My child is a thief?

Posted: March 27, 2013 in 2013, Raising Hearts

Ok, I promised a series on raising my kids with FASD and the issues that are common and “biggies” with our kids.

I plan to cover lying, stealing, impulse control, inability to organize life, memory, arguing, temper/raging, and more. Each issue over laps though, so when I am done, I hope this series brings all things together.

When we adopted our five infants, we had no idea what FASD was. I had read one book “The Broken Cord” and it only gave me a general idea about it all, but  it left me feeling that FASD effected a child a whole lot worse then what I was experiencing.

I have the beginning of our book on my website. Click on Raising Hearts. This book covers how we began, what God brought us through that created our family.

We knew that our kids might come drug or alcohol effected and at the time, I believe I felt drugs were a greater effect then alcohol. I had no clue how bad it could be. I thought alcohol was dangerous only to the people who drank it.

However as I just spoke about, I did read the Broken Cord, but that was after we had adopted three of our kids. All seemed well and I didn’t think we had a thing to worry about.

Then came Jon. The day that Jon was placed in my arms, I honestly felt something was wrong. I didn’t know what, but it was a knowing feeling inside.  As days went on with Jonnie, we had problems. He was a depressed baby. I didn’t understand it all, at the time though. He cried all the time, didn’t smile hardly ever and he had a flat affect most of the time.

I began to wonder if he might have fetal alcohol syndrome, but it was something that I just kept in my heart.  We just raised him up and dealt with every issue that presented.  I think somewhere along the way, I mentioned it to his doctors but no one understood FASD and everyone seemed to believe that facial features were the only way to diagnose it. So there wasn’t much support for my concerns.  At least not until he hit high school.

By then we had experienced tons of medications, lots and lots of principal appointments, issues with teachers and no one would give us an IEP. Life was constant challenges with Jon. I didn’t know as much as I do now about advocating for him and I didn’t understand his problems a whole lot better then his teachers did.

He failed alot though and it was just painful alot of the time.

When he entered highschool, an amazing person came into our lives. Katie E. was our school counselor. She was the first to point me in the direction of FASD. I had spoken to her about it, but she sent me a website one day and I read it and about FLIPPED OUT! I had FOUND MY SON in everything that the website was talking about.

I knew that Desi was drug affected and up until this point, I felt all of her issues were related to drug effects, but I found her there too.

It was a HUGE relief to begin to understand my children. Up until this point, everything that we had dealt with was just overwhelming and without real explanation.

These kids lied to me all the time, stole from us, argued all the time and much more. I had raised seven children before them and most kids do lie and steal at some very young age. They test this out before they know it is wrong and that is how they learn not to do it. They learn from the consequences of getting caught.  However we just didn’t seem to be able to teach Jon or Desi that stealing and lying was wrong.

I am a Christian. I was afraid as a parent that if I didn’t get this lesson through them, that they were going to be criminals and land in jail.  This was a very real and huge fear of mine.

We tried everything.  When they were young, we spanked. When they got older we took things away, privileges, gave time out, made them pay back for their crimes, work for the money etc. We did it all. It still kept happening.

It got to where I was learning to lock stuff up, not leave money in my purse and constantly count things such as socks etc.

Nothing was safe though. I was so stuck on the SIN concept that I got so angry and violated feeling every time this happened. I would be like, they did it again! How could my child steal from me again? Why isn’t he or she learning?  I would be frustrated, angry and felt again like they were going to be long life criminals.

Desi got caught by her sister one day, stealing at her house and this was a pretty big thing. They always denied that they did it too, even if you had total proof that they had done it. Frustration number two. Lying. Again, criminals always came to mind. If they can’t be honest, how are they going to be good members of society and get jobs, be happy adults?

When Desi got caught stealing from Megan, our oldest daughter, Megan had just had enough. This had happened numerous times with her too and so she told Desi that she could not come back to her house again. Well you have to know the relationship there to appreciate just how much this hurt Desi.

Megan who was dubbed Nini when Matthew was  toddler and could not say her name, was the closest thing to a second mom that all your younger kids had. They ADORED NINI!  They all called her that and she adored them too.

So getting in trouble for stealing from Nini and loosing the privilege to spend time at her house, was a big loss for Desi.  She went into what appeared to me to be a huge depression, almost catatonic. She sat on the floor and cried and just could hardly talk. For days she was not ok. This was during a time in her life when she was cutting on her arms too, so I was really concerned about her.

Eventually Megan did forgive her and they smoothed it out. Desi promised never to steal from her again. Do you know that she hasn’t???  This might shock you because she started stealing from me at age 10 and to this very day, I do not fully trust her. Although I am pretty certain that she has not stolen from me in the past couple years. But the Nini incident didn’t stop her from stealing from me. Just from Megan. I have to fully believe that she GOT IT! That there was enough pain there, so that she didn’t go back for more!

I did find things that I wondered about in my kids rooms now and then, and both of them seemed to have many friends that “gave” them things. I don’t know if any of that was true or not, was they never got caught that I was aware of.

What I do know is that they never got into trouble as older children for stealing from stores. It took me a long while to believe that this was actual truth, but looking back now, I know that they were not thieves in stores. So why were they stealing from me and their dad all the time and not at the stores?

I think I do have an explanation for that. One, I was constantly asking them if they wanted to go to jail, when they were caught stealing from me. So I was always telling them that jail was the place for thieves. lol. I did things like put them in a time out in a room alone and later would talk to them about how it felt to be all alone for so long. Then explained that jail was like that. Locked up and alone. If you are reading this and your child has FASD, you know that being alone is the worst punishment on this earth to a kid with FASD.

Anyway, somehow they did get the message that stealing outside the home was a dangerous thing to do. So they were not doing it. WOW! WHY?  I was continually and consistently educating them on these dangers.  I can’t say that I did anything wrong when I was doing this. It felt unfruitful at the time, as it seemed like I had to repeat this message OVER AND OVER AND OVER!  BUT, it did bear fruit in the end. I have since learned that kids with FASD need to have their lessons repeated over and over and over.

I have also since learned that kids with FASD are visual. Telling them stuff over and over doesn’t sink in as fast. They often have slow processing and by the time you are done, they only absorbed parts of all that I have said.

My kids joke today about this. They said that sometimes when I was “preaching” at them in my firm voice, they heard one word over and over and over. THey didn’t hear what I said. It was if I was saying a junk word like Houng houng houng (I think they got this from a cartoon they saw, lol)……..repeatedly and since they both heard it that way, they began to say that to each other. Did you hear her? lol. She said Houng houng houng………and they would laugh. They laughed alot together any way. So they would make fun of me and laugh it off. This of course only made me more frustrated. lol

So I guess maybe if I could have done things differently, I might have drawn pictures, and told picture stories about how stealing could effect the person that they stole from and themselves.  MAYBE this would have been more effective. I say maybe, as I didn’t do it then. I didn’t understand this about my kids. Today I am using this option. I am trying to show my kids more lessons, then just talk about them.  We are still learning lots of lessons that it seems I am educating over and over Even simple things, like how to effectively do  household chores.

Ok back to stealing. Here are some things that did help.  Jon was one that mostly stole the things that he needed or wanted for himself in the house. He stole head phones, MP3 players, socks and clothes that belonged to his sibs. That drove them nuts. They didn’t feel that they had rights to their own clothes. It started lots of sibling fights. I was always trying to help Matt understand Jon’s brain injury along with dealing with Jon for taking Matt’s stuff. Eventually Matt put a lock on his entire dresser. That didn’t always work as Jon actually learned how to break into the lock.

Mike, dad, was constantly upset because Jon stole his head phones or socks. He took to writing his name on his socks so that he could prove that they were stolen, if we found them on Jon’s feet.

One day, it was kind of the last straw. He was just so upset and somewhere God just gave me this wisdom. I told Mike that after all my research on FASD and knowing so many other parents with kids who have this, that Jon isn’t getting this lesson. However we are going through alot of trauma over it. Why not just tell him that if he takes our stuff again, we are taking his money to replace it. We kind of knew that it wouldn’t really teach Jon anything to pay the money either, but it was such a huge comfort to us. We just decided that we could be at peace when we were stolen from and we could buy back what was taken.

WHAT A HUGE DIFFERENCE this made. It wasn’t that we would quit on the child for stealing and the lessons still had to come, but we stopped feeling violated. We gave ourselves back the power to not feel like we were loosing all the time.  We didn’t have to loose. Jon had a job and some money in the bank and we just bought new headphones or socks or what ever the loss was.  It gave us such a feeling of relief. We also were letting go of our anger over his stealing. I mean it wasn’t doing anyone any good to be continually angry over this. We didn’t feel we were making headway and it was part of BRAIN DAMAGE!  We still did wonder if Jon would ever over come this, but we were just over feeling that this was some great sin and our kids were going to be branded thieves and end up in jail. It didn’t seem likely any more, as it was still just us that they were taking from.

Once again I ask why?  Because they could. Because it didn’t feel scary to steal from us. They were not afraid of us, but some where through their lives and experiences they were afraid of jail and did have some respect for that and the police. So we were the victims most of the time. I had to recognize at this point that this was somewhat positive. They did not feel afraid of us, but they did respect the laws of the land.

Now let me take some time to explain why I think the FASD child steals. It took me a very long time to understand this, as of course, I didn’t fully understand FASD until I started educating my self when they were both in high school. Then I don’t think I “got” it totally for years, as these are the years when kids with FASD are peaking sort of. We were beginning to see that they were lagging behind their peers and stuff was becoming really apparent.

I believe that they steal for a number of reasons. They want or need something. They know where it is. They have damage in the area of the brain that solidly tells them right from wrong. This is what I feel is our conscience. However that part of the brain works, these kids have holes in their brains and things are missing. 

They also don’t always understand “what’s mine is mine” concept. It seems that they just don’t fully get ownership all the time.

Then they have very low impulse control. So seeing it, wanting it, doesn’t jump through their brain to what will happen if they take it. That just doesn’t come through the sieve. Just see, want and take.

They have memory damage. This one is huge. They don’t remember what happened the last time they stole something. So seeing it, wanting it, skips over remembering what happened the last time, as they just don’t remember.

Every day is a new day often for our kids. They forget. Memory is such a huge deficit in the brains of kids with FASD. It is one of the biggest problems in my opinion, as it effects so much of their lives.

Then their is their general processing issues. If they are not processing in their brain fast enough to learn that this was wrong to do, then it is kind of like that statement “it flew right over my head.”

Yes and then too, often they have learned to “survive” their lives with people being angry with them. After all it seems that they have managed to be in trouble so much of their little young lives that they have grown this shell of protection. They have learned to tune bad things out. WHY? They hurt. They have had so much pain trying to live in our “normal” world that they can’t take any more. So to protect themselves from the pain of this world, the constant pain, they have developed protectors. They lie for one. Even though they are often not good liars. They can’t process all that you are saying to them, so they don’t even always listen and they have had to put up a protective shell to keep some of the pain out.

Can you see where I am leading here? We have these kids that seem like constant criminals who actually have such a bad brain injury that they cannot control impulses, don’t understand right from wrong, don’t feel bad when they do something wrong ( brain injury), don’t remember what happened the last time that they did this wrong, have processing difficulties when you talk about what they are doing wrong and they have to protect themselves as once again they are caught and our grief causes them pain.

Do you get it? It is not simple at all, but it does make sense to me.  So what do I think is happening? Well when my neurotypical kid stole gum from the store at age 5 or 6, he was marched back to the store manager and made to apologize. he was embarrassed, hurt, sad, and never forgot that. So when he was faced with the temptation to do it again, he has self control, he remembers what happened last time, he did “get ” that lesson and so he resists that temptation.  He isn’t continually being in trouble, he doesn’t have to shield himself from pain on a daily basis. He is a happy kid who now understands that stealing is wrong and he has that part of his brain working too, so he actually would experience guilt if he did it again.

WOW! We were able to get those lessons through our neurotypical kids fairly easy. But not so with our kids who have FASD. Today they are both 18 and 19 and pretty much get it. I know that Desi has not taken my money for a couple years. I don’t put her in temptation though. I still hide my money.

She has a job and has never stolen from her job.

Jon lives with his brother and room mates and there were problems at first, but after disappointing his brother a few times, he appears to have gotten it too.

Neither one of them are criminals and I no longer fear that they will end up in jail. They did get it. But what took a few times with a neuro typical kid, took years for my FASD kids. They are brain injured. They don’t wake up one day and decide that they are going to make their parents angry and hurt over and over by stealing from them.  They can’t help this. They do need to be educated over and over and over. They do need to suffer consequences. They can learn eventually, but if we parents can also learn why they do it and get some peace for ourselves, then the journey of learning for them will be a whole lot less painful.

One more critical thing that I learned about all this. Desi and I talked alot about stealing after the incident with Nini. She did share with me that she would see something that she wanted, take it and it would sort of give her a “high” because she got something that she wanted. I would probably say that all of us experience this when we purchase something new that we want.

 Some how though in her injured brain she GOT IT that the high didn’t last and that after it was gone, she was feeling the desire to get it back and the only way to do that was to take something else. 

  That was such valuable information for me. I began to teach my daughter how to get the things she wanted that would bless her, in a legal way. I have helped her manage her money so that she can purchase the things that she wants.

  I have asked her to make a list of the things that she hopes to obtain which are the desires of her heart.

 I have shared with her how I pray for things that I need or want and encouraged her to pray for her desires. Then when she has been able to purchase them, or they were granted to her, I have reminded her of the list and her desires and how God has helped her fulfill them.  This has helped Desi a lot towards learning proper ways of getting her desires satisfied, instead of taking someone else’s money to get things, or taking their things. She is learning how beautiful it feels to be blessed by God compared to how bad it feels to get caught stealing something. There is a huge contrast, but this is a lesson that has been hard won. It has taken years.  I am so proud of who both of my kids are today!!

I am so grateful Lord that they are now getting this. I do pray that their brains are maturing and their conscience is forming and they will continue to be over comers!

Terry Quinn

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