Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Why New Hope Academy?

Overcoming our trials in this life can be a gut-wrenching and seemingly impossible task.  Challenges that hurt every day and seem to never let up can make us feel isolated and utterly hopeless.

How grateful we are when we finally find the help that allows us to climb out of our dark abyss, the kind of help that lets us see the light again...the kind of help that can and will truly make a difference in our lives for the good.

We finally find HOPE.

I can tell you right now that I have found that help in our daily struggle with Reactive Attachment Disorder.  That help is a beautiful place called, New Hope Academy.

What is New Hope Academy you might ask?

New Hope Academy is a school, but it isn't like any school you have ever seen...in the academic world it is considered an Alternative School.  What is an alternative school you may ask?

An alternative school is an educational setting designed to accommodate educational, behavioral, and/or medical needs of children and adolescents that cannot be adequately addressed in a traditional school environment. (wikipedia)

Why would L, our child with Reactive Attachment Disorder, need an Alternative School?

"Neuroscience tells us that the brains of kids regularly facing significant trauma or toxic stress are wired for survival and likely to erupt at the smallest provocation. 
major study of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) by the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente found that the higher a young person’s ACEs score, the greater the risk in adulthood of chronic disease, mental illness, and premature death. These children also have a far greater future likelihood of either inflicting or being the victim of violence...Children with high ACEs scores are constantly on edge from unstable home environments that can place their brains and bodies in a state of high alert. At school, even a small reprimand from a teacher or perceived insult from a fellow student can trigger explosions of rage, expletives, and other inappropriate behavior.  

Students struggling with this toxic stress are often ill-suited to learn in a traditional educational environment. “Teachers like to tell students that if they work hard they will succeed—that it is in their control to pay attention, do their homework, and perform well in class. But those assumptions don’t work for children growing up in high-stress environments, such as those living in poverty,” said Jim Sporleder, the former principal of Lincoln, one of the first high schools in the country to embrace so-called “trauma-informed” education practices and the subject of the documentary Paper Tigers." (http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/07/teaching-traumatized-kids/490214/?platform=hootsuite)

When L was in kindergarten she controlled every aspect of her environment without the teachers seeing it for about four months.  She manipulated her teachers and other students to have her perceived needs met. After about four months her teachers started to see how her behavior was affecting her and her peers.  L was stealing from the classroom, getting other classmates to give her their treats, not finishing or doing schoolwork or homework and refusing to do the most basic tasks; she did not participate appropriately in class, lied about others and things she had taken, triangulated her two teachers against each other, and was not in any way learning what she needed to learn, as her brain was fighting for her life all of the time.  L would come home severely irritated and go into fits of rage often, sometimes for two hours at a time.  Homework with L was pure HELL, and every time I would get frustrated with her, she would just laugh at me. 

I was left in tears and frustration on a regular basis.

A regular school just wasn't cutting it.

So after a lot of prayer and some serious research, we miraculously found New Hope Academy.  New Hope is just that...a New Hope for parents of children with attachment disorders, a place where families and students can heal and gain the kind of life we all dreamed of when we adopted these beautiful children.

Started by Kasey Harmer, a mother of a child with attachment issues, New Hope Academy has been a place of healing and love for many families dealing with the horrific and daily struggle of childhood trauma. You see, New Hope Academy gives each child the individual emotional and scholastic care they need.

Each child at New Hope Academy is able to grow and thrive at their own level.

The amount of peace and the level of help my family has gained from this miraculous place is more than I could have ever hoped for.

I don't have to worry every time my daughter goes to school.

I don't have to worry whether she is hurting others or stealing or manipulating others for her gain; at New Hope I can completely trust that my daughter is safe and receiving the exact help she needs that day.

I can now feel a level of peace each and every day that I have never felt before in parenting L.

Some have asked how I know what goes on at New Hope?  As parents with children at New Hope we are asked to work there as often as we can.  We get to be involved in the care of the children there, we get trained on what to look for and how to work with children who have attachment disorders and other mental or behavioral health issues.  In the end, we are all a part of the New Hope community. As parents we are there to help each other and in turn help each other's children.

It is a community of healing and helping.

New Hope Academy is NOT a place where you go as a last resort...if your child has attachment issues, New Hope should be your first choice so your child can get healthy enough to integrate back into the regular school system and finally thrive with other healthy children.

We have had several families even move to Utah so they too can get the best help for their child.

New Hope is a true place of healing and with the help of LauraLee and Kasey, New Hope Directors, your entire family can begin  the healing process as well.

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below.  If you don't want to post publicly, go ahead and message me on FB. (https://www.facebook.com/nikimartins)

Lots of love,

Here is a link to their new website: http://www.newhope-academy.com

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Trauma and Normal Don't Mix

The definition of normal is this: conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected. 

How do we place children in this definition?  Well, frankly it's hard, as most kids do the unexpected and are not very conforming.  This being said, there is still an heir of typical or normalness when it comes to healthy kids without trauma or some other mental disorders. With a healthy or normal child, you have an idea of what to expect from them.

What we expect from a healthy/normal child:

-eye contact
-hugs and kisses
-respect (if it is taught in the home)
-laughter (at appropriate times, yes, even crude can be socially appropriate) 
-time spent together 
-trust (of course ALL children lie sometimes, but they generally trust us)
-smiles of joy and love when they see you
-turns to a parent for comfort when they are hurt or scared
-feels or eventually feels bad when they do something wrong 
-a desire to be with you (until they hit the teen years anyway ;)
-a general respect for their property in their rooms and house (of course normal kids are messy and break some toys out of curiosity or even anger) 

This is where a normal or I like to say healthy child is...I can pretty much expect most of these outcomes from three of my children.  Do my three also vary on the hard scale, of course.  E is my hardest normal child by far.  She is stubborn, aggressive, hot headed, quick to anger, can throw a tantrum with the best of them and does that often, breaks toys and draws on walls, hits her brother, is blatantly ungrateful at times, fights with H non-stop and says mean things to her siblings...but E is also very loving, always wants to snuggle with me, can be the most grateful of ALL of my children, tries her best in school, will volunteer to help me clean, will make her brother's bed without anyone asking, feels sorry when she is naughty, says sorry and means it, cries for others who are hurt, laughs when something is funny or fun, doesn't lie much, and tells me she loves me almost every day.

In contrast, this is what a child with trauma looks like:

-no eye contact, none.  They look just above your eye at your forehead or off to the side as if they aren't even listening to you.
-they don't love...for real.  They don't know how, and as a parent this fact is blatant and in our face every single day (it is truly one of the hardest parts of having a trauma child as no one else can see it)
-they give hugs and kisses for show (my L doesn't hug me when it is just the two of us, but when someone else is around, she will always give me hugs...if I hug her too much or when she is not ready for it, a hug can set her off and she will attack me)
-they do not, in any form respect adults, they can pretend to, but it really is just a show to get what they want 
-they do not laugh at appropriate times.  I saw this very early on with L.  Something funny would happen on TV or at home and her face would remain blank.  However, if they feel they have done something funny they will laugh hysterically or as they get older they will laugh in public, as they know that is what they "should" do.  L laughs at burn victims, or if someone doesn't have a leg or arm, as she thinks they look funny.
-She does not in any form want to spend time with us.  This was the hardest part for me to work through.  But with the help of her school, New Hope Academy, I was able to see that spending time with us, on vacation, or just watching a movie was truly too much for her.  It is like taking a person who has a deathly fear of spiders and placing them in a room filled with spiders and locking the door. Trauma kids need to feel they are in control of every single aspect of their life, they feel their actual life is in danger when a new person or situation comes up in their life.  So when someone comes up to L in church or the store and shakes her hand and says hi to her, immediately her anxiety level skyrockets, it is as if I placed her in the room of spiders.  She feels immediately that she isn't safe and she blames me for it, because I'm the mom and I should protect her. This even happens with close friends and family members.
-trauma kids do not trust in any way.  They fear that their basic needs will not be met by their own mom or dad. They are in constant fight or flight mode in their brains and truly and completely think they can't trust anyone ever.
-like laughing, trauma kids smile at the most inappropriate times.  For example, L will smile when she is in trouble, she smiles when her brother or sisters get hurt, or when she thinks she got away with something like stealing or if she pees or poops in her room. She rarely smiles when I tell her I love her, or try to give her a hug, or when something really is funny.
-trauma children do not find comfort from anyone but themselves, again, it is all about trust. They do not feel they need anyone but themselves for anything.  Even when L was a baby, she rarely cried or asked for comfort.  She let everyone but me feed her in a snuggle form and rarely from a very early age wanted me to comfort her.  The only time I can remember was when she was sealed to us in the LDS temple, she cried the whole time she was away from me, and stopped immediately when I was finally able to hold her...but this is the only time I can remember in her entire life.
-trauma kids don't feel guilt.  None.  I remember when L was really little and I felt it was as if she didn't have a conscience.  I tried to tell others this, but they chalked it off that she was just strong in spirit or stubborn...but as she aged I knew that she lacked the ability to feel guilt.  She would lie about everything...everything, smile when she did something wrong and laugh in our faces when she was actually able to hurt one of us.  To this day, she truly doesn't care about rules or not hurting others to get what she wants (this is another reason she can't be with us as a family unit very often).
-trauma kids want to be alone.  This is where they feel safest and feel less agitated.  Spending time with family or even just mom or dad can be completely overwhelming to them and causes them to rage in anger and anxiety.  This is why we don't take L on vacation anymore.  Vacation with L was awful.  She sabotaged so many aspects of our family time together with hurtful words, peeing and pooping in her pants, stealing food, having full blown anxiety attacks, and never ever letting us sleep at night.
-one of the most outward blatant aspects of a trauma child is their need to destroy things.  And not only do they destroy everything: clothes, toys, walls, carpet, doors, tables, beds, mattresses, floors, windows, curtains, shelves, lights, books, and pretty much anything else they can get their hands on, they also make weapons with some of those items.  For their safety and their family's safety, keeping their world small, without clutter helps their mind heal faster or more completely. New Hope Academy also taught us how to do this with our L, and overall, she has become less violent over the past months.

I hope this helps you understand a little better why we don't always come to outings, why we don't take L on vacation with us or why it is hard for us to be spontaneous and be that "fun" family on the block.  Our home is truly a war zone, where we have had to put up real barriers from the world so we can have a little bit of "normal" at our house.

Thank you all for your love and prayers.

Lots of love,