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.
- 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 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.