Developmental Language Disorder

As both a Speech and Language Therapist and Mum to a boy with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) this is a subject close to my heart. This week is DLD Awareness Week and tomorrow, the 22nd September 2017 is DLD Awareness Day. Through this blog I want to make a small contribution to raising awareness of this poorly understood condition.

Although DLD has been recognised as a condition for a long time, its name is new. The condition has previously been known as Language Disorder or Specific Language Impairment (SLI) but everybody used the labels differently and the lack of consistency wasn’t helping with making people aware of it. There is currently an awareness raising campaign taking place which is brilliant. There are more children in the UK who meet the criteria for DLD than there are children with Autism but nobody has heard of the former. This equates to 2 to 3 children in every class with a condition that is poorly understood and under-identified. I’m not quite sure what us Speech and Language Therapists have been doing wrong but I’m pleased that there is now a big push to raise the public’s awareness.

As part of the campaign a video has been made. You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/user/RALLIcampaign

You can also tweet about it using the hashtags: #DLD123 #DevLangDis

There are 3 key messages that are the focus of the awareness raising campaign:

  1. DLD means that a child (or adult) has difficulties with understanding and/or using language
  2. DLD is a HIDDEN condition but is surprisingly common.
  3. Support can make a huge difference to children with DLD

In order to bring these messages to life, I would like to share some of my son (Little Bear)’s journey.

  1. In simple terms, Little Bear experiences difficulties with both understanding and using language. This visual produced by Susan Ebbels is helpful in giving more detail:

FullSizeRender (10)

Little Bear experiences (or has experienced) difficulties with every area in the peach circle including Phonology. If you want to know more about his journey, the specific types of difficulty he has overcome and some of the things we have done to help him, you can read about it in these previous posts:  Living with Speech and Language Difficulties , Speech & Language & School, A bit of a rant, SaLT, EP & an Assembly, Communication Difficulties: Update

As part of the awareness campaign, the diagnostic criteria for DLD have been clarified. Crucially, for us, early neglect is not an exclusionary factor. This fits with my growing hunch that Little Bear was always going to have DLD but that his early adverse life experiences have served to deepen his difficulties.

2. DLD is a HIDDEN difficulty but it does show itself if you know what to look for. It is crucial that teachers in particular are able to see beyond ‘challenging behaviours’. A world in which you cannot understand much of what is happening around you and you are unable to verbalise your thoughts, fears and ideas is scary and frustrating. It is no wonder that many children with DLD express themselves through their behaviour. In general people need to get better at looking beyond behaviour – what are the child’s reasons for behaving as they are? In our case (and many other cases up and down the country) trauma could be at play too.

Children with DLD may not put up their hand in class, they might struggle to complete their work and their learning may not be progressing as you would expect. They may struggle in particular with literacy.

If you speak to somebody who is taking a bit longer to answer you or who doesn’t seem to be following your conversation or who is confusing to listen to, they might have DLD. Give them more time. Don’t worry about having a big pause – they might need that time to think. Try to keep your language clear. It doesn’t matter about flowery language – cut to the chase. Say what you mean. Your conversation will get much easier.

Children with DLD are not un-intelligent. Little Bear has the potential to learn many things but the way they are explained to him is crucial. He can struggle with too much or very complex language but if you can explain a complex concept to him in an accessible way, he will understand it. We have recently had chats about hurricanes, electricity and endangered animals and he is a sponge for knowledge if it is presented in a DLD friendly way.

3. The best message from our story is that support really does make a massive difference. A diagnosis of DLD is not hopeless. Despite having been neglected for the first 3 years of his life and having very poor language stimulation during that time, Little Bear’s language skills have gone from strength to strength with the right input. It is never too late to put support in place.

Of course Little Bear’s difficulties are ongoing but he is progressing all the time. He has gone from using 3 to 4 word sentences to full, compound, complex sentences.

His vocabulary has grown from a miniscule hand full of words to a wide and fairly ordered plethora. Although words do still have difficulty getting stored correctly and sometimes jumble together (Numicorn for unicorn (Numicon + Unicorn) or chicken yoghurts (nuggets + yoghurt)), Little Bear is getting better all the time at being able to analyse the parts of words and can mostly imitate them correctly now.

Little Bear’s grammar is not bad, though the order can be jumbled. We usually have one target on the go at a time. At the moment we are working on ‘bigger than’ instead of ‘bigger of’ which Little Bear is grasping and using appropriately.

Little Bear’s speech has gone from being completely unintelligible to just a few vowel and more common errors such as ‘v’ for ‘th’.

His awareness of the sound patterns in words has gone from non-existent to being able to say the first sound to being able to blend sounds together to being able to read.

This level of progress in a two year period is fairly transformational. He doesn’t sound like the same child any more.

The progress has meant that making friends is much easier and things like being able to sing are becoming a possibility (it is still a challenge but Little Bear tries very hard and repetition of songs is really helping him). Little Bear has learned lines and spoken in a class assembly. He can speak on the phone and family members can understand him and have a proper chat.

 

Little Bear’s DLD will be ongoing. It will probably affect him into adulthood but this doesn’t keep me awake at night because I have seen the progress he can make with support. I have every intention of keeping the support going and although DLD will always be a part of him, it needn’t stop him. With the right support, he will be able to reach his full potential.

 

 

Please share, use the hashtags and watch the video. We need to put DLD on the map. Perhaps you know someone who experiences it?

Advertisements
Developmental Language Disorder

The Glamorous Side of Parenting

First of all I have to apologise unreservedly to any eager folk who have clicked onto this blog post hoping for some sort of parenting panacea which could lead to glamour. There isn’t one. I was being sarcastic. There is officially no glamourous side to parenting whatsoever. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is an extremely unglamorous side to parenting.

Nobody tells you this when you make the decision to procreate, foster, adopt or travel whichever other route you decide upon to reach parenthood, but I will tell you. Sometimes parenting is gross, repulsive, cringe-inducing and very much not for the fainthearted.

Just this week I have experienced two incidents that could be categorised in these ways. The first involved poo. Suffice it to say that poo was in places it shouldn’t have been and I had to sort a blocked, nearly overflowing toilet. All in the middle of dinner time, obviously.

The second was a first for me (though one I would rather not repeat). We thought we might have Bed Bugs. Yes, tiny little crawly insect-y things living in a bed. An absolutely abhorrent concept, especially when it is your littlest son’s bed.

This came about because Little Bear has been having some sort of allergic reaction all week. I posted a picture of some of his rash and a Twitter friend said it looked like the rash she had when she was bitten by Bed Bugs. You cannot un-hear those words. It isn’t possible to just brush that aside and assume you haven’t got them. Because what if you have? What sort of parent would that make you if you might be putting your youngest beloved son to bed with a whole band of hungry critters every night? When you hear those words there is nothing for it but to have a quick Google, roll up your sleeves and inspect the bed (all the while telling yourself not to run around screaming or spontaneously vomit if you find something).

The search of the bed was INCONCLUSIVE. This is not good. This doesn’t mean you have Bed Bugs but crucially it doesn’t prove that you don’t. You might have them. ‘Might’ in my experience is not a chance that you can take when it is your beloved son’s bed and he is walking around in public with a very strange rash. There is only one thing that can be done: you enter full DECONTAMINATION mode. The pillow and quilt covers and comforter blankets are easy: stick them in the machine at 95 degrees and hope they come out intact.

On balance the pillow and quilt themselves are not really very expensive to replace so I go for double bagging and chucking out, just to be sure. Now, surely a good hoover of the mattress will suffice? I proceed, centimetre by centimetre, using my microscopic-power-mum-eyes to check as I go. What on God’s green earth are these barely visible things in the pores of the mattress? As much as I don’t want to touch them, I go in, for inspection purposes. The results are INCONCLUSIVE. This is not good.

I phone the husband to check that I am not completely insane for now wanting to throw away the mattress. He has a quick Google and concludes it is not Bed Bugs but as he is slightly OCD over hygiene and is all too aware that I will soon enter PROTECTIVE MOTHER HYSTERIA, he suggests we get rid of the mattress. I heave it down the stairs and into the garden with freaked-out-mum super strength.

What then ensues is an evening of me taking both boys to buy a new mattress, quilt, pillow etc. and then on our return, removing everything from the room, hoovering every nook and cranny and anti-bac-ing like I’m deep cleaning a hospital. Obviously I also decontaminate the child. To be sure.

When it is all over I sit on the sofa and stare into space for the remainder of the evening. I do not entertain the fact that if we did have bed bugs, they could have spread to other beds. If you do not present with a rash, you do not qualify for full inspection. They are the rules.

These sorts of parenting-breaches are exhausting.

I’ve been here before of course. You can’t get to be 8 years into parenting without a few anti-glamour moments along the way.

The last MAJOR INCIDENT was nit-gate. On that occasion, the inspection proved CONCLUSIVE. I did indeed find a large, burly nit merrily parading about Little Bear’s curls within seconds of starting the inspection. I think it was on steroids. I was utterly squeamish about it and had to defer to my mother-in-law until I realised she couldn’t actually see the nits and I had to woman-up. I realised this after a few days of having a very itchy head myself and although she had checked my hair and so had Grizzly, I found a friendly nit peeking at me when I looked in the mirror! There is absolutely nothing glamorous about hanging over the bath, searching your long, thick hair with a fine tooth comb for hours on end, removing little beasties. That is another thing that nobody tells you – children like to share.

Nit-gate went on weeks and took A LOT of perseverance and many an hour with the tiny comb until I finally won the war (don’t listen to anyone who tells you that the shampoo alone will do it: it won’t, you need to manually remove every single one of them).

The nits did attempt a second round a while later but I had absolutely none of it that time and shaved off the beautiful curls. You have to take a zero tolerance policy to unwanted insects I find.

The non-glamorous moments do not just involve insect-invasions. Oh no, bodily functions feature highly too. I seem to have dealt with many an al-fresco poo situation so far (not me, the boys!): most memorably Big Bear couldn’t wait and ended up going under the ‘no fouling’ sign in a local park once. Another time, a hungry Labrador involved itself but that story is too disgusting to publish.

I have dealt with poo in places it shouldn’t be, including on an I Pad.

I have (why did God gift us with this reflex?) proffered my cupped hand in lieu of a sick bowl.

I could go on and on. Parenting is pretty disgusting. They should issue you with a hazmat suit when you take charge of an infant. It should be mandatory.

There was a time when I would have been too embarrassed to share my Bed Bug story, assuming it meant I was slovenly and unfit to parent (despite knowing that neither nits nor bed bugs prefer dirty places) but I have learned that I’m not alone in these situations. I suspect that every parent up and down the country could contribute a story or two. Yesterday, as bed-bug-gate was breaking, I messaged my friends who I had been out with earlier in the day. “Oh, we thought we had bed bugs last week” one of them replied, immediately making me feel better. I have another friend whose child had a funny rash and she took DECONTAMINATION one step further by calling out the Pest Control, even though she hadn’t found any evidence of an invasion either.

If we’re going to take a very positive view of it, then I do think parenting gifts you with a whole raft of transferable skills.

Little Bear took bed-bug-gate very well. I think he secretly liked it that I was going to all that effort to keep him safe and (hopefully) itch free. As much as these un-glamorous incidents are gross, they do seem to provide good bonding opportunities. He secretly enjoyed all the grooming and attention nit-gate brought as well.

All that said I am very much looking forward to some actual glamour.

You never know.

Maybe one day.

In the future.

 

 

 

 

The Glamorous Side of Parenting

Birth Parents

It is letterbox time again, here at Bear HQ which has got me thinking about Little Bear’s birth parents, Sian and Joseph. I have to confess that I am feeling quite discombobulated about the whole thing. I am confused about how I feel about them, how I should feel about them and what I should do going forwards. Brace yourselves readers while I blog it out.

So, last year’s Letterbox was, in my opinion, a bit of a cock up. You can read about it here: Letterbox Update In short, I suspect that the letter I wrote languished upon a disorganised Social Worker’s desk for the best part of 7 months before even an attempt was made to get it to its rightful destination. At the time I was upset about it because I felt it wasn’t fair for Sian and Joseph. If I was them and the only contact I had with the child I had given birth to was an annual letter, I would really want my letter. I would want it when I knew it was due. No doubt they drew all sorts of conclusions as to why we hadn’t bothered to send it.

Sian and Joseph didn’t reply to the letter, which I felt was a bit strange as they both attended court and showed signs of wanting to do the best they could in the current circumstances for Little Bear. Several months after his birthday we did receive some birthday cards from them (which no doubt had been sent at the right time but had also languished in the mountainous pile of paperwork on the desk). In the card Sian had written that she was sorry for not replying to our letter, she just didn’t have the words.

I felt sad once again reading that statement. Of course she doesn’t have the words, she is probably heart-broken; she is potentially never going to see her youngest child again. For me, rightly or wrongly, that sentence says “help me”. It says, “I have no idea how to go about writing this letter, though I do really want to”. And, if as I suspect, Sian also has speech and language difficulties like Little Bear, not only will she be struggling metaphorically to find the words but literally too.

In order to try to right the wrongs of last year and get us back on track this year, I contacted said disorganised Social Worker before our Letterbox was due. I suggested (again) that Sian and Joseph might need some help with Letterbox. I also asked how they are and how Little Bear’s birth siblings are.

Now this is where things get murky and I get very confused. I know that they can’t tell us much about how things are as it would be a breach of confidentiality. Obviously I am not asking them to do that. I am not asking for Joseph and Sian’s place of employment, inside leg measurement or bank details. All I really want to know is are they vaguely ok? Are they dead? Are they in prison? Are they homeless? Are they rampaging around the country trying to locate Little Bear? I just feel that it would be useful, as an adopter, to have a vague sense of whether they are functioning in their lives or not. I would also like to know whether they pose any danger to Little Bear or us or not. I have no real sense of this due to the paucity of information in my possession.

I suppose I have half an eye on the future, when Little Bear might decide he wants to track them down. I need a sense of who exactly these people are. They could make attempts to find him before then. But would they? I have literally no idea.

Anyway, so I posed the ‘how are they?’ question. The Social Worker (who gives Social Workers in general a bad name) initially ignored my question. I had asked it on the phone several months ago and now again by e-mail. She eventually did respond to my e-mail but not the part about Sian and Joseph. So I asked again. This time she said that she was going to ask their Social Worker to contact them to ask if they can share more information with us. This was not what I envisaged happening.

If I were them I might well tell Social Services to F off. It makes us seem like really nosy so and sos and they must wonder what on earth we want to know and why. It also makes me wonder if what I am asking for is out of the ordinary. Am I living in some sort of dream world where I don’t actually need to know this information? A basic, “yes they’re fine, nothing has really changed” or “they are having a difficult time at the moment” or “I don’t think they’ve really accepted the adoption” or “they seem to have moved on with their lives” would have sufficed.

I can’t help thinking that I’ve annoyed said Social Worker with my persistent questions and that she is being purposefully obstructive. I definitely think that Social Services would have much preferred it if we had just adopted a child from their LA care and run off into the sunset, never to bother them again.

Not able to keep my mouth shut, I also persevered on the point about supporting Sian and Joseph with Letterbox. Apparently if they want some support they can come to the Post Adoption Support Team and ask for it. I find the idea of them actually doing that completely unrealistic. Why would they come, cap in hand, to the very people who removed their children, to ask for help? Surely the days of them feeling that Social Services can help them are long gone? I have been living a delusional fantasy that there might be some sort of follow up or after-care for people who have lost their children. Surely it would be more beneficial for society to try to support birth parents, help them to grieve, help them with moving on whilst trying to keep them on the straight and narrow? Surely losing your children is a big precipitating factor for other issues such as mental health difficulties or drug or alcohol addiction?

However, recent thinking has left me reflective. Evidently my utopian view of social work is unrealistic in the context of austerity and cuts to services. I don’t suppose social workers do have time to be keeping track of where birth parents have got to and what they are up to at the moment. I guess they do have to prioritise families that still have children in them. And the question that burns most on my lips: why am I taking the birth parents side in all this anyway?

I think that had Sian and Joseph physically or sexually abused Little Bear I would be a lot clearer on my feelings towards them. I wouldn’t have the same sense of loyalty and I certainly wouldn’t feel sorry for them. I don’t mean to belittle the neglect that they did inflict on Little Bear, because I know only too well the long term and pernicious consequences of it. However, I do think it is possible to unknowingly or accidentally neglect someone in a way that you certainly couldn’t accidentally sexually abuse someone. It is not Sian’s fault that she herself had a shitty upbringing and is not equipped with the skills to parent. I keep coming back to the fact that it is a very unfortunate set of circumstances and foolishly or not, I do feel sorry for them. I feel a perverse moral duty to do the right thing by them, despite the fact that they have caused my son’s developmental trauma.

I suppose, on a human level, I know they must be suffering and I don’t want that for anyone. And also, despite anything that happens, we are already inextricably linked by the fact that their son is our son.

I do wonder whether I might not have such a rose-tinted view if I was furnished with a little bit more information though. After all, people do not have their children removed from their care for just a little bit of carelessness.

The thing is where do we go now? We have always said that we would be open to the idea of meeting Sian and Joseph but if we can’t even get Letterbox sorted it is hard to see how we might be able to work towards that. Is my pro-active (if perfect world) approach to the Social Worker causing us more problems? Is her communication with Sian and Joseph impacting on their opinion and willingness to work with us? Are we ever going to move forwards?

I’m starting to think that I’m wasting my energy. Perhaps I should just send our Letterbox contribution off into the deep blue yonder and think no more about it?

This is about Little Bear though. What is best for him? That is the crux of my thinking and is so difficult to answer because I just don’t think I have enough information to say. At the very least I want to be able to tell him that we tried and, to the consternation of a certain social worker, I can honestly say that we have.

In the unlikely event that we ever get an answer to our questions I will let you know.

 

*Please don’t think that my rant-y-ness over this Social Worker indicates any sort of anti-social work stance. I know many fabulous ones and we have been extremely well supported at this end. I am just particularly irked by this one.

 

 

Birth Parents

Parenting in Public

The actual title of this post should be ‘Parenting a Child with Behavioural Difficulties in Public’ but it’s kind of unwieldy and somewhat lacking in zing. It is what I mean though as ordinary parenting in the public eye is not especially challenging, in my experience.

As we are now coming to the end of week 6 of the summer holidays I have been spending more time than usual out and about with Little Bear in public. We have been to all sorts of places: shops, museums, LEGOLAND, the beach, restaurants, the zoo, parks. Sometimes it all goes swimmingly and there is nothing significant to report but at other times I end up feeling more conspicuous than I would really like.

I think it is partly because Little Bear’s behaviour is at a developmentally lower level than his chronological age. Whilst this is common amongst children who have experienced developmental trauma it can nevertheless look incongruous to the untrained eye. I’m wondering if it has become more pronounced because Little Bear has had a growth spurt and for the first time since he has been with us he is requiring clothes larger than his age. He is a tall 5 and half year old who frequently engages in behaviour more typical of a pre-schooler. Today, for example, we went to the garden centre and he spent a happy 10 minutes going from water feature to water feature putting his hands in and splashing about in them. I can remember Big Bear doing exactly the same thing but he was probably a couple of years younger.

Ditto pointing obviously at people who look different and/ or commenting loudly within their earshot: Look he’s got a bald patch!

Why’s your tooth broken? (Whilst staring at close range into an elderly lady’s mouth when sharing a hand dryer. Thank goodness for unclear speech).

Why does that lady have her belly out mummy?” (Bellowing and blatantly pointing at someone about 3 feet away).

I don’t know son, but perhaps she should ask herself that.

While these developmentally younger behaviours do draw some attention and can be mildly embarrassing, it is the more unusual or more unexpected behaviours that I usually find harder to style out.

Sometimes a waitress or passer-by might be friendly towards Little Bear. They might comment on his outfit or try to chat to him about something and, one assumes due to his attachment difficulties and mistrust of strangers, he can be downright rude. He might not answer them or he might scowl or he might say something like “go away”. I find myself being extra friendly or making some sort of excuse for him.

Little Bear can behave similarly with other children and sometimes he seems to square up to them or tries to stare them out.

Conversely he can be over friendly and will approach people and even lean on them or touch them despite not knowing them. He frequently approaches people if they have babies with them and will try to push the pram. Today he somehow got another Mum whom we didn’t know to push him on the swing (I had turned for a couple of seconds to greet our actual friend).

Little Bear is also quite hyperactive and inquisitive. This tends to lead to a lot of touching of things he shouldn’t, climbing on things he shouldn’t and general wildness. Today I have had to coax him out of a dog basket that he had pulled off the shelf and curled into in the middle of a thoroughfare and also lift him down from a wire gazebo which he had scaled and was hanging from the top of. He hangs off counters in restaurants and cafes and if there is any sort of railing he will be doing roly-polies on it (there is one inside Asda that he is particularly attracted to).

Though he tries his best to stay seated when we go out for meals it is very difficult for him and he does get up and move about. Sometimes he gets under the table. On one occasion he commando crawled under a public toilet door – Big Bear thought it was brilliant and all I could think about was how many germs he had touched en route.

During our holiday we stopped at Services that had a quiet Starbucks and he spent the first ten minutes crawling laps around a long bench seat in there while we tried to maintain a sense of decorum (and tried to pretend he wasn’t with us).

He often runs inside shops and restaurants and might try to pick something up that he shouldn’t e.g. in Sainsbury’s he might start kicking a ball around the aisles if he sees one for sale.

Sometimes Little Bear has public outbursts. Today, whilst in a busy queue at the ice cream kiosk at the park, Little Bear lost his temper because they had run out of the ice cream he wanted. He wouldn’t choose anything different and purposefully ran over his brother’s foot with his bike. When I told him to get off the bike, he kicked it, the wall and attempted to kick me. I could practically feel the anticipation and judgement of the other parents around me, tense with wonder at how I would surely punish him. I guess they were probably quite disappointed when I didn’t (you try juggling a cup of tea, an ice cream, a balance bike and a dysregulated child. Also, I could have lectured them in the pointlessness of punishing a dysregulated child but my hands were quite full).

Now, here is the crucial bit, clearly I do not think that any of this is acceptable behaviour. I was brought up to be polite and well-mannered and try to instil that in my children too. Of course I would prefer it if they would both sit still, be quiet, react politely and not draw excessive attention to us.

If I’m being really honest, when Little Bear first arrived and his behaviour was at the more extreme end of things, I frequently felt like stopping members of the public to say “don’t judge me, he’s adopted. I didn’t make him like this!” (Don’t worry, I never did and I do know it isn’t an appropriate way to handle things!).

In an ideal world my child wouldn’t pelt up and down pubs, make loads of noise or throw things. However, in an ideal world, my little boy wouldn’t have been neglected. He wouldn’t have an uphill struggle ahead of him and his development would not have been adversely affected by his start in life.

I can’t set ideal parenting standards for Little Bear (at the moment) because good parenting does not involve setting your child up to fail. I cannot ask him to sit still throughout a meal, be friendly and polite at all times, always walk and never run and never touch anything. I can’t ask that of him because I know that he is already trying his best and he can’t do it.

I have had to re-evaluate what is absolutely essential behaviour-wise and what is less so. I have had to decide which things I can turn a blind eye to and which things I will tackle. I can’t tackle everything at once because I would be telling him off every minute of the day and that is no good for anybody. For now I have a zero tolerance approach to violence and we try our best to follow instructions the majority of the time. Other issues are for later.

My parenting style with Little Bear can be summed up by “don’t sweat the small stuff” and “pick your battles”.

The only problem is that Mr and Mrs Public are not versed in this approach and actually often do want to sweat the small stuff. Last week, Little Bear got told off twice by strangers. The first time it was because he had lifted a glass lid in a café to show me which donut he wanted. The waitress walked past and sharply said “that is made of glass! It is not for you to touch!” The second time was because he was climbing on a wooden railing inside a family pub and the waiter sternly told him to get down from there.

As I was present on both of these occasions and the person in question saw fit to tell Little Bear off anyway, I can only assume that they felt my parenting was lacking. Were I to have the time or inclination to concern myself with this, I would probably be quite offended. However, thanks to Little Bear, I don’t bother sweating the small stuff either.

I can feel a bubble of something brewing though. One or two interventions from strangers I can take. A stare or glare here or there I can ignore. Maybe even a tut could be disregarded. I know that people are judging Little Bear against their standards of behaviour and finding him lacking. I know that consequently they see my parenting as lacking. I have grown a thicker skin and am mostly adept at shrugging it off. I am confident on the path I am taking and I have the benefit of understanding his behaviour, what could be causing it and also seeing the incredible progress Little Bear has made.

However, I know there is a line when it comes to strangers telling off my children and should someone see fit to cross it, I would not be able to hold back. Don’t be so bloody judgemental, I would want to say, you don’t know his background; you don’t know what he has been through. Don’t judge my parenting. Try walking a few steps in my shoes and then see how you feel.

My inner momma bear is poised, ears pricked up. Ready. Little Bear is my cub. He is my noisy, energetic, curious, infuriating mischief of a cub but he’s my cub and he’s trying his best and I will not hesitate to leap to his defence if provoked.

Consider yourselves warned Mr and Mrs Public. Consider yourselves warned.

Parenting in Public

PMS and Adoption

It is hard to know where to begin with this topic and as I have had so many half-musings about it I’m worried I won’t make much sense but I’m going to give it a go.

I have PMS. There, I’ve said it. I don’t mean that I feel a bit off when I have my period, I mean that I feel really shit: physically and crucially, mentally too. The majority of the time I am a calm, patient and pretty controlled person. However, for about 4 days every six weeks or so, I’m really not. I become short-tempered, rage-y, impatient and very fed-up. I do not enjoy this version of myself and work extremely hard to appear “normal”. I try my best to react as I usually would even though I have burning desires to scream expletives and throw things. It is very tiring.

I try to warn my husband that I’m feeling a little crazy so that he can avoid winding me up/ lessen my load but as I still seem to appear pretty calm on the outside I don’t think he fully understands the depth of my potential wrath. We have been together 15 years and married for 10 of them and he has never witnessed me fully lose it until this month when I kind of did. Although it wasn’t an enjoyable experience for either of us I think it has given him a greater understanding of how I do feel and the effort I’m expending every cycle to keep a lid on it. This is good because in this mix there is also Little Bear who has the ability to try the patience of a saint, let alone a woman suffering PMS.

The last thing I need when my patience is already frayed by my pesky hormones is greater than normal provocation, less than usual compliance and a near constant requirement for attention. Yet, after two years, I’m now seeing a pattern emerging. When I have PMS Little Bear’s behaviour is definitely more difficult to manage. I am certain this is not just because I’m finding everything harder to manage as I can observe others becoming more frustrated with him and we have discussions about why he is behaving the way he is. It is not only this but I’ve observed physical changes in him at these points too. He is more tired, lethargic and generally appears under the weather. All of which makes me wonder: what is my PMS doing to him and why?

Evidently, consciously or not, Little Bear is hypervigilant to the changes in me. Despite putting all my efforts into trying to act normally, am I actually acting differently enough for him to notice? What is it that I’m doing? Is it the short temper? Am I quicker to react? Do I react to things I normally wouldn’t? It is very hard to say with any accuracy because clearly my slightly addled brain is not the best judge at these points. I know I certainly don’t feel serene inside so I’m guessing he can notice something different in my parenting. Why does this cause him to up-the-ante though? Most children, well Big Bear anyway, figure out that Mum is grumpy and do their best to placate, please and stay out of the way. Not Little Bear though, oh no.

I fear that it is because I go from being very predictable to not-so-predictable in my behaviour and this causes him anxiety. He usually knows exactly where he is with me and what I’ll do in any given parenting situation but what I might do on these days blighted by PMS does include shouting and losing my temper, where usually it wouldn’t. Am I scaring him?

Clearly I don’t want to frighten him or push him back to a place of fight/flight but I really am putting in 110% effort to contain myself. I don’t mean to lose my temper with him but in my defence I do have PMS, I feel totally rubbish and he is pushing every single one of my buttons. The other day he was driving me right up the wall and back again at tea time so in order to avoid shouting (or harming him) I took myself out of the room to calm down. I told him I was leaving the room and why. I told him I would come back, I just needed 5 minutes. Most children would be quiet, eat their tea and try to get back in Mum’s good books. Not Little Bear. I had been gone about a second when he started shouting. Mum. Mum. Mum. Mum. I’ve eaten some more, Mum. Mum. Mum, come here. I want to know if I can have pudding now. Mum.

He doesn’t know when to stop. He can’t read the pragmatics of the situation. He cannot control himself. He doesn’t want me to be away from him because he feels safer if I am close.

I know all this and yet I am being driven slightly mad. Every time he shouts “Mum” it is like a virtual peck to my head. I just need some peace.

Given that we are both trying our best but I am failing at the keeping my temper part it is clear that I am having a negative impact on the little guy’s behaviour. What impact are my failings for 4 days every 6 weeks going to have on him long term? Is the fact that I’m pretty consistent in my calmness the rest of the time enough to wipe out the impact of the bad days? Or am I, due to the blasted PMS, an inconsistent carer?

Or, is this nothing to do with my predictability; is it something to do with regulation? Usually, I help Little Bear to stay calm and not over-excited or angry and upset by co-regulating with him. If he’s getting more and more excited, I don’t get excited with him. I stay calm and through my body language and manner, help him to calm down too. When I have my period I don’t think my own regulation is good at all. I’m furious, whether I’m acting it or not, so my ability to co-regulate is probably rubbish. In fact, is it possible that we are co-regulating, just that he’s coming up to join me in dysregulated land not the other way round?

And how do I explain the physical changes I’ve noticed in him? There is more than regulation at work there. It is as though he is feeling what I’m feeling. The PMS Bible by Katharina Dalton says: “Children who cannot understand their mother’s mood swings, may react by developing psychosomatic or bodily symptoms such as a cough, runny nose, endless crying, temper tantrums or vomiting” but there is no real explanation as to why.

Could it have something to do with Mirror Neurons? Apparently we have neurons which fire not only when we feel something but also when we observe someone else feel it e.g. if we see someone gag because they have eaten something gross, our own stomachs can turn. I can’t find any research on it but is it possible that Little Bear is so reliant on me and tuned in to me because having a reliable parent is still a bit of a novel concept (and actually we are very close) that when I feel rubbish his Mirror Neurons make him feel rubbish too? Is this empathy at work?

Or is there something hormonal going on? I know that one woman’s hormones can affect another’s. In fact one of my friends’ cycles always goes completely awry when she comes to stay with me, probably because my hormones are so crazy there is some sort of hormonal force field surrounding me. Has Little Bear been sucked in? Again I can’t find any research on whether mother’s hormones can impact on their children or not but I’d be really interested to know. There must be a very clever person out there who knows more about such things (if there is I’d love to know your thoughts).

All I do know is that adoption and PMS are a less than desirable combination.

An adopted child needs calm, consistent parenting. When Bruce Perry said “the parent’s mind needs to be the child’s safe base” I don’t think he meant ‘excepting every sixth week when their mind is all over the shop’.

Despite my rageful state, I feel guilty when I lose my temper and I do try to do the repair part. I say that I’m sorry; I try to explain that I’m not feeling good and I try to give him lots of love. We muddle through. I congratulate myself at the end of each hormonally contaminated day that we have survived and that I have not harmed him. Then I collapse in an exhausted heap.

This month has been particularly bad. Note to any fellow PMS sufferers: never start an exercise regime around the time of your period and certainly not in the middle of the summer holidays. It is extremely foolish. Also, when feeling this rubbish, it is wise to abandon usual functioning (who cares if you haven’t tidied up or taught your children anything all day?) and the best and only solution is snuggling on the sofa.

I have been looking for a way to end this post that leaves me with hope rather than despair and as I should have learned by now, the way to turn in these situations is to Dan Hughes. He says this (not specifically about PMS but he might as well have): “You are not a robot. You have ‘bad hair’ days. Accept it, own it, and don’t blame your child for it. But let him know that you have less patience on that day and you might be a bit grumpy”. He goes on to say “if this grumpiness is the worst behaviour that your child will experience from you – and you have not abused, neglected or abandoned him – he is likely to feel more safe rather than less safe after such days”. I’m not sure this is totally true in practise but I shall cling on to it as they are comforting words.

Anyway, by next month the apparently amazing benefits of exercise will have kicked in and no doubt I will float through my period like some sort of serene goddess with nary a frown to blight my glowing complexion.

PMS and Adoption

Life Story Work: Not Your Average Boob Chat

This is how I wanted to start this post: Little Bear is obsessed with my boobs. But you can’t really write that without inviting some very shocked reactions. I need to preface my starting statement by saying that Little Bear is intrigued by anything that looks like it might feel interesting, even keener to touch things I’ve told him not to touch and, well, little boys do seem kind of fascinated by boobs from a young age. I also need to clarify that I don’t actually let him honk them (despite regular attempts) and have a stock phrase of “we don’t touch people’s boobs, they are a private place” that I trot out every time because whilst I’m not keen on him going for mine, I certainly don’t want him grabbing anyone else’s.

So, now you know all that, you won’t need to freak out when I start the post proper.

Little Bear is obsessed with my boobs. I have generally been dismissing it as a sensory/ boy/ developmental thing but while we were on holiday I began to see there could be more to it than that.

One morning Little Bear and I were sat beside one another on the kitchen bench attempting to read his school book when he purposely face planted into my cleavage. Used as I am to these things, I didn’t bat an eyelid, extricated him and repeated my usual refrain.

“But I want some milk from your boobs Mum” he said. I explained there is only milk when you have a baby so I don’t have any now. “Did you have some for Big Bear?” he asked. “Yes, when he was a baby I did”.

Little Bear thought for a second. “Did my lady have some for me?” came the next question.

Aha. This was not your average random boob chat: this was Life Story Work. We haven’t had any chats of this nature since I wrote this post back in January: Beginnings of Life Story Work

We’ve decided to follow Little Bear’s lead in these matters, figuring that given his difficulties with language it is much better to give him information as and when he shows he wants it, rather than thrusting it upon him to fit our own agenda. As it had been so long since our last chat I wasn’t too sure how much he might have taken on board or remembered.

Evidently by asking “did my lady have some for me?” he did know that he had come out of someone else’s tummy at least. “Yes” I replied “Sian did have milk for you”. That’s not her real name and thank goodness it told me she had breastfed in the red book.

“Did she have some for the other boys too?” Little Bear asked next.

Ah, so he has taken on board the bit about having birth siblings too.

“Yes, I think she did” I tell him, “but not at the same time as you as they were bigger”.

“I wish Big Bear was my brother” comes the next nugget.

Big Bear IS your brother I reassure. I tell him how much Big Bear loves him and how much he loves Big Bear. “Do you wish you had come out of my tummy too?” I venture. “Yes” he says and throws himself onto my lap.

What can you say to this? I hold him tight and explain that I love him just the same as if he had been in my tummy. I tell him that there were lots and lots of boys and girls who needed to be adopted but that we chose him. “Why?” he enquired. “Because we love you and we wanted you” I say.

We have a huge cuddle.

This chat seems to satisfy the little dude for now and no further questions erupt from him, though he does proceed to suck my fingers as I won’t let him near the boobs.

I’m pleased he has shown such a good understanding of his life story so far. He definitely has the basics sewn up.

At the moment Sian seems to have taken on fictional character status for Little Bear. He doesn’t seem to remember her and I’m not sure he considers her to be particularly real or relevant at this stage, though this will surely change over time? I can foresee a point when he gets more intrigued by her and starts to wonder about why they were separated. Surely no adopter survives the journey without a “you aren’t my real mummy” thrown at them at some stage?

However, for now, Little Bear’s mind seems to be on belonging and checking that he is just as much mine as Big Bear.

Alongside this there has possibly been an increase in affection-seeking and clinginess though it is hard to tell as Little Bear is very cuddly in general. He is getting all the cuddles, carries, strokes and time on our knees as you could shake a stick at. As always we are trying to be scrupulous in making sure things are equal for the boys in all regards – physical, financial, material, time. Little Bear needs to know through our actions, not just our words, that he is loved just the same as Big Bear.

Little Bear has been telling each of us that he loves us frequently and perhaps this is an unconscious way of checking that we love him. We do tell him all the time (and I’m quite prone to randomly picking him up or smothering him with kisses while making a strange ooh noise and saying I just love you so much I could eat you!), so hopefully he knows we really do, but it is easy to see how the doubts could creep in for him.

It is the 2 year anniversary of Little Bear moving in for good this weekend and we aren’t too sure whether to make a fuss about it or not. On the one hand it is positive to celebrate it and to show him that his arrival and permanence has made us really happy. On the other, we are wondering whether too much fuss just serves to mark him out as different when, at the moment, he really just wants to be the same.

As is often the way, writing this blog has helped me to unravel things a bit and I think I’m drawing the conclusion that we might need a new tradition for coming home day. I have a kernel of an idea about a scrap book with a photo of us all and our handprints and maybe the height of the boys, which we could re-visit and update on that day each year. That way hopefully we are nodding to the significance of the day while focussing on our similarities and our identity as a family. I also think I will put the boys in matching t-shirts. Hmm, the cogs are still turning. I’d love to hear what anybody else does.

I’ll keep you updated about any further Life Story chats. No doubt they will take place completely at random and when I am least expecting it. I just hope the next one doesn’t feature my cleavage quite so heavily!

 

Life Story Work: Not Your Average Boob Chat

Reflections on Adoption 2 Years In

One year ago I wrote Reflections on Adoption One Year In. Somehow or other an entire annum has passed since and here I am again on the second anniversary of meeting my littlest bear, looking back, reflecting, analysing and considering what has changed.

I have been ruminating on this post for a while and knew that I wanted to somehow break adoption down into specific areas so that I could comment on each bit. I recently happened upon an article which has helped me to do just that. It was an article by Beacon House explaining the Neuro Sequential Model of Therapeutics as devised by Bruce Perry. It tells us that thinking solely about attachment is too narrow: it doesn’t reflect all the aspects of a child that are impacted by having a traumatic start in life. In fact there are 7 key areas and they develop sequentially (giving parents and therapists a structure and order for working on trauma). I have decided to take those 7 areas of Developmental Trauma and use them as a basis for talking about Little Bear and how things have changed for him (and consequently us) over time.

In my weeks and weeks as a blogger I haven’t ever written about Little Bear being ‘traumatised’. He hasn’t been physically abused or subjected to awful experiences. He hasn’t moved about much compared to some care-experienced children. As such I have always felt a bit unsure about the use of the word ‘trauma’ in reference to him, especially in comparison to other adopted children’s horrific backgrounds. However, what I have now come to understand is that being removed from your birth parents, whatever the circumstances that led to it, is traumatic. Equally, being removed from the Foster Carers that you have come to know and love (irrespective of the rights or wrongs of how well they did or did not care for you) is traumatic. Importantly, being neglected is in itself a significant developmental trauma.

For this week, the second anniversary of Little Bear’s arrival in our lives, I am going to consider his progress against trauma.

Somatic/Sensory

This is the place where extremely traumatised children reside: a constant state of fight or flight. Some children cannot move beyond this without appropriate therapy.

We were lucky that Little Bear never solely functioned at this level. He could certainly be triggered into this place easily and always reacted with fight mode. That has undoubtedly changed over time: Little Bear is generally happy, settled and not fearful now. He can still be triggered into fight/flight though and I can’t help feeling there is a close link with his communication difficulties here. If you cannot defend yourself verbally and if others exploit that, it would be easy to become anxious, defensive and consequently triggered. Therefore it is usually with his peers that fight mode arises.

Little Bear did have impaired sleep patterns (I didn’t know this was a sign of trauma at the time) which I’m very happy to say have fully resolved.

Impulsivity is another sign of needs in this area. Little Bear was certainly extremely impulsive when he first arrived. Overall I would say he has made excellent progress with this. He can control himself much better now and tends to tell me if he’s tempted to do something he knows he shouldn’t. I do find that his ability to stop himself from doing it varies depending on how he is feeling. If he is dysregulated he is far more likely to go with the impulse. Little Bear’s awareness of danger has improved hugely though and I think that has helped him to have fewer inappropriate urges e.g. to touch something sharp/ hot/ unsanitary etc.

Little Bear also has an active conscience and is now (sometimes) tuned in to how his behaviour might impact on others e.g. his brother and is able to stop himself from doing something if he thinks it might upset Big Bear, even if he really wants to do it. This is probably one of the biggest signs that he is generally functioning in his ‘thinking brain’.

Attachment

Last year I wrote about how our attachment could still feel brittle at times and that we would take a few steps backwards if I didn’t spend enough time with Little Bear. I would now describe us as having a consistently close and loving relationship. I haven’t noticed the regression feeling recently, perhaps because I am available to him most of the time (I only work during school hours) and if anything Little Bear can be quite clingy to me now. He hasn’t been well recently and at those points he is all about keeping me close. I sometimes feel as though he is trying to make up for the fact that we never had an actual umbilical cord!

I have to do far less acting and do genuinely enjoy spending as much time as I do with him. He is quite the comedic little buddy.

The dynamic within our family of 4 feels healthy and balanced now (most of the time). I have written about the changes in the relationship between the 2 Bears in Brothers.

Last year I wrote about Little Bear being quite rejecting of his grandparents. That has changed loads over the past 12 months and I would say he enjoys a close relationship with all three of them too. There is less of a gap between his behaviour with us and with them, where he used to test their boundaries far more. I think he trusts them now and understands their not-everyday but consistent role in his life. In fact, he has even slept over at my parents and not only did they live to tell the tale (!) but it went well.

Little Bear is friendlier in general and often plays with children he hasn’t met before at parks etc. instead of pretending they don’t exist.

All of that said I suspect that the testing of boundaries continues with those whom he is less attached to e.g. teachers and I would be very reluctant to leave him with anyone who didn’t know him well.

Emotional Regulation

I think we saw the most progress in this area during the first year when Little Bear went from being a little ball of rage to mostly calm and happy. In general I would say that Little Bear’s emotional regulation is fairly good. He experiences a range of emotions, as we all do, and is making ongoing progress with expressing how he feels with words. Although he can be stroppy, I wouldn’t say that he shows extremes of emotion any more.

Behavioural Regulation

This is probably the main area in which we have experienced difficulties.

As with all aspects of Little Bear the progress he has made with his behaviour has been incredible but if there is one thing that is going to slide, it is generally this. Little Bear knows right from wrong in most situations and he can often verbalise what you want him to do or not do but if he’s dysregulated he just cannot co-operate. The flash points are usually when he’s hungry, tired or not feeling well and he can get quite out of control.

These days we are much more tuned in and can often pinpoint what is causing it fairly quickly and can help him to regulate. He is not yet able to identify things like his own hunger in order to self- regulate. If he is in the process of catching germs there is not much we can do and we sometimes puzzle over what on earth is going on with him until a few days later when the illness hits.

There are times when Little Bear is dysregulated that he does try to hurt us or himself. It is usually in a fairly low–level way: scratching, hitting, maybe a kick. At the time he wants to do it but afterwards he feels bad and usually, day to day, he would be upset if he hurt us even by accident.

This is the thing that most concerns me for the future. I hope that he is able to overcome his difficulties with regulation because a teenager or young man who sometimes wants to hurt you (or himself) is a very different prospect from a skinny 5 year old.

Self-esteem

I think that this is an area where Little Bear’s difficulties have come more to the fore over his second year with us. It was probably harder to notice them before because we were focussed on the big, hard to ignore behaviour stuff. I wrote a bit about how Little Bear’s lack of self-belief impacts on his ability to learn in Jigsaws. When it comes to most sitting down tasks Little Bear’s default position tends to be to assume that he can’t do it. He seems to put a lot of pressure on himself and if he cannot do something immediately e.g. stick a Lego brick where it needs to go, he becomes quickly frustrated and will sabotage the task or launch it across the room. He will often say “I’m rubbish” at x, y or z. This has a fairly major impact on school-style learning and is something we are working hard on at the moment.

Thankfully Little Bear tolerates and in fact thrives on praise so we are able to build him up, reassure, point out strengths and celebrate successes. We have to ensure we do this to keep Little Bear engaged with tasks otherwise he will withdraw and consequently feel worse about himself.

I hope that I am able to look back in another year and say that his confidence is going from strength to strength.

Dissociation

I can honestly say we haven’t experienced any issues in this area.

Cognitive Problems

Little Bear’s difficulties with information processing, memory and problem-solving are well documented throughout my blog. I’m guessing that the very fact I have been talking about it so much is a good sign: Little Bear must have made good progress in his limbic and brain stem development (the first 4 areas described above) or he would not be learning at all. Children with high levels of developmental trauma often have many needs in those areas and are not yet developmentally able to use the cortex or thinking part of their brain as their brain is stuck in survival mode.

Whilst Little Bear is learning at a rapid rate, he does experience difficulties commensurate with requiring additional funding and support at school. Over the last year observing his ability to overcome these barriers has been one of my biggest joys.

At the start of school Little Bear’s Auditory Memory skills were poor – he could remember 2 to 3 items at best and it held him back from being able to count or learn blending skills for reading. He is now reading, remembering 6 word sentences and counting almost to 20. If we help with number 15, he can then get to 30. The post about jigsaws shows how rapidly his problem-solving can progress if the right support is in place.

In the early days, Little Bear couldn’t engage with Duplo. He couldn’t make a man sit in a Duplo bus without losing his temper. This week he has completed a Lego City model (recommended age 5-12) admittedly with help but he understood the instructions, could search for and locate the pieces and could add them appropriately to the model. He focused, overcame his urges to break it up and completed the whole aeroplane in one sitting. It was so lovely to watch him succeeding.

So there you go Trauma, we are slowly but surely kicking you to the curb.

After two years as an adopter I continue to be challenged but mainly in a good way. The more experienced I become, the more aware I am of what I don’t know – I have ordered 2 books to fill some gaps during the writing of this post! I continue to adore my Bears and despite the harder days remain thankful that we chose to embark on this adoption adventure.

 

I have just done a quick straw poll of the other Bears to see what they think has changed over the past year:

Grizzly: Little Bear’s language. It has come on loads and he is much calmer and more chilled out now.

Big Bear: I think his behaviour’s changed: he’s a good boy, aren’t you mate?

Little Bear: I think I’ve got more toys.

 

*I apologise if any of the theory in this post is not quite right, it is very much written in my words, not the words of Bruce Parry.

**Though I’m desperate to include Little Bear’s opinions in my blogs, I’m not sure he’s quite up to answering my complex questions yet

Reflections on Adoption 2 Years In