In 2009 I was reading the Arizona Republic and a very provocatively titled article by the columnist E.J. Montini intrigued me. It was titled something to the effect of when it was okay to treat children like a pet. He was referring to placing pictures of children whose parental rights have been severed and are available for adoption. The children have photos taken by professional photographers and a small article written about them and they are uploaded for all to see on the internet on sites like www.adoptuskids.org, www.aask-az.org, and www.childrensheartgallery.org, just like a kitten that is up for adoption. His article focused on older children, ones who have been abused, neglected, and exposed to things that no child should have to endure. These kids have been in multiple group and foster homes without any stability or love for far too long. These are the children who are overlooked for adoption because most people want babies. A picture of a goofy little 9-year-old boy with bright red hair hanging upside down in a tree caught my eye. I knew that this was something I had to do and I had enough room in my heart and house to bring a child home. I called Agape Adoption Agency.
I sat through all of the PS-MAPP training classes, listened intently to Doug and Leslie, took notes, did my homework, and got my home ready. I heard everything that was said about parenting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and attention seeking behaviors. I didn’t get it. I heard everything said about parenting a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). I didn’t get it. I heard everything said about parenting a child who suffered trauma, abuse, and neglect. I didn’t get it. I even heard everything about parenting a child who had suffered loss and abandonment. I didn’t get it. All of these subjects and more were covered in class but I just didn’t get it.
I met my daughter on a very hot May afternoon. I had terrible laryngitis and could not make enough sound to properly greet her. Her name is Rosalee and she was 11 years old at that time. She was absolutely beautiful with long blond hair and shiny blue eyes but she was covered from head to toe with dark bruises. She shook like a leaf and appeared terrified but she greeted me with a strong hand-shake and was very polite. I visited her at her therapeutic foster home for a few weeks and then she slept over at my house on a few weekends. After about 6 weeks she moved into her home. I was ready to help this young, frightened
girl. She was still very polite and quiet and after a few days she stopped shaking and her bruises began to fade. Unbeknownst to me she was in her honeymoon phase.
After speaking with her and finding out what her interest were I signed her up for hip-hop and ballet, and when school started she joined a girl scout troop. She was unable to read or write and could not even read her own middle name, Lynn, so she needed to see a tutor too.
Rosalee’s emotional state started to crumble. She would fly into the most violent rages and would need to be restrained by two or three adults to keep her from harming herself and others. Her rages did not seem to be related to anything. She destroyed an art classroom, she attacked her PE coach in the middle of a fun volleyball game, she assaulted a worker at the Boys and Girls club so severely the police had to be called. Her rage was so disproportionate to any situation. After she would rage, she would have the uncontrollable urge to vandalize and break anything she could get near. She would be calm and methodical about her destruction too. Her eyes got a darkness to them that was cold and uncaring and she would appear to be in some type of fugue state. When Rosalee was 12 years old she tried to pull an electrical panel off a wall in front of 4 police officers after one particularly violent rage. After another rage, she took a hammer and pounded a large 2 feet x 1-foot hole in her bedroom wall. Her rages occurred so often she couldn’t stay in a classroom. I really started to understand RAD and called her my little radish.
I knew that she was illiterate due to her emotional disability as she was not able to sit in a classroom and behave appropriately. If Rosalee wasn’t raging, covering teachers in spit, hitting, biting, slamming her head into walls, crawling on the floor, or destroying the classroom, she would shut down and sleep. In dance class she would intentionally lay in the middle of
the floor and refuse to move as a way to negatively attention seek. In girl scouts she would annoy the other girls so much they didn’t want her around. She would hardly drink any liquids so she would get gassy and loudly pass gas in front of other people. Rosalee wouldn’t wash her hair and would smell so bad I had to wash it for her up until she was 15 years old. Once she took over washing her hair she had to call me into the bathroom so I could see the shampoo on her head. She stopped washing her face so she could get zits. She liked to pick at her skin and especially at acne. She, once again, had to call me into the bathroom so that I could see soap on her face. Rosalee was defiant, violent, and argumentative. She had very poor hygiene, would negative attention seek so much it was difficult taking her out in public, and did everything possible to push people away and make people not want to be around her. I very quickly started to understand RAD and I knew these behaviors were due to the neglect and abuse she suffered as a small child. By the beginning of 7th grade her emotional state was crumbling so quickly and she was spiraling out of control the school could no longer handle her. They recommended she go to Devereaux School for children with emotional and behavioral disorders.
Hindsight is so 20/20. While I did things like get her ballet lessons and sign her up for girl scouts because I had compassion for her and I wanted her to experience things that other girls had growing up she was not healthy enough yet to participate in anything. Once I got it I really started to get things organized for her that would help her emotional health. Rosalee did care that she raged and hurt people. She did care that she destroyed thousands of dollars of various things, she did care that she didn’t have any friends. She wanted to be good. She wanted to be loved. She wanted to be a friend. RAD kids can heal, they can accept affection, and they can love other people. Rosalee is happy, healthy, and has recovered from RAD and ODD. She is a junior in high school now, the president of the robotics club, and she is on the academic decathlon team and she recently won two medals at her first academic decathlon competition. My daughter is incredibly intelligent and loves math, chemistry, and physics. Going into 6th grade she could not read and now she takes honors classes. Rosalee did need peace and unconditional love but what she needed most was someone to not give up on her.
Once I got it, my little radish was able to bloom into an amazingly compassionate young woman who has a bright future ahead of her.