My Monthly Round-up: May

I’m not sure how it has happened but ANOTHER month has passed and it’s time to sit back and reflect on all the best bits.

As ever we have been busy: new work projects, ongoing home projects, school, preschool, beginnings of school transition, parties, playdates etc.

A big project for me was finally delivering my Early Communication Workshop which I had been working on for some time. I wrote all about it in This week I… ran my first communication workshop for adopters..

Little Bear’s school place was confirmed in mid-April and his pre-school key worker wasted no time in beginning the transition process for us – she had a meeting arranged with his school by the end of the day on which we received the confirmation! I am so grateful that she is so proactive and that we have such an effective working relationship. If only I could bottle her and keep her with him for the next few years of school…

This month we had the said meeting at school. I think it went quite well, though the teacher did seem a bit rushed. I’m a little unsure. However, Little Bear’s current keyworker did a good job of sharing information about him in an honest but positive way. She was very keen on the teacher coming to meet Little Bear as soon as possible and invited her to the preschool to spend some time with him and to get to know him. She has subsequently done that and it went pretty well. When I explained to Little Bear that his new teacher was coming to meet him, he said he wouldn’t show her around his pre-school and he wouldn’t play with her! Thankfully, this was all talk and he was friendly towards her on the occasion.

Little Bear will take part in the same visits as the other new children in July but he will also get a Social Story and photographs to look at over the summer. And his new teacher is going to visit him again soon.

At the transition meeting I found out that there will be 15 children in the class and 4 of them are adopted!! I find this quite an amazing and unlikely statistic but what a brilliant way of making adoption seem “normal”.

In other news, my brother has been home for the month, after 6 months overseas. Although Little Bear had met him and spent quite a bit of time with him before he went away, I think he was confused when he returned and muddled him up with one of our friends. The familiarity was still there though and both boys have been very happy to have him back. We have had some lovely family time – a day exploring and building log bridges in the forest; a trip to the park with high jinks on the rope swing (mostly Grizzly!); football and trampoline fun in the garden. I even managed a civilised day out with my parents and bro for a bit of shopping and lunch while the boys were at school. (I am certainly enjoying getting a whole day of freedom each week and very much making the most of it! There is only so much shopping and lunching you can do without feeling a teensy bit guilty though so this week I spent my day gardening and doing house jobs. So sensible!).

Sadly my brother and his girlfriend are off on their travels again next week but they are toying with the idea of coming back permanently and might settle not too far away… Fingers crossed.

I used another of my Wednesdays to spend some time with Grizzly’s Gran. She’s 85 but young at heart and it’s always lovely to have some quality time with her. She shares my love of writing, shopping and colour so there is always a lot to chat about. She is quite naughty too and the subject of Simon Cowell’s bottom did feature!

Little Bear and I have continued to enjoy our Mummy Days and I have noticed that I have got much braver about where I will take him on my own. In the early days I would need to psych myself up sometimes, depending on where we were going and how many things could possibly go wrong. However, his behaviour is much more consistent now and I think I’m more relaxed about managing his challenges in public. Yes, he will be noisy and he might be verbally rude but to some extent that’s par for the course. It doesn’t embarrass me generally as I know he’s trying his best and I feel that others need to accept him as he is. It does bother me if he hits out at other children but thankfully that is quite a rare occurrence.

We have tried out our local ice-cream farm and been for more adventures in the woods. I wrote about one of our mummy days in A Friday with Little Bear

Snapshots:

I haven’t included this before but sometimes a little snippet of an event or a moment stays in my mind, as though I have photographed it. There isn’t really a story to accompany it, it is just an image that creates an emotion or a memory that I want to cherish. Here are my May snapshots:

  • Little Bear laying on his back on the pavement while the puppy he just met licks his tummy and Little Bear giggles fit to burst
  • Little Bear lying on the grass in a big pile of pink blossom and he’s got bits of it stuck to his curls
  • Big Bear running across the hall after his assembly, encircling Little Bear in his arms and the two of them spinning around cuddling each other

Operation house improvements:

We have been busy gearing up for phase 2 of our house project. I talked about creating a playroom in April at Adoption: The Bear Facts. The next step is to create an open plan family room which will incorporate the kitchen, a dining space and a living space. As well as getting fed up of mess, we have begun to regret the choice of a pale coloured living room carpet and non-wipe-able sofas! It’s impossible to keep them looking nice with two boys and two cats so it’s time for them to go. The new plan involves wooden floor and leather sofas. I’m thinking practical but beautiful.

The new plan also involves knocking down a wall and building a new wall. It involves workmen being on site for approx. 3 weeks. The original thought had been to wait until September as the level of disruption would probably be easier to manage with both boys at school full time. However, we had been thinking and planning for so long that we just wanted to get going. Plus neither of us is too good at waiting in general, we both end up feeling like we’re wasting time and life is already short enough. So true to form we are just going for it.

At the moment we are in the halfway house of having sold some furniture we didn’t need any more and having packed some things away for safe keeping. The living room is looking a little crazy as a result.

Today we had a window replaced with a French door which looks fab and will mean that we can finally take food directly outside from the new family room without having to trek through the utility room or through the playroom. Little Bear was VERY interested in what the guy was up to and kept saying “Man, what’s that?” and pointing at his tools. When he didn’t get a response he just said “Oi MAN!” as loud as he could. I had to explain several times not to touch specific things. Little Bear would then say “we no touch that” whilst pointing at it and yes, touching it with his finger. In the end I had to try to keep him upstairs but every time he heard any sort of noise he was jumping up and trying to see out of the window. I think I have an idea of how stressful those 3 weeks are going to be! I’ll tell you all about it in June’s round-up.

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My Monthly Round-up: May

A Friday with Little Bear

I was woken by a small nose pressing against mine and a voice belying the size of the individual it came from bellowing “let’s go downstairs Mum”. I could tell it was early because I was vaguely aware of a Grizzly shaped lump beside me and he usually leaves for work before I wake up. I ushered Little Bear back to his room and tucked him back in again. As my head re-touched the pillow, I heard a door open and various suspicious sounding noises. Experience told me never to ignore suspicious noises so I duly got up again, located the wandering Little Bear, noted the lack of trousers or nappy, replaced as necessary and tucked him in again.

A short doze later Big Bear stumbled sleepily in, indicating the official start of the day.

The morning routine progressed as usual. The boys ate their breakfast at the kitchen table. Big Bear finished first as always and got into his uniform. Little Bear absently fiddled with his new remote control car, taking a bite of cereal every now and then. He got up to watch Big Bear feed the cat, then to open a cupboard, then to fiddle with something on the counter. I said “sit down and eat your breakfast” at least 8 times.

Big Bear asked me to help him finish his new Lego model so I sat on the living room floor, eating my toast and finding him the pieces he needed whilst he worked on a tray. Little Bear wanted a tray too so I got him one. He was immediately distracted by his car and out of nowhere reversed it straight over Big Bear’s neatly organised Lego tray!

World War 3 Lego disaster overcome, the rest of the routine went without hitch. Before we knew it, we had taken Big Bear to school and were home and in the garden hanging out the washing. Little Bear found himself a Nerf gun to play with and promptly trapped a pinch of his finger in it. Finger freed he was tearful so I popped him in front of the TV and he proceeded to consume half his body weight in toast and pear.

After a few household chores we decided to head to the park. Little Bear took his RC car outside with him while I put a few things in the car. He must have felt warm because he tried to take his zipper off. However, he was still holding the remote control which quickly became stuck up his sleeve. Little Bear became very frustrated very quickly, throwing himself to the floor, crying and shouting. I freed the remote and shepherded him towards my car, distracting him with talk of the park. As he put his toy car into my car, he somehow banged his hand and once again erupted into angry tears. I picked him up to cuddle and console him but he didn’t want to be held and became more distressed.

It was not boding well for the trip but I figured I could always turn back if it was a complete disaster.

Little Bear had calmed by the time we reached the park and we had a lovely time. It was a clear sunny day and the park was abundant with colourful flowers and lush greenery. It was still fairly early and we had the entire place to ourselves. The squirrels were scuttling about quite freely and I think both Little Bear and I appreciated the peace.

We tried out the outside gym and I pushed him on the swing. To distract Little Bear from running and diving into a compost heap, I suggested we try his RC car at the skate park. Obviously 4 year old Little Bear and thirty-odd year old me are not the target clientele for a skate park but it’s great for a bit of intense sensory input. Little Bear had a whale of a time running up and down all the slopes and seeing if his car could do it too. I can’t hide the fact that I don’t like the steep ramps at all but Little Bear is very encouraging and holds my hand! After allowing him to drag me up a ramp, I perched on the top, enjoying the view, taking photos and trying not to envision Little Bear falling on his head.

A while later we wandered to see if the ice cream kiosk was open. It wasn’t, but I had emergency cookies in my bag so we sat on a sunny bench while he munched. After a bit he said “where are yours cookies Mum?” I said I wasn’t having any so he insisted on giving me one of his.

We tried the car on the crazy golf course then it was time to leave. Little Bear suddenly pretended he couldn’t hear me speaking and wouldn’t come. I counted to 3. He came but told me to “shut up”.

I weighed up whether a trip to the supermarket was wise. I knew Little Bear was a bit dysregulated but I also knew that we didn’t have much food. I decided to be brave – we would go to a smaller shop and I’d feed him first.

I managed to park in a parent and child space but when we got out of the car I remembered that my bags were in the boot. I told Little Bear to stand on the chevrons between my car and the trolley park, where he would be safe. As I opened the boot, he kept wandering towards the road. I reminded him to stand where I had shown him and why. He growled at me. I crouched next to him and explained he would need to listen and be sensible at the shop. If he couldn’t stand where I put him, I would need to hold his hand the whole time and in the shop, he would need to ride in the trolley. There was more growling but he stayed pretty much where I asked for the few seconds it took me to get the bags. As we walked in I explained that I didn’t want him to be squished by a car – I didn’t want a flat Little Bear. He giggled at this and all was forgiven.

As we entered the shop, we passed the flowers. Little Bear said he wanted to buy me some. Not wanting to point out that he hadn’t yet reached financial independence and I would technically be buying them for myself, I let him choose some and gave him a big kiss.

On the way to the café we passed the chocolate bars. Little Bear wanted to choose a treat. I said he could but he would need to save it until after lunch. He picked two treats, one for himself, one for Big Bear. I parked the trolley outside of the café and told him to put the treats in it. He put one in and held the other. I explained we couldn’t take it in the café as we hadn’t paid for it. He put it into the trolley then tried to take the trolley into the café. I explained we couldn’t do this so he growled and said “idiot”. I tried to show him that everybody had left their trolleys there and no one would take his treat but it fell on deaf ears.

Little Bear stood against the stand of trays, growling and muttering to himself, little hands clenched into fists. A man lingered behind him, clearly wanting a tray but not knowing what to do. I passed him mine and stretched past Little Bear to retrieve another, irking Little Bear further. I crouched again to speak with him but he turned his back, saying “I’m not speaking to you, I’m not listening to you”. I reminded him that we had to be sensible and that if he couldn’t, I would need to hold on to him. He didn’t take the chance I gave him, so I took his hand and moved around to order, ignoring his protestations. I momentarily let go of him to pay. When I looked down to find his hand again, he was using it to wrestle an old lady’s walking stick from her!

I quickly extricated him and scanned the café for a wise place to sit. I spotted a seat in the corner where he could sit on the bench seat and I could sit beside him to stop him escaping.

A lady came over to ask if he would like some colouring to do. Little Bear answered “cheese”. I think he thought she was asking about his lunch.

We started doing some colouring together, which went well for a few seconds until Little Bear drew a purposeful black line along his fluffy white Snoopy pencil case. He ignored me when I tried to speak to him about it, so I took the pen from his hand. He shouted “shut up idiot” and bashed the wooden panel beside him. I was glad when the food arrived – I think he was over hungry.

Little Bear ate well but stood up to look over the panel every 3 seconds and tried to jump up and down on the bench. I said “sit down” lots of times.

When we’d nearly finished, an acquaintance of my Mum’s spotted me and came over to say hello. She said “wow! Is this the baby?! I can’t believe he’s so big! How old is he now?”. I could see the confusion crossing her face as it dawned on her that she hadn’t actually seen me pregnant and thought that my child was older. Little Bear took the opportunity of my diverted attention to crawl under the table and make off across the café. I excused myself without clearing up the confusion and retrieved Little Bear with a promise of his treat, which was still in the trolley where he had left it.

Happy with his Minstrels, Little Bear let me put him in the trolley. Knowing his sweets would only last for so long, I embarked on a spot of speed shopping. It was the kind of shopping where I was going to get home and wonder what we would actually eat for our meals.

We made it as far as the yoghurt aisle before Little Bear started trying to get out of the trolley. I reminded him of the rules – stay close to me and do “good listening”. If he couldn’t do this, he would need to sit back in the trolley again. There was quite a bit of running at full pelt up and down the aisles and me shouting his name, but generally he did come back and stayed within my sight. I had to stop a forwards roll near the checkouts which was at risk of upending an elderly man. I also had to monitor which items were being unceremoniously chucked into the trolley.

After a brief disappearance around a corner, I reminded Little Bear of the rules and told him to stand by the trolley while I chose some squash. I did not tell him to reverse the trolley at speed and slam it into another lady’s trolley which was stacked high with wine. But he obliged nonetheless.

Muttering apologies and avoiding eye contact, I was glad it was time to pay. I told Little Bear he would need to sit in the trolley again. He wasn’t too pleased about it but I knew I wouldn’t be able to watch him and pack the bags at the same time. He “helped” me by pelting the items onto the conveyor belt. Throughout the bag packing there was a chorus of “I want to get out”, intermittent crying and then “shut up” and “stupid mum” when I still wasn’t doing what he wanted.

By the time I had paid, I was a little sweaty and could feel the familiar ache of a full bladder. Knowing neither of us could cope with a trip back into the shop for the loo (too many germy things and alarm pulls Little Bear would want to touch), that would need to wait for home.

Once back, Little Bear had a rest in front of the TV while I put everything away. Then I sat with him and wrote a little whilst he tried to stick his cheesy feet up my nose.

Big Bear’s friend’s Mum knocked for us at school run time and Little Bear chatted with her. When I gave him a countdown then said it was time to go, Little Bear wouldn’t come. I counted to 3. Little Bear shouted “idiot” then stomped into the hall. When I knelt to put his shoes on he tried to bite my face.

I knew Little Bear was tired on the short walk to school as he kept lying down on the path or grass, so I carried him a little. We got Big Bear and wandered back. Just outside our house, Little Bear crossed right over the road without looking or asking. It is a quiet cul-de-sac and there were no cars but he does know the rules around roads. As I went to speak to him he growled and stamped. When I tried to speak, he spoke over me, saying “I’m not speaking to you, I’m not listening to you” then he threw his toy dragon into the road. I told him to sit on the bench. I confiscated the dragon.

I stayed close to Little Bear and every now and then asked him if he was ready to speak to me yet. At each of these intervals he said “shut up idiot” or “stupid”. I felt he was shattered and it was a rubbish welcome home for Big Bear so I picked him up and carried him to the sofa and turned on the TV. He wasn’t pleased and tried to hit me but I knew there would be no reasoning with him and safe containment would be a better idea.

A little while later, Big Bear’s friend came round and the bigger boys went to play in the back garden. Little Bear was desperate to join them and having calmed down and had a snack, I felt it was a risk just about worth taking. I went outside too, to keep an eye on proceedings. After a minute or so, Little Bear came over to speak to me and climbed on top of a garden ornament. I told him to get down. He didn’t, then promptly slipped and bashed him face on the fence. He was crying and screaming that I was mean. Somehow his lack of listening was now my fault. I suggested perhaps he needed to go back inside. Still desperate to join in, he immediately stopped crying and said he was fine.

The bigger boys were trying to play football. Little Bear kept running onto the pitch, trying to get them to play with water pistols. The bigger boys tried to include Little Bear by asking him to be “in net”. Little Bear would agree to it, stand in the right place then run out at a crucial moment. It was quite entertaining.

Little Bear then started trying to wrestle Big Bear’s friend. I could tell this was only going to end one way.

A few minutes later, someone kicked the ball and it hit Little Bear square in the face. It must have really hurt but he wouldn’t let me cuddle him. Cue more tears and shouting. Little Bear was blaming me and insulting the boys. I took this as a sign that he really did need to be resting and much to his consternation, took him back inside. He tried to scratch and hit me.

We had a surprisingly chilled out teatime, with both boys making the other laugh.

I gave Little Bear a bath and apart from trying to touch the towel radiator which is always hot, yet he always has to test, he got into his pyjamas without too much issue.

I tucked him into bed and we read Meg and Mog books. At lights out time, Little Bear kept grasping my head with his chunky little hands and whispering funny things into my ears. We took turns for a bit but I was getting him overexcited, so I smothered him with kisses, stroked his hair and left his room. I could hear gentle snoring within 5 minutes.

A Friday with Little Bear

This week I… ran my first communication workshop for adopters.

Last week I wrote about Little Bear’s difficulties with speech and language (see Living with Speech and Language Difficulties ). When Little Bear arrived, it struck me how significantly his communication difficulties impacted him, us and our ability to form bonds with one another. A communication barrier was not conducive to bonding. Little Bear’s difficulties with expressing himself compounded his confusion and frustration.

I was thankful therefore that I had my professional background as a Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) to fall back on. At least I knew what strategies to use to improve his language skills and how to modify my language so he could understand me. And then I thought “but what if I didn’t?” What if I wasn’t an SLT? How on earth would I know where to begin? I felt that Little Bear’s speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) would probably become another thing for me to worry about and puzzle over, along with his sleep and behaviour. I felt that not knowing what to do for the best would be stressful. Then I thought “surely there are lots of adopters in that situation?”. It is very difficult to find any statistics on it but as the majority of children entering the care system will have experienced some degree of neglect, it is not a huge leap to suggest that large numbers of children needing adoption are likely to have SLCN. If nobody speaks to you in your infancy, you will not develop age appropriate language skills.

My conclusion was that there must be many new adopters in situations such as my own, living with a child whom they were struggling to communicate with, but without any training in speech and language to support them.

A nugget of an idea formed but I was busy surviving the early months of adoption.

In December, the newsletter from our post-adoption support service arrived. It asked adopters if they had any ideas for additional training that could be offered. I think perhaps they were being polite but I waded on in anyway (!) and suggested there was a gap for some communication training.

A few e-mails later and I was meeting with the Service Manager to discuss what we could offer. I am aware from reading other people’s stories on Twitter etc. that we are extremely lucky with our Voluntary Adoption Agency (VAA). They already offer a wide range of courses and workshops and also individual consultations to any adopters who are finding things difficult. In fact we had already benefitted from these ourselves when Little Bear’s behaviour was particularly challenging and he was keeping us up half the night.

It wasn’t really a surprise then that the Service Manager was forward-thinking and open-minded. She was very much on board with my ideas and we agreed to try a workshop in May (I needed time to prepare it).

May has come around surprisingly quickly! All of a sudden I found myself on my hands and knees, rummaging in the under-the-stairs-cupboard desperately searching for my other sensible shoe. A new presentation definitely calls for a matching outfit and one shoe wasn’t going to cut it. Fashion disaster averted, I could then worry about who was going to attend my workshop. I had written it for adopters but a few days before it, I discovered that 10 of the 12 participants were in fact professionals, which was a little daunting.

On arrival I found out that my one set of adopters were actually prospective adopters so there wouldn’t be anyone in the room with a child with SLCN. There was little time to panic though and the next thing I knew I was standing up and wittering on.

I needn’t have worried about who would be there. It was so refreshing to train a room of people who were so enthusiastic and motivated and who were so engaged with the session. The brilliant thing about there being so many professionals was that they now know what the workshop is all about and will promote it to families when/if we are able to run it again.

There was a wealth of experience in the room which lead to interesting discussions.

We talked about the interface between speech and language therapy and other psychotherapeutic interventions. We agreed that this relationship has not been well explored and that there is scope for joint working and sharing of knowledge.

We discussed that Talking Therapies may well not be ideal for children with SLCN and that there is a need to develop their language skills first.

I talked about how complex communication is. I talked through listening and attention, comprehension, expression and speech – giving tips on how to spot difficulties in each area and practical advice about strategies to use.

I spoke briefly about the links between language and behaviour. There was a lot of discussion around this and again it was felt that there is a need to explore this in more depth.

There was a consensus that more is needed for those working/living with teenagers – as language difficulties are often still present but are frequently overlooked or misunderstood.

We talked about the word “no” often being a trigger for behaviour in itself/having traumatic associations and if there were any ways to get round it. I have to admit this had me scratching my head and I will need to think some more. I’d love to know if this is a problem for anyone reading and what strategies you have used to overcome it.

We started to form a vision of a Specialist SLT service for fostered and adopted children. A service which would be responsive and act when needed e.g. right at the start of placements. A service which would be provided by SLTs who are knowledgeable about attachment and trauma and would consider a child’s communication difficulties within this context. The impact of the communication difficulty on bonding would also be factored in and strategies/ therapy could target both. It would be a service where an SLT and a post adoption support worker/ social worker would work in partnership.

It sounds fabulous and I’d love to be involved. The problem, as always with these things, is funding. Some routes are being explored so, hopefully, one day, this vision might become a reality.

This week’s workshop was a great start. I feel very optimistic thanks to everyone’s participation and responsiveness.

It was also reassuring that I do still know what to do in the work arena, after being on adoption leave for the past 9 months (I wasn’t sure if I did, especially after the shoe incident).

I very much enjoyed running the workshop and hope there will be more to come. I then went to pick Little Bear up from preschool and got called in for a “chat” about his behaviour. Back to reality!

 

This week I… ran my first communication workshop for adopters.

Living with Speech and Language Difficulties

As I was driving Little Bear home from preschool today we had a very frustrating conversation. It went like this:

Little Bear: I want that one Mum

Me: That what?

LB: That button.

Me: Ok. Which button?

LB: That one (pointing)

Me: I can’t see matey.

LB: That one (pointing).

Me: I’m driving. I can’t see. Which one?

LB: THAT ONE!!!

Me: Try to use a word to tell me

LB: That button.

Me: (Trying a different approach) ok. Is it on the steering wheel?

LB: No.

Me: Is it the radio?

LB: Yes

I switch from CD to radio.

LB: Not that!!

Me: You didn’t mean the radio?

I switch back to CD.

LB: I want that one.

Me: That what?

LB: That button (pointing)

Me: (Trying not to sound annoyed) we’re nearly home. When we stop you can show me.

It was the skip button. He wanted a different track on the CD.

It’s very frustrating because he knows what he means; he just really struggles to find the right words to explain himself. I think in this case he was struggling to understand why I couldn’t just look at where he was pointing (I had sneaked a peak but there are a lot of buttons in a car, all in a very similar place) and why I didn’t just know by the powers of telepathy.

Sometimes, Little Bear does know the word he needs but I still struggle to understand him because his speech is unclear too. The evening before the CD incident, we had experienced one such struggle. My brother and I had picked Little Bear up and he was very excitedly trying to tell us what he had been up to. “I find dasha” he said. “You found a dinosaur?” “no, da sha” “erm, dancer? Dasher?” “DA SHA!”. I’m not sure how many times he repeated it. In the end I had to say that my ears weren’t working properly and then e-mail his keyworker to try to get to the bottom of it.

Treasure! The word was “treasure”. As soon as we had figured it out it was obvious. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t clicked at the time. The trouble is that in the early days, Little Bear had so few words that I knew exactly how each one sounded. Once I had tuned in, I could understand probably 95% of what he said. However, since then, he has had such an exponential growth in his vocabulary that it’s impossible to keep up. His longer sentences and myriad of words mean that his speech sound difficulties have become more apparent. Consequently I can now probably only decipher 80 to 85% of what he tries to say, bless him.

I must clarify that last paragraph though because obviously the improvement in his language is a good thing. Back at the start of life with Little Bear I had a few shock moments when I realised how profound Little Bear’s lack of life experience was and what a huge impact this had had on his language development. At 3 and a half years old, even with a recognised language delay, I still expected him to know basic vocabulary e.g. cow. But he didn’t. We saw a cow and he said “horse”. We saw a horse and he said “horse”. We had to teach him that they were two different animals with different names. We talked about a cow making milk. It was quite a revelation for him. We saw a train and he said “bus”. Every vehicle on the building site was a “digger”. I looked back to when Big Bear was a similar age and could reel off “dumper truck”, “bale fork”, “roller”, “teleporter” and I saw a word mountain towering in front of Little Bear.

The mountain wasn’t just made of nouns but verbs, concept words (big, same, hot etc), connectives, pronouns. And not just words on their own but words waiting expectantly to be ordered into sentences, preferably with some consideration for grammar. It was a big mountain.

Well, Little Bear would have said it was “bik” and he didn’t know “mountain”. In those days, everything was bik. “Bik” could mean “I want A LOT of ketchup” or “I want my water pistol FULL” or “that water is DEEP” or HUGE or MASSIVE or TALL. But Little Bear only had the one word for size or quantity so “bik” it was. “Bik” shows me how Little Bear has scaled that forbidding mountain, how he has clawed his way up it against all odds. “Bik” has gone now, replaced with its correct counterpart “big” and all the words in capitals are now part of Little Bear’s every day vocabulary.

Back when we were still in the foothills of vocabulary mountain, I found it hard to tell whether we were making progress or not. People would say “isn’t his language coming on?” and I would say “is it?!” and feel mildly ridiculous that as a Speech and Language Therapist I wasn’t a bit clearer about this. However, after a while it was patently obvious that we were climbing fairly rapidly upwards. Sometimes I’d leave him for a couple of hours (with grandparents or at preschool) and feel as though he had more language when I came back than I had left him with. The length of his sentences is increasing all the time, he is continuing to grow his vocabulary and I can see signs of change in his speech.

However, the mountain we are scaling is massive and as the CD example shows, there is some way to go yet. Amongst other things, we need to work on auditory memory. Like many children with Speech and Language Difficulties, Little Bear is much quicker to learn through his visual channel than any other way. He has a good sense of direction; he can remember where he has seen items so is good at finding things; he can learn a visual sequence e.g. the I pad code; he can solve visual problems e.g. how to open a lock. In comparison, his auditory skills are much weaker. It’s not really a surprise seeing as though less than a year ago he wasn’t really tuned in to language at all. He wasn’t used to paying attention or listening to the spoken word. Consequently his comprehension of language is also delayed. We have always needed to simplify instructions and be prepared to repeat them again and again to give Little Bear chance to process them. He has made enormous progress with this too but I am becoming aware that his auditory memory is not really providing him with the support it should. Auditory memory is meant to be a kind of holding pen for words that come into your brain from your ears. It should sit the words down on a virtual bench, all in the right order and keep them there for a few seconds until other parts of the brain have had chance to make sense of them. Little Bear’s bench is a bit wonky though, maybe it has a leg or two missing and the words can’t sit on it. They keep falling off before he’s had chance to figure them out and some of the words probably don’t even make it onto the bench at all. Repetition is crucial for him: it maximises the chances of the words getting onto the bench.

I think Little Bear’s difficulties with learning to count could be due to this faulty auditory bench. He has learned a few number names but he just can’t hold them on his bench for long enough or in the correct order to be able to retain the sequence.

Luckily, auditory memory is a bit like a muscle and can get stronger with exercise. This strengthening is hanging above us on the language mountain.

We also need to work on Little Bear’s sound awareness system. He finds longer words a bit tricky and misses syllables out so that “guitar” and “car” end up sounding the same. He needs to begin to understand that words start with different sounds. He needs to learn to make a “l” sound and that sharp and map end with ‘p’, not ‘k’ or ‘t’. He needs to learn that some sounds are noisy and some are quiet. He needs to learn how to say his name so that people can understand it. He needs to learn that “4” is not the answer to “what’s your name?”. That answer goes with “how old are you?”. “How old are you?” is not the same as “how are you?”.

It’s a big mountain.

Most of all, we want him to be able to express all of those thoughts and ideas and wishes that are currently held captive in his brain. We know they are there, clamouring to get out but the exits are currently blocked by inadequate language skills. It is upsetting to see him get frustrated and to try to chat with his peers but often fail at this because they cannot understand him.

We continue to scale the sheer rock faces though – so far there has thankfully been no plateau to wait around on. I cannot help but turn every activity into a language learning opportunity and I’m probably modelling words in my sleep! It’s a big mountain but we will reach the top. One day.

 

 

If you have any concerns about your child’s communication skills, or want to know more about the role of the Speech and Language Therapist, check out my Guide to Speech and Language Therapy on the Adoption Social: http://theadoptionsocial.com/blogless-blogging/speech-and-language-therapy-a-guide/

 

Living with Speech and Language Difficulties