Mislaying The Positives

I think everyone knows that the last few weeks have been a little trying. Between school residentials and transition, there has been plenty to get my knickers in a twist about (if you somehow missed it, see Hysterical , The Big Trip and Is Dysregulation Rocket Science? ). This isn’t unusual, I’m frequently banging on about some issue or other, more often than not relating to LB’s education. I’m aware though, that in getting caught up dealing with the myriad issues, it can be all too easy to skip over the positives. It means that things, that when you stop to think about them are actually amazing, can pass you by with barely an acknowledgement. I don’t want to skip over these things – these achievements of LB’s – because they are massive within the context of his history and should be given the credence they deserve. I’m going to share one thing, in particular, today. First, I need to tell you some facts.

I don’t like bragging. That’s a fact. I can’t bear it when people go to parents evening then write #giftedandtalented on Twitter or Facebook. Or when someone asks you if you’re concerned about your child and you say yes, and then they say how they aren’t at all worried about theirs because they are exceeding expectations in every area. I don’t like it when people brag about how expensive their house is or how much they earn or how clever they are or any of the others ways that people try to seem better than other people. Just, no.

Here’s another fact. When LB started pre-school, his development was measured to be two years behind the typical expectations for his age – so he was functioning round about the level of a two year old, when he was four. That’s a very tricky educational starting point. There were many barriers between LB and formal learning – behavioural, emotional, linguistic.

When LB started reception class, he couldn’t count. I’m not exaggerating – he literally couldn’t count to three in the correct order. This was not through a lack of trying on anyone’s part – it was mainly due to his Developmental Language Disorder (DLD See Developmental Language Disorder or DLD & Education ), as well as his tricky start. It did mean that numeracy was going to be extremely difficult. It is impossible to do sums if you don’t understand the currency you’re dealing with. It literally must have been like adding apples and pears for him.

By the end of year 1, though LB had made incredible progress in all areas, he had never quite managed to hit an expected level in any subject. It didn’t matter. We were extremely proud of him because of all the things he had achieved and really, from a starting point of 2 years behind, how could he?

Year 2 felt like a big jump. Year 2 had SATS. SATS were going to be hard for someone working below the expectations of the curriculum; someone who had only been able to count for 18 months or so. Fact. We didn’t even know if we’d let him sit the SATS – if they were going to feel too big an obstacle.

Somehow, despite all those facts, at the end of Year 2, LB managed not only to sit his SATS but to pass his Maths SATS. Not only that, but he smashed it, gaining close to a ‘greater depth’ score. He has also been deemed to be working at the overall expectations of the curriculum in numeracy, so in his report, he got his first green light. In fact, he got one for science too.

Why are you telling us this, if you don’t like bragging? I hear you whisper.

I’ll tell you why.

The ACE’s index (Adverse Childhood Experiences index) came about as a way of measuring the impact in later life of various different adversities that could befall a child. This is important because it is only fairly recently that society has begun to acknowledge that things that happen during childhood can continue to impact a person throughout their life. It is important we understand that childhood abuse, neglect or the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death, imprisonment or moving into the Care system doesn’t stop impacting a person once the event is over. It is really important these things are widely understood. The old adage that ‘the child is safe now so the past can be forgotten’ really does need eradicating and something like the ACE’s movement helps with this.

The ACE index also tells us that the more ACEs a person has experienced, the greater their risk of mental and physical health difficulties, substance abuse and unemployment. In short, the worse your start in life, the higher the likelihood of your life outcomes also being poor. A double-whammy body-blow.

ACES another one

 

It is beginning to be recognised that though this information is well-intentioned and to some extent needed, by encouraging people to count numbers of ACEs, you are really misunderstanding the way trauma works. It’s feasible that a person could score just 1 on the index, for an event that may only have occurred once, on one specific day. The index would suggest that this event would only have a minor impact on the person. However, from what we know of trauma, this is isn’t accurate. Depending on the person and their own reactions, that single event could have anything from a minimal to a profound lifelong impact upon the person. Similarly, because you have a large number of ACE’s, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will end up homeless, addicted to alcohol and drugs and suffering several health complaints, and I think there is a danger in suggesting you would.

ACES

 

For a young person, growing up with the knowledge they have a high ACE score could well make them feel hopeless about their future, and is that really what we want for our most vulnerable children? Surely the message should be that, yes, rubbish things that happen in childhood can impact upon a person and as a society we acknowledge it. We should also be offering all the extras a child could need – therapy, education, social/behavioural/emotional support – to help them in overcoming the impacts of those ACES. We should be acknowledging that children with any ACE score need more from us – more care, more love, more support. We should be flagging them up as at risk of the future harm the ACE index suggests whilst providing them with what they need to negate that risk.

I think there’s a danger in suggesting that something that happens early on will categorically lead to x or y later. These things are not set in stone. With the correct support, children who’ve had adverse starts in life can and do overcome the barriers their early lives attempted to block them with. I’m not saying it’s easy – it will undoubtedly be harder for them than for children without ACEs – but shouldn’t we try? Shouldn’t we aspire for the best we can for all children?

So, when a child comes from two years behind expectations, having experienced neglect and the severing of links with their biological family, and several moves, and despite all that catches up with expectations for children who have dealt with none of that, shouldn’t we be shouting from the roof tops? I think so.

Often, it is the most privileged who brag the most. It is hard to be impressed by the gains of those who already had a head start, but when the one who was lagging behind, who joined the race a long while after the others and kept on running despite being so far back, manages to catch up, that’s truly brag-worthy.

This is not all about catching-up though. Even if LB hadn’t have caught up, but had kept running, that would be a significant achievement too. He’s still running when it comes to literacy and he may always be, as may many of his other adoptee peers who have educational mountains to overcome, and I think it’s important we acknowledge that every next reading level, every percentile, every point on every scale, is harder won for our children with ACEs. But they’re doing it. They’re out there, surpassing expectations all the time. And I don’t want that to be lost in schools that don’t understand their behaviour or in parents having to fight or getting dragged down by the multitudinous battles they’re facing. We mustn’t mislay the positives. These positives are huge and indicative of something bigger even than ACEs. They’re about human fortitude and our ability to overcome. And a beacon of hope for what can be achieved, when we properly support our most vulnerable.

 

 

 

 

 

Mislaying The Positives

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