Speech & Language & School

Although Little Bear is making progress with his speech and language skills all the time, I continue to have concerns about this area of his development. I think him being in school has made some things more noticeable. The fact that he is now away from me for long periods of time, in which I have no idea what he has been up to, sometimes leads to difficulties. I know a lot of children don’t like talking about their school day but I think Little Bear is often keen to share the things he has been up to but unfortunately he frequently still doesn’t have the language skills to be able to. I have to rely on things like the Facebook updates his class teacher posts or things other parents mention. If I have a starting point, Little Bear can then usually tell me something.

There are things that happen that he just can’t explain e.g. when he injured his eye at school requiring a trip to hospital, he couldn’t tell us how the injury had come about or why his eyelid was bleeding. We had to rely on another child’s account to get to the bottom of it.

There continue to be situations when I can’t understand what he’s trying to say to me and strangers certainly struggle. Thankfully his teachers seemed to have tuned in pretty quickly but I think there have been some communication breakdowns with his peers. They seem to be going through that phase where they tell each other that they can’t play or they won’t be inviting you to their party. It’s typical 4 year old stuff but Little Bear is at a disadvantage because he struggles to negotiate verbally. Where others might argue back or try to be persuasive, Little Bear has already used up his best attempt at joining in by saying “can I play?” If he is then rebuffed, his hurt feelings and lack of any other options still lead to a physical response now and again.

Little Bear is good at persevering when we don’t understand him now but he understandably gets frustrated when he has tried and tried and still can’t get us to. Sometimes his attempts at words are nothing like the target word so it can take a long time (even several days) to figure out what he means e.g. we finally worked out that “boarbuh” is actually ‘Paw Patrol’. He struggles to imitate words accurately so even though we have been tapping out the syllables for him and modelling each bit clearly, he can’t copy them in any recognisable way. Equally I used the word ‘soggy’ to describe a wet cardboard box. Little Bear already knew ‘foggy’ and now thinks that is both weather and a wet cardboard box. I just can’t get him to hear or mark the difference.

This morning I said to him “I’m not sure about swimming today, you sound quite husky”. Little Bear then said to his Dad “I can’t go swimming, I’m too whisky”.

There is definitely something going awry with his speech processing system. This system helps you to analyse the words that you hear, figure out what sounds they have in them, in what order, how many syllables etc. Your brain should then store the word accurately and send instructions to your mouth muscles of what sounds you need and how to make them whenever you want to say the word. Things can go wrong at any point in that process and I suspect there might be more than one problem with Little Bear’s speech processing.

However, all the phonics work that is happening at school is brilliant and will help with his speech development too. He has continued to surpass expectations by learning all the letter shapes/ sound correspondences in phase 2 phonics in the first half term. At school and home we are both focussing on helping him to hear and identify the first sound in words e.g. sun starts with s. This will be essential because it is all well and good knowing the letter shapes but he will not be able to read if he cannot break words down into their individual sounds and then stick those sounds together to make words. At the moment if you try to get him to blend sounds, he just can’t. You might say “c-a-t” and he’ll say “banana”. Blending is a very difficult skill so we will aim for identifying first sounds to start with and go from there.

We have made progress with the auditory memory side of things too and Little Bear is finally able to count! He can get to 5 reliably and to 10 with a little bit of prompting. The best thing about it has been his motivation to keep trying and his determination to succeed with it. He has a very similar attitude to learning his phonics.

When he first started bringing books home to read I got a little concerned. Obviously he is not expected to read words yet so he brings the picture books where you are meant to talk about what’s happening in the pictures. To begin with it was a disaster as he just didn’t get the concept of describing what he saw. I honestly felt it would have been easier to teach him to sight read a word. However, we persevered. I would get him to tell me whatever he could, usually just one word. I would then put that word into a sentence and model it for him. I used questions such as ‘who’ ‘what’s happening’ and ‘where’ to help him give the key information, then I could formulate the sentence for him e.g. Me: “who’s in the picture?” LB: pig Me: “Yeah, what’s the pig doing?” LB: “jumping” Me: “He is jumping. Where is he?” LB: “bed” Me: “Good, the pig is jumping on the bed”.

We continued like that, painfully, page by page, for some time. I assume that’s what happened when he read to his teacher too. He has done brilliantly though and now attempts a sentence for most pages most of the time. There might be some little words missing but he makes a good attempt.

I really noticed his progress when he had his first NHS Speech and Language Therapy appointment last week. The therapist assessed him using a picture description task. When he started giving answers such as “the man is riding a horse and the horse is jumping over the fence” I knew she probably wouldn’t be as concerned about him as I felt she should be or as she would have been had he been seen sooner.

Unfortunately it has taken 8 months and them cancelling 4 appointments for us to finally get an assessment. I didn’t find it a particularly fun experience, mainly because I wanted to be able to attend the sessions with my parent hat on, not my Speech and Language Therapist hat but when I walked in the first thing she said was “so you’re a Speech and Language Therapist I believe?”. Someone had helpfully written it on the referral form… Little Bear was also having some sort of regressive behaviour moment and suffice it to say that it was stressful to manage him with a professional looking on.

Either way, he is now in the system and will be attending for regular therapy soon. I’m not loving the idea of having to take him out of school for it and I don’t think he is either, judging by the size of the meltdown that took place when I tried to get him back to school after the first appointment. However, I know that school will carry out any programmes given to them and we have been talking about his Pupil Premium funding and whether any of that could be used to provide speech and language input that is more integrated with his education.

We are continuing to scale the word mountain that I talked about in Living with Speech and Language Difficulties. We are getting there, word by word, syllable by syllable. I don’t think the pinnacle is in sight yet but we continue to climb and that is the best we can ask.

 

 

 

 

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Speech & Language & School

Speech and Language Therapy Support for Adopted Children

As a Speech and Language Therapist and mother of a child with significant speech and language difficulties, this is an area that I’m passionate about. At the moment I feel that adopted children’s communication needs are not really recognised or prioritised.

As the majority of children entering the care system have been neglected to some degree, it is likely that they will also have delayed speech and language skills. Babies and young children learn language from the adults around them. If nobody speaks to them, they will not learn language as they should. They might not be used to listening and this impacts on their ability to follow instructions and understand what they hear. It also impacts on their ability to work out what sound patterns are in words. If this information about the meanings of words and what sentences sound like and what sounds are at the start and end of words isn’t going into children’s brains, age appropriate sentences and clear speech will not be coming out of their mouths.

I think it is now fairly widely acknowledged that adopting a child is not easy. This process is much harder if the child you adopt can’t listen to you, doesn’t understand what you are saying, can’t express their own thoughts and feelings and what they do say is not clear. A communication barrier is not conducive to bonding.

Thankfully I have been able to fall back on my professional knowledge and have known what strategies to use to improve things for Little Bear. Most adoptive parents would not have that luxury and I think their child’s speech and language difficulties would compound their stress at becoming new parents.

Unfortunately (despite having being an NHS therapist myself until very recently) our experience of getting the speech and language therapy input Little Bear needs has not been positive and I hope it is not representative of what other parents are experiencing. He was referred 8 months ago and although we have been offered 4 appointments, they have so far all been cancelled by them.

I would love to see Specialist Speech and Language Therapy Services available to adopted (and fostered) children which would be able to respond when they are needed (not several months too late) and would take an holistic view of a child and family, taking into account the impact of the child’s communication difficulties on behaviour, behaviour management and attachment. I would also like to see Speech and Language Therapy training being available to prospective and new adopters, as well as foster carers.

We are trying to make this vision happen in our little corner of the country but I’m not sure it is on everybody’s agendas yet.

Speech and Language Therapy Support for Adopted Children

Ways to support your child through adopting a sibling

Big Bear (our birth son) was 5 years old when we began the adoption process. How to involve him and ensure that the adoption would be a success from his point of view as well as ours was one of our main concerns. Here are some of the things we did that seemed to help:

  • We were very honest with Big Bear and kept him involved right from the start. We discussed adoption with him before we met with any Social Workers. I’m not sure it would have been a good idea to persevere with the plan if he had been very negative about it.
  • We explained in very simple terms what the next step was at each phase to give him some sense of time frames.
  • Big Bear did some preparation work with our social worker and we worked through the BAAF leaflet called “Adopting a brother or sister”. We also read other relevant books such as Nutmeg Gets Adopted but that one does have a lot of text. I think these sorts of things helped with giving Big Bear an idea of what adoption was and why a child might need to be adopted.
  • I found that raising some of the possible issues of having a sibling in real life situations made Big Bear think the most. For example if we had been playing with a child and their sibling and an issue had arisen over sharing or hitting or turn taking, I would talk about it with him afterwards. I might say “did you notice how Bob snatched that dinosaur from Jane? I think lots of brothers and sisters do that. I wonder how you’d feel if your brother or sister does that?”
  • We tried to talk about the things that worried Big Bear and take them seriously so that he knew he could talk to us about anything. His biggest concerns were generally about his ‘stuff’.
  • We tried to draw up some house rules that took his worries into consideration e.g. his precious things could be kept in his bedroom and he didn’t have to share them; the Bears would need to knock on each other’s doors and couldn’t go in unless the Bear in question had said yes; toys that were downstairs needed to be shared.
  • We were very careful about not telling Big Bear too much about the potential match until after matching panel, as we didn’t want him to become attached to somebody we might not end up being matched with. We made sure he was first to see any photos after panel.
  • We involved Big Bear in all the preparation for Little Bear arriving. He helped us make a DVD, he decorated the front of Little Bear’s photo book and we went to Build-a-Bear workshop where Big Bear chose and built a bear for his brother. We bought Big Bear a “congratulations on being a big brother” gift so that he didn’t feel he was missing out. Big Bear helped us get Little Bear’s bedroom ready and we made some little changes to his room too.
  • Once Little Bear was here it became obvious that our preparation of moving toys around and plans to knock before entering were not enough. Little Bear couldn’t be trusted at that point to stay out of Big Bear’s room. In fact he tried to get in there the second our backs were turned. Big Bear couldn’t settle himself as he was anxious about the little one getting in when he was out or in the middle of the night. Whilst we knew Little Bear probably wouldn’t do anything much if he got in there, we felt it was important we listened to Big Bear and did what we could to lessen his stress. We put a lock on his door. It was too high for Little Bear to reach and it opened from both sides so we knew it was safe. I think it’s quite an extreme measure but it was the best thing to do in the circumstances.
  • If I accidentally leave the door open now, Little Bear tells me off and shuts it for his brother J
  • Luckily Little Bear goes to bed early so each evening one or other of us has special time with Big Bear. We have found that to be vital in making Big Bear feel as though life hasn’t changed too much and giving him the space to speak to us about anything he might be worrying about.
  • Big Bear has only said something negative about the arrival of Little Bear a couple of times. We didn’t tell him off: we wanted him to know that he can speak to us honestly. We decided to handle it by upping his special time, with help from the grandparents and he seemed much happier after a week or so.
  • We have always worked hard to keep the rules the same for everybody e.g. no hitting. We are clear on what behaviours will result in consequences and what those consequences might be. I think it has helped both boys to see that we are fair and that they are both treated the same way if they do something they shouldn’t.
  • Equally, we have tried to engender kindness. If Little Bear and I were out while Big Bear was at school, I might encourage Little Bear to choose a little treat or gift for his brother and then one for himself for being kind. I would make sure that Little Bear gave the gift, not me.

After a very rocky start, the Bears now have a lovely relationship. They make each other laugh, they are affectionate, they look after each other (each is always ready to defend the other) and I can honestly say they very rarely fall out. The bedroom door remains resolutely locked though!

Ways to support your child through adopting a sibling

Support Networks in Adoption

There is good reason why a significant amount of time is spent checking out your support network during the assessment phase of the adoption process. It’s because, well, you really need one.

We are very lucky because the boys have 3 grandparents and they all live close by. They are certainly the key players in our support network. They have provided emotional support every step of the way through the adoption process.

Grizzly’s Mum had to come with us for introductions because we were staying far from home and we needed help with Big Bear who wasn’t meeting Little Bear straight away. As introductions were very stressful and eventful for us, we leaned fairly heavily on her for emotional and practical support. Meanwhile, my parents were in constant text/phone contact and made sure we had food in the fridge to come back to.

Once we were back, the grandparents tried hard to stay away until we felt Little Bear was ready to meet them. During that time they continued to check in and make sure Grizzly and I were ok. They brought food, took away washing and were on hand to give Big Bear a bit of quality 1:1 time whenever his new brother got a bit too much for him.

As time has gone on and Little Bear has formed bonds with them, the grandparents have been instrumental in our childcare arrangements. Sometimes they have taken one Bear out so that we could spend quality time with the other one. We always swap over another day so that they both get the same. Sometimes they have looked after them both so that I could do practical things like go to work or get us ready for holidays. They have received several phone calls asking for unplanned child care help when I have needed to be in two places at the same time e.g. take one to school and the other to the doctor or when I have needed to be in a meeting and Grizzly has been stuck in traffic. They are basically always there, at the end of the phone and will unquestioningly appear if we need their help. We are very lucky because not everybody has parents on hand and have to rely on friends or neighbours for this type of help.

Having a reliable source of childcare available is crucial for adoption to work in my opinion. Sometimes you need a break. Sometimes you and your partner need to get out of the house on your own and have a bit of grown up time.  It helps you to be better at the parenting bits.

Early on in our adoption, we had some support from the Centre for Adoption Support. We had some consultations with a very experienced post-adoption support worker. We were able to speak with her openly about our worries over Little Bear’s behaviour and sleep issues. I remember her asking me if Grizzly and I were getting out enough. I don’t think we had been out at all at that point. She told us we should and that even if we came home and both boys were crying and so were the grandparents, it wouldn’t matter because we would have been out! Her directness meant that we felt able to do just that and not worry too much about how things were at home. Thankfully nobody was crying in the event and we have tried to get out on our own every now and again since.

We have also drawn on support from our friends, both locally and further away. I think the biggest thing we have asked of them is their understanding and acceptance. We have not asked directly but through our choice to adopt and through trying to stay in touch with them and do normal everyday things with them. In the early days this meant them having to accommodate routines we were sticking to rigidly and dealing with any behaviour meltdowns they might witness. It is with credit to our friends that they have just got on with it and accepted Little Bear for who he is right from the start. They have welcomed him into the fold as they would a new-born baby.

I have used several friends as a listening ear at times (you don’t want to keep harping on at the same person!), mainly to regale them with tales of what he’s done now but sometimes because something is worrying me and I need to talk it over. I’m lucky to know other Speech and Language Therapists, an OT and teachers, who I do approach for more specific advice if I need it.

Finally, another source of support for me is other adopters. Usually there are issues we have in common and I find the online adoption community very friendly and supportive. If you are having one of those days or you aren’t sure how to get the wee smell out of school shoes or you want some tips on helping Little Bear to count when you feel you have tried everything, there is always somebody out there in the Twittersphere who will respond, advise and reassure.

I have previously written about the support provided to us by our social worker. You can read that blog post here: Our Social Worker

Support Networks in Adoption

Why Support Adoption?

Seeing as though I am very much pro-adoption I am finding this mini-blog surprisingly difficult to write. I suppose I feel a bit uncomfortable with the persuasive element of trying to encourage others that a life choice I have made is something that they too should consider. I am not a fan of telling others what to do and I’m not somebody who thinks that everybody should adopt; it is certainly not for everybody. However, I do think that there are more people who could consider adopting.

I am well aware that adoption is extremely difficult for some families but I can really only talk about our experiences and why adoption has been such a positive thing for our family.

Our story shows that adoption need not only be seen as the last chance saloon for people who cannot extend their family any other way. Adoption is a possibility for anybody wishing to have children.

My husband, Grizzly, and I decided to conceive our first child then went on to decide to adopt our second.

The most common argument I hear against choosing adoption as the route to extending your family is people’s strong preference towards raising children who share their DNA. In our experience adoption transcends genetics.

I love my boys equally. Little Bear feels just as much mine as Big Bear. The Bears love each other and have a strong brotherly bond. They do not share any DNA and it doesn’t matter. Similar genetics are not required to create a loving, happy and stable family.

Whilst I acknowledge that adoption can be hard, challenging and full-on, I am very grateful that we chose to grow our family in the way that we did. Adoption has been life-enhancing for all 4 of us and our wider social circle.

The satisfaction I have gained from achieving a solid bond with Little Bear and supporting him to develop and thrive has been indescribable. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

I think if there was one thing I could say to people who might be considering adoption but are a little unsure, it would be that after the initial settling in period (which realistically can take a good while), having an adopted child feels really normal. It just feels like having a child.

Parenthood is parenthood at the end of the day: it doesn’t matter how we get there.

We absolutely should support adoption because there are children in our communities who need us to. Everybody deserves the chance to have a family. Adoption can change their lives and yours. We chose to adopt. Could you?

For more information, see:

http://www.adoptionmatters.org/

http://www.first4adoption.org.uk/

http://www.adoptionuk.org/

http://corambaaf.org.uk/

Why Support Adoption?

National Adoption Week

This week is National Adoption Week – an opportunity to raise the profile of adoption and some of the issues surrounding it. The main theme this year is #SupportAdoption, meaning both to get more people behind the adoption cause but also to highlight the support that is required for adoption to be successful. That support can take many forms, from personal support networks made up of friends and family to that offered by formal post-adoption services to financial support provided by the ASF (Adoption Support Fund). The support can have a whole host of functions – from practical help with meals to childcare to training to psychotherapeutic input for children and families.

All adoptive families are different and we all have different sets of needs. Equally, our needs can change over time, depending on circumstances and events.

As an Adoption Social Media Champion I have decided to get behind National Adoption Week by releasing a mini-blog each day, covering different aspects of support from my point of view:

Tuesday: Why support adoption?

Wednesday: Support networks for adoptive families

Thursday: Ways to support your child/ren through adopting a sibling

Friday: Speech and Language Support for adopted children

 

I would be really grateful if you could help me to support National Adoption Week by sharing the mini-blogs far and wide. Let’s get everyone talking about adoption!

National Adoption Week

The death of a hen

Last weekend Grizzly and I noticed that one of our hens was looking less than healthy. We consulted the hen book and as with most things hen-related, the answer seemed to be human dispatch. However, she seemed comfortable enough and I didn’t have the heart for it. She sat on my knee for a while and we fed her some mealworms and she perked up a little. She obviously wasn’t cured but we decided to let nature take its course. After a couple of days it was obvious she was taking a turn for the worse and it was clear she was going to die.

Grizzly and I realised that although she’s a hen and in the grand scheme of things it’s not a big deal, this would be the boys’ first experience of death and therefore the situation was going to require some careful handling.

Both boys had, at around about the age of 3 or 4, been through a phase of asking a lot of questions about death. I think it’s probably a normal phase, where children have the realisation that death is permanent. The idea of death seemed to play on Little Bear’s mind for a while because he was very interested in whose parents were whose e.g. that granny is daddy’s mummy and he had noticed, or Big Bear had pointed out, that Grizzly didn’t have a daddy. That raised the obvious question of where he was and in the very direct way that children do, Big Bear had announced to him that he was dead. We then had to try to explain heaven etc. I kept thinking that Little Bear had got it but then at very random points he would say “where’s yours dad, he’s dead?”. He then went on to invent a flying car that he was going to use to get to heaven and bring Grizzly’s Dad back. It was very sweet and did show an intrinsic understanding about relationships and missing people. It did however suggest that he wasn’t really getting the death thing. In this situation I’m quite ok with blissful ignorance for as long as possible so didn’t try to correct him too much.

Little Bear must have been continuing to ruminate on the idea as he then started to ask whether, once Grizzly and I were dead, he would go back and live with his foster carers! I wasn’t really sure if this was because he wanted it to happen (!!) or if he was just checking that it wouldn’t. The whole situation is made more complicated by his difficulties with language so I have tried to say that generally people die when they’re really old and have white hair so it is not something he needs to worry about. However, I have tried to point out that grandpa has white hair and is very much alive. I have also pointed out that Supergran is 86 and really old and also very much alive!

Anyway, so you can see why I was approaching the imminent hen death with some consternation.

In the event it was Big Bear who was really upset. I told him that I thought she would die before she actually did, so that he could say bye to her and hopefully be a bit prepared for it. Each evening he sat outside with the hen on his knee, cuddling her and crying into her feathers. He kept telling me how sad he was. I tried to acknowledge that but say that she seemed so settled and that stroking her was making her happy and that he was doing the best he could to comfort her. We kept her away from the other hens for the last couple of nights and made sure she was snug with a hot water bottle etc. Big Bear had lots of thoughts on her burial and that we would need to get flowers for her.

In the end, when she finally passed away (I was glad because the poor thing hung on for quite a bit longer that we thought and was quite comatose), both boys just took it in their stride. They painted a cardboard box coffin for her and then decorated a big stone to put on top of the grave. They helped Grizzly bury her under the hedge and I obliged with a tub of pansies.

I’m glad that we involved them. I think their reactions have shown it was the right thing to do. However, I don’t know if it has done much to help Little Bear understand it all. How do you explain to a small child, especially one with language difficulties that the hen has died and gone to heaven, yet there she is, in plain sight, sitting (although rather stiffly) in a box right before you? I started trying to say that her body was still here but her personality had gone to heaven. After Little Bear had said “what?” for the 5th time, I pretty much gave up. It’s not like me to be at a complete loss but the concept is just too abstract. I think I’ll leave him in blissful ignorance for as long as possible.

 

The death of a hen