Guilt

The Bear’s had a bit of an incident with one another during the holidays. It wasn’t anything major, probably an everyday occurrence in most households. Play had got a bit over-excitable resulting in Big Bear accidentally hitting his brother instead of the ball he was aiming for. Big Bear immediately felt guilty which makes him uncomfortable. I think he did apologise though (I was upstairs letting Grizzly handle it). Little Bear, stinging from the blow and also because his favourite person in the whole world had delivered it to him, was upset.

Upset is easily confused with anger by Little Bear so instead of crying or moving away, he gave his brother a sharp kick (no doubt he had flown straight into Fight or Flight territory). Now both Bears were upset and a little enraged. Grizzly attempted to referee but at that point neither was ready to see sense.

I could hear Grizzly explaining that Big Bear had hurt Little Bear accidentally. He had not meant to. He had said sorry. The incident should have ended there. He explained that Little Bear should not have kicked him back. He suggested he too say sorry and then the whole thing could be forgotten.

Little Bear was not ready to apologise though. He wasn’t calm. He was very annoyed. I suspect by this point he was starting to see the error of his ways and the anger was beginning to turn inwards. He was feeling guilty.

A big difficulty, when you are someone who feels bad about yourself already, is that this type of normal self-condemnation is difficult to deal with. I suspect that when your heart is already filled with self-doubt and feelings of worthlessness, an additional feeling of guilt can be too big an emotion to squeeze in. What often happens here, and has been happening for the past year or so (previous to that Little Bear didn’t really experience guilt I don’t think), is that because the guilt cannot be contained and dealt with inside, it tends to spill outwards.

“Big Bear is an idiot!” I can hear him shouting. “He’s stupid. You stupid Big Bear!” and so followed a tirade of further insults.

Big Bear, already upset from hurting his brother and having had his apology thrown back in his face, could not deal with the name calling and marched off to his bedroom, slamming the door for good measure.

Little Bear, aware he had further upset his brother, no doubt felt even worse about his own actions and also marched off to his bedroom, also slamming the door for good measure.

“Well that went well,” remarked Grizzly sarcastically, coming to find me upstairs. As we started to chat about whether I should get involved or not and who Grizzly should go to first, we heard movement on the landing. There was a knock on a door then a little voice. “I’m sorry Big Bear” we heard. “I’m sorry I hurted you. You are very strong. I love you”.

It was unfortunate because Big Bear was still upset and not really ready to accept the apology in a gracious way. However, it did mean that Grizzly could go to Little Bear and make a big deal out of him being so mature and sensible and apologising by himself without any help from us. Because it really was a big step forwards and we were both very proud of him for how he dealt with it.

During similar previous incidents one or other of us has had to sit with him for a long time, trying to explain that he isn’t actually annoyed at the person he has hurt, even though he is shouting at them and insulting them. We have tried to explain that it is because he feels bad about what he has done. That he feels guilty. We have tried to explain that you don’t need to keep feeling bad about it. You can say sorry and maybe have a cuddle and then it is finished. You need to forgive yourself. Sometimes, if Little Bear has purposefully hurt himself and had similar feelings of guilt, we have encouraged him to afford himself the same respect. You ‘apologise’ to yourself, square the incident off and move on.

Obviously all that is pretty complex for a 5 year old, especially one with language difficulties, but it really seems that he is starting to take it on board. Understandably, in the heat of the moment, he still becomes upset/angry but he is certainly able to calm more quickly and is getting much better at identifying his own emotions and making more positive choices about how to react. Previously guilt would have led to a downward spiral and all sorts of other behaviours would have appeared. A small incident like the one I have described could easily have ruined a whole day.

The concepts of ‘forgiving’ and ‘guilt’ have been useful in other situations too and Little Bear is beginning to use the words himself.

This holiday we have also spent time with my brother, girlfriend and their dog. The dog is still young and can be pretty boisterous herself. Little Bear LOVES the dog (I suspect he over-loves her if that is even a thing). We took her for a walk. Little Bear had a great time throwing the ball and playing fetch. On the way home, he got tangled in the lead and fell over. It hurt his knee, as well as his feelings. “I don’t forgive you” he kept saying to the dog. No, we reassured, you don’t yet. You are still upset with her because she hurt you. She didn’t mean to though, look, she feels bad about it. She’s sorry. When you’re ready, you can forgive her and be friends again.

On that occasion Little Bear was able to verbalise that he wanted to hurt her back, because she had hurt him, but he did manage not to follow through physically. After a bath, he was ready to move forwards and announced that she was forgiven!

There is clearly still some way to go but I’m pleased we have made a start at unpicking some of these more complex emotions and that Little Bear is able to reflect on them.

Although Big Bear was not ready to move on as quickly as Little Bear after the hitting/kicking incident, there was a difference in his reaction too. Previously this type of altercation with his brother would have led to catastrophizing. It would have dredged up all the old feelings of whether he really wants a brother at all. This used to lead to him being generally unhappy and us needing to rally round and involve the grandparents to make sure he got some extra special time (and a break).

This time, though he needed a bit more time on his own, he did still say, “I love you too” back through his closed door. There were no fallout chats later on.

Less than an hour later, having allowed both boys to eat their tea separately and on the sofa (I find it’s always wise to eliminate any blood sugar issues), they were friends again. They snuggled up together watching a programme like Ninja Warrior and laughed a lot. All was forgiven.

If anything I think they were extra nice to each other because a little bit of guilt was still lingering.

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Guilt

Regression

“Get off me” he says, shrugging away from my touch, his body becoming stiff and unyielding. I’m struggling to engage with him in any meaningful way. He’s either zoned out on the IPad or running around slightly manically outside. His concentration span is pretty much zero and despite trying, I can’t get him to sit down and play with anything. He is wetting several times per day. Meal times are equally as challenging. He is struggling to stay seated for more than a minute or two and unless the food is spooned into his mouth he won’t eat. There is little to no conversation; my attempts are met with noises or just ignored. It is hard to find the bond between us. Last night, at bedtime, he looked into my eyes and pinched my face as hard as he could. This evening, before tea, he refused to follow any instructions and when we insisted, there was a punch. He would not sit at the table and when physically stopped from climbing on the back of the bench and pulling on the radio, he said we had hurt him. An angry face, a tense body, a fist raised in threat. A darkness; a distance.

 

“I love you forever” he says, snuggling closer, pulling my arm tighter round him. We sit for a long time, watching the film. Occasionally he leans his cheek against mine or shifts his position a bit so we can cuddle more comfortably. He jumps up. “Pause it Mum” he says, “I need a wee”. We chat about the film and what we might do later. We joke and he laughs a lot. His laugh makes me laugh. At teatime he feeds himself. The next day we go for a bike ride. He rides on the road for some of it and listens to every single instruction given, including ‘turn left’ or ‘turn right’. When we say ‘stop’, he stops. It’s a fairly high risk activity and we trust him to do it sensibly. We have a lovely time. When we get back, he changes his clothes as he’s asked and we sit down to play a building game. We imagine, we build, we chat. We have fun. As I’m getting tea ready, he plays with Grizzly. They play a game with challenges in it – he writes words down, he does simple number puzzles – in between throwing a ball about. There is a lot of laughter. Relaxed body, happy face, relaxed atmosphere. A warmth; a closeness; an enjoyment in being together.

 

It sounds like a description of two different children, but it isn’t. They are both Little Bear. You’d be forgiven for thinking they were two different people though, even in the flesh, the contrast being as stark as it is. The first paragraph is a presentation of Little Bear during a regression, the second how he presents normally. I would say the child I’m describing in the second paragraph is with us the majority of the time, upwards of 80% of the time. But the child in the first paragraph does appear sometimes, usually quite out of the blue. It can be a bit shocking when that happens because we are so accustomed to the second presentation that we almost forget that the first one is a possibility. On the other side of the coin, when we are in a regression, it can be hard to imagine how we will get back to the second paragraph. Is that even possible? Have we imagined that life is usually like that? Where has the close bond with our lovely little boy gone? And most concerning, how is it possible to feel this distant from your own child? What does it mean for the future? As well as several other concerns that can easily spiral from there.

I know from experience that there is no need to be quite that dramatic because we have consistently passed through regressions and back to paragraph two on countless occasions. However, when you are in it and it’s happening, it can be pretty wearing. It can be easy to doubt what you are doing and your ability to navigate the challenges in the best possible way. At those points I generally have to remind myself that although we no longer know the child in the first paragraph very well, we did used to. It was the child in paragraph one who moved in two and a bit years ago and he was the child we lived with day in day out for months and months while he slowly flourished into the child in paragraph two. We do know what to do. We can reach him, despite him seeming unreachable at points.

The regression I’ve described above is quite a severe one by current standards. Usually we can hover about somewhere in a grey area between the two descriptions. It could just be that Little Bear really struggles with toileting for a while or we have a phase of needing to feed him or he loses the ability to sit and read to us. Sometimes it is several of those things and before Christmas it was all of the things, exactly as I have described.

We are versed enough in Little Bear’s behaviour that we can identify a regression pretty quickly now. We also know that something will have triggered it but as I wrote about in Adoptive Parent: Behaviour Detective it can be extremely difficult to figure out what the cause is. The behaviour described above was present for three or four days, getting progressively worse, after we returned from Lapland. I had blogged last week about our trip to Lapland in A Magical Adventure? and was starting to feel stupid that I had been so positive about it when actually the fallout was just happening afterwards. I remembered about when we had A Mini Crisis and Little Bear had seemed completely fine at the time but had spent the rest of the weekend at melting point. Come to think of it, he is pretty good at adapting to situations when they happen but can become discombobulated afterwards. Had Lapland been too much?

Grizzly and I had a chat, as we always do when things seem to be going awry. Could it be Lapland? Could it be the change to routine of the holidays? Could he still be feeling unwell? What could it be and what would we do?

The problem was solved surprisingly quickly for us on the very next morning by Little Bear himself. It was Christmas Day and of course Santa had been and left full stockings. Little Bear wandered into our bedroom, stocking in hand, with a massive grin on his face and none of the darkness of the previous evening. “I didn’t think Santa would come to me but he did” he beamed and just like that, the gorgeous little man from paragraph two was back (and has stayed).

Whilst I was obviously relieved, my heart did break a little. What had made him think Santa wouldn’t come to him? I know it’s obvious. I know all about how difficult Christmas is for children who have had adverse life experiences; for children who fear they are too bad to warrant gifts. I just hadn’t anticipated it for Little Bear because we have had two previous Christmases with him, which he has coped exceptionally well with. It sounds a little ridiculous now, but he hadn’t said anything. He hadn’t given any indication that he was worried about Santa. He had shown us, through his behaviour and we did know there was something amiss but my detective skills had let me down somewhat.

We don’t do any of the Elf on the Shelf malarkey or in any way push the whole you only get presents if you are good thing but I suppose now that he’s at school and his comprehension skills are much improved, Little Bear is more affected by outside influences. Thinking about it, the big guy himself in Lapland had asked the boys if they had been good and I had cringed at the time (but drawn the line at correcting Actual Santa!).

Little Bear has such a complex tangle in his brain and evidently he still struggles to express his thoughts and fears with words. It is at these times that a regression tends to happen, or when he is poorly, and I guess for now, we will need to continue to ride them out, firm in the belief that we will return to paragraph two sooner or later. We have to remind ourselves to be patient, consistent and as nurturing as possible when the regression is happening. It is essential that we wonder and try to see the world through Little Bear’s eyes in order to possibly figure out what might be behind it. Realistically we need to accept that we won’t always be able to detect the trigger. We might never figure it out. It might not be something that can be consciously identified anyway. But we must ask the questions, and endeavour to stay in paragraph two, because regressions aren’t fun for anybody, least of all Little Bear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Regression

A Magical Adventure?

Back in the early summer, shortly after we lost Supergran, we were in the mood to seize life and make sure we lived it. We also knew that Gary was going to need something to look forward to, to help her find a way through her grief. So, without thinking it through too much, we booked a holiday to Lapland for the end of the year.

Grizzly has always wanted to go and was very excited. I, on the other hand, have been gifted with a brain that immediately leaps to the darkest places. Neither Bear has flown before (or been abroad) so consequently I have not left the country for 9 years. What if I had developed a fear of flying? What if the boys were terrible flyers? What if the plane crashed? What if there were terrorists in the airport? What if one of us got frostbite?

Sadly I’m not joking: this is just a small selection of my actual thoughts.

Thankfully by the time December came I had pretty much got over my irrational preoccupations and was finally getting excited. So excited in fact that we had to bring forward the date for telling the boys before I imploded. We had purposefully left it to the last minute so as not to overexcite them months in advance. I have no idea how we got away with it as we did loads of prep right under their noses!

In the end, we told them with 10 days to go. The news came in the form of a personalised letter/ invitation sent by Santa himself (!). Little Bear was immediately excited whereas Big Bear was immediately nervous about flying (I suspect he has inherited the going to dark places thing, bless him).

I had planned to use our light box as a visual countdown but it turned out that Little Bear didn’t need me to. For the first time he has been able to keep track of the countdown himself – each day knowing how many more sleeps were left, as well as managing to keep track of which door to open on his advent calendar. I was really impressed with how he managed it: his grasp of time and numbers has progressed a lot recently.

There didn’t appear to be any extra anxiety and whenever I tried to reassure or explain about flying, Little Bear just claimed he had flown before (which I know he hadn’t) and that he had been to Lapland before (hadn’t) and therefore knew all about it already. It was kind of difficult to argue with.

At the halfway point of the countdown I saw some PAS colleagues. As I was telling them what we were up to (the week before Christmas, with a potentially dysregulated child) they did look at me like I might be off my rocker. Was I?! Could this be an ill-thought through hellish disaster?

With 4 days to go, Little Bear woke up with a vomiting bug and proceeded to puke every half an hour for most of the day.

With 3 days to go, Little Bear was thankfully feeling a little better but we had a power cut so he couldn’t watch TV and I couldn’t have life-saving cups of tea. It felt like the week was turning into a black satire of the twelve days of Christmas. On the third day of Christmas my true love brought to me cabin fever hell, lots of vomit bowls and travel doubts a-plentyyyy…

Somehow, it all came together, as these things do, and we were getting up at 4:30am to go to the airport. I have to say I am extremely proud of how both Bears coped with the early start, airport mayhem and the travelling itself. We had a slightly dubious start as Little Bear marched confidently onto the plane and seated himself at an emergency exit. It was the stuff of nightmares! I could only imagine what he could get up to if we took our eyes off him for three seconds in that position.

Of course children cannot sit at emergency exits and instead Gary and I had to endure the talk about what to do if they shouted evacuate, evacuate, evacuate, which did at least clear up the issue of whether I had developed a fear of flying or not.

Entirely to his credit, it turns out that Little Bear is a brilliant flyer and not one bit of bother if allowed his IPad. Big Bear felt unwell to start with which was a shame but he got used to it too and had no difficulty on the way back.

Arriving over a snowy forest and landing on a runway hemmed by snow was pretty amazing. We had taken off at sunrise in the UK and landed three hours later at sunset in Finland. As Lapland is so far north (inside the Arctic circle in fact) they only have three hours of daylight at this point in the year. It was very confusing arriving at the hotel in the pitch black, a bit after 3pm, having just had breakfast on the plane. The dark was pretty difficult to get used to the whole time we were there really.

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The hotel was lovely – warm, Christmassy and traditionally Finnish. No frills but cosy and with everything we needed. Previously we have only ever gone on self-catering holidays and being tied to the hotel timings was a bit tricky. Although we don’t stick rigidly to a timetable at home, we do stick to meal and bedtimes wherever we are or whatever we are doing. It is with good reason as those things remain a predictable constant and help Little Bear to stay regulated. In the hotel, the evening meal wasn’t available until 6pm, which is the time Little Bear usually gets ready for bed. With a bit of tactical snacking and turning a blind eye to Little Bear eating chips for every meal, we managed this ok.

The next morning however, I did nearly lose my calm due to a booking cock-up which meant that an excursion we had pre-booked from the UK for that afternoon was no longer available to us and the only time we could now do it was from 6:30 to 10pm at night. The Rep didn’t seem to be able to get his head around why that would be such a big deal to us. I think people think you should ‘just go with it’ but that is actually much harder than it sounds when you have a child with additional needs and you work so hard to keep things manageable for them. After a bit of a wobble (me) we decided to go with it to the best of our ability and changed our afternoon plan to ‘nap’ and hoped for the best. I am nothing if not resilient.

In retrospect (as much as it irks me to admit it), I have to say that I am grateful for the booking cock-up. Without it we would not have had the opportunity to whizz around a completely dark, peaceful, snow-drenched forest in a sled pulled by huskies, lit only by our head-torches, the stars and the green glow of the Northern Lights! It is hard to describe how awesome, calm and breath-taking it was. At minus 23 degrees it was also a little chilly. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience for all of us that I wouldn’t have wanted us to miss.

It was very special for Little Bear as he LOVES animals. He had been particularly excited about seeing the huskies before we went but we had warned him that they may not be friendly and we probably wouldn’t be able to stroke them. Before we got into the sleds for our safari, we went into a Kota (Lappish polygonal wooden hut) to have some hot berry juice and gingerbread and to warm up. The door opened to allow a guide to enter and in trotted a husky. The look on Little Bear’s face when he realised he could pet her was priceless. It turns out the huskies are highly trained, fully domesticated and love human attention. Little Bear and Nia became firm friends and it really made the trip for him (so much so that I need to print some photos for his room as he is missing her).

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We were also able to pet the huskies who took us on our adventure. I discovered that a warm lick is a great way to warm cold hands afterwards!

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It was a truly fantastic experience and the highlight of the trip for all of us.

Little Bear coped admirably with his very late night. He did ask to go to bed a few times and finally crashed out on the way back to the hotel in the coach.

Unfortunately on day 3 we couldn’t let the boys sleep in because we had to be on the coach at 8am for the next excursion. It was the trip to see Santa and I was concerned that we might have been dragged out of bed for a huge dose of crowds and commercialism. Once more, Lapland proved me wrong and massively surpassed my expectations: a feat which is difficult to accomplish as I am notoriously hard to impress.

Lapland doesn’t seem to do commercialism, just take-us-as-you-find-us natural beauty. We met Santa in a log cabin nestled beside a frozen lake, skirted with frost-encrusted trees. It felt authentic and pure. Somehow it didn’t feel overrun with us tourists, probably because it was a large-ish space and there were plenty of other things to do. The boys played snow football on the frozen lake, we sledged down a hill again and again and when our fingers and toes got nippy we went inside to ice gingerbread. No gift shops, no gimmicks, no glitz.

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The Fins also seem to have a fairly lax attitude towards health and safety which meant that Grizzly and I both got to drive a snowmobile (and the husky sleds) after a three second tutorial (the Bears and Gary were in the sleds, on the back of a snowmobile or in a sleigh pulled by a guide). I’m not exactly known for my daring but I bloody loved it and could have scooted round on the snowmobile for ages if they’d have let me.

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By the afternoon, Little Bear was wilting in front of our eyes. His ability to listen and co-operate was diminishing by the minute. The itinerary for the evening was a Festive Finale beginning at 7pm. Grizzly and I could tell that this was not a risk worth taking. The signs were there that we would not be able to ‘just go with it’ this time and in all likelihood it would be an unmitigated disaster. Not seeing the point of setting him up to fail, we decided that I would stay at the hotel with him and put him to bed and Grizzly and Gary would take Big Bear to the party.

The Rep tried to tell me how much we would be missing out on and though he was trying to be nice, I just wanted him to p*** off as he had no clue about Little Bear, his needs or what would go down if we did attend (it wouldn’t be pretty). Sometimes you have to trust your judgement and know when not to be swayed.

Big Bear had a fantastic time running wild with his new friends and evidently screaming, judging by his husky voice today.

Other than the tweaks/ blips I’ve mentioned and a bit of a tricky passage through Kittila airport with an over-hungry and over-tired and overwhelmed Little Bear (the airport is tiny but packed to the rafters with people), the overall trip was a big success. Even when we weren’t going on trips or doing activities, the Bears just loved being in the snow. They have never seen snow that deep or fluffy before and stepping into it right up to their thighs never grew tiring for them.

The trip was over in a flash and no one was quite ready to go home.

There were minor challenges (there were always going to be) but thankfully no major ones. I would say that our few days were no more difficult than they would have been were Little Bear enduring the final days of term in school. If anything, they were a bit easier, and we had a whole lot more fun and an unforgettable experience. I certainly wouldn’t be averse to taking the children out of school again (at this point in the term) and we now know that travelling abroad is a risk worth taking.

Lapland, we have loved you, you were truly spectacular and you may well have given us the travelling bug as well as some unforgettable memories.

Thank you from all the Bears xx

 

A Magical Adventure?

A Confession

Readers, I have a confession to make. It is something I expect Society will disapprove of. It will certainly be frowned upon, if not judged very negatively, by most. I’m just going to spit it out: Little Bear still has a dummy.

I suspect this is controversial for two reasons. Firstly because Little Bear is 5, on the nearer to six side of things, and typically children give up their dummies whilst still pre-schoolers. Secondly, because I, his mother, am a Speech and Language Therapist (SaLT) who not only should know better but should be militantly opposed to dummies full stop.

It may make me a rubbish SaLT (I’ll take the chance) but I am not opposed to dummies. I certainly think they have their uses. Big Bear had one (ok, about nine) and was particularly attached to them, often sleeping with one in his mouth and one in his hand.

Initially, I tried extremely hard not to give him one, thinking it would make me a bad parent (as well as a bad therapist) if I did. However, after about 7 weeks of following the NHS guidance to demand feed, I had been feeding Big Bear around the clock and when I wasn’t doing that he was latching on to anything and everything (my arm, Grizzly’s nose etc.). I had to acquiesce to save my sanity, as well as my nipples.

Looking back, there are so many things to beat yourself up about as a new parent that I genuinely don’t think a dummy should be one of them. There are two main risks with dummy use: the impact on the infant’s teeth and the impact on their speech. Unless a child is plugged in constantly (wrong on many levels), an average amount of dummy-use is really only damaging to speech if a child speaks with the dummy in their mouth*. I have found that fairly easily solved with a ‘no talking with your dummy in’ rule, which I do stick to religiously. It hasn’t hampered either Bear from being a chatterbox. The dummy hasn’t stopped them talking, they have just got used to taking it out of their mouths to do so.

As Big Bear approached three years of age, his speech was developing well but I began to notice a change in his teeth. They were starting to angle outwards a little. It was obvious it was the dummy and it had to go. Although I knew he didn’t need it, I did know that he liked it A LOT and I was pretty trepidatious about the big withdrawal. Exactly how many nights would he scream for?!

I knew cold-turkey was really the only way but I wanted him to be as prepared as possible. We talked about dummy fairies and invented some sort of fable about what good purpose they put discarded dummies to (I can’t quite remember the details). I’m not ashamed to say we also used a good portion of bribery – those dummy fairies give a good reward! We left all the dummies outside on a plate on the allocated day (because clearly the fairies live outdoors) and the next morning a Lego truck had magically appeared in their place. The deed was done.

In reality we had one or two nights of Big Bear struggling to get to sleep but there was none of the fuss and palaver I had imagined. The big dummy withdrawal was, dare I say, pretty easy.

Several years later when we were in the process of Matching with Little Bear, it transpired that at the age of three and a half, he still had a dummy. Tut, tut, we said. How awful! He really should be rid of it by now! Just give it to the dummy fairies: how hard could it be?!

In our naivety I think we even suggested the Foster Carer’s should do the deed before he came to us.

The outrage! A three and a half year old with a dummy!

Yet, here we are, over two years later, the three and a half year old is now nearly six and he still has the dummy. So what has gone wrong?

Have I been too chicken this time?

No. Not too chicken. A little older, a little wiser and a LOT more tuned in. I haven’t taken Little Bear’s dummy away because he still needs it. Along with his blanket, it is the only thing that is guaranteed to calm him.

Usually the dummy and blanket live in his bedroom and Little Bear only has them after his bedtime stories when the light is going off. Most of the time he half forgets about them and can fall asleep without them. However, there are still days when he pads sheepishly downstairs with them, lays curled in the foetal position on the sofa and disappears off into his calm place for a couple of hours. If I didn’t let Little Bear have his dummy on that sort of day, he would prowl about, itchy, discontented and ill at ease. He would seek trouble, struggle with instruction and generally have a very difficult day. The relief and release when he gets the dummy is almost palpable.

When Little Bear was younger/ newer to our family we daren’t go on any car journey without the dummy and blanket secreted in my handbag “just in case”. There were months when they were literally the only way to calm him (though there was also a risk he’d lob it at your head).

We have many more available and effective calming strategies now and don’t take the dummy anywhere any more (apart from on holiday). However, when Little Bear starts wandering around the house with it, it is the equivalent of a red warning light. It means that Little Bear is not feeling good. We might not know why and neither may he, but it alerts us that he needs something different today. It generally means he needs few demands, lots of TV, cheesy pasta for tea, somebody to feed it to him and an early night. As yet, Little Bear can’t communicate this to us any other way so we have to rely on the medium of dummy interpretation. He has a wide enough vocabulary now but I don’t think he can pinpoint how he feels, let alone interpret the feeling enough to be able to voice it.

Although these are all valid points, there is something else, more fundamental, that is holding me back.

The dummy and blanket are the only things I can think of that Little Bear has always had. They have travelled with him (one assumes) from his birth family to foster care and from there to us, providing him with a reliable and consistent source of comfort along the way. Perhaps I should say that they are the only reliable and consistent source of comfort he has ever had. You would usually anticipate that the reliable and consistent source of comfort would be your Mum or Dad but as Little Bear has had three different ones of each and not one of them has accompanied him on his whole journey, he has had no choice but to seek an alternative source.

How can I, hand on heart, take away that consistent and reliable source of comfort? I genuinely don’t think that I can or, more importantly, that I should. Having had so little control over what has happened in his life I think I can hand over the reins of this one to Little Bear himself.

I know that Society will stand in judgement, as I too probably would have done a few years ago. I know Society will consider him too old and my behaviour in allowing it to be atypical. I have decided that I care not one jot. Sometimes I make that type of decision quietly. What wider Society doesn’t know about won’t bother them. However, if I really don’t care what anyone thinks and I genuinely believe I am acting with the best of intentions, why should I hide it? Society needs to become accepting of the fact that not all children follow a typical pattern of development and therefore will not adhere to the rigid expectations we set out, whether anybody likes it or not.

Last week I read a blog on a similar theme, though it was about using a baby carrier with a three year old, and I realised this type of age-related pigeonholing is happening left, right and Chelsea (It was written by @LivingtheTheory and you can read it here: http://living-the-theory.blogspot.co.uk/2017/12/thats-no-no-now-hes-getting-bigger.html ) Can we please quit it with the chronological age expectations and think developmental needs? So what if a toddler still needs to be close to his Mum when they are out and about? So what if my 5 year old still needs me to feed him sometimes? So what if a sixteen year old with severe learning difficulties still wants to carry a teddy around? So what if a ten year old still needs a pull-up at night? So what? All children have different needs. I’m not sure we need to get our knickers in a twist about it.

I have no idea how long Little Bear is going to need his dummy and blanket. I don’t think it is something I can set an age-related target for. Will he still have it when he’s a grown man? Somehow I doubt it.

 

*The main impact on speech of having a dummy is that children talk around it and inevitably start to form some of their speech sounds incorrectly. It is usually the tongue-tip sounds that are affected the most as the dummy prevents the tongue tip from reaching the alveolar ridge (the flat hard ridge behind your top teeth) , a place it needs to be in order to make accurate t, s, l, n, d, z sounds. A tell-tale sign of too much dummy use is the presence of a process called ‘backing’ in a child’s speech. The front sound ‘t’ is made at the back instead, so it sounds like ‘k’. Everywhere a child should use a ‘t’, they will use a ‘k’, so ‘tea’ sounds like ‘key’ etc.
Dummy use isn’t the sole cause of this process, it could just happen anyway, but it is not a process usually seen in typical development so can be a red flag.
As Little Bear has Developmental Language Disorder, with accompanying speech disorder, I would be stupid to allow him to speak around his dummy. Interestingly, although he has had many atypical processes in his speech, backing has not been one of them.
However long a child needs their dummy, I do believe that speaking with it in is a massive no-no at any stage.

For the record I do care about Little Bear’s teeth too. He has regular checks at the dentist and so far they are lovely and straight (as are Big Bear’s adult teeth).

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A Confession

Self-Care

For some reason I have been a bit reluctant to write about self-care, perhaps because it is well-documented already? I don’t know. Maybe because I haven’t always been brilliant at it and I have had to work at seeing the importance of it (for me). I suppose it can seem like quite an abstract, self-indulgent concept.

More recently the penny has finally dropped. Self-care is essential. It is not a pleasant add-on or luxury. It is crucial to our good mental health and to us being able to manage the myriad demands thrown at us in our day to day lives. I think when I spotted ‘Looking after yourself’ as one of the blocks in Kim Golding’s House Model of Parenting (an essential block, without which the house would fall down and upon which many other vital blocks sit) I got the message.

Self-care is a subject fairly widely bandied around by adopters (with good reason) but I truly believe it is a necessity for everyone. We are all busy, under pressure and juggling many-a-ball. If we are not mentally and emotionally well, we can’t function to the best of our abilities. We can’t support those around us who need us and we leave ourselves open to illness.

With my professional hat on I have been working with a young person who is currently under a lot of exam stress. A diligent and bright pupil, they are working extremely hard, leaving little to no time for rest and relaxation. As a consequence their stammer has worsened significantly. My main therapy has been around teaching the need for self-care, much to their surprise.

We are not designed to be under permanent stress, though modern life does tend to lead to it. We know, because of our children and how they have been impacted by their adverse starts in life that Cortisol (the stress hormone) wreaks havoc. A quick Google indicates it can impact on blood sugar levels, cause weight gain, suppress the immune system, affect the gut, damage the heart and even impact on fertility. Cortisol is meant for special occasions when we really need it, it is not something our bodies should be flooded with all the time.

We can juggle all the balls, work hard, play hard, look after others and achieve all we want to but, crucially, only if we look after ourselves. If we don’t make time for self-care activities, take the breaks, listen to our inner wellbeing voice, the consequences can be dire. A close friend experienced just what can happen when you forget yourself. I’ll let her tell you, in her own words:

“Self-care is life-saving. I do not say this lightly. Around ten years ago I had a very severe mental health crisis, resulting in me being in hospital for 7 weeks. It was horrible. It was caused by depression and exacerbated by me not taking care of myself. Forgetting myself. Putting everyone above myself. I worked solidly, because I felt so sad. If I was at work I was busy, if I was busy I wasn’t thinking. There is only so long you can do that, and then you crash. I crashed. When I was well again I had to make dramatic changes to my life, and the major one was how to actually look after myself.

The most life changing aspect of self-care for me has been learning to say no. Knowing my own limitations and not being afraid to voice them. You are not a bad person because you put yourself first. If you cannot take care of you, you can’t take care of anyone else.

Also, keeping lines of communication open. Keep talking to those around you, even when it’s a difficult conversation. Silence is a killer. When I was ill I was the most scared I have ever been, and had to have hideous conversations with people, which ultimately led to me getting the help I needed. It’s ok not to be ok. There is something incredibly freeing about being so open and honest. It was so hard to talk, but ultimately has only improved my relationships with everyone around me.

Baby steps. Find what makes you happy. Do it a lot. It sounds simple but life is hectic. Work, family, kids, school runs. But you know what, that ironing pile will still be there tomorrow. The house looks like a bomb hit it but you’ve kept your kids alive and fed and so now you are going to watch strictly come dancing and admire the, erm, dancing skills of Gorka, and just relax. There will be time for the ironing. It is not tonight. Equally, if ironing is your happy place, then good luck to you!”

I’m very proud of my friend for being brave enough to write this for me and letting me share it. Having visited her on the mental health ward, hidden away down the interminably long corridor, I can vouch that it is not a place you would want to end up (though my friend did feel safe there for which I am grateful).

Self-care is life-saving. It is essential. But how the bloody hell do you do it? If it was that easy and straightforward, people up and down the country wouldn’t be ending up in crisis. I suspect the first challenge of self-care is knowing what you need. After that, you need to value yourself enough to allow yourself to have it and then actively make it happen.

Grizzly has recently moved to a more senior post which is highly stressful with long hours and quite a bit of travel. He shoulders a lot of responsibility at work. Thankfully, this was acknowledged during his induction and he was warned of the need to manage his timetable proactively to ensure it contains time for self-care. It is an ongoing challenge for him, as there are only so many hours in the day, but he is good at knowing what he needs at least (half the battle) and as long as he can run several times per week all is well. Running is not a negotiable activity: it is an essential part of his week.

Whilst running works its magic for Grizzly, I personally can’t think of a less desirable way to spend my down time.

Thinking about what works for me has been enlightening. I think it has taken me quite a long time to figure it out. However, it turns out that I’m a right unsociable so and so and find nothing more restorative than a day alone. Interestingly I don’t tend to stay at home for a self-care day (probably because it is good to escape the washing pile). I tend to find a coffee shop, sit with my back to the other customers (I know, miserable!) and read, write or draw, while consuming a massive cup of tea. I’ll generally write a blog post – in itself an act of self-care it turns out. Sometimes it isn’t just that I want to write but that I need to, just as Grizzly physically needs to run.

Blogging has certainly helped with keeping my adopter/ parenting worries in check – it gets them out of my head but doesn’t involve the discomfort of having to actually explain them to someone face to face (though I do a bit of that too).

The main self-care challenge for me has been identifying when I need it. Sometimes I can do a million and one things at the same time and be fine. At other times, one small thing can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I have had to listen harder to the little voice inside that tells you when everything is getting a bit much. It turns out it is much better to heed the whisper than to allow things to get on top of you, as you will undoubtedly snap and lose your temper with the children. I don’t like to shout at them so I have had to get better at identifying the times I might (otherwise you get the joy of dealing with the guilt afterwards). I have to be particularly mindful of my hormonal state (see PMS and Adoption) and be a little kinder to myself at those points.

I think Mum’s in particular (sorry Dad’s and everyone else, I’m allowed a sweeping statement once in a while) are adept at ‘getting on with it’ – pushing through the home and childcare duties, work and the never-ending to-do list whether they feel like it or not. Things would quite possibly collapse around you if you didn’t. However, there is a skill in knowing when pushing through is ok and when you are rapidly closing in on your limit. I’m still working on it but after a busy few weeks of going from work to sorting out the builders who have been re-doing our bathroom to the children (especially Little Bear’s growing Christmas-related mania) to making Christmas decorations and selling them at craft fayres to Christmas shopping to planning & liaising over our next project (a pod in the garden since you ask) as well as a few other things, today’s yoga class felt like one ask too many. I usually love yoga but after a lot of rushing about and being in specific places at specific times, my little inner voice was asking in a stage whisper for a day off. There are times when I would have just made myself go anyway, ignoring that little voice, but I feel so much better for having listened. A whole day off, being unsociable, having some peace. Just what my inner wellbeing guru ordered.

As well as the crucial self-care we all need, there are also acts of self-kindness: finding ways to spoil yourself a little; ways to make life easier; adding things in just because you like them or they make you happy. Here are some of the things that work for me:

  • Wandering around my garden. It is not a big garden but I love looking at how my plants are growing, watering them in the summer and generally enjoying my little bit of outside.
  • I also like going to look at the fish in our tiny pond. I have no idea why that is so relaxing but it is.
  • I seem to be getting quite into the indoor gardening too. I also wander about the house tending my indoor charges.
  • I feel particularly happy when the sun shines in on the melon seedlings and I think they might just grow some melons.
  • Shopping. Sometimes you just need to buy yourself a little gift. I have to be careful though, shopping can lead to guilt.
  • A little taste of something carbohydrate-y as I’m not really eating them at the moment but a girl needs a treat every now and again.
  • All snuggles with my boys are lovely. Giving up on all jobs and lying on the sofa for a whole afternoon of snuggly TV can be just what the doctor ordered.
  • Any sort of gift that arrives in subscription form. My friend got me a Papergang subscription from @Ohhdeer so beautiful stationery landed on the mat every month. It was amazing.
  • A good book on the rare occasions I manage to read one. The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan is a very wholesome and uplifting read.
  • A good rummage in a charity shop, especially if there are retro coffee pots to be found.
  • Low-maintenance hosting. I rarely bother killing myself preparing a fancy meal to impress people with. You are just as likely to get a takeaway here but I will sit and chat and pay you my full attention. I’d rather give my energy to you than to the cooking.
  • Ditto children’s lunches. No slaving over packed lunches every night – school dinners all the way.
  • A cheeky lunch out with Grizzly when he is working from home – dating without the need for babysitting.
  • When all else fails, putting on my fluffy onesie, lying on the sofa and watching an episode of First Dates.

 

I wonder what other people do to be kind to themselves? Feel free to share.

 

 

 

Self-Care

Pretend I’m In Your Tummy, Mummy

Most children go through a phase of imaginative play when they are developing. They pretend, they act and they direct you to take your role in the game. They often play the same game over and over.

I can remember when Big Bear was about 3 or 4 he constantly wanted me to “make the man talk”. It was usually a Lego man and there would be some sort of scenario panning out in which I would be tasked with a specific role. Often he would tell me what words I should say and would be quick to correct me if I was getting it wrong. There was one particular game that involved a Lego man waiting on a platform for a train. Every time the train got to the station I would try to put my man on. “No” Big Bear would say, “Wait for the next one”. The next one would come and the same thing would happen. It was a game that required a lot of patience!

There was also a lot of dressing up pretending to be Batman or a fireman or a doctor. I think sometimes he pretended to be a cat.

This was Big Bear, still living with the family he was born into, following typical patterns of development.

Recently, I have discovered that this type of play with Little Bear is not quite the same. There are similarities but trauma has added an extra layer of complexity. This is a familiar conversation at the moment:

Little Bear: Pretend I’m in your tummy, Mummy

Me: Ok (cuddling him on my knee)

Me: Ooh, I wonder what my baby is going to look like. I can’t wait to meet them.

LB: I’m out now.

Me: Oh look, he’s gorgeous. Look at those eyes! He looks like a …Little Bear. I’ll call him Little Bear (In reality I say his actual name – I don’t really pretend he is a bear!) I’ll look after you and keep you safe forever.

If I don’t do the naming part he whispers to me “tell me I look like a Little Bear”.

LB: Pretend I’m a dog

Me: Have I just given birth to a dog?!

LB: Yes, you are a mummy dog

Me: Oh right

LB: No! You’re a dog! You can’t talk, you have to bark!

And so the confusing tale continues. Little Bear keeps replaying the part where I meet him for the first time. I don’t know if this is because I keep telling him how much I want him and how I’ll keep him safe forever in an attempt to be therapeutic or if in fact he keeps coming back to it because I haven’t yet said what he needs to hear. Your guess is as good as mine.

I think it is fairly obvious that the game has to do with seeking a sense of belonging, of claiming (and being claimed)* and is due to him wishing he had come out of my tummy as his brother did.

Interestingly there is another version of the game that involves me pretending he is a puppy who has got lost. I have to pretend I am following his footprints and discover him buried in a heap of snow. He pretends he is lost from his owner and that I rescue him, taking him home to warm up and have some food. Does this symbolise me back in my role as adoptive parent, I wonder? Coming in where someone else has left off? I’m intrigued that he would see that as a rescue.

Sometimes, once I have rescued him from the snow, he talks about his mum and dad coming in and finding him again. I always wonder if he means his birth parents but when I enquire who he means, he says Grizzly and me. By this stage I’m fully confused as to my role in the whole thing and whether I’m quite possibly just overthinking it.

Little Bear is definitely at the stage where fantasy and reality are fully entwined and he switches from one idea to another moment by moment. One minute I’m rescuing a puppy, the next he is a gorilla. On one occasion the baby I had given birth to was in fact an egg and I was a hen. It’s pretty difficult to keep up. I suspect the games are an amalgam of several ideas floating around his head at any one time.

A couple of times, over recent days, the games have taken a darker turn. I rescue the cold puppy, who initially seems to want some love and cuddles but who then suddenly switches to wanting to bite me. This could just be the new version of the game but as I am permanently in analyse everything and look for hidden meanings mode, I can’t help but wonder if this is like reliving the early days of our adoption. We chose Little Bear, we were excited for our future with him but when he came home he hit, bit, scratched, kicked and threw things and was generally distressed. Little Bear was 3 and a half at the time and likely remembers it. Is he double-checking my response? Do I still want to rescue the puppy if it turns out to be aggressive? Will I still take it home and love it?

I know that I might be over-analysing but I am careful with my response just in case. “Don’t worry little puppy” I reassure, “I think you are a bit frightened at the moment. I think that might be why you tried to bite me. I won’t hurt you. You are safe”.

In the game, this seems to calm the puppy.

Little Bear has instigated similar games before; right from when he arrived he wanted me to pretend he was a baby. I would lay a large blanket out on the floor and he would lie in it and get me to swaddle him. I had to be careful in the early days because it was easy to cross an invisible line into ‘too much to deal with’ territory. He would let me coddle him a bit – stroke him and coo over him like a baby but often I would unwittingly overstep the ever moving mark and be rewarded with a bite or hit. It always felt like it happened when he had allowed himself to let go for a moment and then accidentally let me in a bit too much, so that it had felt emotionally weird or frightening and he needed to back off again.

It has changed over time. I have had to persevere despite the re-buffs and he has evidently slowly become more comfortable to the point where he seeks a lot of physical comfort now. I rarely feel that the line is even there.

I find it interesting that over two years in, these acted games still feature and new ones are still appearing. I wonder if he wanted to play these recent ones before but his language skills wouldn’t allow him. Or whether he is only now reaching the appropriate developmental level. Or whether it is because he has a better understanding of his life story now. Or whether he is still seeking something I am not giving…

When I used to make the man talk for Big Bear I didn’t have all these extra things to think about. It really was about a pretend man getting onto (or at least trying to get on to) a pretend train. No hidden meanings. Little Bear’s play, on the other hand, is laced with them.

I am probably different too though – far more aware that there might be hidden meanings and far more attuned to looking for them.

What I want Little Bear to realise is that it doesn’t matter to me whose tummy he grew in, I love him just the same. But I guess they are only words to him; he needs to truly believe it and feel it within himself.

I guess we will be pretending he is in my tummy for a while longer yet.

 

*There is definitely a claiming element to it, not just biology, as Little Bear has also pretended to be in Big Bear’s tummy. Big Bear, being Big Bear, took it fully in his stride and ‘gave birth’ to Little Bear on the kitchen bench (!), before rocking him on his knee, cradled like a baby. I have no idea how an 8 year old came to be so instinctively therapeutic but he’s a natural.

** I’m very lucky to have two such lovely boys.

 

 

Pretend I’m In Your Tummy, Mummy

Credit Where Credit Is Due

When Little Bear’s Speech and Language Therapist and I met one another things could have gone either way. There was certainly a high risk of a strained relationship. As I had already made two formal complaints about the Service and she knew I was a Speech and Language Therapist too, she probably came to the first session with some pre-conceived ideas of how I might be. I imagine she thought I would be hard work, difficult to please and all-round a bit of a nightmare parent to have on your caseload.

I also came to that first session with some concerns. Our experience of the Service so far had been appalling (hence the complaints) and I was feeling embarrassed by association. I was worried that Little Bear wouldn’t get his needs recognised or met and that every session would be cringe-inducingly awkward.

Fast-forward seven months and I’m pleased to report that we have weathered the storm. Just as I felt it was important to speak-up when the treatment we received was poor, I also feel you should give credit where credit is due.

Things did go fairly well from the beginning because she (let’s call her Helen) listened to me and tried to anticipate what I needed from the sessions, as well as being lovely with Little Bear. We have now been working together (and I truly believe that is how we have done it) for some time and Little Bear has made a lot of progress. We have targeted three different vowel sounds in turn which he has learned to articulate and has successfully generalised into his everyday speech. Helen has also set language targets and provided materials for school to work on.

Helen has recently re-assessed Little Bear to decide on next steps. Her assessment showed that Little Bear has moved from the 5th and 16th percentile on two comprehension subtests to the 16th and 63rd respectively, both scores now within the expected range for his age. He has also acquired a 4th vowel sound which we haven’t targeted in therapy. He has made incredible progress.

At the session before last Helen wondered aloud whether Little Bear might be ready to switch to the school part of their service now. As he has top-up funding he is eligible (in our area) for speech and language therapy visits to school. As he had made so much progress she wondered whether the time might be right.

I didn’t say much as I knew we still had further assessment to complete but when I left the session I had some nagging doubts. If he got seen in school, who would the therapist be? I’d have to get to know them from scratch and crucially so would Little Bear. How much involvement would I be able to have? Would the session take place without me being there? Although Little Bear has done really well with therapy, his speech continues to be peppered with errors and he is by no means ‘cured’ yet. I’d have to voice my thoughts next time.

However, when it came to the next time, I didn’t have to voice anything. Helen was one step ahead.

She had gone away and spoken with the school therapy lead and almost had a supervision session about Little Bear. I think it’s a sign of a good therapist when you can go away and reflect and ask other’s opinions. She is a very experienced therapist but knows that another perspective and some time to think can be really useful.

She happened to have some students with her during our session and took advantage of having someone to entertain Little Bear, allowing us the chance to talk. She suggested we had an honest discussion about how we both feel Little Bear is getting on and what should happen next. We went through each area of Little Bear’s communication and I told her how he’s doing with it, in real life, outside of clinic.

She told me that on reflection, she has some concerns about Little Bear moving to the other part of the service. She is worried about how he will cope, given his background, with getting to know another new person. She feels that both she and he, and she and I, have developed a good, effective therapeutic relationship. She is wondering about the benefits of trying to switch this relationship to somebody else. I wholeheartedly agreed with both of these things. I think it made it easier for me to be honest as she was so direct.

We agreed that although it is not ideal bringing Little Bear out of school to go to a clinic environment it is working well for him, he is used to it and it is manageable. We agreed we would continue in this way as it is better for Little Bear. It is not the usual protocol but Helen sees the need to be flexible to best meet his needs, as good therapy should.

As Little Bear is entitled to school input, Helen and her Manager have agreed to some flexibility about school visiting and Helen can do a classroom observation if I think that would be useful (she is usually clinic based only). I definitely think it would be useful to have another pair of eyes in the classroom. I have been desperate at points to go and observe myself but obviously as a parent it wouldn’t be appropriate. However, I value Helen’s opinion and it would be useful to know what is going on communication-wise in school, especially with Little Bear’s TA.

We then completed the prioritisation system particular to our local Trust. Helen allowed me to be a partner in this. We were mostly in agreement anyway but where we weren’t we went for the middle of our scores. I think it must be extremely difficult for her having another SaLT in all of her sessions and I find it hard knowing what involvement I should/shouldn’t have. I’m so grateful that she has acknowledged my background and we don’t have to pretend I’m not a SaLT. Ideal or not I am one and I can’t pretend that I don’t have knowledge that I do (although initially that was my intention).

I did acknowledge this with Helen and she said she is very mindful that Little Bear gets what everyone gets and they don’t just rely on him getting what he needs through me. She also said that if a parent had learning needs, they would adapt their approach accordingly. I happen to have a little more knowledge about communication than the average parent but this needn’t be a problem, they can adapt their approach for that too.

I know that not every therapist would have been able to take my profession quite as in their stride as Helen has. It is because she is confident and experienced that she knows it needn’t bother her. I have also been very careful not to comment unless invited and have acknowledged things like how difficult it is to transcribe vowels and that I would have found this challenging. Helen is the therapist and I am the parent and generally we stick to those roles. However, we do seem to have found a comfortable place in the middle where we discuss Little Bear’s needs on a level and plan jointly, as two co-professionals would. I suppose she has allowed me the role of professional parent, the specialist in my child, in a way that many parents, particularly adopters, are often denied.

We went on to co-write aims for the upcoming sessions of therapy.

Helen was clear that she will not be keeping Little Bear on the caseload forever. I know this and I don’t want her to but I do hope we are in agreement about when the time is right to stop. The prioritisation score we agreed on indicated that direct therapy is still needed so we are in agreement at the moment that the sessions should continue. We have two more vowels in our sights as well as some updated language targets.

I came away from the session extremely grateful at the way things have turned out. It shows that you can stand up for your child, make complaints and still go on to have a great relationship with a professional. As a parent you can get your views heard and you can get your child’s needs met if you persevere. I think Helen has been surprised that I’m not the nightmare I seemed on paper, I am just a parent who wants the best for their child and I am fully prepared to work together to achieve that. I will say what I think and I will point out bad practise but if things are going well, I will acknowledge that and praise it. We have a good working relationship and despite the odds I would even go so far as to say we that we really quite like one-another.

When we have finished therapy I will be writing to Helen’s manager to thank her for the service we have received and to recognise the great job Helen has done.

 

I have written a lot about Speech and Language Therapy and our experiences. You can read more here if you are interested: Developmental Language Disorder, Communication Difficulties: Update, SaLT, EP & an Assembly, Another try at SaLT, A bit of a rant, Living with Speech and Language Difficulties

 

 

Credit Where Credit Is Due