Supergran

This week our beloved Supergran has found her peace and I’d like to tell you about her.

Supergran is the Bears’ great-grandmother. If someone told me to conjure up an image of a great-grandmother I would probably imagine someone extremely elderly, from another era, with thoughts and views to match: probably somebody quite distant who would want children to be seen and not heard; someone whom I wouldn’t have much in common with. Supergran, however, did not get that memo and was absolutely not like the stereotype. Supergran was Cool with a capital C.

Having had 5 children of her own, Supergran was totally used to the hustle and bustle of children and enjoyed having them around her. Although she has been too frail for many years to get down and play with them, she has always tried to involve herself in one way or another. I have a hilarious photo of tiny Supergran wielding a metre long Nerf gun. I seem to recall that she rather enjoyed shooting it too. Even if she couldn’t join in, she loved them sitting with her and chatting or showing her things they had made. I don’t remember her ever scolding the Bears and most of the time she was highly amused by their antics.

Supergran came to the hospital the day after Big Bear was born to see us. She was as excited about him as she would have been if he were her only grandchild yet she already had many by then (and now has great and great-great-grandchildren too). I remember wondering how she would react when I told her we were going to adopt – after all many elderly people can be very opinionated and there were older members of my own family who had their reservations. I should have known better though because Supergran is probably one of the least judgemental and most open-minded people I have ever met. Like anything I could have told her, she just took it right in her stride. She asked me how the process was going every time I saw her and was excited at the arrival of Little Bear.

In the 21 months we have had Little Bear, he and Supergran have not spent loads of time together as a full on tornado of a child is not an ideal partner for a frail 86 year old. However, they have spent enough time together to be very fond of one another. Little Bear knows exactly where to find the toys in her flat. He also knows where to find her ‘helping hand’: a grabber type thing that you can get up to all sorts of mischief with and her walking stick, a source of constant fascination for him. He also took her bin on a wild journey around the kitchen resulting in the loss of its lid. She just giggled and called him a “rogue”.

It was a very tender moment when they said their goodbyes. I think Little Bear knew exactly what was happening and kept giving her very gentle cuddles and strokes and he brought her a lot of comfort that day.

Big Bear was upset that on that visit Supergran was in bed and seeming very poorly so about a fortnight ago he and I had gone to the supermarket one evening and I spontaneously decided to take him to see her on the way back (Grizzly and I were seeing her regularly but generally not taking the boys as she was too ill). Thankfully she was having a better day and was sitting up in the living room. We had a lovely time with her. Big Bear had a football game the next day and I told him that Supergran has magic powers as she had correctly predicted the winner of The Grand National (and also because she probably did have magic inside her) and she rubbed some of her ‘power’ into his hair. The next day he scored a goal and now thinks she really did influence what happened. That was his last visit to her which I think is a nice memory to keep.

Not only has Supergran been a fabulous great-grandmother to my boys and undoubtedly the best granny ever to Grizzly, she has also been my friend. Although we are technically not related, we kind of unofficially adopted one another a long time ago. Despite the 50 year age gap, I have always loved visiting her and tried to go as often as I could. Being with her, in her little flat, was a very comforting place to be. It was always warm, often with a home-cooked stew or soup simmering away. I could have sat there for hours chatting with her. We chatted about all sorts. We might talk about something on television. She loved the soaps but was always up to date with Britain’s Got Talent or Strictly. She would know exactly who was in what and could probably give me more up to date information than I could give her. Over recent weeks we have spent many a lunch time hanging out and watching Loose Women.

Not in any way straight-laced, sometimes the conversation with Supergran would go in a rather rude direction. I remember having to explain ‘dogging’ to her after a particular episode of Peter Kay’s Car Share. Rather than being shocked she made a quip about maybe fancying a trip to the local woods later! On reflection she felt that the checker board roof of her little Ford Ka might make her a bit too conspicuous though.

We sometimes spoke about Politics but I was often out of my depth as I tend to purposefully avoid the news. Supergran was an avid viewer and despite having been really ill lately, she has never lost her interest in the world and we have discussed the upcoming election and Brexit very recently.

We talked a lot about clothes and shopping. Supergran has never had much in the way of money and when she was a young mother, she only had one dress. She used to wash it at night, hang it up to dry and put it on again in the morning. She took a lot of pride in presenting her children well though and was canny at obtaining material. She was a good seamstress and made all of her children’s clothes. Although never on anything but a tiny income, in later life Supergran was more able to buy clothes and treat herself. We also figured out that the best present we could give her was gift vouchers – total guilt free shopping in an envelope – and a couple of times per year Gary and I would take her for a big spree in a large M and S. We all loved those trips and it was so nice to see Supergran able to get whatever she wanted and getting such joy from the range of materials, patterns and colours on offer. Sometimes she would try on a trolley load of things but if none of them were any good we’d have to go around again! She couldn’t bear to come away empty handed and I often felt out-shopped by octogenarian!

As I am a terrible shopaholic and fellow lover of colour and pattern it has always been something we have in common. Over the past months Supergran has not been well enough to get dressed so I have tried to provide her with some vicarious enjoyment through my clothes. I haven’t worn the same outfit twice to visit her and have had to plunder the depths of my wardrobe to come up with something suitably colourful and different each time. She always likes to check out what I have on and makes me come closer so she can feel the fabric or look at the cut. I have told her that going forwards I will be blaming her every time I buy a new dress and she was pleased she would still have a bad influence on me.

My favourite times were when Supergran would tell me stories about her life or her children. She frequently told the same stories over again but it never bothered me in the way it frustrated other family members. The stories were usually amusing and she had a very soothing way of telling them. Occasionally she would tell me something I hadn’t heard before which would pique my interest. Supergran has truly lived her life and had many interesting stories to share.

Supergran was also a talented poet: our shared love of writing another thing we have in common. She would write as and when inspiration took her, usually on the back of an envelope and her poems were laced with her trademark intelligence and wit. When I visited she would tell me about her latest one then pull herself out of the chair to go and locate it and read it aloud to me. Often while she was up she would seek out the latest item of clothing she had succumbed to buying to show me too.

We are very, very lucky to have had Supergran in our lives as long as we have. She is a very popular lady and will be missed by many. As my Mum said, she was a small woman but she has left a big hole in our lives. She had a big, pure heart and there wasn’t a scrap of badness in her.

I know she doesn’t want us to be sad and though it’s hard at the moment I’m trying to focus myself by choosing a fabulous outfit for her funeral party (not wake, party) because I’m 100% sure she would want me to do that.

We love you Supergran. Rest in peace xxxx

 

*I have to apologise for my dodgy shifting about of tenses; it is still a bit soon for past tense.

 

Supergran

Letterbox Update

I last wrote about Letterbox back in September when I was trying to figure out how to send our first letter (see First Experience of Letterbox). At the time I was struggling to get hold of Little Bear’s Social Worker to get the information I needed. Nevertheless the letters were written and sent off.

After a week or so I e-mailed to check they had arrived safely. Getting a response was tricky as always and I e-mailed several more times before we got confirmation that they had been received by Social Services.

The next thing I wanted to ensure was that they actually found their way to Little Bear’s birth family. I could just imagine them knowing to expect a letter around September time and waiting with nervous anticipation each time the postman came. I didn’t trust the Social Worker in question to get the letter to them in a timely fashion and I felt strongly that it wasn’t fair. This would be Sian and Joseph’s (my blog name for Little Bear’s birth parents) first contact since Little Bear had been adopted and I felt it was an important one.

I have been nagging and nagging like a stubborn puppy for 7 months now without a response (other than an out of office or a promise of doing it next week). This is all I have wanted to know:

  • Had Little Bear’s birth parents and siblings received their letters?
  • What was the response?
  • Would we be getting a reply? If not, what support would Little Bear’s birth parents be getting?

Finally, after A LOT of perseverance on our part and that of our Social Worker, we have finally had a response. Sian and Joseph HAVE received their letter. I don’t know how they are or what impact the letter had on them. They have sent a birthday card to Little Bear though and in it they wrote a little note. It says they are sorry they haven’t written: they cannot find the words. I can understand that totally. At least they have attempted some communication with us even if just to explain that they can’t manage more. I am wondering what we could do to make it easier for them next time.

They also wrote that they are pleased Little Bear is loved as much as they love him. I felt when we got The Adoption Order and they went to court but didn’t contest it that Sian and Joseph were somehow giving us permission to be Little Bear’s parents. I feel this more strongly now. As weird as it may sound, it feels as though there is the start of a positive bond between us. We would still like to meet them if that ever becomes an option.

We have also received a letter from the long-term foster carers of some of Little Bear’s siblings. I suspect it was written several months ago, in direct reply to our letter but has been mysteriously buried somewhere on Little Bear’s Social Worker’s desk for quite some time. It is a nice letter and we can tell that the boys are well cared for and thriving in the placement which is reassuring. The Social Worker wasn’t able to give me an update on the other siblings so I have asked for one.

I find it quite tricky knowing how much I can ask and what sort of information they are allowed to share with us. It makes sense to me that we should know something, at least whether they are settled because we might need to know what has gone on for them if anything changes in the future. And, whether it makes sense or not, I do care about them and want to know that they are okay. I know we have never met them but as their brother is now our son, there is an undeniable link between us.

I also find the time delay in receiving everything difficult. It would feel very strange and conspicuous to present Little Bear with his birthday card several months after his birthday. He knows it isn’t his birthday now so receiving a card from his birth family would seem a lot more normal if it arrived at the same time as the rest of his birthday post.

I think on this occasion we will need to put the card and letters away in his box for when he’s older, not least because Sian and Joseph have signed the card “Mum and Dad” again. We have already spoken with his Social Worker about this and asked that they use their first names to be consistent with the Life Story Book and to minimise confusion. I don’t blame Sian and Joseph for this: I rather suspect the Social Worker has avoided speaking with them about it. I also suspect she generally avoids them and they won’t have had any support in coping with their grief or support in communicating with us. I do wonder how it would be if we could “cut out the middle man” but there are obvious difficulties with that.

It isn’t long now until this year’s official Letterbox season and like last year I’m feeling strangely keen to write. I am only hoping that this time it won’t result in another 7 months of pestering to make the right things happen. I thought we had agreed to writing once per year, not spending nigh on a year trying to organise it.

 

Letterbox Update

Brothers

Little Bear made me chuckle this week. He has Show and Tell at school every Thursday and this week when I asked him what he wanted to bring he said “Big Bear”. He had hatched a whole plan about how he was going to find Big Bear’s classroom and get him out to bring to show his friends. Something really tickled me about it and in the end we were so busy talking about the imaginary plan that Little Bear forgot to take anything at all. The underlying sentiment was very sweet though: Big Bear is one of Little Bear’s favourite things.

A few other things have happened recently that have got me reflecting on the boys’ relationship. I have talked before about our anxiety over whether getting a sibling would be a good thing for Big Bear. I have also talked about how excited Big Bear was about the prospect of getting a sibling in advance and how disastrous the start of their relationship was when it happened (See Getting brother or sister). It took a long time (months) for Big Bear to trust Little Bear and to stop fearing what he might do to him. It took even longer for him to start to see the upside of having him. That said I have felt for quite a long time now that they have developed a good relationship and have had an extremely positive effect on each other.

When I wrote about my Reflections on Adoption One Year In I talked about how well their relationship had developed and how nice it was to see them together. At that point I think I thought that we had reached a happy balance and this was probably the best their relationship would be. There weren’t any negative connotations associated with that thought; their relationship had already confounded our expectations and hopes. However, recently, I have noticed some changes.

Although the Bears got on very well, Big Bear had quite a lot of parameters that were non-negotiable in the relationship. These rules mainly related to his possessions. His bedroom door remains resolutely locked and Little Bear is not allowed to cross the threshold. In the playroom Big Bear’s toys and Little Bear’s toys are separate. They each have their own boxes and drawers and it has always been clear that Little Bear isn’t allowed to open any of Big Bear’s, let alone touch anything in there. If Big Bear was given a present, he would not allow Little Bear anywhere near it, let alone allow him to touch it or play with it.

That description makes it sound as though Big Bear was calling all the shots in the relationship and that we were standing by and not teaching him about sharing. Right back at the start of the process we tried hard to listen to Big Bear because we knew that there was a greater risk of an adoptive placement breaking down if there was a birth sibling involved. We had been told stories about birth children who had had to give up their beloved pet or share their room when they didn’t want to in order for an adoption to happen. We could see how things may have started badly for the birth child in those situations and we were really conscious of the need to keep Big Bear as happy and undisrupted as possible. His main concern had always been his stuff and we had made assurances to him that if he didn’t want his future sibling to touch his things then we wouldn’t let them. We felt it was essential that he knew we would listen to him and we would respect his feelings. We needed him to trust us and we needed to keep the lines of communication between us wide open.

It is also important to consider how Little Bear presented in all of this. When he first arrived he had absolutely no conception that some things were his and that other things belonged to other people. In fact he used to frequently go around picking things up saying “mine” when they clearly weren’t and at the foster carers house we saw him going into the other children’s bedrooms and sweeping their things onto the floor. He also had no idea of how to look after items, frequently lobbing things across the room or slamming them down. Had he have been able to get hold of Big Bear’s toys he would undoubtedly have broken them.

Little Bear was also somewhat of a dominant force. He definitely thought that he was in charge and tried to assert himself by telling people where they should sit and by demanding they did or didn’t do various things or by hurting Big Bear whenever our backs were turned. Had we have allowed this to continue I have no doubt that we would have reached a point where Big Bear was terrified of him and where Little Bear was unmanageable.

Given the fact that we needed Little Bear to assume his place as littlest in the family and to have respect for others and his environment and that we needed Big Bear to feel safe and secure in his own home, it made sense to uphold Big Bear’s rules about his possessions. It was going to do everyone a favour in the long run.

In practice, upholding the rules was difficult. To start with we didn’t have a lock on Big Bear’s door, we just kept it shut. The rule was supposed to be that the Bear’s would knock on each other’s doors and ask before entering. This failed immediately because Little Bear had no concept of rules and the closed door was somewhat of a challenge for him; it just made him want to get in more. Also, he was very opportunistic and before I realised that in order to provide him with the level of supervision he actually needed I would have to be glued to his side at ALL times, he managed to lull me into a false sense of security and shut himself very quietly inside Big Bear’s room. This was probably on about day 2 or 3 and needless to say it went down extremely badly with Big Bear and I felt terrible. It was after this incident that the lock was fitted, removing chance from the equation.

If we had have left Little Bear alone with the toy boxes he would certainly have opened and explored them. On some occasions, when he did manage to escape our watchful eyes, even for a few seconds, we would find him having scaled furniture to reach something he knew he shouldn’t have.

It wasn’t surprising that Big Bear was reluctant to bend his own rules. He didn’t feel Little Bear could be trusted and in reality, he couldn’t.

Last week we were sitting at the table having our dinner. I had let Big Bear spend some pocket money ordering one of those fancy pencil cases where you press a button and a container pops out. It had arrived on the day in question and Big Bear was super excited about it, fiddling with it while he ate. Little Bear was also interested in it and kept leaning across the table to get a better look. Big Bear dropped something on the floor and bent down to hunt for it. Little Bear immediately saw an opportunity to touch the pencil case while Big Bear wasn’t looking and his hand shot across the table, his pointy finger poised to jab a button. However, about a centimetre away from the button Little Bear stopped himself and withdrew his hand, looking at me sheepishly. “You were really tempted to press that, weren’t you?” I said. He nodded. “Well done for stopping yourself” I told him. Big Bear reappeared above the table. “Well done mate” he said, “here, press this” and proffered the tempting button.

That interaction summed up everything that has changed between the Bears. Little Bear has learned to respect other people’s possessions and to control his impulsivity. If I leave Big Bear’s door open (which I do every day while they’re at school to let it air), Little Bear tells me off and shuts the door. He never attempts to go in even though he must be really tempted. If he wants to play with one of Big Bear’s toys he always asks him and more often than not, Big Bear says yes now. We recently exchanged very belated Christmas presents with some of our friends. Big Bear got a particular toy that both of them really liked. I was amazed that Big Bear allowed Little Bear to play with it that day and to wander off with it out of his sight. Little Bear was careful not to lose any pieces and brought it back when Big Bear asked him to. Quite a few of the toys in the playroom also seem to have become universal. Big Bear knows how hard Little Bear is trying and is very good at encouraging him and rewarding his good behaviour by letting him have things without any need for an adult to prompt him to.

I’m surprised that 20 months in we are continuing to see these types of changes. I’m glad we didn’t force the toy issue because evidently this is the length of time they have needed to reach a happy compromise. We could have allowed Little Bear to rampage around touching whatever he wanted and we could have forced Big Bear to share all of his things but I think it has had a much more positive impact on their relationship, and in fact their wider life skills that we didn’t.

I have also noted recently that Big Bear seems to have stopped pretending that it is a nightmare having an adopted brother. The relationship seems a lot more straightforward now. Although Little Bear still attempts to boss his big brother around, Big Bear has found a very calm and friendly way of standing his ground. It is extremely rare that they fall out and even rarer that anything ends in violence.

I suspect that we have intervened far more in their budding relationship than you typically would between two birth siblings. I think the ‘normal’ way is to let them figure things out between themselves, even if that means the odd fisticuffs. However, we have put so much emphasis on the success of the adoption being related to the success of their relationship that we have felt it necessary to intervene and control things from the word go. We have had a zero tolerance policy on physical aggression so they don’t tend to engage in the pushing and pulling and scrapping that siblings usually do.

We can’t engineer everything though and you can’t force people to like each other if they don’t. The fact that they are so tuned in to each other and have so much fun together is all them. Becoming brothers hasn’t been easy for either of them and they have both worked tremendously hard at it. I suppose it should have been obvious that it would take a long time for their relationship to bed-down and for all the creases to be ironed out. I didn’t think it would take this long or that what seemed a perfectly good relationship at 12 months in could have become even better still 8 or so months later.

I wonder how things will change as time goes on? I hope they remain as close because it’s lovely to see, they are great friends and we are extremely proud of both them.

 

 

Brothers

The Building Work is Finished!

Here’s the thing: I can’t think about sensible, important things all the time. It’s tiring. I don’t watch the News because it’s frankly terrifying, though these days you can’t really escape international acts of terror or crazy world leaders or snap elections even if you try. I usually focus my brain space on important things happening closer to home: my family, the children’s education, any adoption-related issues we are having etc. But even then it can be hard work analysing and cogitating and wondering all the time. If I’m honest, and at the risk of sounding shallow, sometimes I just want to think about making things look nice…

I love colour and pattern and genuinely believe that if I wear things and surround myself with things that I enjoy the look of, I will feel happier. It’s not a vanity thing; it’s a creativity thing I think, especially as I’m not bothered what other people think of my choices. As long as me and the other Bears like it we’re all good. I think that thinking of outfits and decorating choices is probably actually a form of self-care for me.

This week has been a bit topsy-turvy as everyone has been feeling poorly and my brain just fancies a bit of making-things-look-nice self-care, so what better time to share the pictures of our FINALLY completed building work?

We have been working on the house pretty much constantly since last summer. You can read about the first phase of building, when we cut a bit off our L-shaped living room and knocked the kitchen wall down to make an open plan family room here: July at Adoption: The Bear Facts. This work left us with a brilliant family friendly living/ dining/ kitchen space at the back of the house. It also left us with a weird miniscule room at the front of the house that wasn’t in any way practical or useable. It was mainly used for storing bits of furniture and tons of boxes of books. We applied for planning permission to extend out the front of the house to fill in the space between the tiny front room and our porch which used to jut further out.

Building work on the second phase started in October/November and has really only just been fully completed. Although the work to make the family room was more major and affected our living areas more, it only took 6 weeks from the beginning to being completely done and it was fairly stress free. The second phase has in comparison felt like it has taken FOREVER and been a marathon. Towards the end of the project, I was feeling quite stressed and wrote about it in Juggling. It is therefore a massive relief that we are done.

For those of you out there who also love looking at stuff here is what it looks like now:

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The tiny front room has become a second living room and office area. All the books are out of their boxes and happily residing on shelves. I am VERY excited that I now have an ‘office’ (what I actually mean by that is ‘a place to keep my extensive stationery collection’!). I also love having more shelves that I can display my collections on and fiddle with and make look nice. So far I have mainly only managed to LOOK at my office and definitely need more time to be in it, working.

As part of the work we also decided to fill in our open porch. This has made our hall bigger and meant we had to re-decorate it. I was pleased about that because we could finally get rid of the tester patches I had painted all over the place in a fit of foolhardiness several years ago. Everywhere is now quite grey but is very much brightened up by our new mustard front door.

We used the space from the porch to create a cupboard. That sounds ridiculously dull but it has changed my life because we no longer walk straight into a wall draped with hundreds of coats and there is no need for shoes to be scattered ALL over the house. I did also paint the cupboard fuchsia pink and put yellow hooks up so it is a very happy cupboard.

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 The last few weeks have involved a huge spring clean and sort out while we have been trying to move everything back around the house again from the places we had been temporarily storing it in. I am still striving for whole-house order and tidiness but I’m not sure it will ever be achieved in a house full of boys. Apart from that, there is one last job to be done. We need a new carpet for the stairs… Obviously I have set my heart on a bright patterned one to lift the grey walls and it sadly doesn’t seem to exist. Well, it does, in the form of the most expensive carpet in the shop that unfortunately does not have any redeeming features such as being impervious to dirt. If anyone knows where to get a manmade pink spotty carpet that will not break the bank I will love you forever*.

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*By the way I totally realise that this is a “first world problem” and that there are far more important things that I should probably be concerning myself with, but it would look fabulous.

 

 

The Building Work is Finished!

SaLT, EP & an Assembly

It has been a busy week at Bear HQ for meetings with professionals and thinking about Little Bear’s needs. On Wednesday we had our second session with his Speech and Language Therapist (SaLT); on Thursday Grizzly and I met with school and the Educational Psychologist (EP) and today Little Bear had an assembly and his first taste of public speaking. Each event has been thought provoking in its own way.

SaLT Session 2:

This week’s session consisted of further assessment and rapport building. The Therapist is continuing to impress me. This week she gave me the assessment findings from the previous week as she said she would. I find it is all very well professionals promising things but it is the actually doing them that earns brownie points.

The results are interesting, with scores ranging from the 5th to 75th percentiles. For those not familiar with percentiles, a score at the 5th percentile means that if you took 100 children the same age as Little Bear, he would score better than only 5 of them but at the 75th percentile, he is scoring better than ¾ of them. It is an unusual and atypical scoring profile. You would usually expect children to have a cluster of scores round about the same level across all of their skills. As all of these scores relate to his comprehension (understanding) of language it is even more unusual but nevertheless it is as I had expected for him.

Little Bear scored well on his understanding of basic concepts such as hot/cold, same/different, in/on/under. We have worked on these concepts so I would expect his knowledge to be fairly good. The longer or more complex an instruction became, the more difficult Little Bear found it to follow. Instructions containing more complex concepts such as before/after and ‘all except’ were also tricky for him. This fits with our feeling that he can understand a lot more than he used to but that we still need to simplify our language and that the more complex an idea is, the more repetition Little Bear needs.

His grasp of different sentence structures was at the lower end of the expected range and was impacted by his lack of awareness of pronouns.

Despite all that, the scores do also reflect positive progress as at first assessment (when he was seen briefly by a private provider in his pre-school) all his scores were at the 1st percentile. That shows me that his attention and ability to be assessed has improved as well as SaLT input having being effective. Working on language really does make measurable differences in performance. It will be  interesting to see how his scores change over time, especially now that he is having formal therapy alongside the things we do at home.

The Therapist gained more brownie points as she had evidently reflected on Little Bear since our last session. She had noted the unusual quality of his speech and had suspected his vowel sounds might be distorted. This is not a typical pattern of errors and is not a part of “normal development” i.e. most children make speech errors when they are first learning to speak. The errors usually follow a pattern e.g. back sounds such as ‘k’ are made at the front of the mouth instead sounding like ‘t’. This is an expected part of development and it usually rights itself as children develop. However, making vowel distortions is not a typical developmental process. In fact it is fairly rare and neither Little Bear’s Therapist nor myself have ever tackled it in therapy before. Little Bear’s Therapist could have pretended to me that she did know what to do and could have just made up some therapy as she went along. However, she identified that she needed to know more and discussed Little Bear with a colleague who specialises in hearing impairment and would be more knowledgeable about vowels. Consequently she now has a more targeted assessment that she is going to try next week. I find this honesty and seeking of support reassuring. It is important to know when you don’t know. In my view, it makes her more competent, not less. There is nothing worse than somebody who doesn’t know that they don’t know (“unconscious incompetence”) and just blunders on anyway.

The other thing this conversation did for me was provide me with relief that finally another professional (who isn’t me) has identified that Little Bear does not have run of the mill SaLT difficulties and that between his spiky language profile and his dodgy vowels, he does have a Speech and Language Disorder not a straightforward language delay. For any SaLT’s reading, she has not used the new terminology of “Developmental Language Disorder” yet, a term which I do think applies. It will be interesting to see whether she does as we go forwards.

Meeting the EP again

We first met the EP a few weeks ago when we had a consultation meeting. You can read about it here: Seeing the Educational Psychologist

Since then he has spent a morning in class with Little Bear. He observed and played with him and took him out of class for some formal assessment. His teacher told me on the day that Little Bear had been exceptionally well behaved and she wasn’t sure the EP would have seen all the things we had been worried about.

Interestingly the first point that he raised at our feedback meeting was that he had noted Little Bear playing well and interacting appropriately but mostly minding his own business. He had observed on a number of occasions that some of the other boys were quick to blame him for various things when in fact he hadn’t done anything wrong at all. We have had our suspicions about scapegoating and other children exploiting Little Bear’s difficulties with communication but it is different to have that confirmed by a neutral professional. Obviously it is completely wrong and worrying because nobody wants their child to be victimised. I am glad that school are aware of it but I do understand their difficulty in policing everything that happens as they can’t be everywhere or see everything. We shall be keeping a very close eye though.

In general, the EP was pleased with Little Bear’s social and play development. He had carried out some assessment and that showed Little Bear’s non-verbal (cognitive) scores to be around the 10th percentile (below average) and his verbal score to be around the 38th (within the average range). This result is completely at odds with my hunch which is that Little Bear has good cognitive skills and significantly poorer speech and language skills. I think there are a few reasons why it may have come out this way:

  • We have worked A LOT on language and Little Bear has made a lot of progress. We have probably worked on the types of activity that were used in the verbal assessment but not on the ones in the non-verbal bit so he was essentially more practised at the verbal one
  • The verbal assessment used won’t be as accurate as anything used by the SaLT
  • It is difficult to truly separate verbal and non-verbal abilities when so many activities intrinsically rely on language knowledge. The EP talked about picture matching activities such as bird with nest and dog with ? This type of task relies on a child’s knowledge of vocabulary and the meaning of words (semantics). It relies on them having good semantic links between words, something I suspect Little Bear doesn’t have. He does have a lot of words now but I suspect they are stored in a jumble, not nice and orderly and therefore it is hard for him to find the ones that should go together. I feel this says more about his language ability than his cognitive function.

Although the EP is lovely and I have found him very useful, this just highlighted to me how pernicious language difficulties are and how difficult it is to get even very educated professionals to truly understand the impact of them. I am so grateful that I finally have another SaLT on side who really does GET IT. I hope.

The rest of the meeting was taken up with reviewing the strategies already put in place. I was very pleased that school were able to give detailed feedback so are evidently using the strategies and they seem to be working well.

We also discussed transition to year 1. Thankfully Little Bear’s teacher is going to move up with him which assuages a lot of our concerns but it is the jump from EYFS provision to more formal learning that is worrying us all. Little Bear is certainly not ready to sit at a desk all day or to complete learning tasks independently. School are absolutely brilliant at providing him with the specific intervention he needs but we have all agreed to apply for funding in the hope that this will secure ALL the right things next year, when a TA in the classroom is not a given. Next week’s job will be completing all the paperwork…

Assembly:

During the Easter break we were tasked with helping Little Bear learn his words for today’s assembly. I was a bit concerned as only a couple of months ago, Little Bear struggled to hold 3 numbers in his auditory memory long enough to repeat them back to me. Learning words was not going to be easy for him. Yet today he stood up in front of the whole school and a load of parents, walked sensibly to the microphone and speaking loudly, without any sort of prompt, said all of his words: “Every day we are running or walking a mile and its keeping us fit and healthy”. I don’t think everyone understood what he was saying but I don’t care because it was a phenomenal achievement for him.

I have just picked him up from school and he has the dreaded take home book. I absentmindedly flicked through it when he handed it to me and was shocked to see pages of children’s handwriting. “Oh God, look at this” I said, waving it under my friend’s nose. “Don’t worry” he tried to reassure me “they’ve had that for a week”. I didn’t like to tell him that it wouldn’t matter how long we had it for, Little Bear still wouldn’t be able to write more than a copied or dictated very tiny sentence. It is SO hard not to compare and not to feel disheartened. However, I know that my gorgeous little dude is working as hard as he can with every fibre of his being and in his language disordered world, learning 16 words off by heart is incredible. Writing or no writing, he’s still incredible.

 

SaLT, EP & an Assembly

Another try at SaLT

Regular readers will know that there has been a bit of a saga taking place over Little Bear’s Speech and Language Therapy (SaLT) input from our local NHS Trust. You can catch up with the tale here: A bit of a rant

The response to my ranty post was both unexpected and overwhelming. It had evidently hit a nerve, both with other parents who had experienced similar difficulties and with stalwarts of the SaLT profession. Afterwards I felt my only course of action was to make a second formal complaint to the Service Manager. I thought long and hard about doing so because I didn’t want to get labelled as one of those nightmare parents that nobody wants on their caseload and as a SaLT myself it’s kind of awkward. However, in the end, I felt I had a professional duty to maintain standards and I couldn’t stand by and allow that type of service to be provided to other children.

The Manager didn’t seem to mind and took on board all of my points. She didn’t think the service we had been provided with was acceptable either. I’m sure that raises a whole host of other questions but I won’t go there. The outcome for us was satisfactory as she agreed Little Bear needed to be seen for THERAPY not another review ASAP and she wisely gave me a choice of seeing one of the therapists we had already met or starting again with someone new. I chose the fresh sheet and acknowledged that though I am probably every therapist’s worst nightmare, if there was somebody out there with a bit of expertise that would probably suit us.

So today, both Bears and I found ourselves sitting in the waiting room again. Little Bear wasn’t having the best day and was finding waiting very challenging. He had already slithered underneath the seat in front and therefore under the lady that was sitting in it; started chanting “look he’s bald” at the top of his voice; wedged his feet between the chairs, dangerously close to a man’s bottom and was getting increasingly agitated by the minute. Thankfully we weren’t kept waiting long and pretty much as soon as the therapist came out for us I felt we would finally be ok. I knew this because I’m not sure she even said ‘hello’ to me as she was too busy speaking to Little Bear. He fell into step with her and went into the clinic room pretty confidently. She chatted with him about his t-shirt, admired his new shoes and listened when he told her he was 5 now; little things but important things that were sadly lacking previously.

The second thing she had done was anticipated that I would prefer to sit next to Little Bear at the assessment table not at the big desk. Again a small thing but I felt she had thought a little about what would work for us.

She started the session by openly acknowledging the rocky road that had brought us to this point. I would much prefer that she did this, rather than shying away from it. I felt it got us off to a better start. She said she had read back over the file and, reading between the lines, had not found the information she had hoped would be there. To make us both feel more confident in the process she suggested we start again. She would spend a couple of sessions getting to know Little Bear and assessing him and we would then draw up some suitable targets. This seemed a much better plan than following the targets that were previously written without any real understanding of Little Bear’s needs and is probably the plan that I would have come up with, had I been in her shoes.

The therapist then took some time to listen to me and my thoughts on Little Bear’s communication. She acknowledged the work that has already been done and never made me feel as though I was exaggerating.

Little Bear had pretty much taken the clinic room apart by now but she didn’t seem bothered and got down onto the floor to try to play and chat with him. It didn’t go brilliantly well but that was more down to Little Bear not playing ball than anything. She scored full marks with me for trying.

Next she tried some assessment at the table. The previous therapists hadn’t assessed his comprehension at all so I was pleased she was going to. With a bit of help from Big Bear and some imaginary gorilla glue, Little Bear kind of sat on his chair for the time he needed to. It was weird watching him doing an assessment that I’m so familiar with carrying out, especially as I knew how well he was/ wasn’t scoring. It was lovely to see how much progress he has made and how much he CAN understand now though. Towards the end I was a bit unsure whether he was pointing to the items correctly or not and the therapist explained how she was scoring it to me. That opened up the discussion a bit and I felt we were sort of speaking as two professionals when one of us would say “I’m a bit dubious about that one” and the other would agree.

I definitely need to try to have mainly my parent hat on when I’m in the sessions but there is no point pretending that I’m not a SaLT when I am and if she allows us to work together that would be a brilliant outcome. I felt like a little team with the staff at Little Bear’s preschool and I do now with the Reception staff and I think that if you can achieve that sort of working relationship the outcomes are generally much better for your child. I’m hoping that all is not lost and despite everything maybe we could manage it with SaLT too.

At the end of the session we got another appointment for next week when assessment will continue so it does look like we are finally having regular SaLT input.

When we came out, Big Bear said “she was a bit crazy wasn’t she Mum?”. I knew what he meant, she was a little, but a bit of eccentricity is no bad thing when it comes to managing the little dude. She didn’t seem in the slightest bit ruffled when he kept reaching over her to type on her computer or when he straddled her leg or when he told her a story about having his willy out! I’m quite optimistic…

After my ranty post I felt it was important to also record the positive experience we had this time. Yes we absolutely should stand up and speak out against poor standards but we should also celebrate the good and I’m very relieved to find it does still exist.

 

Another try at SaLT

A bad bedtime

Last night’s bedtime for Little Bear was like stepping back a year in time. It took me completely by surprise. In fact, it’s funny how quickly I have forgotten the full extent of the challenge we used to face every single day. Last night was certainly a challenge though and if the truth be told I was quite unsure how to handle it. Even now, having reflected about it on my drive back and to work this morning, I am still none the wiser about what a better way of handling it might have been.

The thing is that we are quite familiar with dysregulation. I wrote about it in my last post as it tends to pay us a visit on Saturdays. Little Bear’s usual dysregulation is reactive: it doesn’t come out unless we make a demand of him like asking him to go to the toilet or eat a meal. Left to his own devices in an imaginary demand-free zone I think his behaviour at these points would probably seem quite calm and nothing out of the ordinary. When a demand is made, he will resist and refuse and might lash out. However, if we left him alone he would not come looking for trouble.

Last night’s uber-dysregulation (I’m clearly making up terms to suit myself here), however, was on a whole other scale. Last night’s dysregulation was combative and purposefully provocative and very difficult to manage.

Things seemed like they were going awry when Grizzly picked Little Bear up from school. He was scowling and grumpy: not his usual default demeanour any more. The teacher didn’t need a word though and although we had a bit of resistance on his arrival home, Little Bear settled quickly. We spotted the signs so fed him and let him rest in front of the tele. Tea and in fact the whole evening went without the need for remark. It was only when I said it was bedtime and insisted after some refusal that Little Bear did need to turn his I Pad off that I knew I was in for it. It’s hard to describe but there is a visible change in him at these points. His body language, facial expression and whole comportment were different. He does not seem like the same child when this happens.

I persevered with bedtime, keeping everything the same as usual. I asked him to go for his “night night wee”. He went into his bedroom. I asked him again. He rolled around on the floor. I began to count as I always do. I got to 3 and he looked me directly in the eye and didn’t move. I said “ok, that’s one story gone”. He usually has 3 books and we regularly use their removal as a consequence if needs be. This upset him and he began to cry but did go to the toilet. I could see the way this was going and tried to reason. I explained that he had made a bad decision so lost one story but if he made some good decisions now, he could still have 2. He called me an idiot. I removed another story. He started chanting “mummy is stupid” so I removed the third. It’s hard because I knew he was dysregulated but it isn’t ok to call me names every time I do something he doesn’t like. Perhaps I should have tried to ignore it instead.

As he was now quite miserable and grumpy, I tried to cajole him. “If you get ready super quick and are really sensible, you can win 2 of your stories back”. I felt this was fair. I was giving him a way out and most children would have seen that 2 stories was good, it was what they wanted and I think they would have tried to buck themselves along to get them. In fairness, I think Little Bear would have on a usual day. In fact most of the time when he loses stories I don’t give them back and he usually accepts that. Not last night though. No. Last night he began getting his knickers in a twist because he thought I should let him win 3 stories back. Perhaps I should have just let him but clearly I can match him in a battle of who is most stubborn (oh dear) and I felt it was the wrong message.

I was able to distract him though and we jumbled our way through getting into pyjamas and doing teeth well enough that I did let him have his stories. He listened well and enjoyed them. We had a nice 10 minutes of quality time together. Little Bear seemed his usual self. That is, until the second I put the books back onto the shelf. At that exact instant, Dysregulated Little Bear was back. It was literally as though someone had flipped a switch.

Me: “okey doke, lie down in your bed then”. Little Bear does not. Me: “come on, Mummy let you win your stories back and we’ve had a lovely time. Let’s be sensible now”. Little Bear: “no”. Me (probably sounding exasperated) “Little Bear, you’ve got some choices now. You can either lay down and be sensible or not. But if you don’t, you know there will be a consequence. It’s your choice but I think you’re really tired and a big sleep would make you feel better”. Little Bear (continuing to hang his legs over the side of the bed): “no”. Me: “ok”. At this point I left the room and sat on the landing so I could still keep an ear out for him.

I was swiftly followed by something (probably a dummy) being pelted at the door then various other items. I could hear a range of crashing and bashing, wall kicking, bed-rocking etc. Little Bear then started shouting and hurling insults. I chose at this stage to ignore him because I knew all this behaviour was designed to attract my attention. However, being stubborn as I am, I have previously sat outside his door and ignored him for a very long time in the hope he would run out of steam but he didn’t. I wasn’t entirely sure that ignoring would work this time either. I pondered my options.

It is difficult in these situations because there are not many options and of all the options not many are favourable ones. I feel that at these times Little Bears WANTS me to lose the plot with him. He wants me to shout and ball. Sometimes I think he wants me to hit him. Sometimes I really feel like it. I think this has something to do with Mirror Neurons though it is odd because to my knowledge Little Bear has not been in a domestic violence situation and has not been physically abused. Nevertheless, he is sparring for a fight and it sometimes feels as though nothing will work until he has managed to escalate the situation and got whatever it is out of his system. Obviously I never do hit him (and don’t think hitting is ever an actual option) so need to have a better strategy.

When he had been shouting for a while, he started saying “why aren’t you speaking to me mummy?”. I said that he wasn’t behaving very well at the moment but I would speak to him if he spoke to me nicely. I asked if he was ready to speak to me nicely. He said he wasn’t and went back to shaking his bed about.

At the point when I felt his bed might actually fall down I decided I had to try something different so I went in to speak with him. I gave him another chance to make a different choice and lie properly in the bed. He did not take it and probably called me something inappropriate so I decided to get him out of the bed and try a ‘time in’. I sat him a couple of feet from me on the landing, making sure there was nothing within his reach that could become a missile. I could see him from the corner of my eye. His behaviour continued to be provocative – moving from the spot I had told him to sit on, trying to turn around, trying to move behind me. It felt like a battle for control.

I distinctly remember sitting in Prep Groups talking about managing behaviour. We were talking about distraction and why that is so much better than a consequence and one lady piped up saying “but then you’ve let them win” and we all inwardly groaned because we knew the whole lesson was about not making it a battlefield or about winning or losing. As a parent you have to be the bigger person. You have to let some things go purposefully unnoticed. You have to pick your battles. You are meant to be therapeutic.

However, how do you distract a child at bedtime? I don’t want to distract him, I want him to go to sleep. I also have to be very careful with Little Bear because the rules need to be the rules. He knows where he’s at then, without any uncertainty. Consistent rules make him feel safe. I can’t have a rule where you aren’t allowed to bounce on your bed except when you’re feeling rubbish and then you can. That doesn’t work. The rule is that you can’t bounce on your bed. If I made an exception one day, the next day, Little Bear would think he could do it again. Last night, he was checking all the rules and I felt I had to make sure they were still there.

I also felt that he was spiralling out of control and on some level he needed me to make sure things stayed under control so that he felt safe. He needed me to keep him under control. In that way it WAS a battle for control.

Needless to say that having all these thoughts and insights is all well and good but you still have a spiralling child who you have now been trying to get to sleep for 2 hours. I did eventually lose my temper and shouted at him and it was a shame because although when he first arrived you could practically explode and he wouldn’t bat an eyelid, he does now look pretty frightened if one of us shouts. It took holding him for a while and some more discussion and wondering to get him to calm down. Even then he still said he wasn’t ready to go to sleep sensibly.

I left the room again and after a minute or so, he said “mum, I happy now” and when I went back in it was as though the switch had been flicked back again. Whatever “It” had been was over. We had kisses and cuddles and he settled down.

I didn’t feel good about my handling of it. I wished I hadn’t shouted at him in an angry way. We have found before that unless he has a good cry and gets everything out of his system he won’t settle and somehow you have to make the escalation stop. I’m open to suggestions if anybody has any wise words.

The saving grace is that he could have been having that meltdown at the school disco which would have been MUCH worse.

I don’t know what was behind it but I’m hoping that the Easter Holidays are going to be just what we all need.

A bad bedtime