I don't want to give the impression that Tortuga's progress is linear in any way. There is usually some backsliding and there is also some regrouping but overall he continues to improve dramatically. We are starting to have issues with his schoolwork. When he is bored or frustrated he will act out and allow himself to get very out of sorts and out of control which can still lead to his getting angry at me. When he doesn't get his way he gets mad. There is still some forward steps and backward steps. Lots of them. But for today I want to write more about the improvements.
One significant change that we have seen has been with his "need" to belong to the family and to show his "caring" for us. He has always had a little bit of a sensitive/sappy side but it shows itself mostly around special occasions. In the past he has genuinely not "missed" us when he is away from us and in fact we only provide an audience for him. We have been there for his entertainment purposes. So, when we removed him from the day to day activities he was clear that he did not miss us except when he wanted a captive audience and that was clearly one of his greater frustrations. While he has his meals I generally keep him company and basically he talks my ear off. He doesn't listen to anything I say and in fact, he doesn't seem to notice that I don't really say much. Yet lately he has asked for more time with others in the family or he has shown genuine concern for his siblings. Today he told me he had changed his mind about girls and that the next four kids we adopt should all be girls because girls make better siblings. I am not touching this one right now!
As I noted before I also spend about 2-3 hours with JUST him each day which is a significant time commitment given there are 3 other kids but I felt it was important to maintain some of the connections we have had. During that time I DO structure what we do and I reserve the right to leave if he isn't cooperative or if he shows me disrespect. During that time I might help him with schoolwork, listen to him tell me what he is reading about, play a game with him, do a puzzle or activity from one of his workbooks, read to him, or other bonding time (foot, hand massage, tapping/rubbing, listen to music, etc.) These are hard for me (and him) because what he really wants is to just talk my ear off which I allow to some degree. Each day I work in at least 15 minutes of what I consider a "structured" conversation. This might be me asking him specific questions about thoughts, feelings, ideas, experiences, memories, or working through something that he has done well or not so well. When we started this whole "togetherness" time it usually didn't last. As soon as I tried to make it a two-way, reciprocal interaction he got belligerent, bored, impatient, or mad and I would just bow out and try again later. My goal was to have him get 2-3 hours of time with me but that was hard and full of starts and stops. Then I told him there would be no more than TWO times each day that I would do this. If he chose to ruin it in some way then it was over and we would start again the next time. He blew it a few times but actually not too many. So for the last month or so it is rare that we don't get that time together.
What I have noticed is that the quality of those interactions has changed. He seems to "hear" and remember what I say. He has started to ask me questions or for me to share a story. He will share something and ask what I think. He seems genuinely happy to see me and greets me with a real hug and a smile. We can joke around a little bit without his becoming completely disregulated. It has usually been the case that anytime he is having fun, laughing, or joking he loses control quickly. He would drool, spit, get very loud, boisterous, fall to the floor with fake laughter, throw himself against the wall, snort, etc. You get the picture. It was usually not very pleasant and often times seemed fake or forced and his "silliness" would degenerate in inappropriate ways quickly. Once he did this he would get mad if he was redirected or checked and he couldn't be reined in without some kind of meltdown or issue. In the last week or so he has started to be able to rein himself in most of the time. I can joke with him and I still have to check him before he gets out of control but generally he doesn't get mad or sulky about it. This is a big deal because when we have let him play with the other kids and he isn't fighting with them he becomes inappropriate and unsafe and cannot be reined in or redirected. He is starting to show the ability to check himself or at least accept redirection.
This week I also noticed one other thing. He is talking to both Milagro and Pollito like they are younger kids. This is HUGE. He uses that voice that some adults and older kids might use when talking with little children. He has NEVER done this before since most of the time he has dealt with Pollito as though they were peers. I don't know what to attribute this to but I like it.