get closer to her best friend and to get even with her cousin and God. While Dianna and Dean had dealt with these types of behaviors before, they were alarmed that Caylee’s behaviors were now hurting people outside of the family.
They still had a long road ahead. “Even though we were going to see our therapist twice a week, we added it up and knew it still wasn’t going to be enough time to have Caylee ready to graduate from high school and move on,” said Dianna. They then realized that Caylee needed full-time intensive care and their therapist recommended Forrest Lien at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development (IACD). Dianna researched many different programs but ultimately felt the most confident with the Institute for Attachment and Child Development. After extensive conversation and thought, Dean and Dianna ultimately decided to send her to Colorado to live with a therapeutic treatment family at IACD. “Our daughter is the most important part of our life right now and it needed to be done,” said Dean. “Once I was able to understand that, I knew there wasn’t an option and there wasn’t a choice in the matter.”
A better journey ahead
After four months of living in a therapeutic treatment home at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development, Dean and Dianna brought Caylee home—a more relaxed and trusting Caylee. Although Caylee wasn’t able to complete the program due to her FASD disorder, her parents recognized the changes in her right away. “Even though Caylee wasn’t able to complete the program, it was so crucial that she have those four month there to learn things that we couldn’t stop our life completely to do,” said Dianna. The differences in Caylee went from small to big changes. Small like her ability to ride in the car without making noise. But the big changes made all the difference. She can now listen and understand requests and is able to understand her disorders, what they mean for her life, and how to stop and process her reactions and behaviors. “She seems to have a lot more trust that what we say that she needs to do is for the right reasons,” said Dean. “She needed something dramatically different in her life than what we could give her at home and it’s made all the difference in the world,” said Dean. “We’re only four months out of the program but we’ve set up the rest of our lives for understanding and working for where Caylee’s going…on the right path. It’s been the best decision we made for Caylee and her life.”
Watch Dean and Dianna’s full interview to learn more about how IACD impacted their marriage, their decision to take her to IACD financially, and other details here. We’re so grateful to Brendan and Carrie O’Toole for giving their time, talents, and interest to the Institute for Attachment and Child Development.