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May 20, 2012 / Nicole Sandler

Why I Need Your Help

My name is Nicole Sandler, and I need help.

Twelve years ago, I made the difficult decision to adopt a baby who needed a family. As I was approaching 40, I had led a successful, career-driven life, but hadn’t yet met the man with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life, let alone create a child.

I always pictured myself with a daughter, so I set out to find her. As luck would have it, after 18 months of document chasing, notarizing, translating and playing a long, difficult waiting game, I awoke one morning to an email with two pictures of a precious little girl in an orphanage in a little village called Karakastek in the country of Kazakhstan.

Trying to think with my head and not my heart, I got more information, conferring on her medical records with a doctor who specializes in international adoption, before embarking on the most important journey of my life.

At 15 months, she weighed only 16 pounds. She was not yet walking or talking, but there was a sparkle in her eyes and, in the short video they sent, I was enchanted by the giant smile that emerged once she got over her initial fear of the people who were doing the video taping.

The doctor said she looked malnourished, and seemed to be in need of a lot of “Vitamin M – mommy”.

Six weeks later, I travelled to the other side of the world to meet and adopt my daughter.

I knew motherhood would be a challenge. But I never knew that, 12 years later, I’d feel so lost in my efforts to help her live a successful, happy life.

As I tell anyone who’ll listen, Alison couldn’t be more my child if I had given birth to her myself. She’s strong-willed, stubborn and smart. She’s independent and tough. Within six months, Alison caught up – she grew from the size and developmental level of a nine-month old (18 lbs at 18 months when I adopted her) to a typical two-year old, in the 90th percentile for height and weight.

Unfortunately, as she was developing, my career took a turn for the worse. My radio station in Los Angeles was sold, and I was out of work. After a few stops in different cities (the perils of a radio career), we wound up back in South Florida, where I grew up, to be near family, in time for Alison to start kindergarten. That’s when the school did the testing to confirm what I had suspected, Alison has ADHD.

What I knew about ADD/ADHD before I began my extensive reading on the subject was only that kids who have it have trouble paying attention. What I didn’t realize was what a challenge parenting a child with a severe case of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder would be.

From her teachers I get the same feedback that I offer them – Alison is a very bright child, but she is often in her own world. Nothing seems to sink in. She hears, but doesn’t listen. She cannot seem to stay on task for any extended period of time, and has great difficulty following directions, especially if there’s more than one task to be completed.

She made it through elementary school with passing grades, but certainly not what a child as bright as she would expect. She would also constantly lose things. From homework to notebooks to important papers from school.

Then she hit middle school, and things got even worse. She has an IEP (individualized education program) – she is in regular classes, but gets extra time for tests. She constantly forgets to do assignments (even with mom riding herd) and, often when she does do the work, she leaves it at home or otherwise forgets to turn it in.

I have her on medication (we’re on the 4th or 5th now, as none seem to help), and in therapy. In addition to her diagnosis of ADHD, Alison also has the diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which is just as it sounds. I say the sky is blue, and she’ll argue that it’s red. And when I’m trying to help her with remembering to do her school projects, it can sometimes turn ugly.

So, as you’d expect, my fiercely independent daughter has trouble taking direction. It’s difficult to help her, and heartbreaking for me, as I’m helpless watching her come to the end of 7th grade with the realization that she will likely have to repeat 7th grade next year.

A few words in defense of my daughter … She’s compassionate, loves animals, is funny (or thinks she is), and is a beautiful, loving girl. But I worry that she can’t – or won’t – learn the things she needs to succeed in life.

As I pondered the thought of her being left back in 7th grade and worried about how she’ll get throught 8th and then high school, I went in search of something to help her.

I came across a program offered by Florida International Center for Children & Families called the Summer Treatment Program for Adolescents

 Teens with ADHD, oppositional disorders, aggression, learning problems, or teens with mixed behavior and learning problems

As you can see by clicking and reading about the program, I was overjoyed. I found the program that will help my kid!

Summer Treatment Program for Adolescents

Are you looking for something more than medication to help improve your teen’s behavior? The Center for Children and Families (CCF) at Florida International University (FIU) offers a summer program for teens based on the award-winning comprehensive Summer Treatment Program for younger children. The program runs from late June or early July through mid-August, on weekdays.The STP offers a comprehensive treatment program for teen’s behavioral, emotional, and learning problems. This program is composed of a set of evidence-based treatments incorporated into an 8-week therapeutic summer day camp setting. Group and tailored individual treatment plans are implemented by trained paraprofessionals under the supervision of experienced senior staff members.

Sessions consist of a group of adolescents paired with clinical staff members for the duration of the day, encouraging development of group interaction and friendships.

Our Goals:

  • Development of the adolescent’s problem solving and social skills, and of the social awareness necessary to enable him/her to get along better with other adolescents
  • Improvement of the adolescent’s study skills, organization habits, and academic performance
  • Development of the adolescent’s abilities to follow instructions, to complete tasks that he/she commonly fails to finish, and to comply with adults’ requests
  • Improvement of the adolescent’s self-esteem by developing competencies in areas necessary for success in adolescence, such as leadership skills, interpersonal skills, athletics, and academics
  • Increased familiarity with the process of applying for, obtaining, and holding a part-time job, as well as managing one’s earnings
  • Instruction for parents in how to develop, reinforce, and maintain these positive changes
  • If appropriate, evaluation of the effects of medication on the child’s academic and social functioning in a natural setting

Treatment

Treatment includes individually adapted reward and response-cost programs aimed at improving behavior, organization, academic performance and social skills; training in group problem solving, social, and contracting skills; strategies for efficient studying, enhanced test performance, and complete and accurate note-taking; and a daily feedback system designed to increase adolescent self-monitoring and self-awareness. Adolescents will apply for and hold paid positions within the STP-A (i.e. junior counselor, newspaper editor, business manager), and the group will plan and manage its own business. Treatment plans and strategies are continuously monitored and modified as necessary.

There’s even help for me!

Parent Training Groups 

Parents form an integral part of STP-A by participating in weekly group evening sessions. Parent sessions are designed to help parents develop skills to reduce problem behaviors, to improve their child’s task skills and relationships with parents and peers, and to maintain and extend the gains made in the STP-A to the child’s natural at-home environment.

I called and made an appointment for the program screening. Alison and I each went with a different member of the staff – she for some psychological testing, and me to answer a multitude of questions about her history and behavior.

Yesterday I got the call informing me that Alison has been accepted into the program! The problem is the cost – over $4600.

I looked into scholarships and grants, and apparently they are only available to students in Miami-Dade County (we live in Broward). I asked if they have financing available; they do not. And that is why I am writing this missive.

I lost my last full-time job when Air America radio went off the air. Though I work daily, I barely make enough money to pay my bills. I was doing quite well at the time I adopted my daughter and never thought I’d ever have trouble providing for her needs. But I lost my home last April, and we moved in with my fiance, who is also now in the financial struggle of his life and is trying to keep a roof over our heads and rebuild his business.

I want my to daughter grow to be a responsible member of society, able to get and hold a job and be self-sufficient. I truly believe that we’re at a scary crossroads – either I get her the help she needs now, or the next few years will further erode her self confidence and her ability to live a productive, happy life.

Every bone in my body hates that I had to go to the extremes of setting up this website and asking for help, but I don’t know what else to do.

I have set up a paypal account to raise funds to get my daughter the help she needs. Please help, if you can.

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14 Comments

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  1. Paul Zarchin, L.M.T., H.H.C. / May 20 2012 7:03 pm

    You may have adopted her but she looks just like you as if you DID birth her. So sorry for your predicament. Have you spoken to Randi? She knows everybody and I would imagine through your radio experience you have some leads. Hope someone or a few see your blog and can help; wish I could.

  2. joedusel / May 20 2012 7:19 pm

    Nicole, you are a great mom. If I had money I would be happy to make a donation. We also have a 12 year old daughter who we adopted from China in November 2001. We live in Southern California where there are a lot of really good Chinese medicine doctors that could likely help your daughter more safely with herbs. (In fact we talked to one about a friend’s child, but the family figured it was easier to give drugs.) I hate the idea of giving kids drugs because there are always side effects. If you have not done this already you might want to contact Thom Hartman. He even started a school for kids with ADHD. He may be able to help you.

  3. Monita / May 20 2012 7:45 pm

    I regret that I can’t donate. I can say that I have seen this from both sides. You are describing me as a child and my daughter. I understand your frustration. It is not a bad thing. While there are barriers there is a genius stirring in there. We are often artists, inventors, actors, musicians, philosophers, scientists, or mathematicians. The mundane, the day to day doesn’t hold our attention but there are things that do. Find what does inspire her and nurture that. Don’t alienate her by trying to make her something she’s not.

    • Nicole Sandler / May 23 2012 1:06 pm

      I try to nurture her artistic/creative side – and there’s a lot of it! I just want her to learn how to function in school and improve her self esteem. RIght now, she thinks she’s “stupid” (her word) because she tries but just can’t do well in school.

  4. William Harasym / May 20 2012 10:52 pm

    Dear Nicole,
    I understand 1st hand how hard is is to ask for help because deep down it eats at our very core as self-sufficient humans and our personal dignity and pride. But we take our pride, and swallow it, and extend our hand, with the hope that one will reciprocate and extend theirs. I’m neither wealthy, or even in our middle-class, as I live at the poverty line on Social Security Disability because of an inoperable brain tumor, albeit slow-growing. Some people have helped me over the years, so I am paying it forward. I wish it could have been more, but maybe on payday on June 1st I can again revisit this request. No need to thank me, just pay it forward when you get a chance, and you will get that chance. I wish you and your daughter the best, always.

    • joedusel / May 21 2012 7:03 pm

      Sorry to hijack the thread Nicole. William, if you have not heard of Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski http://www.burzynskiclinic.com/ you might want to check him out. They are supposed to be able to work wonders with brain tumors. Best of luck to you!

      • William Harasym / May 21 2012 11:25 pm

        Thanks for the info, but I have heard of him. As a veteran who is disabled, I use the VA Healthcare system, and have for the last 30+ years. I am part of the VA’s Rocky Mountain region, with my main VA hospital down in Denver, and my team of neurosurgeons for the last 9 years are all part of the University of Colorado University Hospital and Medical School, and are top-notch. Thanks for the info though.

  5. Jane Devin / May 21 2012 6:19 pm

    Nicole, I will donate at the end of the month, but I’d really like you to consider something that your article does not mention and it’s so very important in adoptions past infancy. I speak from experience here.

    Infants who do not bond after birth and who are routinely neglected in institutional circumstances are very often diagnosed with ADHD and other disorders. However, there are many, many scientific studies on how such infants are affected by the stress hormone cortisol, which creates permanent changes in the brain’s wiring and can lead to developmental disabilities . . . which teachers and uninformed psychologists will call ADHD, OCD, ODD, or any other term of convenience. However, these diagnoses do not help the child affected, because while there are strong similarities they are not the same biologically. In fact, your daughter may become so frustrated by the constant call to perform and “change” in ways that she cannot, that she might just give up trying. An apple cannot turn into an orange, no matter how many oranges think it’s for the best . . . and even when the apple would really like to please others and rid herself of the constant feeling that she doesn’t measure up in some crucial way.

    Children from these circumstances can be harmed by certain therapies that don’t take their unique biochemistry into account. They do not have solely a set of behavioral issues — which is what so many therapies address and which can make the neurologically atypical child feel worse about themselves. They need to be treated more along the lines of someone with Aspergers than with ADHD. Their brains are wired differently. A Montessori type education which allow students to focus on primary areas of interest first is often extremely helpful. The attitude that her different brain wiring is not a curse, but can be a gift if used properly.

    There’s a lot more I could say, but you have Google and I’d urge you to explore the issues I brought up here. There’s no doubt that your daughter is bright, but she probably can’t tell you exactly why or how she feels different. But what happens in early infancy matters and can affect a person lifelong. The choice is to integrate that experience into the gestalt of the person, or to wage a war against it in the hopes that normalcy will come.

    • Nicole Sandler / May 23 2012 1:08 pm

      Thank you Jane. I’ve researched it all. The one thing I’m very happy about is that bonding was never an issue. I know a lot of kids adopted from Eastern Europe who spent their early years in orphanages have some sort of attachment disorder. Thankfully, that is not the case with us.

      • Jane Devin / May 25 2012 4:45 am

        Hi Nicole, I wasn’t talking about attachment disorder, but about neurological changes to the brain caused in infancy by the stress hormone cortisol that often occur before infants are adopted. Since she was 16 mos. old when you took her home, I thought it might be a possibility. Some kids do have AD, but clearly that’s not the case with her. And seriously, she even looks like you. :-)

  6. Lil / May 22 2012 10:18 pm

    Nicole, you’ve been a part of my musical life for almost 20 years. I’ve read your posts about your many moves through the World Class Rock Yahoo group and have kept up with you via Radio or Not. There’s no way I couldn’t help you. It isn’t much but I’ve sent what I can. Best of luck to you and Allison. I really hope that this program helps you both. Please keep us posted. :-)

  7. Deborah / May 23 2012 3:57 am

    For funding, have you tried your SRS (Social and Rehabilitation Services)? Vocational Rehabilitation? Since Alison is in Special Ed., the public school/throu sp. ed. funding should provide her with the education she needs, i.e. this program you’ve found. You might need to find a very strong advocacy program/organization to state your case but it’s in the law: PL 94-142. In Kansas, we have “Families Together”.org as the initial organization I would check for the legal aspect and knowledge for financial help; the Disability Rights Center of KS is terrific as a “bulldog” for the rights of the disabled, too. Maybe there’s a Center in Fla. Maybe the state chapter of CEC/Council of Exceptional Children and/or sub-category/SED (Severely Emotionally Disturbed/Learning Disabled/etc.) might have knowledge of funding. How come Alison’s insurance won’t pay for this? She needs this as a part of her medical treatment .. ADHD is a physical problem., which shouldn’t matter – if she needed hospitalization for emotional reasons, she should be able to use her medical card for that too..

    I think one of your other bloggers mentioned “attachment d/o” and I agree – you want to be careful with mixing treatments if Alison has attachment d/o and the program involves too much “response/cost” reinforcement going on. Have you talked/visited with other parents who’ve gone throu this training?

    You’ve probably done much if not all of this already… my heart goes out to you and Alison and your significant other. My sister had 3 kids and all 3 were labeled ADHD .. to varying degrees and with other d/o. My knowledge comes from 27 years in special education as a teacher and consultant for emtionally disturbed children, then as a counselor and social worker.

  8. MrsWhich / May 23 2012 1:01 pm

    Yours is a story that speaks to so many of the issues facing the world today. Thank you so much for sharing it. Every child is lucky the day a loving adult steps up and says “I will take responsibility for you.” This child was lucky to get you.

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