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!