Trying to interpret behavioral signs in our children (or anyone for that manner) as a way of predicting potentially dangerous waters ahead can be an infuriating challenge for all but the most seasoned mental health professionals. That was certainly true for us.
Let’s face it. We as parents want our children to be “normal,” so we look for “normal” behavior, we see what we want to see, hear what we want to hear, don’t want to read anything unpleasant. We don’t want to believe that our children have a disorder that stigmatizes them. When Casey’s last therapist mentioned “attachment disorder” I locked onto the word “disorder” and rolled my eyes. Why did everyone have some convenient disorder?
To complicate matters further, many warning signs (whether for attachment issues, bipolar, suicidal tendencies, etc.) can look much like someone acting out in the moment – a toddler’s temper tantrum, a teenager’s defiance. I keep thinking about my friend – a prominent child psychiatrist – who lost his 17-year-old son to the Golden Gate Bridge. Like Casey, his son was set to graduate from high school and head off to an elite private college. If he couldn’t read the signs, how could I?
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to be vigilant, no matter how imperfect the tools that we have to work with.
Deborah Grey is a prominent attachment therapist and author based in Seattle. In her 2002 book, Attaching in Adoption, she described a long list of common symptoms that cover the entire spectrum of attachment disorders:
1. Lack of impulse control, self-destructive behaviors, including cutting, eating disorder and other forms of self-harm. Intense displays of anger and rage.
2. Lack of trust in others.
3. Age-inappropriate emotional responses, like temper tantrums in teen years.
4. Marked mood swings.
5. Frequent defiance and opposition. No tolerance for limits or controls. Exploitative, manipulative, controlling, bossy.
6. Frequently sad, depressed, lonely, helpless.
7. Selectively superficial engagement and charm, such as being cool and unaffectionate to parents but charming or affectionate to others.
8. Destructive hyperactivity and destruction of property. Casey battered her bedroom door, stabbed her new IKEA desk with scissors and threw all of her keepsakes in the trash in a fit of rage.
9. Aggression toward others, particularly the parents. How many times had I heard Casey say “I hate you” or “I hate myself.”
10. Consistently irresponsible and forgetful.
11. Inappropriately demanding and clingy. This is a fairly common trait of many adoptees but we never saw it in Casey. She wanted (or claimed to want) independence.
12. Stealing, deceitfulness, lying, conning and manipulating.
14. Inappropriate sexual conduct and attitudes.
15. Cruelty to animals.
16. Sleep disturbance.
17. Poor hygiene and cleanliness.
18. Preoccupation with fire, gore, evilness.
19. Persistent nonsense questions and incessant chatter.
20. Difficulty with novelty and change.
21. Lack of cause-and-effect thinking. Blames others for own mistakes.
22. Learning or language disorders.
23. Perception of self as victim.
24. Grandiose sense of self-importance.
25. Lack of purpose, spiritual faith or remorse (conscience).