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A story about a mom, adoption and the reality of living with reactive attachment disorder PART II

Updated: Apr 30, 2021

The following is a continued true story. Names have been changed to protect identities. Read part I here.

As the summer went on, our family continued to fall apart. Though I didn't realize it at the time, Walker and Walden felt as though they needed to protect me from Wesley's abuse. In their eyes, their dad failed to do so. Meanwhile, Welsey abused and attacked Walden regularly as well. Walden stayed in his room much of the time and rarely socialized with the family.

Friends had also stopped calling and coming around. My mom would not talk about any of it with me. It was all so isolating. As the summer progressed into the school year, Wesley continued to struggle. He wasn’t excelling academically. He also had been caught stealing from a classmate and forging his dad’s signature on a school paper. After many rejections for more help from the school, I ultimately decided to homeschool Wesley.

It was an incredibly trying year. I constantly felt defeated and incredibly confused by Wesley. No matter what the subject, he struggled with every single assignment I gave him. He'd argue over everything incessantly, all day. It was exhausting. Yet, he completed his assignments immediately, quickly and correctly as soon as his dad got home. So of course, Parker couldn't fathom my frustration. I eventually felt a gleam of hope when I found a child psychologist who seemed reliable. She ultimately diagnosed Wesley with language processing disorder and visual processing disorder. The psychologist used a computer program especially to meet Wesley’s needs and impairments—to help him break through the places he was struggling and “rewire” his brain paths. Wesley went everyday for 12 months. At the end of the computer program, the psychologist retested his brain and deemed the intervention successful. Wesley could return to public school for fourth grade, she said. And yet, Wesley’s behaviors hadn’t changed at all. I had caught him multiple times lighting matches in the garage beside gas cans. I found him trying to light a marble on fire on the carpet of his bedroom. Again, he never did any of this around Parker.

But nonetheless, we planned on returning Wesley to school. I felt hopeful that he’d succeed academically at least.

A few weeks into school, Wesley’s teacher still said he wasn’t working to his full potential. But we stayed the course and discussed an individual education plan. I desperately needed those few hours while he was in school to myself each day. One warm day in April, I got a phone call from a social worker. Wesley’s biological mother just had a baby and the county wanted to keep the siblings together. The social worker asked if Parker and I would pick up Wesley’s sister from the hospital in the coming days. Initially, we said no. We were already going through enough with Wesley. But later that same day, we realized that this child had not been harmed by the birth family. She hadn’t even left the hospital yet. We might be able to prevent whatever Wesley had experienced. We called the social worker back and agreed to take her.

At the time, we didn’t know the baby was in the neonatal intensive care unit detoxing from methamphetamines. Her mother had taken drugs regularly through pregnancy and up until three hours before giving birth. We wouldn’t know the effects that stress, drugs and homelessness had in utero on the baby until months later.

The day we brought the baby home, Parker and I told Wesley that he and the baby shared the same birth mommy. He lit up and said, “I have someone now”. We were happy for both of them and hopeful that the kinship would help Wesley. Within a year, we officially adopted our baby girl and named her Waverly.

Throughout 5th and 6th grades, Wesley had many accommodations afforded to him in school. He always had extra time to do his work and get extra help. Yet, he still failed nearly every subject because he refused to utilize his accommodations. I found piles of homework, completed but laying on the floor in the back of his closet—never turned in.

At the end of 6th grade, I questioned how the school administrators could let Wesley go onto 7th grade when he had essentially failed the 5th and 6th grades. Once again, I decided to homeschool him.

] That year, Wesley began acting out even more destructively. He destroyed nearly everything that Walden and I valued.

I caught him cleaning the toilets with my toothbrush. I found him filing down a flat-head screwdriver to, as he put it, make a shank. He told me that he carried a knife in his pants. I struggled to comprehend how all this was happening yet no one else saw or believed it. I reached out to our post-adoption social worker for some help or respite. She flatly told me that we had no services available to us after adoption. I decided to find a therapist for Wesley and I. After just a few visits to my therapist, I was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. She suggested medication and journaling. Several months into Wesley’s therapy, his therapist showed a video that I thought explained Wesley’s behavior. The video briefly explained something called reactive attachment disorder. Wesley had 18 of the 20 characteristics of the disorder. I was flabbergasted. The therapist diagnosed Wesley with reactive attachment disorder due to his early childhood neglect and abuse. The therapist and I began working together to research the best way to treat the disorder. Even she didn't know what Wesley needed at that point. But at least we had a diagnosis that seemed spot-on.


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