Thursday, April 22, 2010

Adoption and Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)

At Sorenson's Ranch School we have a lot of students who have been adopted. Most of these students were adopted at an older age and remember the abuse and neglect they experienced prior to adoption. Some adolescents do not remember the abuse and neglect they went through. Those that do not remember still have the experiences imprinted in their brains and experience symptoms from their earlier years of abuse and neglect.
During their treatment at Sorenson's Ranch School each student who has been adopted attends an adoption group. This group is offered to the students to help them recognize how some of the problems they are experiencing now stem from issues connected with their adoption. We help the students work through their feelings of anger and confusion related to their adoption. Students are also able to relate to each other and see that they are not the only ones that have certain feelings about their adoption.
It is important to note that the first two years of life are the most important and critical time for a secure attachment to take place. Children need to experience the cues of attachment from their primary caregiver. These cues are eye contact, touch, smiling feeding, heart connection and being in the caregivers arms. It is very important that the child’s needs are met during the first two years. Parents may wonder what some symptoms of a compromised attachment are that may be affecting their teenager. A brief list of these symptoms are low self-esteem, needy or clingy, extremely difficult time coping with stress and adversity, lack of self-control, behavioral and academic problems at school, lack of compassion and empathy, do not show remorse, aggression and violence, difficulty with trust, hoarding, difficulty showing affection, oppositional with parents and other authority figures, unable to develop and maintain lasting friendships, and negative view of self and the world in general.
Some of our students are diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and some have less severe attachment issues and do not fully meet the criteria for RAD, but still have some attachment issues related to their adoption that need to be worked on so that the adolescent can be successful in life and have successful relationships. It is important to get your child help early if they are experiencing symptoms related to attachment or their adoption.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

An Essay into Teenage Physical Environments

Much has been said about the importance of helping teens through those difficult years we refer to as adolescence. The difficulty facing our youth today, managing their way through these perilous times, surpasses the troubles that the generations of the past faced. The availability of almost anything that may be detrimental to our youth is astounding, and somewhat daunting from a parent’s perspective. The information age has made it easy for the youth of today to find tempting yet self-destructive ways to negatively affect their future by making impulsive and immature decisions that may have devastating consequences on their long-term success.

Of the many hazardous situations that face today’s teens, arguably the most difficult to control are the environmental cues, which includes a teen’s peer group. A teen’s peers are one of the strongest influences that he/she tends to struggle with. The need for peer approval often supersedes that of parental approval, which then develops into a power struggle for control of our adolescent’s attention and influence. As the social beings that we all are, we are to a degree dependent on each other to develop social skills and personal awareness to ultimately succeed in family life and a work environment.

Because of the parent’s lack of resources in controlling peer influences for their adolescent, they are often left to the mercy of the prevailing peer group that will embrace their teen’s need for social interaction. Due to the urban settings of our modern era that most teens are growing up in, the possibility of the parents controlling all of the environmental variables such as peers is, in some cases, an insurmountable task if they attend school. Many other parents have either been worn down by their own teenage children or have an overall lack of interest in setting boundaries for their own youth, and so we become the scapegoat for why they cannot do whatever they please.

From the environmental standpoint, this is one of the areas where Sorenson’s Ranch School shines. On the working ranch, we can control their environment. Because of our remote location, there is no escaping the everyday fact of chores and responsibilities that coexist with a working ranch environment. By having control over the physical environment, we can stack things in the interest of what will be good and wholesome for the youth. Also by having been removed from an environment where they have spun out of control, they can work on reestablishing what they want to become and where they ultimately want to be. Although no one can create a perfect environment, we have invested 25 years developing the most idyllic set of surroundings to foster introspection and personal growth. This can be achieved without making a boot-camp setting, but in a more therapeutic, boarding school venue. Whereas boot camps provide harsh verbal rebukes, we can provide interventions that highlight cause and effect, propagated by personal choice and the rippling effect that has on each of our lives. A therapeutic boarding school setting also fosters the rebuilding of relationships between a parent and their children in controlled setting. Sorenson’s Ranch School is one of the few therapeutic boarding schools that is also a working cattle ranch, which is what sets us apart from the others.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Springville Art Museum

Every year during March Sorenson’s Ranch School, a residential treatment center for troubled youth, takes the art and high-level students on a field trip to the Springville Art Museum. March is the month they hold the Utah State Student Art Show. We took the male teenagers on the first trip and then the female teenagers went a few weeks later. Sorenson’s Ranch School students usually visit four different museums each year. The Utah State Student Art Show is always the highlight of the year for the teens that go. It is inspiring to see the many different mediums at work. Sorenson’s Ranch School students came away with ideas for projects and a new appreciation of the artistic ability of teenagers their own age.

The Utah State Student Art Show is juried, and there are many exciting awards given. The top prize is the Congressional Award. There are three congressional districts in Utah. The first place prize for the Congressional Award is two round-trip airline tickets to Washington D.C. The student’s work is then hung for one year in the United States Capital Building. Some of the other awards were cash prizes and college scholarships. Sorenson’s Ranch School students were very interested in the jury process and spent time trying to guess which pieces won awards. Their favorites were not always the pieces that won awards. We discussed how art is subjective, and that there isn’t a right or wrong opinion.

Teens with behavioral problems in the public school systems rarely get to participate in these types of extra curricular activities. At Sorenson’s Ranch School, we believe that these are exactly the kind of teens that will benefit most from such cultural experiences. Teens who have been having trouble in their personal and academic life have a very myopic view of their situation and of life in general. By exposing troubled teens to these culturally enriching activities, Sorenson’s Ranch School hopes to open their minds to the many possibilities that life can offer them. These teens that have had fun and enjoyable experiences without the use of drugs are better able to keep away from drugs after returning home. It is with this in mind, that these activities are planned and prepared for the youth at Sorenson’s Ranch School.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Alcohol Awareness Month

April is Alcohol Awareness Month. Did you know that alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among teens in the United States? Did you know that it is abused by teens even more than tobacco and illicit drugs? According to the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey 45% of high school students drank some amount of alcohol within the 30 days prior to taking the survey. Another 11% reported that they had driven after drinking alcohol, and 29% rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol. In 2005, there were more than 145,000 emergency room visits by adolescents 12 to 20 years for injuries linked to alcohol. Although teens and young adults between 16 and 24 years old comprise only 20% of the total licensed population; they cause 42% of all fatal alcohol related accidents.

According to the CDC, youth who start drinking before age 15 years are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence or abuse later in life than those who begin drinking at or after age 21 years. Teens who are drinking alcohol by middle school are more likely to have academic problems and delinquent behavior in both middle school and high school. Adolescent alcohol use is associated with employment problems, other substance abuse, and criminal and other violent behavior in early adulthood. Teenage use and abuse of alcohol contributes to risky sexual behavior, which increases the risk of physical and sexual assault. Teens who drink alcohol are more likely to experience memory problems and changes in brain development that may have life-long effects.

While alcohol is a leading cause of death among teenagers and contributes substantially to adolescent motor vehicle accidents, other traumatic injuries, suicide, date rape, and family and school problems, many parents are in denial that teens with drinking problems could be living in their home. They usually think that underage drinking is someone else’s problem. Mothers Against Drunk Driving reports that over half of the current underage alcohol users drank at someone else’s home the last time they used alcohol and another 30% drank in their own home, but only 31% of parents of 15- to 16-year-olds believe their child had a drink in the past year, while 60% of teens in that age group reported drinking. Teens who reported that a parent or a friend’s parent had provided alcohol at a party within the past year reported drinking more on their last drinking occasion and were twice as likely to have consumed alcohol within the past 30 days.

In a survey, 33% of teenagers said their parents never, seldom, or sometimes set clear rules for them and almost 50% said their parents never, seldom, or sometimes discipline them when they break the rules. Sorenson’s Ranch School provides a drug and alcohol-free environment with clear rules and consequences. Sorenson’s Ranch School has been treating troubled teens with alcohol issues successfully for over 30 years. Sorenson’s students who have problems with alcohol participate in AA meetings and receive counseling from trained addiction counselors. Even though alcohol is the nation’s largest youth drug problem, killing 6.5 times as many young people as all illicit drugs combined, there are ways to save your teen from this disturbing trend. Sorenson’s Ranch School is dedicated to the belief that no teen is beyond help, and works diligently to “Change the world, one child at a time.”

Holly McCulla
Sorenson's Ranch School