FAMILY TRAUMA: CATASTROPHIC

IS IT TRAUMA? OR IS IT SENSORY PROCESSING (SPD)? OR IS IT AUTISM (ASD)? WHAT IS IT? ALL I KNOW IS IT HURTS SO BAD!!!

These were the profound questions Elaine (my wife) and I were faced with as new foster parents!
These are the types of questions I have to carefully answer daily to parents using my services. The one huge difference now was, this time round facing these profound life changing questions, I was not in the role of therapist, I was now the Dad (foster Dad). I’m certain that many foster/adoption parents will agree with my following statement.

When a child enters into your care, the foster carer is replaced by loving parents, who loves that child like your own!

NURTURING VITAL

Years of studying, researching, dreaming about being foster parents. here we were fresh qualifiers after an intense year of foster parent training. nothing could have prepared us for the concern, hurt and pain to come.

I have plenty of experience of meeting children/families with incorrect/mis-diagnosis of autism (ASD) or sensory processing difficulties (SPD).

When in actual fact it is trauma symptoms.
Important to note here, if one does not have the full background/history, it leads to mis-diagnosis, and one could easily cause further trauma.

MAYBE THIS IS A GOOD TIME TO DEFINE TRAUMA AND ITS CONNECTION TO SPD?

Trauma is an experience that creates a lasting, substantial negative psychological impact.
The traumatic events can be a singular occurrence, or several experiences that become traumatic when they are combined.

What has this to do with sensory processing difficulties (SPD ) I hear you asking?

Individuals experiencing trauma have heightened states of arousal which significantly impact the processing of sensations.
Trauma symptoms can RESEMBLE SPD AS A RESULT, with hypersensitivity to sound (auditory), touch (tactile), which we will be covering in the next webinar, as well as light (Vision) and movement (Vestibular/proprioception). I encourage you to access my first two webinars and the rest to come in the series around these topics.
There is always a reason for the behaviour. Is it sensory or is it Trauma? This links closely to those two major questions we read of in the first blog, is it Sensory? Or Is it behaviour?

SO HOW DOES TRAUMA PRESENT? ALLOW ME TO ILLUSTRATE BY USING OUR FAMILY EXPERIENCE IN FOSTERING A TRAUMATISED CHILD.

Since we became foster parents, the harsh reality truly hit us, and that reality was now living in our family home, impacting on all our lives (remember we have 4 other children). All those principles we studied and read about children that are fostered or adopted showing a higher rate of sensory processing difficulties or tendencies, secondary to the trauma, served as little help to us as a family at the time.
We were now faced with a beautiful 3 year old that we immediately fell in love with, but this little child was severely traumatised and was presenting with extreme deficits and behaviours.

  • Child was unable to think and problem solve, with exaggerated emotional responses.
  • Child’s history of abuse and neglect now lead to exaggerated responses of arousal and emotion to minor triggers. Triggers we often could not identify at that time, for example, dark places resulted in anger outburst, which we later learnt is related to previous traumatic events that often happened when it was dark. We were learning the hard way, as the child’s history was coming forth sporadically, and often after we had already had to deal with major incidents.
  • The child had learnt to fight for every bit of space, food, drink to survive. This led to an inability to cope when other children were around, and she would immediately get overloaded and either dissociate or resort to aggressive outburst. There was no such thing as sharing space and stuff with others in fear of losing out.
  • Memory and learning new things were difficult. The child would have a major meltdown and minutes later appear as one that simply cannot remember she had an outburst and could not grasp/learn that what happened was wrong. How could he/she learn, because he/she did not even remember the incident of a few minutes ago.
  • Craved nurturing like a new-born baby and just wanted my wife and myself to themselves. So, when the child was alone with us, we had an angel, but as soon as another child walked in or needed our attention all hell broke loose.
  • Long story, short the traumatised child had great difficulty self-regulating, and it impacted all areas of life.

TRAUMA GREATLY ALTERS SURVIVORS’

  • IT ALTERS SENSORY EXPERIENCES REGARDLESS OF AGE
  • EMOTIONAL REACTIONS TO CERTAIN SENSORY STIMULI
  • SMELL OR NOISE CAN BRING BACK NEGATIVE MEMORIES
  • MAJOR IMPACT ON ABILITY TO COPE
  • TOO MUCH OR TOO LITTLE SENSORY STIMULI COULD LEAD TO MELTDOWNS OR CAUSE PERSON TO GO INTO FIGHT, FLIGHT, OR FREEZE

It is important for all involved with these persons care, to be aware of the history

To summarise:

Post lengthy meetings, sleepless nights for the family, and a number of multi-disciplinary team discussions, we had to accept that our family home was not the best environment to meet all the child nurturing, social and other sensory needs.

Thankfully, we found a lovely couple with no children, that could provide that perfect nurturing environment, a peer pressureless and competition free environment for the child.

The hurt, pain, sadness that accompanied our family decision was unexplainable, but we knew it was best for the traumatized child and our other children. I am delighted to report the child is now thriving and developing wonderfully

In conclusion: often the road to finding solutions and success is a painful, frustrating, stressful, roller coaster ride journey. It is no different in the area of special and complex needs, and often all the more difficult.

Irrespective of the diagnosis, it leads to that family feeling in a state of devastation at first. Difficult decisions must be made, life changes must be made, and it is extremely unsettling at times. There is always hope and there is always something we can do.

Come join our community of those living and working with special and complex needs. We here to support, help, learn AND EMPOWER each other, as we journey towards a better future for our children and families.

Next webinar takes place on Monday the 7th December at 11am, and please remember all ticket holders can access content at their own convenience. We would love you to engage with the live webinar as far as possible. Have a great week ahead.

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