April at Adoption: The Bear Facts

Following on from @craftikitty’s theme of Moments to Treasure on the #waso in March, I decided that I enjoyed reflecting back on the past month so much that I would do it at the end of every month.

Overall, April has been fabulous. I think the comparatively fewer illnesses has helped (just one bout of Tonsillitis and one of Conjunctivitis!) and spring has sort of sprung, allowing us to be back out and about again.

In writing the following blog post, I have of course entirely omitted any bad bits or incidents, so don’t go thinking life with the Bears is like life with the Waltons! There has of course been the odd “situation” or two, not least Little Bear scribbling all over a pub seat with a felt pen; Little Bear somehow gravitating towards the only disabled person in a whole building and (accidentally) giving them a good whack with his lightsabre; Little Bear pelting a ball at Grizzly whilst he was driving…to name a few! But, as my Dad would say, that is all part of life’s rich tapestry.

So, without further ado, here is my roundup of all the best bits of April chez Adoption: The Bear Facts.

April saw the Easter Holidays (not that Easter was actually in the holiday but still). I was a little anxious about how it would go, especially how the boys would get on with one another without school to give them a break. It’s fair to say that my nerves were frayed at times – I don’t know what I was thinking of taking them both to the supermarket! However, the way the boys interacted with each other throughout the holiday surpassed my expectations.

Following the stressful Sainsbury’s trip, I took them home via the park in an attempt to restore myself as “fun mum” rather than “shouty mum”. I remembered taking them both to the same park last summer. Big Bear had done his best to distance himself from Little Bear and had played with some older children. Grizzly had randomly asked who would play who if we made a Bond film and Big Bear had replied that his brother could probably be in it but would get shot in the first scene! This pretty much sums up how things were at the time.

But on this occasion, the day of the stressful Sainsbury’s trip, neither boy sought out another playmate. They chose to play together and chose to play on the same equipment at the same time. I took loads of photos for Grizzly – all with a big green-coated figure and a smaller yellow-coated figure side by side, smiling and laughing and having fun. And to top it off, nobody suggested shooting anybody, which is always a bonus.

At home they bounced on the trampoline together. I stood watching as too much supervision is definitely preferable to not enough at our house, but I needn’t have worried. Although it was quite rough and tumble, I was heartened to see that the months have helped them to reach an unspoken consensus, with some mutually understood boundaries, so nobody was hurt and there was almost constant laughter.

When it was time to calm down a little, they sat side by side at the kitchen table and decorated gingerbread men. You could have been forgiven at that point for thinking it was The Waltons as they were incredibly polite and sharing with one another. The icing and sprinkles were passed backwards and forwards when requested and always with a please or thank you, with no prompting from me at all. Watching them was so pride inducing that I was probably getting close to “happy tears”. However, the cat then brought in a half-eaten blackbird and all hell broke loose!

April also saw our first holiday with Little Bear which, despite some initial blips, was a resounding success. You can read about it here: Our first post-placement holiday

Thanks to my parents braving taking Little Bear to the theatre for the first time (The Cat in the Hat, he loved it), I got a “mummy day” with Big Bear. He has become really aware of music recently so we had the sunroof open, tunes turned up loud and sang (really tunefully obviously!) at the tops of our voices all the way there. It was ace. Despite the fact that he knows the words to Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself better than I do, which makes me feel old, it was lovely to spend some quality time with him.

When the children returned to school, Little Bears hours at preschool increased a bit. He is now doing 2 mornings and a full day to help with the transition to school. We weren’t sure how the long day would go as he does still need a rest after lunch but first signs indicate he is coping well, which is great and assuages my concerns about September a little.

Little Bear’s new hours mean we can still have “mummy days” on Mondays and Fridays. Last Monday was a gorgeous sunny day. Little Bear and I packed a rucksack, donned our wellies and headed to our local country park. We had a lovely relaxed time, wandering where the fancy took us, hunting for bears and exploring. It was one of those rare trips that lives up to, if not surpasses the image you have in your mind’s eye of how the trip would ideally go. And above anything else, I really enjoyed hanging out with my little buddy (and I didn’t once wonder how long it was until bedtime).

This month we have also employed the first stage of Operation House Improvement. Grizzly and I had been flopping onto the sofa at the end of long and busy days, ready to relax but instead feeling edgy and a bit stressed because there was so much MESS. Now that we had 2 boys, there were just so many toys that even if we made a concerted effort to tidy up the living room, it still felt cluttered and overstimulating. The solution, we decided, was to transform our conservatory from an occasional dining room into an everyday playroom. A new carpet and a bit of furniture re-arranging later, it was done. It’s brilliant. I have no idea why I have been so anti-playroom up until this point. The boys can get out every single toy if they want to and at the end of the day I can just shut the door and relax without seeing a single one. Well, ok, the odd one does sneak into the living room but putting them back is nowhere near the mammoth task it was before.

Having a designated space just for playing seems to have improved the boys’ playing too and we have re-discovered long since discarded and forgotten about games and jigsaws etc. I love it. Phase 2 of Operation House Improvements coming soon…

As I write this, I have a warm and snuggly Little Bear in the nook of my arm, leaning his head against my chest, my cheek resting on his hair. My own little hot water bottle to snuggle whilst it snows outside. In April?! I wonder what May will bring..

 

 

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April at Adoption: The Bear Facts

Our first post-placement holiday

It feels like a long time since we’ve had a proper holiday. Last year we felt we couldn’t really go away because we needed to be available to Our Social Worker. We did squeeze in a little trip in the gap between finishing the adoption assessment and approval panel, which was lovely and much needed. However, our next trip after that was for introductions. That was momentous and many other things but it certainly didn’t feel like a holiday!

Obviously once Little Bear moved in we couldn’t go on any trips. We tried to follow the advice – keep life small. He needed to get used to our house, our wider family, his pre-school. And to be honest, the thought of taking him anywhere would have filled me with fear and dread. For the first couple of months I didn’t even take him to somebody else’s house for a cup of tea, let alone consider sleeping somewhere different. His behaviour showed us that he wasn’t ready – not for a long car journey, not for being away.

As the months passed and Little Bear’s behaviour started to settle, we began to wonder whether we could book something for the summer. It seemed a sensible idea to try a smaller trip first though, perhaps just a couple of nights, somewhere where it wouldn’t matter if it all went pear-shaped.

Back in January, some of our closest friends made the 5 hour round trip to see us as they hadn’t yet met Little Bear. They had offered to do it in one day and not stay as this might have been overwhelming for him. They have 3 daughters whom Big Bear adores. The visit went well and it gave me an idea – visiting them would be the ideal first trip. We know each other really well, they have children so are used to the related chaos and they are very laid back and hospitable. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, we agreed a date.

I tend to avoid telling Little Bear our plans too far in advance as, at his current developmental level, he tends to think things you mention are happening NOW, or at the very latest, when he wakes in the morning. So I didn’t tell him we were going on holiday until tea time the evening before. At this point I had the sinking realisation that we were not adequately prepared and that this wasn’t going to be as straight forward as I had hoped.

A few factors were at play: I had somewhat taken my eye off the holiday ball as it was the first school holidays in which I was solely in charge of both boys for a few days and surviving this had taken the focus of my energy; I had rather erroneously assumed that as Little Bear had never been on a holiday before I wouldn’t need to consider events in his little life that had gone before.

As soon as I imparted the holiday news, I knew I had dropped a proverbial clanger. Little Bear totally blanked me. It was as though he hadn’t heard. I repeated it, used different words. No, he was definitely blocking out what I was saying. Had I have said “we are going to the zoo” or the beach or the park, I knew he would have been excited. But I had said “holiday” and evidently this had triggered something… I began analysing. Little Bear had never been on holiday to my knowledge so he couldn’t have been remembering something traumatic that had happened previously. So why the obvious concern? Then it struck me. HE hadn’t been on a holiday but important people around him had. His foster carers had left him in respite care a few times. In fact, running in parallel to Little Bear being introduced to us, his foster carers were preparing for a big exciting holiday which no doubt they had been talking about in his presence. Then they packed up all of his things, brought him to our house and as far as he was concerned, they disappeared. The penny dropped. Of course he thought holidays were bad. His experience of them meant being left behind, with all the accompanying feelings of abandonment and rejection. This explained why me trying to reassure him by packing all of his favourite things to take with us was not reassuring him at all. It was only serving to reinforce the idea that we were taking him somewhere with the plan of leaving him there.

Once I had figured this out I immediately regretted not having started the preparation earlier. I should have taken my own Speech and Language Therapy advice: I should have written him a Social Story about going on holiday and crucially, COMING BACK. Alas, it was the night before the trip, we would need to make the best of the situation. Cue a “meeting” with Grizzly. We agreed to avoid the “holiday” word and re-brand it a “trip” or “adventure”. We agreed we would purposefully leave favourite things at home for when we CAME BACK. We would emphasise the fact we would say TOGETHER and nobody would be left anywhere. We also tried to sell the positives of the trip e.g. our friend have a huge garden.

Thankfully, Little Bear is fairly adaptable and our reassurances seemed to convince him. The fact that Grizzly had mended his portable DVD player and got a separate one for Big Bear helped too. Both boys were sat in the car, head phones on, staring at their respective screens way before Grizzly and I were ready to leave!

The journey was ok. I wouldn’t like to travel much further as Little Bear can’t help but fiddle – he kicks the DVD player, presses all the buttons, complains it doesn’t work and at some point, it’s inevitable we will remove it. He then starts to purposefully annoy Big Bear by kicking him or whacking him with something, kicks the front seats, tries to open the doors (child locked obviously) etc. It’s very distracting for the driver and does not make for a chilled out journey. However I guess journeys are boring when you’re 4, especially if you don’t like sitting still and he did pretty well really.

In contrast, the actual trip was lovely. Little Bear did brilliantly, even sleeping through the first night on his own, in a strange bedroom. He took the noise and madness of 4 other children in his stride. The girls, being used to just Big Bear visiting, didn’t bat an eyelid at an extra face and to their credit just accepted Little Bear as one of the gang. They fully included him in everything they did and he managed to take turns and share really well.

The youngest of the girls has just turned 2 and displays some typical 2 year old behaviour. Little Bear was fascinated to see her having a tantrum and I think it was good for him to see that other children sometimes behave that way too. We were able to praise him for being more sensible in contrast.

Apart from anything else, the G household is a fun place to go. Their house is large, with lots of outside space and situated in the middle of fields so there is a lot of opportunity for running free and exploring, which is perfect for Little Bear. Mr G has a ride on lawnmower which Little Bear was able to drive with him – he thought he was a farmer by the end. They have cats too and we found baby rabbits in the garden. The sun shone, there were no major incidents (minor ones are par for the course), the children were happy and the grownups even managed a bit or relaxation.

It was a holiday! It was only 2 nights but it definitely felt like a holiday.

I am so relieved that it was such a positive experience and that we can now refer back to it for Little Bear. He has learned in the best possible way what a holiday really is – that it’s fun for HIM (not just everyone around him), that we do it together and we COME BACK. There was certainly a lump in my throat when we left as I am so very grateful to our friends for making it be that way.

This morning when I asked Little Bear what he wanted to do today he said “go on holiday” so I think we can safely look forward to our week away in the summer and hopefully many more holidays to come. Grizzly is getting a bit carried away with the success of the trip and suggested we could go abroad next year. Little Bear on a plane?! You’re having a giraffe.

Our first post-placement holiday

My partner in adoption

In the blogosphere I talk about my little bears all the time. I don’t talk so much about my largest bear, Grizzly, and I think he’s starting to feel left out. It’s his birthday this week so I thought it might be his turn to have a share of the limelight.

Grizzly and I have known each other nearly forever. Do we have the perfect relationship? Well I’m not sure that really exists but we have been lucky that time and life’s challenges have brought us closer together.

It has not always been so. The first year of Big Bear’s life was extremely challenging for us. We were unable to communicate effectively with one another and we disagreed on crucial issues such as how to manage Big Bear’s significant difficulties with sleep. Although living under one roof, we somehow muddled through that period quite separately; neither gaining the support we felt we needed from the other.

As bad as that sounds, we can look back and reflect that it did wonders for our marriage and in fact our ability to parent together. We learned a lot about communication and honesty, both of which have helped us hugely with adopting.

When it came to adoption, there was never any disagreement. It was something we had both wanted to do for several years. We did differ on the timing – Grizzly got there first. As an only child, he had always wanted more than one. I needed a little longer – a bit of a break once Big Bear was at school, but Grizzly made sure not to pressure or rush me. I think he knew I would be ready soon enough.

The adoption process helped us to reflect on our relationship. I had worried it would highlight flaws or chinks but in fact it reinforced the positives. The process did challenge our roles within the relationship though. I had always taken the lead in organising us – booking holidays, knowing where things were etc. This was quite a lot due to Grizzly having somewhat of a reputation for losing things. I recently heard him advising Big Bear “put things in the same place each time then you won’t lose them”. I couldn’t help but point out later on that Grizzly didn’t know about this gem of advice when he was 6 or when he was 26 either. There is the tale of the lost cheque book (found sometime later rolled up in a shoe under the bed); the lost passport (shoved inside a book on the overflowing book case, just don’t ask which one); the frequently mislaid keys and work pass; the almost missed flights due to loss of said passport.

However, when it came to the adoption paperwork, Grizzly could lay his hand on anything we needed in a matter of seconds. It didn’t matter if Little Bear’s disorganised Social Worker had misplaced something, Grizzly would have a copy safely stored. And the never-ending form filling which made me feel claustrophobic from the sheer volume of paper was no bother to Grizzly. Who knew? He had been super organised the whole time.

It also turned out that I was purely rubbish at the admin side of things and that my “filing” gave Grizzly a headache. Needless to say I have been more than happy to relinquish that aspect of household duty since!

In retrospect I shouldn’t have been surprised that Grizzly is so efficient and organised with paperwork. He does after all have a very sensible and senior job and is a proud provider for us as a family.

It is just that, in real life, no one would describe Grizzly as “sensible”. I am a worrier and a planner. He just does stuff and deals with the consequences as and when they happen. I don’t mean irresponsible things, I mean things like taking Little Bear to Big Bear’s swimming lesson then wondering how to entertain him for half an hour next to open water. The kinds of things that I would stay awake thinking through the night before.

It makes Grizzly more spontaneous and probably more fun than me. He’s the one who will see a rope swing over a lake and just get on it (I’d worry about falling in). He’s the one who parked in a muddy field at the zoo and said “it’ll be fine” then had to spend half an hour trying to push us out again, wearing a children’s elf hat as protection against the torrential rain (yes, hilarious). He’s the one who will say “why not? What’s the worst that could happen?” (I’ll be somewhere behind him reeling off a list).

When it came to the adoption matching process, we were both clear on what issues we could and could not deal with. This was definitely a time when complete honesty helped.

In the early days of introductions, I felt a little more confident than Grizzly. I think the years of working with children with complex needs had prepared me somewhat for Little Bear’s challenging behaviours. It wasn’t long though before I had a wobble and Grizzly became my support. We have pretty much continued to take it in turns as to who is feeling the most stressed/ least bonded/ most shattered. Thankfully we have rarely felt rubbish at the same time.

As ridiculous as it sounds, what got us through the early weeks of placement was our daily “meeting”. Don’t worry, we didn’t prepare an agenda or write minutes but we did sit down together at the end of each day and dissect the day’s events. What had gone well? What hadn’t? What were we definitely avoiding tomorrow? Was there something we needed to weave into our routines that might help? We talked about specific incidents and how we had handled them. We debated different strategies and agreed which we would use next time.

This was invaluable because it meant we were 100% united in our behaviour management and there was a high level of consistency between us. I’m sure this has helped Little Bear to learn the boundaries, rules and routines more quickly.

We no longer have an official “meeting” but if something significant has happened or one of us is fed up or is particularly excited about something, we still have a catch up in the evening – no TV or phones, just a chat.

This is the part that impresses me most about single adopters – not managing all the practical stuff alone but managing it all without a resident sounding board. Someone who truly “gets it” and has the time and energy to discuss the minutiae of parenting our little people.

Something else that has helped is that whilst we are both reflective and put everything we can into supporting our boys, we also don’t like to be too serious. Grizzly has, at times, quite a wicked sense of humour. People often don’t know whether he is joking or not and it’s fair to say that he takes the p***. There is a lot of laughter in our house. Sometimes we laugh at inappropriate things but I think that can be a valid coping strategy. We still do impressions of Little Bear’s Paediatrician and frequently reminisce about funny things that the boys have done – like when Little Bear used to say “I’m going to shoot poo” instead of ‘shoot you’ or when Big Bear refused to go through a door because it said “assistance dogs only”.

Grizzly is fun and really just a big kid. It means that children love him (not just our own) especially as he has lots of energy for playing when the rest of us are having a cup of tea and a sit down.

It is absolutely the case that I wouldn’t want to travel this journey with anyone else. Yes, sometimes I feel as though I have three children. Yes, they are all incredibly noisy. Yes, Grizzly gets everybody overexcited and just says whatever comes into his head but he is the best daddy they could possibly have and I would be lost on this adoption journey without him.

 

 

 

 

My partner in adoption

Resilience

Amongst adopters it is a well-known fact that Adoptive Parenting or Therapeutic Parenting requires a truck load of resilience. You need to be at the peak of your game, have a full quota of patience and the ability to dig deep to overcome whatever challenges might be thrown at you on any given day. I would argue that any parenting requires resilience, but adopted charges do tend to need the supercharged version.

It is unfortunate therefore, that, being human and in this case a woman, I cannot maintain this level of resilience. It’s my hormones’ fault. There are certain days within my monthly cycle that I am a little less than serene. For ‘less than serene’ read ‘completely ragey’. Think furious before you’ve even got up. Think highly irritable to the point of being annoyed by your husband’s breathing. Think too hot, too achey, too hungry. Think totally uncomfortable for no obvious reason and mega grumpy. Think extremely short-tempered and pretty much devoid of resilience. This is how I feel when alone so interacting with others in a civilised manner is pretty difficult. It’s an actual affliction and very much not my usual character.

The way forward on such days is to take things as easy as possible – let Little Bear run off steam in the park, let him play on the Ipad more than I really think is appropriate, let him watch a lot of TV, or even better, let somebody else look after him. And make sure I eat plenty.

However, a BIG problem arises if I’m having an aforementioned bad day, I’m on parenting duty and Little Bear is experiencing poor resilience too….

Little Bear had generally low resilience when we first met him. If he couldn’t do a task IMMEDIATELY he became furious and would not try again. I can remember trying to engage him with Duplo but because he couldn’t get the man to sit in the bus in the first second of trying, the Duplo was kicked/ thrown and that was the end of that. Over time, his general level of resilience has developed though and he can now persevere pretty well with toys and tasks such as dressing. However, a bit like me, the stars need to be in alignment and various factors need to be in place for Little Bear to have his full quota of resilience:

  • He needs to have had a good 12 hours sleep
  • He needs to have eaten well. A hungry bear is a grumpy bear, a full of sugar bear is a wild bear
  • He needs to have had his daily movement. A constipated bear is also a grumpy bear.
  • He needs to have had enough exercise and sensory input, without having been tipped into over-stimulated territory
  • He needs to be feeling well and not under the weather.

Too great a variance in any of these factors = poor resilience. Mostly we know him well enough now that we can tweak things for him to keep everything at an optimum level. However, sometimes circumstances are out of our control.

One day last week, Little Bear just could not get to sleep. The reason became apparent when, at 8pm, a good hour after he should have been asleep, he needed a poo (I’m sorry for the oversharing but you know people poo. And they have monthly cycles). Evidently the change to bowel routine affected his ability to get to sleep afterwards and it was far too late for him when he did eventually settle.

The next morning I woke having one of THOSE days and over-tired, over hungry and bowel all to pot, Little Bear was too. DISASTER.

Evidently, because he was feeling rubbish, Little Bear upped the ante with his behaviour, forgot how to listen and didn’t do anything he was told. In my delicate state I had no patience whatsoever and was quick to rebuke, slow to employ therapeutic strategies and lost my temper several times (something which I can usually go weeks without doing). Little Bear had very low resilience and could not cope with being told off (especially in a shouty way) so his behaviour spiralled.

Somehow we made it to the end of the day without me causing him any physical harm and although when I tried to repair the situation at bedtime by stroking his head, he told me to “get off” I was mainly just relieved that the day was finally over.

Later on, I washed my hair, put on fresh pyjamas, made a cup of tea, watched house programmes and ate an elicit Yorkie (I usually try to avoid sugar to improve the hormone situation but desperate times call for chocolate) and thankfully began to feel more like my usual self.

Resilience is paramount in everything running smoothly. That’s why Self Care is so crucial to us and developing our children’s resilience is such an important part of preparing them for real life. Parenting with resilience at a low ebb is painful, unpleasant and guilt-inducing. I don’t recommend it.

Thankfully I am lucky to have a fabulous husband and support network who will unquestioningly give me a break if I ask. I am also thankful that days such as these are few and far between and getting fewer as I become more experienced at remaining calm no matter what – this is definitely a skill and one that can be honed with practise. But you do need a full quota of resilience behind you. And we need to allow ourselves the acceptance that there will be days when we get it wrong, when our parenting is less than good enough, when we do shout and do not act Nurtured Heart at all. We are human. And tomorrow is another day.

Resilience

Developmental Delay

Before Little Bear arrived in our lives, we knew that he had a diagnosis of Developmental Delay. Indubitably the delay was brought about by years of neglect and under-stimulation, but I don’t want to dwell on blame, rather on the consequences. So throughout this post you might think “but that’s trauma or that’s neglect”. Yes, it probably is, but they have worked together to cause Developmental Delay and that is what we are tackling.

Developmental Delay meant that when we met 3 and a half year old Little Bear, he was going everywhere with reigns on, whilst his peers could be trusted to hold hands or walk beside their parents.

Developmental Delay meant Little Bear sat in a high chair for his meals and wore a nappy.

Developmental Delay meant Little Bear couldn’t understand everything we said and could only put a couple of words together to express himself, whilst his peers were mostly articulate and able to talk the hind legs off a donkey.

Developmental Delay meant he didn’t know his colours and he couldn’t count to three in the right order. Developmental Delay meant he didn’t really know how to play with toys. Developmental Delay meant he still had a dummy, blankie and a bottle at bedtime.

I’d love to blame Developmental Delay for this one but there is no getting away from it being pure neglect: Little Bear hadn’t experienced many things and didn’t know what basic things were e.g. a cow (he said “horse”) or a train (“bus”). He thought every vehicle was a “digger” and didn’t seem aware of “please” or “thank you”.

Developmental Delay meant the behaviours of a much younger child and a delay of more than 2 years when first assessed at pre-school.

Paradoxically, Developmental Delay has given us a gift. It has allowed us the privilege of witnessing Little Bear meet milestones we thought would have been long gone. Developmental Delay laid down the gauntlet of challenge to us and we have had the honour of helping Little Bear to answer. We have had the honour of seeing him leave behind the reigns, high chair, push chair, nappies, bottle. We have had the honour of seeing him blossom into a mostly (!) well-behaved 4 year old who can understand much more of what we say and is beginning to talk the hind legs off a donkey himself (even if we can’t decipher all of it). We’ve had the honour of hearing a stranger comment “what a polite boy” (oh how we laughed!). We have had the honour of seeing his play develop from wandering and fiddling to sensory play to full-on-dressed-up-pretending-to-be-somebody-else imaginative play. We’ve had the honour of teaching him his colours and developing his world knowledge. I knew he had progressed when I recently said “bug” and he said “no Mama, it’s a ladybird”.

However, Developmental Delay means he is still quite far behind where he should be for his age. Developmental Delay means we are worried about him starting school in September. Developmental Delay means we are finding it hard to imagine a time when he can actually count in the right order, let alone tackle numeracy lessons. Developmental Delay means that I struggled to respond appropriately when I shared my school concerns with another parent and she said “well, can he write his name? That’s the only thing he really needs to be able to do”. I had to stop myself from saying “no, of course he can’t write his f*****g name and that’s so far down the priority list that I haven’t even added it yet”.

Developmental Delay means that life is harder for Little Bear than it should be. Developmental Delay means he has to develop quicker than his peers without difficulties in order to have any hope of catching up. Developmental Delay means that I am in constant conflict between developing him and nurturing him to fill the big gaps in his earlier development e.g. he would prefer for me to feed him his meals and perhaps he needs this level of nurture for emotional growth but at the same time, he’s going to start school and nobody will feed him there.

Developmental Delay has shown us how quick and determined Little Bear is. Developmental Delay has shown us that with the right support he CAN do it. In the 5 months he has been at pre-school, he has already made more than an outstanding level of progress expected in one year.

Developmental Delay is a huge challenge but it is not insurmountable and every milestone met (big or small) is something to celebrate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Developmental Delay