When my sister was alive, we thought she didn’t parent well.
My husband and I thought we knew better. She just needed more consistent parenting, we thought.
We were always a part of my niece Carly’s life after my sister’s divorce. From the time Carly was very little, my sister had constant problems with her. Her “terrible twos” never seemed to go away. She was extremely defiant. She had to repeat kindergarten because the school officials didn’t think she was emotionally ready to continue.
When my sister became very ill, we took care of Carly and her sister. The girls moved into our home. We began to notice things constantly missing from pantries and my husband’s desk drawers—everything from cups to money. We’d find missing things, such as utensils, hidden in the trash. When we confronted her about taking things, she always has a smirk on her face.
Her 10-year-old temper tantrums were long and draining.
We realized what my sister had been going through. She was not to blame.
Today, we are Carly’s parents. My sister passed away nearly three years ago and we have full custody of Carly and her sister. Their father has severe mental health issues, including bipolar disorder. Carly is now 13-years-old.
Since we adopted the girls, Carly’s behavior has only escalated.
Carly is failing school and we get notes from teachers constantly. But frankly, that’s the least of our problems.
She’s explosive if she doesn’t get what she wants. Her tantrums at age 13 are like the ones she had at age two but are now strategic and more intense. She calls my husband an idiot while driving to school in front of our son and her sister.
She purposely clogs the toilets and sinks and runs water to flood the house. She has cut open her window screen three times now. My husband stopped replacing it. She fills her bedroom vent with gunk, foods, etc. We’ve replaced her window blinds several times after she has destroyed them. She’s broken three full-length mirrors.
She throws her perfume bottles from her room down the stairs—once shattering glass close to where our son was playing.
School mornings are horrific. While we’re all waiting in the car to get to work and school, she wanders around inside the house. We tell Carly to hurry up and she responds, “I’ll come when I’m ready” and then walks around, doing nothing. My husband has to pick her up and carry her, kicking, screaming, and cussing, to the car. She throws toddler-like tantrums in a teenage body. She’s very strong. This is our morning routine.
One day, a neighbor saw our morning routine—my daughter cursing at my husband and throwing her backpack. The neighbor was shocked. She only sees her manipulative side—which is charming and cooperative to strangers.
We now have locks on all the doors in the house due to Carly’s hoarding and stealing. The only unlocked door in the house is Carly’s so we can keep an eye on her at all times. In fact, she has no door at all. I keep my purse hidden and locked in my room at all times. We feel like prisoners in our own home.
We’ve tried everything.
We’ve tried behavior therapy, with minimal and almost no results. We’ve tried neurofeedback and classic homeopathy, both which helped but not completely.
We’ve called the police to help us during her explosive outbursts for the safety of our family, including hers. We’ve taken her to the hospital for binge eating. We’ve also been to the emergency room several times for various reasons.
During one of her episodes and visits to the emergency room, we met a psychologist who spoke with Carly. He was the first person to tell us about reactive attachment disorder. When we looked into RAD, the checklist fit Carly exactly.
The “Behavior Chart” Episode
When we told our behavioral therapist about attachment disorder, she set up a behavior chart for us. When Carly didn’t earn her rewards based on her chart, I guess she figured she had nothing to lose. One day, she had an explosive episode when she didn’t earn her rewards on her behavior chart. She started throwing things everywhere throughout the house. She poured out a whole box of cereal and crushed it into tiny pieces all over the floor.
At that point, we had nothing left.
We were so stressed trying to work and earn a living and getting by day-to-day taking care of our three kids—including Carly. That’s when we called the cops to help us escort her to a residential treatment center, so we could at least rest and function for a short time.
The residential treatment center called us several times to tell us Carly couldn’t sleep at night. Carly called us, begging to come home. I did lots of crying during that time. It was extremely hard.
Then, I found the Institute for Attachment and Child Development website.
I called Forrest Lien, Excecutive Director and reactive attachment disorder therapist at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development. I told him our story. I was impressed right away with Forrest and how he understood everything more than any professional we’d ever met. He told us that when we picked Carly up from the residential treatment center, we’d probably have a “honeymoon” period with Carly but then she’d be back to her old ways.
Sure enough, Carly was happy when we picked her up from the residential treatment center. She went on during our car ride about how our home is the best thing for her. She was sweet to our son, her sister, me and my husband, and our friends upon arriving home. We thought maybe she has learned something at the residential treatment center!
But, unfortunately, Forrest was right. Carly was back to her old ways a few days after she was home from the residential treatment center.
At that point, we did a full assessment of Carly with Forrest. He was so right on with her behaviors before we even we even could think it. We were stunned by his knowledge of what seemed to fit with everything.
We can’t afford the intense residential treatment the Institute for Attachment and Child Development offers. However, Forrest told us about their outpatient therapy and his psychiatrist who can assess whether Carly also has a mood disorder such as bipolar disorder.
Forrest told me they are trying to fundraise to provide respite care for families like ours who can’t afford it.
Their respite program provides a place where Carly could go where trained professional treatment parents work with kids with reactive attachment disorder on the weekends! Meanwhile, we’d get a break so we can have the energy, stamina, and patience to parent her at home.
We’re stunned. There’s no place we’ve heard of with such a program—it’s like an all-inclusive treatment program for families of kids struggling with reactive attachment disorder.
All of us—my husband and I, our son, and Carly’s sister—are exhausted.
We’re just trying to get through each day.
Everyone—from our behavior therapist to the psychologist at the hospital— say my husband and I need to take care of ourselves. They say it’s important so we can keep taking care of our family of five.
We have no family or friends that have the capacity to help us. We can’t keep putting Carly in residential treatment center—insurance is running out.
We’re praying that the funds will come through and we’ll find relief through the respite program at the Institute for Family and Child Development. It is our only hope for the health of my marriage, the sanity of my husband and I, the mental wellness of our two other kids, and the healing of Carly.