“In the heat of a rage, a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder seems to be afraid of nothing. Maddox didn’t respond to typical parental requests, bribes, or threats. If we would yell, he would yell back, louder and meaner. “Go to your room” was never met with compliance, and running away from home was an ongoing issue.But underneath it all is a powerful sense of fear. Fear of never being loved or accepted. Fear of not making friends. Fear of not fitting in with normal society. As a mother, I feared he might grow up to be the next school shooter.”

–From Love Never Quits by Gina Heumann

Gina Heumann is a true Renaissance woman: wife, mother, architect, designer, instructor, author, speaker, and sales rep for an award-winning Napa Valley winery. She and her husband, Aaron, adopted Landrey in 2001 from Guatemala and then went back for Maddox three years later. Gina’s love of learning and dedication as a mother inspired her research of different treatments and therapies that eventually led to this inspirational success story about conquering Reactive Attachment Disorder.

Book Description:

WHACK… At three in the morning Gina was sound asleep, yet somehow she was smacked in the head. She looked over at her husband, thinking perhaps he accidentally rolled over and flopped his arm on top of her, but he was sleeping soundly and facing the opposite direction. She turned to the other side and glaring back at her was her eight-year-old child.

“Did you just hit me?”

“Yes, and I’d do it again.”

“Whyyyy?”

“Because you took away my video games.”

“That was EIGHT HOURS AGO. And you’re still mad about it?”

“I wish I could kill you.”

This is the true story of the hell one family lived through parenting a child with reactive attachment disorder, a severe diagnosis related to children who experienced early-childhood trauma.

This inspirational story covers over a decade of daily struggles until they finally found resolution and made it to the other side. The family remained intact, and this once challenging son is now achieving things never thought possible.

Interview:

Thank you for this interview, Gina. Can you give us a brief account of why you wrote Love Never Quits?

Gina: This is sort of an unusual story… I went to see a life coach who does scientific hand analysis (not palm reading). She can look at the lines in your hand and determine your strengths and weaknesses in order to help you figure out your life purpose. In my hand analysis, the woman told me I had a talent for writing and speaking, which I wasn’t using in my current jobs. I had thought about writing a book about my family’s experiences helping my son overcome reactive attachment disorder, but really not seriously. Her encouragement sort of pushed me to just do it! It was very therapeutic and I finished the manuscript in just 5 weeks!

I have to admit I was thoroughly connected to the topics in your book; albeit in a personal way. There are so many children that need adopting. Was there a special process the adoption agencies go through to make sure the child is healthy mental-wise?

Gina: Not especially. Agencies do interview birth mothers and perform a home study to collect as much information as they can, but often babies are quite young when they are placed for adoption, so it may be too early to assess their mental health with much authority. Also, early life trauma can have a profound impact on mental health, and often issues are not apparent until the child is much older. In my son’s case, he was neglected by his foster mother for the 6 months he was waiting for our adoption to be complete so we could come and get him, and that was most likely the cause of his behavioral issues and severe anger. Had we been able to pick him up sooner or had he had a different foster care experience, there’s a chance he may not have suffered from attachment issues at all.

What would you say was the most difficult phase of going through adoption?

Gina: The hardest part for me was just waiting! Once you have a photo of your child in hand, there is so much anticipation and a deep need to go get that baby and not waste anymore time apart. Unfortunately with international adoption, often the picture comes at the beginning of the process and then the case has to go through more than one court to finalize all the paperwork, so there can be an agonizing wait. Every day you wonder how your baby is doing and wishing you could hold him.

In many ways, I wish more parents had to go through the same steps we did in order to start a family. We got fingerprinted, had thorough background checks, letters of recommendation from friends, review of our financial records, physicals to ensure we were in good enough health to raise a child, and a home study to prove our house is safe for a baby. I really feel if more people had to go through all this effort, there would be better parents out there!

What exactly is Reactive Attachment Disorder?

Gina: RAD is a fairly controversial diagnosis as far as psychological afflictions are concerned, but one that is extremely serious. Although this is not a diagnosis that is solely reserved for adoptees, it is by far more prevalent in children who had some sort of disrupted attachment. The Institute of Attachment and Child Development defines Reactive Attachment Disorder as “a disorder in which children’s brains and development get disrupted by trauma they endured before the age of 3. They are unable to trust others and attach in relationships.” Since adoption is a result of a disrupted attachment, it is most common in children who are adoptees, foster kids, and step children, but it can also occur in biological children who’s primary caregiver was hospitalized, in prison, deployed, or had some other traumatic event that separated them, even for a short time. Not all adopted children have RAD. And not all children who suffer from RAD are adopted.

Symptoms of RAD include: severe anger, lack of empathy, inability to give or receive affection, lack of cause and effect thinking, minimal eye contact, lying, stealing, “mad peeing” (urinating all over the house when angry or bedwetting into the teen years), indiscriminate affection with strangers, inappropriately demanding, preoccupation with fire, blood, and gore, hoarding food, abnormal eating patterns, learning lags, and lack of impulse control. These can be more serious in some patients than others, of course, but over the years, Maddox suffered from most of these. In extreme cases, symptoms can include verbal, physical, psychological and emotional abuse of the mother (yes), self-harm or threats to others (yes), and hurting or killing pets (thank god, no). As hard as things were for us, I read this list and know it could have been a lot worse.

RAD was in the news recently as one of the descriptors of Nikolas Cruz, the school shooter at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, FL. Internet support groups for parents dealing with Reactive Attachment Disorder were a buzz with comments like “that could be my kid someday.” Honestly there was a time I thought the same thing. I’m so thankful that we were able to find resolution to this issue and peace in our family. My son is doing amazing now and I’m so proud of his progress.

There is a video making the social network rounds. You can view it here. Do you think that this kid is an example of Reactive Attachment Disorder (keep in mind this kid may or may not be adopted) and if so how can parents deal with this?

Gina: It’s hard to say without more information. My son was much more violent when he was upset and typically trashed his room, punched holes in the walls, or screamed at the top of his lungs. He’d get upset over the smallest things, really flew off the rails if he heard the word “no”, which makes it extremely difficult to parent. A lot of what we had to do was learn to remain calm and not mirror back yelling, swearing, or other bad behaviors, which is really hard to do when your child is continually pushing your buttons. But the most important part of our journey was healing the trauma buried deep within his psyche so he could release the anger.

I do wish more people viewing the video would take the time to determine why this kid is so disrespectful rather than making a snap judgment of the dad. Maybe, like us, he’s been paying for therapy, special schools, or other alternative treatments and doing the best he can. Maybe this behavior is NOT a result of bad parenting, but something deeper and more serious. I really got tired of judgments from strangers.

In writing your memoir, what do you believe was one of the hardest chapters to write?

Gina: By far, the most difficult chapter to write was “The Day I Almost Quit”. Although I wrote it and lived it, I can’t even get through reading it without crying. The desperation I felt that day was immensely powerful and I truly felt I just couldn’t do it anymore.

Do you have a passage out of your book that you can give us?

Gina: “In 2010, there was a national news story about a woman who put her adopted child on a plane back to Russia with a note, “To whom it may concern, I no longer wish to parent this child.” She wanted the adoption annulled. According to interviews, she claimed he was mentally unstable and violent, with severe psychopathic behaviors. He was seven. The mom claimed to have tried everything. She was desperate and just couldn’t do it anymore.

I remember the Internet reacting in horror. If you read any article about this incident then scroll to the comments, you’ll see everyone blames the mother. Everyone. There was so much judgment about how terrible this woman was to turn her back on a child, but there was very little information about how violent he was and how dangerous it was having him around her other children.

I also remember hearing about this on the news and thinking to myself, “I get it.” Not that I would put my child on a plane and send him back to Guatemala, but I understood how difficult her situation must have been to drive her to that point of desperation. Most everyone I talked to about it did not understand.”

How do you feel your book will help?

Gina: I’m hoping my book will give hope to families who are struggling with a challenging child and I hope to inspire readers with our story of unconditional love and survival.

What would you like to say to your readers and fans?

Gina: I would say to try to hold off judging others who are struggling with a child in public without knowing the whole story. When a stranger stopped me in the midst of a meltdown at Target and told me I was failing as a mother, she was basing her opinion on her experience as a mother – most likely to a neurotypical biological child. Just know that sometimes there is a back story and a reason for bad behaviors, whether it’s RAD, mental illness, autism, or sensory processing disorders, and the parents might be going through extraordinary efforts to just survive from day to day.

 

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