Advice for 17 YO difficult child


New Member
Hi all -- I have been silently checking in with this forum for years for good advice and just plain old validation. Now I could really use your collective wisdom!

My husband and I have a 17-year-old son who is a sophomore in high school. We adopted him at birth. His birthmother smoked through the pregnancy, and we don't have evidence of other substance abuse but it's entirely possible. difficult child was born at full-term weighing 5 pounds 12 oz, with a very small head circumference.

Over the years he has been diagnosed with sensory integration disorder, auditory processing disorder, visual processing disorder, etc. His IQ is around 84, and he struggles to read and do basic math. He has been oppositional with us since he was 2 - never grew out of the terrible two's. Also never showed any initiative to "do it myself," as others on the board have described their kids. Now he is 5'10" and weighs 200 pounds, and delights in telling us that we cannot make him do anything. He also constantly wants us to do everything for him, argues with us constantly, flies into rages when we don't do what he wants, and is crazy jealous of and terrorizes his younger sister (easy child, age 14, adopted from China). I truly believe that he would be content to lie in bed watching videos for the rest of his life, as long as someone brought him a steady supply of junk food. He used to have friends when he was younger, but I think everyone else's maturity has passed him by at this point. On the plus side, he has a great sense of humor and loves to have fun, and very rarely acts out at school. Sometimes he "gets" rather complicated concepts, other times he has no clue about basic concepts.

We have tried various things over the years, none of which really seemed to make a difference. All of the "natural consequence"-based discipline approaches have been pretty useless - he doesn't make the connection, and/or doesn't have the self-control needed to pick the right actions. It hasn't helped that my husband and I don't really work as a team on this (I think husband may have some Aspie tendencies ...) difficult child has an IEP, with some accommodations, but our school is a Montessori, and while they are great on many things they are not so great on providing structure to kids who are not inherently self-motivated. We have gone to therapy, and no one thinks he has any mood disorders.

So - I am putting together the latest behavior plan, based on Your Defiant Teen, by Barkley and Robin. Has anyone had success with this? Also, we are really struggling with (and have always struggled with) our expectations. Of all the diagnoses I've read about, fetal alcohol spectrum seems to fit the best. But if he does have FASD, he's definitely on the high-functioning end. I would like to have reasonable expectations of what his future will look like after high school (assuming we get him through), but it's hard to know what he is capable of if he never "wants" to do anything other than watch TV and demands that we do everything for him. Is that because of his FASD (or whatever), or is it because we as parents have enabled him? How do I figure that out? Should I just assume that he is unlikely to ever live on his own, or should I act as if he is going to until he proves otherwise?

To top it off, I have fibromyalgia and struggle to get through my own day. We are all in survival mode and have been for years.

I think the next step is to do a neuropsychologist evaluation - anyone have recommendations for someone in the Denver area? Then ... any advice is welcome.



Well-Known Member
Hi Kelly and welcome out of lurkdom. I don't think ascertaining if it his upbringing or health issues is really relevant. He's been raised to the best of your ability despite a laundry list of diagnosis. I agree that a neuropsychologist evaluation is in order and also a plan for transitioning him to independent living.


Well-Known Member
I'm an adoptive mom too.

The first things I thought of, reading your post, were fetal alcohol effects, which do have rather serious consequences, and possible autistic spectrum too. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE) are now called fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and I will get a link for you to read. Your son may need adult assistance all of his life. My son, who was drug exposed at birth, dodged the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)/Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE) bullet, but he is on the autism spectrum and does get some adult services. He is very pleased to be 80% independent and working!

Maybe your son should see a Neruopsych for an evaluation. Even if your son has no physical characteristics of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), he could still have other symptoms like behaviors and neurological problems.

Wiped Out

Well-Known Member
Staff member
Adding in my welcome. I agree having a neuro-psychiatric exam would be very helpful. In some ways my difficult child is very similar to yours (also has an IQ of 84). I understand that survival mode. I was there for years and years (still am in some respects). Sending understanding hugs your way.


New Member
Hi all - thanks for your kind responses! difficult child left today to go on a three-day school trip, and the rest of us are heaving sighs of relief. I'm going to take the time to draw up a behavior plan that will be implemented when he gets back. I'm also going to cut my work back to part-time, and schedule a neuropsychologist evaluation. I asked the school if it was time for a new evaluation, and they said no because it doesn't really change much at this point. It would be great to get my insurance to cover at least part - does anyone have any advice for having insurance rather than the school do a new evaluation?

I'm wondering about how to integrate the easy child into the behavior plan ... she doesn't really need it, although I wouldn't mind using it to restrict her screen time. There's no way she needs something as complex as what difficult child needs, but I'm sure he will fly into a rage that she doesn't have to have the same plan. Any advice?