3 in 1

Have you seen those multi-tools you can buy? The ones that look like a pen knife but when you open them up, they’ve in fact got a pull-out spanner, a pen, a bottle opener, a screwdriver and a corkscrew somehow stashed within them? You buy one tool but you actually get five. Very nifty.

I feel as though these tools are a metaphor for adopting Little Bear: he looks like one child but I’m pretty sure he’s comprised of at least three.

Sometimes it feels more like a whole band of delinquent imps, but I digress.

There’s the Little Bear who is a complete and utter joy to be around. He’s cute, funny and gentle. He’s considerate – he wants to help you and he’s concerned if you’re hurt or upset. In fact, he will be prepared to defend you to the hilt if he perceives some wrong doing towards a loved one: there’s the time he punched a girl in the face because she picked on his brother; the time he pottered down the hall with his dummy and blanket, to give a neighbouring child a stern telling off at the front door, as they had, again, been mean to his brother. That stern word reduced a child three years older than him to tears. It was impressive, I have to say, and totally belied the image conjured up by the dummy and blankie. There wasn’t any malice on either occasion – just a pure sense of love for his brother and a strong sense of injustice. If you had to pick teams, you’d want that Little Bear on yours.

And he’ll tell you how much he loves you. He’ll weave his little arms around your neck and in your hair and he’ll press his face to yours and he’ll say you’re the best mummy in the world, that he loves you to all the planets and back again. That he loves you a googolplex. That he’s never leaving you and even when he gets married, he’s going to live at home with his wife.

That Little Bear is also thirsty for knowledge. He listens intently. He learns at an impressive rate and dedicates himself to improving – thinking about how to get on the next reading level; if he can fill up another Maths book; how to get his mouth around that multi-syllabic word that is proving a challenge. He’s receptive to direction and can show a good level of resilience.

He’s smiley and affectionate. We can take him pretty much anywhere. And when we do, he will doubtless find a person with a dog, approach them slowly, saying, “Please can I stroke your dog?” He’ll pet the dog and the dog will love it. He will thank the owner extremely politely and you will see them thinking what a cute child he is, how well-mannered he is, how unusual it is for a child to ask before touching the dog. You can see him restoring their faith in children.

Then you wake up in the morning and he’s all but disappeared. In his place is another Little Bear who is unpredictable. He’s a bit like the one I just described above one minute, and then the next he isn’t. Sometimes he wants to please you and sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he listens and sometimes he won’t. Sometimes he’s kind and gentle and occasionally he will whack you with a toy sword for absolutely no reason. This one can be skittish. He might sit down for a while and play Lego but when it’s dinner time he will hop and climb and do roly-polies on the bench. You can enjoy your time with this one but then you might ask him to do something that doesn’t suit, such as get out of the bath or stop playing football or to turn off his iPad, and he will become miraculously deaf.

This Little Bear is the one who might do something shockingly unpredictable from time to time, such as dip his hands in the toilet or lick the bottom of his shoe or maybe, the cat. One minute you feel like smothering him in kisses and the next like tearing out your own hair. We do meet him quite often. You’d probably describe him as ‘spirited’. He’s loud, incredibly so – in fact you wonder if this one is a child within a child, like Russian doll children, with a combined lung capacity and double-energy to match. This one talks incessantly – literally from waking until sleep – and especially when you are trying to concentrate on driving everyone home alive or conducting an important phone call.

Then he’s a dog. A puppy. And he wants you to give birth to him. Then he’s a gorilla. Then he won’t answer to his actual name because, as he’s just tried to establish, he’s actually called ‘Woof’ and he’s a different species and no, clearly he can’t understand the language you’re speaking to him in because he’s a DOG. Idiot!

And you get to the end of the day and you’re tired, but in a you’ve wrangled a mischievous pixie kind of way, not a you just can’t do this anymore kind of way, and you giggle at his antics and think how cute he is and feel quite ready to do it all again tomorrow, despite the challenges.

But that Little Bear has disappeared. The minute you wake, you sense there’s a problem. Ideally you would reach for your flak jacket and tin helmet before going downstairs, because you already know you will need them. There is a sense of mania permeating the walls. He’s speaking too loud, too fast and with a lot of non-speech noises thrown in. You know he must eat breakfast and that might lead to the return of one of the other Little Bears.

But he won’t. ‘Would you like toast?’ is met with ‘I hate you’ and ‘shut-up’. He flatly refuses to come to the table. Seconds later he is scooting around the living room, on an actual scooter, not wearing an actual helmet, a pre-requisite rule of scooter-riding that he knows only too well. The scooter riding and the circles are winding him up further. You suggest he gets off the scooter but he won’t. He starts to crash it into the furniture. If you somehow manage to get the scooter out of the situation, he finds a ball to kick at the patio door or a toy knife to saw the table with. You mostly end up sitting him in front of the TV because safe containment seems wise. You check back, at regular intervals, but he mostly still hates you, still wants you to stop talking, doesn’t agree with any of your wonderings about the situation and may or may not threaten to head butt you.

Sometimes, foolishly, you wonder if a change of scenery might help. You let him choose, to help with buy-in. Sometimes, things are ok when you get to wherever it is but then other times you might ask him to come back and he will look you directly in the eye and stride in the opposite direction. You might calmly explain that walking along the curb-edge is not wise because a car might clip you and he will look you in the eye and fully step onto the road. You will ask him to come into the ladies toilet because he’s too young to go into the men’s alone and he will purposefully walk into the men’s. You will attempt to intercept him, because what could possibly go awry in the men’s toilets feels frightening and, because he isn’t listening to you being rational, you will make the men’s toilets sound scarier and more dangerous than it likely is and he, because he feels pumped and indestructible, will tell you that he can take these weirdos down and that you are in fact an idiot and the worst parent in the world and you never, ever, even attempt to keep him safe.

You may then lose your shit with him, because you are frightened that you actually can’t keep him safe if he won’t do anything that you say. Your brain starts to fear several aspects of the future: how can this Little Bear ever cope in a mainstream high school? How will he fair in the real world where there are very real rules that really do have to be adhered to because otherwise the Police get involved?

When he’s calmer, you attempt to explain this to him. He says he will punch the Police in the balls. And you think, shit, he might. Then you explain how prison works, not to scare him, but to explain that there are consequences to such actions and he says, ‘I’d like to go there and fight the prisoners and kill them,’ and you think several more unrepeatable swear words.

This Little Bear is pretty unreachable. You can try being supremely therapeutic, you can try being very firm, you can try reasoning. But, generally, nothing works. You mainly need to resort to survival – getting everyone to the end of the day, with all their limbs still attached and without having said anything you will live to regret.

Little Bear will say many things he may later regret. This Little Bear will even needle his biggest hero: his brother. He will say he’s going to kill his cat or his future wife (after asking her out first). Big Bear will understandably run of patience with this constant commentary in his ear and will shut himself in his bedroom. Little Bear will not be able to leave him alone, will not heed your instructions to do so, and will wonder why you are getting increasingly exasperated.

This Little Bear will say you’ve hurt him when you haven’t, call you all the bad names he can muster up and, if you intervene physically, to stop him absconding say, he may very well dig his nails into you or bite or hit you.

When this Little Bear visits you are very grateful for bedtime. Parenting has not been a joyous experience and you find yourself really hoping tomorrow will not be like that and that the apocalyptic future you are now imagining will not come to fruition. You wonder if you should start researching alternative high school provisions. You wished you drank and could seek solace in alcohol. Or even chocolate. But you don’t have either so you chomp aggressively on an innocent carrot.

You know, rationally, that Little Bear is not in fact three children in one; he’s one child who is differentially impacted by trauma. You also know that the harder your parenting day is, the more turmoil he’s experiencing and the more empathy he requires. You would also defy any therapeutic parenting expert to spend that sort of day with him and not lose their cool. That Little Bear would laugh in the face of PACE. Or probably punch it in the balls.

You remind yourself about the first Little Bear I mentioned. You struggle to compute that he is the same child as the last one. How could he be? They seem so polarised that you start forgetting the first one exists.

Then you wake and he’s back. A little curly head rests itself on your chest and a voice asks for a cuddle. And you forget about the last one.

Until he visits again.

 

 

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3 in 1

Adoption’s a rollercoaster, just gotta ride it

Sorry to quote Ronan at you, but that song has been playing on loop in my head for the last few days – no doubt my subconscious talking – and it really is the most apt musical accompaniment for how things are at the moment. I have always likened adoption to a rollercoaster – the ups and downs are undeniable. It’s just that usually there are a couple of weeks or months that are good, followed by a trickier patch – a kind of long distance rollercoaster dipping and looping through the years. Not so this week. This week, we have been up and down several times, all in the space of five days and it’s hard not to feel a little dizzy.

I mentioned last week that the start of 2019 wasn’t particularly easy for Little Bear and therefore not for us either. When we arrived at the Easter holidays, we were all flagging and a little more in need of a re-group than usual. We didn’t do too much – a few days out but lots of time around the house too. Pretty much everything we did was low-key, together, and involved a lot of quality time. We have got much better at knowing what salves are required to sooth tired nerves and these tried and tested methods do work for us. By the end of the two weeks off, all was good with the world. The sun had shone a bit, we had all relaxed and re-charged and we all approached the back to work/ school situation with enthusiasm and good cheer.

I was certainly aware of the re-found bounce in my walk and the looseness in my shoulders and the lack of furrow in my brow. Had we turned a corner? In my sunny and optimistic mood, I thought so.

On the first day back, Little Bear knuckled down, worked hard and got himself onto the next reading level. This was brilliant. Not only that, but he seemed to have developed a new level of reading fluency overnight and was tackling the harder books without difficulty. The next day we met the Psychologist (I wrote about that in The Right Eyes ) and had a positive and further optimism-boosting meeting. Hoorah! School were next level knowledgeable and Little Bear’s needs were going to be met and I could further relax. My body and mind were very excited at this prospect. Nothing to worry about! Imagine that! I was imagining it, craving it and just plain ready for it.

The week was only four days long, due to Good Friday, and passed in a similar upbeat manner. Easter weekend was also a beautiful thing. The sun really shone, our vitamin D was boosted, we went exploring down a stream, we hunted for eggs, we saw a friend, we did outdoor sketching, we read books. It was nice. It wasn’t dramatic or exotic but it was really, restoratively nice.

I was very much settling into the relaxed feeling now. There was no reason whatsoever that it shouldn’t carry on for the rest of the term. Spring had sprung, winter had passed and taken with it the doom of the last months. We were at the top of the rollercoaster and due a lengthy stay.

The boys went back to school after the bank holiday weekend and had good days. On the Wednesday, I picked them up from football club and Little Bear told me I needed to speak with the coach. Here we go, I thought. The coach took me to one side, away from the rest of the parents and began our chat with, “I’ll be speaking to another child’s parent too.” Bloody Nora, what had they done? Brawling, I assumed.

I assumed wrong. He wanted to speak with me because Little Bear had been trying so hard and being so sensible both in PE and football that the coach was super impressed. He told me that he and the other boy, who usually have to be separated from one another due to constantly dysregulating one another, had been so sensible they had been allowed to play on the same team. There had been a foul and the coach felt sure this would lead to familiar difficulties. Instead, one had helped the other up in a very sports manly fashion. He wanted to tell me how proud he was of Little Bear; how much he was standing out for him in school, for all the right reasons, and how much he loves him.

The coach is a young guy (God, I’m old) but he just seems to understand children like Little Bear. He doesn’t automatically see naughtiness where others might. He also seems to understand instinctively, that as a parent of a child with behaviour challenges, sometimes you really need to hear good news. I thanked him and attempted to express the loveliness of what he had just done without A. crying or B. hugging him inappropriately.

Yep, we were at the top of the rollercoaster alright. The coach had taken Little Bear to his teacher and had a similar conversation with him too, so I felt confident that the following day would continue to bring positives.

Wowzers. It had been a long time since we’d had a run of positives and it was most welcome.

I was totally blindsided then, when Little Bear woke in the middle of the night incredibly distressed by a nightmare. I have to admit I slept through the drama and poor Grizzly ended up getting in the spare bed with him, even though he was working. But I certainly knew all about it in the morning when Little Bear feigned illness and announced he wasn’t going to school, the second he saw me. Cue a very difficult school run, school refusal and a very tricky ten to fifteen minutes cajoling an in turn sad and angry Little Bear to stay in the building. It took so long the playground had been locked and I had to escape through the school.

It’s funny how a bad drop off can really set the mood for your day. You can’t help worrying about how they are and half expecting a phone call. I did get a call, at break time, but it was mostly to reassure me. He wasn’t on top form but he was doing ok. I’ve never had a call for reassuring purposes before, perhaps school really were getting to grips with what might help us.

I think we were all in peril in Little Bear’s dream, which had triggered attachment and separation anxiety things again. What a shame after such a positive few days! Eeh, well. The rollercoaster plummets and you just have to ride it.

The next day was better. Just a blip. Up we went again.

On Friday, a different teacher opened Little Bear’s door and my heart sank a little. The school have introduced a new curriculum this term, which I feel pretty excited about, but none of us had really extrapolated what that meant for Little Bear. It means having a teacher who doesn’t know him and whom he doesn’t have a trusting relationship with every Friday. Hmm. His TA was there though, I reassured myself.

When I picked him up that evening, he was pale and furious looking. “Did you have a good day, darling?” was met with a very definite ‘no’. And things deteriorated from there. The evening part was ok but by bedtime, Little Bear was refusing to go upstairs, trying to break things, calling us names and threatening to punch me in the face. I somehow managed bedtime safely but it wasn’t exactly enjoyable.

The next morning, things were no better. When it came to getting ready for horse-riding, Little Bear wouldn’t, despite his brother wanting to go along to watch – the kind of carrot that would usually take Little Bear anywhere. We tried firmness, persuasion, therapeutic-ing. The works. In the end, I laid his things out and just told him they were there and gave him the space to make his own decision (I was trying to go for a Demand Avoidance friendly approach). It didn’t work. He didn’t get ready and so he didn’t go. The fact that he somehow perceived this as having got away with something, seemed to rattle him further and he began to (seemingly) purposefully escalate the situation. Anyone who has experienced that will know exactly what I mean. I realised he needed a firm barrier and told him if he wasn’t riding, he’d have to just sit on the sofa. Rampaging around the house wasn’t actually an option.

Five minutes later, he came back to find me, breaking his heart crying, saying he regretted his decision and now really wanted to go horse-riding. It was too late for that, the lesson was half done by now, and while on the one hand it was kind of helpful for him to have dealt himself a natural consequence (perhaps this would lead to a different outcome next time?), it was upsetting to see him clearly so conflicted and upset within himself. I held him like a baby and lay with him while he cried.

Obviously, my first and foremost thought was his distress and I did attempt to therapeutic the shizzle out of the situation. However, on a practical level, I hadn’t managed to get dressed, I needed to cook lunch and organise myself to get to work that afternoon. Trauma is so energy-sapping for all. Plus, what was going on with this bloody rollercoaster? Weren’t we supposed to be at the top?

The more I thought about it, the more I could link his behaviour now to having had a stranger teaching him on Friday. He’d spent the whole day feeling unsafe. Of course this had disrupted him. How bloody annoying that something so avoidable had happened and undone all our hard work during the holidays getting us back on an even keel.

I was annoyed with myself for not spotting this would be a problem when I first heard about the new curriculum. I was also annoyed that school had not anticipated any potential problem either. It was barely a week since we’d met with the Psychologist and I had got excited that they were finally on it and I didn’t need to worry any more. Sadly, it seems I was deluded. I know they won’t have meant for this to happen, and they will care when I tell them. It’s just that, for once, it would be so nice if they could take some of the responsibility for noticing these things and rectifying them, without me needing to point them out. Even better, they could start anticipating some of these things before they happen because they do have enough knowledge to do that now. And it is blindingly obvious to anyone who knows Little Bear that having a different teacher for one day a week, without any preparation isn’t really a good idea.

I have e-mailed and the SENDCO has replied, at the weekend. They are lovely and I know they will try to sort this. However, riding the rollercoaster as we are, and have been for the last months, is exhausting. We’ve barely recovered from one thing, when another thing happens. I was so desperate for that feeling of relaxation that I experienced for about a week that I’m spending quite a bit of day-dreaming time willing it back again – in between threats of head butts and absconding.

And the SENDCO, who is the saving grace in all this, is heavily pregnant and leaving for maternity leave imminently. She will send our renewal funding application first but she won’t be here when the results come in…

My brow is re-furrowed, my shoulders re-tightened. But what can you do? Adoption’s a rollercoaster and you just gotta ride it.

 

 

 

Adoption’s a rollercoaster, just gotta ride it

Hangry

This little infographic shows the typical process we experience when we’re hungry:

Hungry

And this little infographic shows how hunger turns to hanger and how easily the state of hungriness can lead to escalation in our house (and I suspect we’re not alone):

Hanger

I love hangryness, its a real joy.

I’ve previously written about Interoception  and Adopted Children & Eating Issues and Demand Avoidance if you’d like more info than the little bits here that you will no doubt need to squint at (it does look pretty though).

I’m assuming that time and working on interoception are going to help with this. I also need to remember to leave Little Bear a tray of healthy snacks outside of his bedroom door for when he wakes up at the crack of sparrows and none of us are ready to leap out of bed and make him some breakfast. On the occasions when I’ve remembered, it seems to have worked well in terms of pre-empting some of the issues above. Anticipating hunger and regular snacking and routine mealtimes do seem to keep things as calm and even as possible (though don’t actually take away the underlying issues). If anybody else has any clever tricks, I’d love to hear them.

Hangry

Demand Avoidance

I have been pondering this blog for a while and, ironically, avoiding it. There are a few reasons why: it requires research which takes time; I may have had more than my fill, of late, of demand avoidance and I’m not sure how kind it is to myself to spend even more time thinking and writing about it. But hey ho, here I am writing about it because there’s no time like the present and it will, at least, feel current and relevant.

I thought this would end up as a compare and contrast between PDA – Pathological Demand Avoidance – and demand avoidance as part of an attachment profile and potentially some mention of ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder), with me arguing that although Little Bear is pretty demand avoidant, I don’t believe he has PDA. However, after reviewing the literature, I feel comfortable to say that PDA and demand avoidance with a trauma history are different conditions and I do think this is acknowledged by some knowledgeable professionals, even if not widely (See this piece of research PDA and differential diagnosis ). I should point out that PDA is not officially recognised as a condition in the DSM or ICD diagnostic manuals but there is a growing belief that it does accurately describe the needs of a specific group of individuals (See PDA Society for more info).

Assuming it does exist, I think what would be really useful would be a Coventry Grid type document (comes up on Google if you are interested)  that drew out the differences between demand avoidance in PDA versus demand avoidance in a trauma background. The difficulty is that this is extremely difficult to draw out. One key factors seem to be the case history – are there trauma/neglect/attachment issues in a child’s background or not? Parents of children who match the diagnosis of PDA are rightly worried about it being branded an attachment disorder because there is a direct insinuation that they have neglected or abused their children. I can see how this could be problematic. However, I do think that where there is identified trauma in a child’s background, such as in Little Bear’s, this should immediately bring into question a diagnosis of PDA. Similarly, I would also say that trauma in a child’s background should bring into question an Autism diagnosis. I’m not saying that an adopted child couldn’t have PDA or Autism: a small percentage could. However, I am saying that where there is trauma in a child’s background, the impact of this should be considered first and foremost.

The second key factor appears to be whether a child who is demand avoidant matches the criteria for Autism. If they do, they are more likely to fit the PDA profile. However, there is also literature out there to contradict this – see Gillberg Research .

I can’t really work out where ODD fits in, because Little Bear appears to fit the profile for that too (ODD is recognised and does have DSM & ICD criteria) but my hunch, again, is that it wouldn’t be right to diagnose him with it.

The group I am interested in are those such as Little Bear, who do not meet the criteria for Autism and do have trauma in their background and are markedly demand avoidant. What is going on with their demand avoidance and how should it best be managed?

A useful place to start seems to be the Extreme Demand Avoidance Questionnaire (EDA-Q) – a questionnaire which has been designed for research purposes and is not diagnostic, but could be useful in picking apart the nature of behaviours we experience. You can find it here: EDA-Q

EDA Questionnaire

I have filled it in for Little Bear. As you can see, he scores 38 points which doesn’t reach the threshold for a PDA diagnosis (the threshold is 50 or over) , though it does say that those scoring lower may still meet the criteria as individuals can be impacted differently. I’m a little unclear as to how this type of decision would be informed. Either way, I don’t think he has PDA, yet he certainly does have a higher than average propensity towards demand avoidance. For context, Big Bear scored 6 on the same questionnaire.

These are the descriptors in which he scored the most highly:

  • Is driven by the need to be in charge
  • If pressurised to do something, s/he may have a ‘meltdown’ (e.g. scream, tantrum, hit or kick).
  • Has difficulty complying with demands unless they are carefully presented.
  • Has bouts of extreme emotional responses to small events (e.g. crying/giggling, becoming furious).

I have previously written about his need for Control which fits in with the first and second point. In reference to the third bullet point, sometimes demands that are made in a reverse psychology kind of way (‘I bet you can’t do x or y’ or ‘I really hope you aren’t going to eat my apple’), or a challenge kind of way (‘I’ll time you to do x’) go better than a straight forward ‘do it, or else’ kind of way. The fact that I have thought of alternative ways to phrase demands suggests this is something we have to do quite often. In reference to the fourth point, at the moment, something as small as asking Little Bear to go to the toilet and then, God forbid, actually wash his hands afterwards, is enough to unleash fury.

It is also interesting which statements he didn’t score on. I am assuming that in order to gain a high enough score to meet diagnostic levels for PDA, a child would generally score highly across all descriptors. Could it be the areas where children without PDA don’t score that are important diagnostic indicators for differential diagnosis?

Little Bear didn’t score on the following:

  • Finds everyday pressures (e.g. having to go on a school trip/ visit dentist) intolerably stressful.
  • Takes on roles or characters (from TV/real life) and ‘acts them out’.
  • Makes an effort to maintain his/her reputation with peers.
  • Prefers to interact with others in an adopted role, or communicate through props/toys.
  • S/he was passive and difficult to engage as an infant.

I’m not sure if it’s just the examples used in the point about finding everyday pressures intolerable, but Little Bear loves a school trip and his behaviour was exemplary the last time we went to the dentist so I’ve scored it as zero. I would say that he can find new situations or places anxiety provoking and that might lead to more dyregulation. However, I wouldn’t say that necessarily correlates with greater demand avoidance in those situations. It might, or it might not – I suspect it is more complex than just where we are at the time.

If the descriptor were to mean every day, seemingly inconsequential demands, such as eating, toileting or getting dressed, I would have scored it much higher.

The bits about taking on a role or communicating through props don’t resonate here. Little Bear has good imaginative skills and sometimes there are difficulties separating Fantasy versus Reality but I wouldn’t say he uses them as a means of communication or specifically to avoid demands. I think this is where social mimicry as part of an Autism diagnosis comes into play.

In terms of how Little Bear presents himself to his peers, he certainly doesn’t try to comply with them but not us. I would say he takes a blanket approach to demand avoidance and if anything, there is a slight bias towards doing what familiar adults say. The less attached he is to a person, the less likely he is to co-operate with them, be they child or adult.

In all honesty, I don’t know if he was passive as an infant, as we didn’t know him then, but I cannot for one minute believe that he was!

The other items on the questionnaire that I have scored as ‘somewhat true’ or ‘mostly true’ are mainly not scored more highly because the behaviours come and go or because they used to be a problem but we have seen improvements. I have read that children with PDA can fluctuate in their demand avoidance – becoming much more co-operative when they are comfortable and relaxed. I would say this is true for Little Bear too. If he’s struggling in general, the demand avoidance will be much more pronounced. It is to the point where we have had months of co-operation – where I could just say, “Please put your shoes on”, as I would to any other child and Little Bear would do it with a smile – and then times like we are currently experiencing where every tiny request feels like a battle and can all too easily lead to escalation.

I have gone on the hunt for information about demand avoidance in developmental trauma to explain why this would happen but it’s thin on the ground. The Beacon House information about trauma does say this:

  • Boundary setting can trigger a big reaction or noncompliance in child (where there are Attachment insecurities)
  • Prolonged meltdowns over small things (as a part of difficulties with Emotional Regulation)
  • Rule breaking at school
  • Unresponsive to day to day requests (often seen as non-compliance) (as a part of Behavioural Dysregulation)

I guess those things sort of add up to the levels of demand avoidance that we see but I’d be really interested in knowing how other children who have experienced developmental trauma score on the EDA-Q and how their scores are distributed across the descriptors. I can’t help feeling we don’t have enough information about this and at the moment and it would be difficult for clinicians to make informed differential diagnoses between PDA or ODD and demand avoidance caused by developmental trauma.

If anyone knows of any other sources of information I’ve missed, please get in touch.

The one thing that I can unequivocally say is that parenting a child with demand avoidance is a little tricky (I’m totally under-egging it) and that finding ways to manage and manage it, has us scratching our heads. I am very much still working on it but here are some things that sometimes work at our house:

  • Know your own triggers. It is very, very difficult to be calm when a child won’t do anything you say. I having to be conscious of the fact that this could cause me to snap and that I need to very deliberately react in a different way. I find this is much easier to do if you plan your response in advance, rather than just reacting when you are taken by surprise.
  • At the moment, the plan which feels most effective is not shouting and moving away from, not towards Little Bear. He needs the space and I am less likely to react negatively a bit further back, busying myself with something else. This more casual approach seems to help things simmer down. Little Bear tried to saw the table with a dinner knife the other day, in a bid to avoid eating his tea, but I barely turned around. I did calmly tell him that it was his choice whether he carried on doing it or not, but if he did, I would take the money from his pocket money to fix it. It wasn’t in a threat way – just a pointing out a logical consequence way to help him with his decision.
  • Self-care. I know people mock the concept but maintaining patience and calm in the face of zero co-operation is exhausting. We must look after ourselves (I’m talking to myself as much as anyone after a friend gave me a stern telling off!)
  • Allow much longer to get ready to go somewhere than you’d think necessary. This allows your small person to spend time avoiding and doing everything but getting ready while you gently steer them through the necessary tasks. Time pressure won’t help anyone.
  • Reduce the demands. There are certain tasks that have to be done but can you help by dressing or feeding or helping in another way? Other tasks, which are not essential, could be omitted for that day.
  • Often it is verbal demands that Little Bear can’t tolerate. Sometimes we manage to acknowledge this in advance of what is likely to be a tricky situation for him e.g. bedtime and are able to collaborate on a solution. We’ve found that things like having all the equipment Little Bear needs for a task laid out for him e.g. toothpaste already on the brush, pyjamas laid on the floor etc. means he can complete the whole routine himself without us needing to make any verbal demands. Visual supports like a tick chart or timetable can also work.
  • As mentioned above, careful wording of a command can help e.g. reverse psychology or a challenge. Unfortunately two good choices no longer works for us, because Little Bear has figured out he can just agree to neither.

 

I should point out that underlying the demand avoidance is likely to be anxiety of some kind – whether it be a fear of losing control or some other internal precipitant – so we should be mindful of this and manage the behaviour as kindly as we can.

I have to be honest and say that I am a little torn over demand avoidant behaviour. Half of me is extremely therapeutic about it and willing to be patient and accommodating. The other half of me thinks that one cannot successfully navigate life never doing what one is asked (employers and the Police certainly aren’t too keen on it) so perhaps there is some mileage in being encouraged to push through the difficulty barrier of wanting to avoid demands. I insisted, the other day, that Little Bear did carry out his reading before he went on an exciting day out. I insisted very quietly and patiently and had been specific on how many pages I expected (hardly any) but such was the strength of his need to avoid the demand that he would have given up his day out just to avoid the reading. We persevered and when he finally did the reading, we were able to praise him and make a big fuss for pushing through something we knew he was finding difficult. He was pleased with himself and had a lovely day out.

Isn’t this how resilience is built? By people believing you can do things you think you can’t and supporting you to achieve them anyway? Life for Little Bear is going to be extremely difficult if he can’t cope with the smallest of demands so I don’t see that lowering our expectations to zero will be of much long term use to him. I suppose, like everything, it’s a fine balance between being therapeutic and building life skills and we continue to hobble along the line.

 

Demand Avoidance

Promises, Promises

Here’s a little scenario that happened in our house this week:

Me: It’s bedtime, Little Bear

LB: Aw, can’t I have a bath?

Me: I think we’ve left it a bit late for a bath – you’ve been busy eating your pudding, haven’t you?

LB: Yeah, but I reaaallly want a bath (Hangs off me, bats his big brown eyes at me, pulls his best super cute puppy dog face)

Me: I’m just a bit worried that because it’s late, you’ll find it hard to get out the bath when I ask you to…

LB: I won’t! I PROMISE. I’ll get out straightaway, when you ask me.

Me: Are you sure?

LB: Yes, I PROMISE. Straightaway.

Me: Hmm. Ok then, as long as you’re sure you can do that…

Did he get out the bath, folks, when I asked him to? No. No, he did not. He went under the water to pretend he couldn’t hear me. I gave a countdown (‘we’ll need to get out in 5’ etc.), I reminded him of his promise just before the moment it would be needed, just in case he’d conveniently forgotten. So, he could hear me and he hadn’t forgotten, yet neither did he exit the bath. Once I’d let all the water out and he finally decided he was out of options, he did get out and began calling me names/ telling me he hated me and that I was making him annoyed. It was all rather ironic really, given I had stretched his bedtime for him, made a concession for him and he had reneged on his promise. I mean, yeah, he was totally justified in getting annoyed with me (can you hear me rolling my eyes?!).

Anyway, more fool me, because I should know by now that Little Bear can’t keep his promises. I’ve been pondering on this since and have had a few chats on Twitter about it, as I do (it’s such a good barometer of what is adoption shenanigans and what is just plain shenanigans). There are two things in my mind: why can’t he keep promises and why do I keep giving him the chance to make them in the first place?

My immediate thought about why he can’t stick to them is because at the point of making them, he is fully present and intent on doing what he says he will (I don’t believe he ever sets out to purposefully dupe me) but as he struggles with regulation, when it comes to the point of following through, he isn’t able to control himself enough yet to do so. I imagine there are times he knows he’s letting himself down but can’t help but do it anyway.

Then there is the theory that perhaps it’s an act of self-sabotage. Perhaps he doesn’t feel he deserves a nice bath or a peaceful bedtime and kind of deliberately puts a spanner in the works. This is a sad state of affairs if it’s true. I have tried wondering aloud along similar lines but I can’t tell whether it resonates or not – I suspect it doesn’t because he usually gets quite tearful if we get our wondering right and he certainly wasn’t tearful on this occasion – just combative.

I suppose another theory is that it could be an anxiety-based behaviour. Perhaps the end of the bath triggers something in his mind about the beginning of bedtime and the fact that sleep is soon and sometimes he has bad dreams. Perhaps he is attempting to stave that off by causing an escalation.

Another feeling of mine is that sometimes Little Bear remembers a situation similar to the one he is in and recalls a situation or behaviour that has happened before and for whatever reason is moved to recreate it. We’d certainly had a similarly difficult bath time a week or so before and the following evening from the incident described above also featured a sudden switching and similar behaviour. I can’t really explain why this would happen but there are certainly times when I feel it does.

There could also be an argument for saying that because I had voiced my concern about what could happen in the situation (me trying to be open and honest etc.) I had somehow created a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is certainly a truth in the more Little Bear knows you want him to do something, the less able he seems to do it. He’s pretty oppositional like that.

As if I hadn’t already muddied the waters with enough theories, I have more. Could this behaviour be linked to poor situational understanding/ poor cause and effect? I feel as though I don’t have many of these challenges with Big Bear because it is obvious to him that if he messes me around in this way, I won’t give him similar concessions in the future. However, this type of A + B = C thinking seems challenging for many adopted children. Perhaps Little Bear doesn’t realise he is cutting off his nose to spite his face, as it were? I have started asking him what he thinks might happen if he does such and such, at times. The confounding this is that he is often able to tell me what a logical consequence might be. I can’t tell whether he isn’t bothered so just does the thing anyway or whether there is a disconnect between knowing in theory and changing his behaviour in practise.

A final theory is that demands of any kind make him anxious because they feel as though they are clawing at his need for control (see Control where I’ve written all about that). Someone on Twitter mentioned Pathological Demand Avoidance to me (PDA for short, a sub-diagnosis of Autism) and it is something I’ve turned over in my mind before because Little Bear is undeniably demand avoidant. However, whenever I check out the diagnostic criteria I don’t feel he meets them. There are elements that ring true but I don’t believe Little Bear lies anywhere on the Autistic Spectrum. As with any child who has experienced developmental trauma, I always think it’s essential to consider the impact of that first and foremost. I would love to see a document like the Coventry Grid though, which instead of drawing out the similarities and differences between ASD and attachment, drew out the similarities and differences between PDA and demand avoidance within an attachment/trauma presentation. I think I might e-mail Heather Moran and see what she thinks (why not?).

One of the reasons I don’t feel Little Bear has PDA is because his ability to manage demands fluctuates enormously. Sometimes he can do everything you ask without difficulty. At other times every tiny request is difficult for him. I think a child with true PDA would be much more consistent in their demand avoidance. Little Bear’s behaviour tends to be pretty unpredictable. I know there would be other days when we could have had exactly the same bath time scenario and he would have got out of the bath the second I asked him, like an angel. What is difficult is predicting which days would be like that. If Little Bear is having a day where every demand is a battle, I would never have even considered entering into a promise-based scenario. I would have made sure the rules were really firm and clear and it would have been an early bed.

However, on the particular day in question, everything had been going well. Little Bear had done well at school, eaten his tea, come off his I pad and come upstairs as requested. The stars appeared in alignment so I was sucked in by the promise of a promise. The switch from co-operative to oppositional happened in a nano-second. I have to say that I find this type of scenario difficult. Because I don’t see it coming and because I have already given ground, it is extremely difficult not to feel taken advantage of and really rather annoyed. I coped much better the second night when I was able to anticipate the behaviour I might be confronted with in advance.

So why do I do it? Why do I allow him to get into a making promises situation if I know he might not be able to stick to it? I’ve asked myself this question a lot. Part of it is because I find myself keeping the rules much stricter for Little Bear than for Big Bear and that can feel mean. I let Big Bear stay up late sometimes or negotiate on what order he’s going to do certain tasks in because he has proved over and over that I can trust him to do that. I’d be quick to reign things back in again if I thought he was exploiting me but I have very little need to. However, because Little Bear has more difficulty sticking to promises and has reneged on many, I am less inclined in the first place to give him a chance. I suspect that is with good reason and that with firm, immovable boundaries and rules, he feels safer and happier. I also don’t like putting him in situations with a high risk of failure because in general, that doesn’t do anything helpful for his self-esteem.

There is something about me not trusting him to have a go though: I don’t want him to think I don’t trust him and don’t believe he’s capable of keeping promises. I know that he can (given the right set of circumstances) and I would like him to have a go from time to time and feel successful at it because otherwise he will surely grow up thinking he is a person who can’t stick to their word. He certainly finds it harder, given the myriad possible reasons I’ve cited above, but I don’t believe it’s impossible, and like anything else, I’m sure he’ll get there in the end.

 

 

*Also, how complicated is this adoptive parenting lark? One tiny scenario, a gazillion possible explanations. Maybe he just didn’t feel like getting out the bath?

Promises, Promises

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.

 

Childhood Challenging, Violent & Aggressive Behaviour (CCVAB)

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.

Conversations