Childhood Challenging, Violent & Aggressive Behaviour (CCVAB)

The title of this post is a fairly new suggested term, if you like, proposed to replace what used to be known as CPV – Child to Parent Violence. This post isn’t so much about what we call the thing though, but about the thing itself.

I want to be open about CCVAB because hiding it behind closed doors doesn’t help anybody. I suspect many people feel ashamed or embarrassed to admit it goes on. I know many families have a much larger and more frequent struggle than ourselves but there have certainly been times when I haven’t known what to do and when I’ve felt deeply worried about the future.

When Little Bear first arrived in our lives he was three and half. He was somewhat prone to getting a bit fighty from the get-go but, newly thrown into the maelstrom of adoption, I wasn’t too sure what to call what we were experiencing. It wasn’t that I didn’t know about CPV, because I did, but more that I didn’t really know if the fairly low-level violence we experienced counted. My confusion was two-fold. Firstly, I think it took me a long time to fully admit the level of challenge we were living with to myself. I read many accounts of adoption and saw that what some other families had to deal with was horrendous. I would never have described our conditions as such and certainly felt that any aggression we saw was milder or less extreme in comparison. It would only be later that I would see that I was comparing us to the extreme end of a minority group. If I compared us to the majority of typically developing families, I would see that aggression and violence from children is not most people’s ‘normal’.

Secondly, I wondered whether a bit of hitting and biting and the like was ‘normal’ (ish) as a part of toddler development and typical boundary testing.

Last week, when I tried to deliver nearly seven year old Little Bear to school and he decided he didn’t want to go in because the ice looked more interesting than his classroom and when I tried to suggest otherwise, he punched me and kicked me and tried to head butt my face and when I asked him to stop hitting me, he looked me in the eye and hit me again, I had to concede, that, yeah, we most likely do experience CCVAB at our house.

Thankfully, it is not a regular visitor, as it is for some. It was, in the early days. It was kind of par for the course – it’s bizarre how quickly you can accept these things as ‘normal’. But, now, it’s rare. In fact, up until last week, I would pretty much have said it had been eradicated. When it re-appears, it can be quite shocking. I mean, what exactly are you supposed to do when your little darling tries to batter you in the playground? I’m still considerably bigger than him, thankfully, so he didn’t hurt me but I felt acutely embarrassed that other people were around to see. When it isn’t something you are practised at dealing with, it sends you swiftly onto the back foot. I probably wasn’t as therapeutic as I could have been but I didn’t give him a clip around the ear (as I quite fancied) either. I have never and would never hit him (just to be clear) but God, I’ve felt like it – and who wouldn’t? I suppose anyone under attack goes into fight/flight/freeze/flop and as you can’t exactly run away from your child on the school run, fight comes quite naturally. I think, as a grown up in charge of child with CCVAB, the hardest thing is quelling your natural urge to defend yourself.

As the incident occurred I was livid: that kind of behaviour is not acceptable, even if it has a very valid reason behind it. For me, no matter what else is going on, if there is violence or aggression happening, that immediately becomes my priority to sort out, with everything else becoming ignorable. I have no doubt that if we didn’t make sure we put a stop to CCVAB, Little Bear would feel less and less safe and more and more out of control and it would only perpetuate his need to be aggressive. I know there is a lot of talk about consequences and whether we should give them to children with developmental trauma/ attachment issues or not. But for me, personally, violence is not something I can ignore and we do give consequences.

Preferably, that consequence would be a natural one. I was pretty certain that when Little Bear had been able to calm down, he would feel bad about what had happened and sometimes, that is enough. A few times, Little Bear has hurt me and immediately I have seen his little face change and almost read the thought passing through his mind of ‘why on earth did I just do that to Mum?’ On those occasions, I’ve barely finished yelping when he apologises and starts to cry. In those situations, nothing else is needed, apart from an ‘it’s ok, I think you might have done that because of x or y’, a ‘Mum still loves you’ and a cuddle.

However, on this particular occasion, Little Bear wasn’t sorry. He was still annoyed that I hadn’t let him play in the ice and apparently he hated me. That did little to assuage my annoyance, which had coloured the entirety of my day (CCVAB has a way of doing that).

It was time to step it up to a logical consequence. I like a logical consequence because it matches the incident and often, I find, taps into the underlying reasons that have caused Little Bear to feel the need to lash out in the first place. That probably makes little sense as a standalone statement so I’ll try to explain.

Because I was so mad and because it was the biggest incident we’ve ever experienced at drop off and I wanted him to understand the severity of it, I very kindly came up with three logical consequences. The first was that Little Bear was no longer allowed to go to school on his scooter. This fed into two which was that as Little Bear evidently wasn’t coping with having freedom in the playground or on the school run, he would now need to hold my hand throughout that time. He was showing me, through his behaviour, that he couldn’t cope with the demands of having to come back when asked at the moment so I would help him with that by keeping him close. Whilst he wasn’t going to like this and would far rather have gone on his scooter, the consequence was designed to make the situation easier for him – it was both unwanted (by him) and therapeutic if that makes any sense at all*.

The third consequence was both natural and logical. As Little Bear was causing a spectacle with the hitting and the refusing to get off the ice, I had looked across the playground to where Big Bear was standing, alone, patiently waiting and I realised that not only was Little Bear’s behaviour unpleasant for me and him, but it wasn’t fair on Big Bear, who routinely pays the price of having to walk around to his classroom on his own because I am too busy trying to wrestle Little Bear into his. I didn’t ask for CCVAB, but Big Bear certainly didn’t and I was guilty of getting things wrong if the one who wouldn’t behave appropriately was getting more attention than the one who always quietly gets on with what is asked. Therefore, the third consequence would be that we would drop Big Bear off first every day, instead of theoretically taking turns (I say theoretically because Big Bear’s turn is often sabotaged by Little Bear). That way, there would be no impact on Big Bear even if Little Bear continued to behave as he had.

Little Bear was not pleased with his consequences and he was not sorry. However, the next morning, he accepted the new arrangement and has arrived at school willing to enter his classroom without a battle every day since.

Although I am clearly not averse to using consequences (carefully – what would a banned IPad or grounding have achieved?), I do not believe in using consequences alone to tackle CCVAB. I don’t believe that any child wants to hurt their grown-ups or siblings and no matter how annoyed or upset we are, we need to look beyond the hurting to understand what’s causing it. As last week’s behaviour was so out of the ordinary for Little Bear, I knew something must have triggered it. It came within a wider picture of increased aggressive incidents/fighting in school and tricky episodes of behaviour at home. Nothing specific had happened or changed so it was difficult to figure out, but I knew I had to keep wondering.

Eventually, after being woken several times in the night by Little Bear and noticing he was struggling to fall asleep and waking earlier and earlier, we figured out he was having a recurring nightmare. Apparently it was about a monster that killed us all. Everything began to make sense: Little Bear was frightened of losing us and all the old attachment issues had been well and truly triggered. He may as well push us all away because we’d leave anyway – that whole joyful scenario.

We have tackled the nightmare issue head-on with the help of Neon the Nightmare Ninja, a fabulous book by Dr. Treisman. It really seems to be helping and though Little Bear is still finding it hard to fall asleep, the CCVAB seems to have disappeared again and he is sleeping much better when he finally drifts off.

I am no longer complacent about CCVAB. I don’t suppose it has gone forever. There are times when the idea of it recurring when he is 10, 15 or 20 terrifies me. There will clearly come a time when he can hurt me and I’m not quite sure what I should do about that, other than hoping that all the therapeutic work that we do on an ongoing basis will be enough to take away the need for CCVAB. I may be fooling myself, but where’s the use in fretting?

I have never been on a course about NVR (non-violent resistance) but when I’ve read about it, I think we use quite a few of the principles of it. I have always been conscious, since my days working as a SaLT with children with complex needs, meeting families who experienced CCVAB for non-adoption related reasons, of not allowing Little Bear’s more challenging behaviours to frighten me. Some families were completely ruled by it: CCVAB powered over everything and left parents tiptoeing around their children. I have always known that, as much as possible, CCVAB needs to be kept in check and not allowed to rule. I think that if Little Bear sensed fear in the grown-ups around him, he would feel more out of control and the behaviours would worsen. It’s a very fine balance between being present and therapeutic and not standing for any nonsense. I don’t think that being therapeutic should equal accepting CCVAB (something I sometimes get the impression happens) because in my mind, it isn’t acceptable.

I understand where these behaviours come from and I hope that I’m sensitive and inquisitive about that, but I don’t want Little Bear growing up thinking his background leaves him with no other choice but to behave in this way. There are other choices available to him, as there are to everybody else, and though I acknowledge it is likely to be harder for him, he needs to know that he can make different choices and he can learn to control himself. If I were to leave his CCVAB unchecked and not explain to him why it isn’t okay and not try to shape his behaviour differently, he would never learn this.

Sometimes, even if there is no physical aggression, Little Bear attempts to threaten us in other ways. He might say, “If you don’t do x or y, I’m going to get really mad” or “if you don’t let me have so and so, I won’t do anything you say”. We make a point of never giving in to such threats because I don’t want to reinforce the idea that that’s how you get what you want in life. A child who threatens and hits is one thing; an adult quite another.

More than anything, Little Bear is not a violent or aggressive boy and I don’t want him growing up feeling the CCVAB defines him. He is complex and cheeky and gorgeous and kind and gentle and so many other things that are belied by the label of CCVAB.

I’m not arguing about the labelling of the thing (the thing is there whatever we call it). I think I’m just saying that though it exists, we shouldn’t have to accept it – for ourselves or for our children.

 

 

*I should say that I also think children deserve second chances. If Little Bear is sensible in the playground in the next days, I will give him another chance to have more freedom and even go on his scooter. I’ll only do that if I think there’s a good chance of success – I don’t want to set him up to fail.

 

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Childhood Challenging, Violent & Aggressive Behaviour (CCVAB)

Three Years A-Bloggin’

I seem to start every one of these types of post by saying I can’t believe how fast time has gone ( see My 1 Year Blogversary  and Two Years of Adoption Blogging ). It’s true: the passage of time is swift (and I can rarely keep up) yet here we are, 3 years and 157 blog posts later. What sorcery is this?

As I’m sure you’ve come to expect, I’m prone to a moment of reflection at these junctures. What exactly has possessed me to write post after post, week in, week out for three whole years? What do I get from it? What does anybody get from it? What is the meaning of it all?

At points in 2018 I struggled to answer these questions. 2017 had ended on a high blog-wise, with a pleasing growth in reader figures and I set myself some targets for that to continue. However, as winter turned to spring, my figures took a nose dive. I tried not to be bothered but I think being bothered by figures is an affliction most bloggers suffer from. Some weeks I struggled to think of good content or there were times I thought I had written something scintillating but my audience appeared less than scintillated. I got a bit fed up with it all. What was the point, anyway?

At the same time, I had re-written my book, Finding Ezra, and had sent it out on submission again (see Am Writing ). Being new to how the publishing industry worked, I found the prolonged periods of time everything seemed to take difficult and also the inevitable rejection. With each drop in blogging figures and each ‘no thank you’ or complete lack of response to my queries, I became more dejected. What was I actually doing with my life? I felt like I was working really hard going nowhere. I asked myself many hard questions about whether you can call yourself a writer if you aren’t published and if you never achieve that accolade, is all the time (and there was a lot) you spend writing a total waste of existence?

I was a bit down in the dumps about my wannabe new career and there were several occasions when I thought seriously about folding the blog. See Stay at Home Mum to see what I mean.

However, my stars must have come into alignment in July because a couple of things happened which gave me a lot of encouragement. The first thing was that someone had read my blog and wanted to include part of it in their book. That book was The Adopter’s Handbook on Education by Eileen Fursland which you can purchase here: Coram Baaf bookshop

For the first time, some of my writing (5 pages to be exact. See, the numbers matter) appeared in print. The book might not have had my name on the cover but this was awesome and certainly the next best thing.

Later in the month, I found out I had been nominated for Adoption Blog of the Year as part of The First4 Adoption Awards.

These two things gave me back the spring in my step: perhaps I was alright at this writing malarkey after all? I don’t think it’s any coincidence that in August I felt brave enough to make my first tentative steps into the world of fiction writing and began entering writing competitions. I realised that the only way to survive having your book in submission is to distract yourself with writing other things and flash and short stories were the perfect way to dabble and practise. I also thought, in for a penny, in for a pound, and started my first novel. I don’t want to say too much about it yet but let’s say that I have drawn on my knowledge and experience of developmental trauma as a central tenet of the story.

Without blogging, I wouldn’t have done any of these things. More specifically, without the readers of my blog and those who took the time for vote for me, I wouldn’t have done any of these things. You are a blooming fabulous bunch and I’m extremely grateful to each and every person who has read, shared or commented on any of my posts. As you can tell, this has all added up to a significant impact on me, on a personal level. It gave me the impetus to press on and helped me realise that success doesn’t happen overnight – it comes bit by bit: a few pages of print here, a longlisting there, an award here, a highly commended piece of writing there. Onward and upward I reckon.

My family and friends are all loyal readers of the blog and I think that has helped us all too. I don’t tend to take people aside and lecture them about DLD or explain the intricacies of why adopted children might struggle with eating or inform them about interoception over dinner, because, well, weird. However, if they choose to read my essays on such things, which, bless them, they do, they will absorb a lot more knowledge and become much more informed about Little Bear and his ways and the wider context of adoption/ SEND than they probably would have otherwise. I certainly feel lucky that the people in our support network are as knowledgeable and understanding as they are. I’m not sure we could have achieved quite the same level of awareness without the blog, mainly because I would be too lazy to explain all that stuff to all those people.

My most favourite thing about blogging though, is when I get a message from somebody saying “you’ve written my life” or “so much of this resonated with me”. When I first started out blogging I was a little bit tentative about how much I could reasonably share. I think most people would be cautious about sharing their deepest, most vulnerable feelings and experiences on the World Wide Web. However, every time I published a post I felt unsure about – because it felt too honest or too vulnerable – I received lovely feedback. I received messages from people saying they felt that way too and knowing someone else did made them quite emotional. I do seem to have caused a surprising number of tears (sorry about that). As this has gone on, I’ve realised we have far more in common than sets us apart. So far, no one has ever said I’m weird or parenting badly or don’t know my arse from my elbow, as I’ve often feared they would. I’ve realised that we all have similar anxieties and many of our children have similar behaviours and we worry about them similarly. Knowing that, has spurred me on to be more honest. Thank you, as always, for the lack of trolling in my readership and the times when one of you has taken the time to tweet me or comment on the blog.

There are a couple of downsides to blogging. My main fear is getting found out! Everybody who knows me well knows what I’m up to and many people who don’t know me at all, know who I am. However, the main people I don’t want finding out are school. My relationship with them is complex. I vacillate between loving them, being enormously grateful for the support they give us and wanting to hug them inappropriately; and feeling they are the bane of my life and will never, ever, understand. I think that navigating the education system for Little Bear is one of the biggest ongoing stressors in my life and having a place to air those stresses is essential. That place is my blog and I have written some pretty antsy pieces – Dear TeacherConversationsAdoptive Parent: Behaviour DetectiveSchool-Parent Partnership . As I do love school most of the time, I really wouldn’t want them to read these pieces. I do occasionally have nightmares about getting called to see the Head Teacher. Whilst I would never write anything defamatory or abusive, I still think they might not like it and this is the main reason I blog anonymously.

The other negative, as I mentioned before, is getting hung up about reader figures. I am trying to be less bothered but it’s a work in progress, along with taking rejection of my writing in my stride.

So, what next for the blog? I’m not someone who plans their content in advance so I’ll keep writing about how I feel at the time of writing. I think I’ve got a bit more vocal this year, in terms of using the small platform I have (and it really is teeny in the grand scheme of things) to raise awareness or rattle a few doors. I loved getting involved with spreading the word about Bercow10 (see Ensuring Children’s Speech and Language Needs Are Met: A Call to Action ) & DLD Awareness Day 2018 and certainly plan to be part of that again. Surprisingly, my most read blog of the year, in fact, ever, was the review I wrote of Nativity Rocks ( Why Nativity Rocks is Not For Care-Experienced Children ). It was another post I was unsure about writing but I’m glad I did because the content of the film was extremely inappropriate and it reached enough people that hopefully it prevented a few families seeing it and being upset by it. I did contact the writer/director directly and I did explain to her why it was upsetting and why I had blogged about it. I like to think it changed her perspective a little but equally, she could have been paying me lip service to get me to be quiet!

I’m always open to suggestions or guest posts so do get in touch if there is something you’d particularly like to read about. In the meantime, I shall continue my quest for publication with both Finding Ezra and my novel which I hope to finish in the next few months. That quest now feels more achievable and is being approached with more confidence, thanks to the support I’ve received from you lovely blog readers. Here’s to another year of weekly posts and no doubt a few surprises along the way.

 

Three Years A-Bloggin’

Being an Expert Parent

Recently, I keep having flashbacks of being a community speech and language therapist. The memories are of some very specific parents: those whom we feared a little bit. I think every caseload has them – the parents whose children you resort to drawing straws for and whom everybody avoids ringing. More often than not it would be me ending up with them on my caseload. That was a little bit because I’m a glutton for punishment, a little bit because I’m magnetised towards a challenge and quite a lot because I admired them and even then knew that I shouldn’t avoid them because in another world, I would be them. Not all of my colleagues were so keen though and there were certainly parents who gained notoriety within the department for being demanding or difficult to please.

I knew, even then, before I’d had my children and before I had become one myself, that nobody becomes an Expert Parent for the pure fun of it. Nobody sets out to rattle people’s cages and make demands and make themselves heard and fight for stuff just for kicks. People are forced into these positions by services which don’t meet the needs of their children and by having children who are different and need different things. That in itself is a tricky and unenviable position, before you find yourself pushed to the bottom of clinician’s to do lists.

I suppose I felt I owed it to these parents to shake myself off, put my big girl knickers on and bring them my A game. Yes, sometimes they were difficult. Sometimes they asked me hard questions or tried to pin me down to providing things the NHS couldn’t really justify. Sometimes I needed a little lie down after I’d seen them or an extra chocolate biscuit but generally, I didn’t regret taking on those cases. If anything, those parents made me a better therapist. They made me think harder and consider more angles and give even more than usual. I would far rather work with a keen parent, who would support care plans etc., than with an apathetic parent who didn’t really want to be there and hadn’t really bought in to the whole speech and language therapy thing.

However, I am not an angel and I’m sure there were times I went back to the office and had a little rant about what Mrs Whatever Her Name had done or said now. I know my colleagues did that too and no matter what anybody says in public, I think it’s natural that that kind of letting off of steam happens and I’m certain it does happen in clinical and educational and medical teams up and down the country.

I suspect the reason I keep thinking of these parents at the moment is because the realisation is dawning that I have become one of them and there are probably people discussing what a nightmare I am in an office nearby as we speak.

I think it hit me last week, during our horrendous meeting with the Educational Psychologist (see Conversations ). I realised that in a competition of who knows most about the needs of adopted children (well, my adopted child anyway) I could have left him for dead. It was a hands down defeat. Not that I wanted it to be a competition or to have to assert my knowledge in any way but the more defensive and wild he became with his points, the more I found myself standing my ground and refusing to accept his ignorance. I could see the fear in his eyes and him shrivelling away into his shell in front of me.

Having been on the other side of the fence, I do fully understand how it feels to receive that type of onslaught. I have been grilled in tribunals and sat in meetings where I’ve said the opposite of what people want to hear. I have stood in front of a room of experienced adopters and wondered what on earth I could possibly teach them that they didn’t already know. None of us have all the answers and it can be uncomfortable to be faced with someone more knowledgeable than ourselves, especially when we are in the position of ‘expert’.

It’s never fun to be in that situation but the crucial thing is our handling of it. I’m finding that professionals tend to fall into one of two camps when faced with an Expert Parent – those who are comfortable with admitting they don’t know things and are prepared to go away and find out, and those who grow defensive. The ones who grow defensive are no help whatsoever. I find they tend to want to discredit you and give opposing views just to save face.

Although I have to accept that as a parent I do come with quite a bit of knowledge now, I certainly don’t want to come across as conceited or combative or difficult. Most of the time, I think I conceal the majority of my knowledge and try to allow professionals we meet to do their job without interruption. Our experiences with the Speech and Language Therapy Service were reassuring in that way – I was a pain in the backside and I did complain but as soon as we had a therapist who wasn’t frightened or defensive, things went fabulously. I knew she knew her stuff and that if she didn’t, she would admit it before going away to find out, so I felt completely reassured. I didn’t need to come over all Expert Parent with her. Equally, I have rarely, if ever, shown school the full extent of my knowledge or readiness to fight.

However, our experiences with the EP last week would suggest that when faced with a professional who talks bollocks I can no longer rein myself in. I am careful not to be rude or aggressive but I did ask hard questions and I didn’t accept his answers and I did make the poor man sweat.

I couldn’t help myself. It seems there is a certain standard that I expect (as Expert Parents in the past have rightly expected of me) and I can’t tolerate a standard that isn’t good enough. There are many reasons for it – my oft spoken line ‘if I don’t stand up for my child, who will?’ Also, if I, as a professional person with a brilliant support network don’t have the balls to call out professionals who aren’t good enough, who will? As I said last week, our children deserve the best services, not the worst. I didn’t wake up in the morning thinking, ‘I know what would be fun today, lets antagonise an EP’, because no one does and in reality it isn’t an enjoyable experience. I was furious for most of the afternoon afterwards and only relaxed when the SENCO caught me at home time to say they wouldn’t accept the inappropriate standard of the EP either and would pay for a private assessment for us. I was really touched and reassured that they cared enough to do that.

The following day I had a migraine because I had become so tense during and after the meeting. There isn’t anything enjoyable about being an Expert Parent. It is a compulsion based on having a child who needs you to be one.

As much as I have purposefully armed myself with knowledge and am prepared to fight if necessary, I do worry about how I’m perceived when I unleash my inner Expert Parent. I have the same insecurities and basic desire to be liked as anybody else. I do worry that people will think I’m a knob. I worry that the teachers sit in the staffroom discussing what a pain I am and how much they hope Little Bear doesn’t end up in their class, like we used to when Expert Parents got referred for Speech and Language Therapy. I worry they see me as overly outspoken, too big for my boots or just plain annoying.

This morning I had to check some SEN paperwork for Little Bear’s teacher. I queried one part because I was worried how it would appear to a funding panel. “I knew you would,” the teacher said. He was laughing but my reputation already comes before me.

Part of me genuinely worries about how I’m perceived because having good relationships with people is important to me. I want to get on well with teachers and other professionals. I am not someone who has ever been a fan of having enemies. However, another part of me tries to listen to my husband, whose attitude is ‘who cares?’ We do what we do because we have to and because our children are our priority. If people can’t handle it, that’s their problem.

There is a certain kinship about being an Expert Parent – we understand the routes that have been taken, the difficult meetings, the dredging up of energy we don’t have to face another battle. We understand so many things about each other without even having to explain it. It’s so important we stick together. It should never be a competition about whose life is hardest – it should be a network of mutual admiration and understanding.

I have a close friend who is just making the first difficult steps into seeking a diagnosis for her son. She is encountering professionals who won’t listen to her, despite her having turned this situation over every which way in her mind for several years and her being an Occupational Therapist. She’s struggling with having her worries aired for other professionals to hear and with fearing people won’t see what she sees. It can feel very vulnerable being an Expert Parent, especially as there is so much scepticism from teachers and other professionals over whether you really do have the knowledge you’re pretty sure you have. It is unfortunately through these vulnerable moments and the judgement we face that we become even more confident as Expert Parents.

I know that we are feared up and down the land by professionals of every type because we make working days harder and take up more time. It is the system that has bred us this way; the services that have nurtured us; the unprofessional comments and decisions that have fuelled us. We don’t want to be Expert Parents any more than you want us to be. If you work hard, do your job properly and are prepared to meet children’s needs adequately, you have nothing to fear. We’re lovely, actually. But woe betide he or she who stands between us and our children’s needs being met. They will experience the full force of our Expert Parent fury, knowledge and willingness to call you out.

And the ground shalt quake.

Being an Expert Parent

Conversations

Firstly, I’m sorry, I’m in a bad mood at this moment and I rather suspect it will be evident as this blog post progresses. The reason for my mood will also transpire.

Earlier in the week, we had some workmen over to do a job for us. I didn’t know them but we got chatting, as you do. Within minutes I had learned that the man’s son had ADHD and they’d had difficulties with his schooling. Feeling an immediate kinship, I felt I wanted to tell him that I also have a son and he also has some behaviour and learning needs. I was cautious though because I distinctly remember sitting in adoption preparation groups doing a practical exercise on who you should and should not share information with about your child being adopted. Workmen were a clear ‘no’. They knew where you lived: they did not need to know that an adopted child, who may be vulnerable, lived in your house. This was in the back of my mind but I also knew that this man had walked a walk which I understood. I decided to trust he was a decent bloke and shared that I also have a son with needs.

We shared some similar anecdotes and then he asked me what diagnosis, if any, my son has. I knew this would happen and this was the bit I had considered avoiding. However, I didn’t. I explained he’d had a traumatic start in life, was now adopted and his diagnosis was Developmental Trauma. The man understood what I was talking about and it turned out he knew an adoptive family well and their son had similar needs. It also transpired that the man himself was adopted so we chatted about that too.

It was a conversation I perhaps shouldn’t have had, but it was a thoroughly positive experience.

Today, we had a meeting with an Educational Psychologist about Little Bear. This was an official conversation I had to have but ironically, this was the conversation I wished I could undo. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, this is the reason for my furious mood. As a parent of a child with additional needs, when you have a meeting about those needs with a professional who is supposedly more knowledgeable than you are, the very least you can reasonably expect is to come away feeling understood. You would also hope to come away with some useful tips or strategies. You would not expect to come out sweaty-angry because things have got a little heated.

We’ve seen the Educational Psychologist (EP) before (see Seeing the Educational Psychologist and SaLT, EP & an Assembly ) and despite me having some misgivings, it went brilliantly. The man in question was knowledgeable and trauma-informed. Unfortunately, that EP has moved on and we have a new one.

Things started okay with this fellow. He’d done an hour’s observation first thing then we had met for a consultation, with the SENCO, class teacher and Little Bear’s TA also in attendance. The main purpose of the meeting, in my mind, was to review where we were up to in terms of re-applying for funding going forwards. I am fully aware that funding is not within the jurisdiction of the EP. However, I have been in enough of these situations to know that as a professional, you are often called in to inform a funding decision. You make an independent assessment and you write a detailed report detailing a child’s needs. It wouldn’t bother me in the slightest if people wanted to discuss funding in my presence. I wouldn’t be able to say whether a child should have it or not but I would be very clear about their needs and what measures are required to meet those needs appropriately. I thought the EP would do the same.

Instead, he was so touchy about funding (even though we didn’t mention it any point) that I came away believing he had a (not very well) hidden agenda. It meant that he wouldn’t give a straight answer about what level of support he believed Little Bear to require and wouldn’t comment in any detail on his needs. He kept saying, “I have no influence on funding”. We kept saying, “We know, we aren’t asking you to comment on funding”. At one point Grizzly said, “So, are we on the same page?” (in relation to a specific point) and the EP replied, “I’m on my own page”. When we tried to establish what that page was, he wouldn’t tell us. It was most baffling.

I also felt he had little to no knowledge of trauma/attachment. It was when we started discussing independence that things started to unravel.

The key reason that Little Bear has 1:1 support now is due to his extremely poor emotional resilience and lack of self-confidence. I’ve talked about it before and I think my post Jigsaws illustrates my point most powerfully. The EP evidently thought (though he only said so cryptically) that Little Bear has too much support and does not do enough work independently. He felt independence in his learning was a priority. I disagreed with this because I feel his biggest priority is building resilience, a love of learning and the confidence to tackle new tasks when faced with them. When those things are in place, he will manage independence. I struggled to get the EP to understand this.

He kept saying that Little Bear can be given a task he knows how to do first to break him in gently to a task he’s never done before. That makes sense in theory but what he doesn’t account for is Little Bear’s alertness to new tasks and the fact that, without the nurturing support of a trusted adult by his side, Little Bear will baulk at the task and not be able to begin. The EP, in his uninformed wisdom, reckons that with practise of working independently, Little Bear will learn to complete tasks alone. He won’t if he doesn’t have the requisite skills or belief. He will disengage and learn diddlysquat.

The EP went on to patronise us all by saying that children need to experience success in order to build resilience. I KNOW. I feel as though I have said it a million times myself. However, Little Bear currently needs adult support to begin and engage with a task. He needs an adult to support him to stay on task and reach the point of completion and success. Without that support, he will not experience success. You can’t remove his safety net and expect him to get there by himself.

I pointed out that we put him in challenging positions all the time. I didn’t labour the fact that we tirelessly work to match activities to ability (see Our Just right challenge) and carefully dampen or increase our level of support to ensure his success. He said, “But do you though? Do you do it enough?” It was an open question to us and school but I would like to have seen him take Little Bear canoeing when he was still in the feral phase or take him for a skiing lesson or horse-riding or on a plane or on a skidoo or a bike or supervise him with a sharp knife or a power tool. We have done all of those things and more and I did not appreciate the inference otherwise.

Grizzly had done well keeping fairly quiet throughout this debate and I wondered if it was just me. However, the EP went on to suggest a strategy of “planned ignoring” for when Little Bear interrupts or shouts out in class. Grizzly stepped in to point out that there is an attachment reason behind this behaviour and Little Bear shouldn’t be ignored because, if anything, it would inflame the problem. He needs to know the teacher hasn’t forgotten him and is holding him in mind, even if shouting out is not an appropriate behaviour. The teacher’s approach of saying; “That’s a lovely answer. I’d love to hear it when it’s your turn/ when you have your hand up” feels much more appropriate.

Overall, I felt the strategies the EP suggested were extremely basic and I felt defensive of the school who are already working hard and employing so many more complex strategies. The suggestions he made indicated a lack of knowledge and understanding of the complex behaviours we all experience.

The final straw, which we were unable to resolve, came when he said he had made a tally of the number of times Little Bear’s TA intervened to help him during a task. Apparently it was, “considerably more often than she intervened with others”. I queried this because Mrs. C is employed with Little Bear’s funding as Little Bear’s TA. I would expect her to help him more than others because that’s her job. I couldn’t understand the point of it as a statistic. The EP seemed to suggest the number was meaningful so we asked him what his interpretation of the number was – did he mean that Mrs C steps in too frequently or that Little Bear requires a high level of support? He refused to be drawn, saying he is there to gather the information, not to comment on it. He then returned to his rhetoric of not being allowed to comment on funding.

The Head, who was working quietly in the room, but not in the meeting, said, “They aren’t trying to trick you, I think they just want an answer” to which, there was no answer.

The more I reflect on it now, the more bizarre it seems. I get the impression this EP is used to coming to meetings, asking lots of questions, writing down the answers and going away again. I don’t think he is used to informed parents who ask difficult questions of him. I’m pretty sure he went away thinking we are a royal pain in the backside but I don’t really care. It isn’t okay to provide mediocre or downright rubbish services to parents because they don’t know otherwise. Services should be excellent because these are the most vulnerable children in our society. What we do now and what support is put in place for Little Bear now is going to be crucial for his life chances in the future.

I know people are under pressure because of funding cuts and I suspect he did have an agenda along those lines but children’s needs are their needs, irrespective of funding and I’m not sorry that I will fight for Little Bear’s needs to be met. I’m sorry we crossed paths with that particular EP and I’m sorry we have to have another meeting with him in a couple of months. I suspect it would have gone considerably better if we let our workman from earlier in the week chair the meeting.

I am sure it will all work out and with a child with additional needs, a meeting or three like this are par for the course. But they shouldn’t be. It isn’t ok and our children (and us if we’re honest) deserve more.

I do want to give credit to school though and specifically to Little Bear’s teacher, who has really listened and changed his approach and referred several times to ‘doing things differently’ in the meeting. I am extremely grateful to them.

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