Communication Difficulties: Update

Over the lifetime of my blog I have talked about Little Bear’s communication difficulties quite a bit: first of all in Living with Speech and Language Difficulties then later in A bit of a rantAnother try at SaLT and SaLT, EP & an Assembly. In the most recent posts I have focussed on our quest for formal speech and language therapy rather than Little Bear’s communication needs per se. As therapy has been going pretty well, I thought it was time for a look back at the development of Little Bear’s communication and how priorities have changed over time.

When Little Bear first arrived his primary communication need was to develop his listening and attention skills. Little Bear simply wasn’t tuned in to language – he ignored it in pretty much the same way you would ignore background noise. He didn’t see the point of it and sadly I don’t really think he thought it bore any relevance to him. Little Bear’s listening skills were poor which impacted on his ability to understand language and on our ability to get him to co-operate.

I can remember wandering around a beach with him during Introductions. In my typical SaLT fashion I talked to him as we wandered. I pointed things out and named what we saw. Little Bear found this completely alien and tried to shrug me off like a nuisance insect. I think he even took to shushing me. Equally he did not respond to his name or any other command. Getting him to behave and keeping him safe was incredibly difficult without the use of language.

Over time we worked on this, mainly by keeping listening fun to start with – lots of drawing his attention to passing noisy things such as aeroplanes or dogs or sirens. I definitely found that in order to engage Little Bear with listening, we had to start with non-language tasks. We were probably quite silly and playful too, which helped.

As Little Bear’s listening skills improved a bit, we were able to work on his comprehension at the same time. Probably as a result of the listening and attention issues, Little Bear’s understanding of language was certainly delayed for his age. We noticed that he often said “what?” and needed us to repeat things for him, sometimes several times. We all reduced our language from the beginning to help him understand as there was a clear pattern that the more complex the vocabulary or the longer the instruction/ explanation the more Little Bear struggled.

Little Bear’s vocabulary was very poor for a 3 and a half year old so we did lots and lots of modelling which has developed both his understanding and his expressive language. I think if I had to pick one strategy that has been the most effective I would say modelling. There are several reasons. Firstly you don’t need any equipment to model language – you can do it anywhere and completely spontaneously which makes it very practical within busy family life. You can easily work to your child’s level – either just modelling back their sentence without errors or by adding in an extra word to extend their sentence length. I would often have a couple of targets in mind at any one time e.g. for Little Bear to understand the concepts of same/different, so would model those concepts each time an opportunity arose in play or just when out and about.

You can use modelling to develop any aspect of communication – initially I used it mostly for vocabulary and sentence building. I have moved on to using it for grammar and speech sound accuracy. I don’t think I would have predicted that it would be as effective as it has been: Little Bear’s progress has been huge. The great thing is that it is a very positive approach and at no point has it felt like I’ve been nagging or correcting Little Bear. In fact he got so used to me using the strategy that if I didn’t model back his sentence after him he thought I wasn’t listening properly and would repeat himself until I did! This is in stark contrast to the boy who didn’t want me to talk to him at the beach.

Little Bear’s comprehension is now patchy on formal assessment. His understanding of basic concepts such as hot/cold, first/last, same/different is within the expected range. His understanding of different sentence types is at the low end of average and his understanding of complex sentences continues to be below expectations. However, in everyday life we have noticed leaps of progress.

I recall one day driving past some electrical cables that had come down in a storm. My natural instinct was to point them out and tell Little Bear about them but I remember stopping myself because I knew that he had no idea what electricity was and I wouldn’t be able to find a way to explain it that he would be able to follow. These days his wider understanding of life is growing all the time. I recently mentioned London in passing and he said “they had a nasty fire there, people died” and another time we were looking at a map and I said “that country is America” and Little Bear piped up “is that where Dobald (Donald) Trump is building his wall?”. He is full of surprises these days and it’s brilliant to see his understanding of complex concepts developing all the time.

Little Bear’s ability to express himself on arrival was also poor. I remember him saying “you came back” on the second day of Intros and this being quite a momentous sentence. On the third day he said “you came back again” which was poignant and sad and lots of things but also the longest sentence I heard him say for a while afterwards.

I don’t think it is any coincidence that Little Bear’s behaviour was as it was. His lack of ability to ask questions, negotiate, explain himself and talk himself out of situations certainly lead to a high level of frustration and anger and the unavoidable need for some very expressive behaviour.

For a long time Little Bear expressed himself through pointing and enthusiastic use of “that”. He had some stock sentences that all followed the same structure: I go running, I go playing, I go sleeping. He used the words he did have creatively to get his points across e.g.“bik” (big) meant lots, tall, deep, full, massive.

Little Bear’s expressive language now comes out as being within the expected range on the Renfrew Action Picture Test. I don’t honestly think this is an entirely accurate representation of his abilities but he does use lengthy compound sentences and I have noticed that being able to do so has helped him in many ways. Just today he had his IPad in the car and I heard a crash as though he had thrown it on the floor. “Did you throw that?” I asked him, “No Mum, I tried to put it on the seat but you went too fast and it slipped on the floor”. I have no idea if this was true but I had to credit him with the good explanation. Previously I might have wrongly assumed he had chucked it and he might have got into trouble and not been able to defend himself. Having improved language skills has definitely helped with behaviour in more ways than one.

A big indicator of Little Bear’s progress with his speech and language skills is that now he is having formal SaLT our agreed priority is his speech sound system. It is generally agreed that language should be the main priority with speech being more of a secondary skill. Our decision to focus on his speech is due to his language skills being good enough and his speech now being the biggest barrier to his communication. It is funny how priorities have changed.

Little Bear’s speech was pretty much unintelligible at the start. Then we tuned in and as he didn’t have many words it didn’t take long for us to be able to translate. That was all well and good until his vocabulary sky rocketed and then we were back to having no idea what he was trying to say again.

Using mainly the modelling strategy we have targeted voiced/ voiceless confusion (“beas” for ‘peas’), articulation of ‘l’ (there was a little more than modelling involved in that one but not much), production of l clusters (pl, cl, sl, fl etc) and some random inconsistent/ storage errors e.g. “gog” for ‘dog’, “nogat” for ‘yoghurt’, “mu-ey” for ‘money’, “di” for ‘dummy’ etc. However, despite all that, at the start of SALT, Little Bear was still fairly unintelligible to the therapist at the age of 4 and a half. It transpired that his vowels were jumbled which was resulting in very unusual sounding speech – his teacher had even asked me if he was foreign.

At this point, although I am a SALT and had worked on lots of aspects of Little Bear’s communication myself, I was glad and relieved to have another therapist on board. Vowels are complex, they are in all words and I couldn’t really see the wood for the trees. I was pleased to have somebody to defer to for clinical decision making. She didn’t really know where to start either so after identifying which vowels were going wrong, we pretty much just plumped for one to have a go at. It was ‘eye’ as in pie, pipe, kite, nine, five etc (for non-SaLTs think about how they sound, not how they are spelled). It turned out that Little Bear could make this sound and he could say it correctly after a consonant e.g. pie but as soon as a consonant was added after it (pipe) the vowel distorted. In this example it became “pap”. Little Bear could hear the difference between pipe and pap which helped.

Once we had figured this out and done one session of therapy, Little Bear had cracked it and was spontaneously generalising the sound. We were both unprepared for it to be that quick. I was also surprised by how often that vowel crops up in English and therefore what a difference working on it made to his intelligibility.

We have since worked on ‘ow’ as in house, mouse, brown which were coming out as has, mas, bran. Little Bear acquired ‘ow’ in much the same way as ‘eye’. We then tried ‘err’ for no particular reason other than because it was another he couldn’t say but for some reason that one just isn’t coming so we have switched to ‘ay’ as in pay, plate, eight. Little Bear can say it in words but is not generalising it as yet. I am now getting a bit tangled up with which vowels I need to model for him!

The formal therapy is pretty good though it is not completely plain-sailing.

I had thought it would be helpful for me to keep in touch with the therapist via e-mail between appointments so I could keep her updated and take away the need for her to change her session plan on our arrival – this happens most weeks due to Little Bear’s unexpected/erratic rate of progress. However, apparently this would be against policy which seems odd to me. I frequently used to use e-mail to keep in touch with parents and think this is a missed opportunity.

Also, it turns out that Little Bear is now entitled to therapy in school because he has top-up funding. However as his speech requires specialist input from a therapist only, he has been deemed more appropriate for clinic therapy. I suggested that maybe the funding could be used to train school staff to work on his language targets alongside this. Apparently it cannot be done because the school team and the clinic team are separate and you cannot be on two lists at the same time. Whilst I get this, I can’t help feeling frustrated at the lack of flexibility and feeling a little like he’s missing out on his entitlement. A system with two rigid lists does not have children and their individual needs at the centre of it.

Either way, Little Bear continues to make fabulous progress and for that I am extremely thankful.

Communication Difficulties: Update

A bad bedtime

Last night’s bedtime for Little Bear was like stepping back a year in time. It took me completely by surprise. In fact, it’s funny how quickly I have forgotten the full extent of the challenge we used to face every single day. Last night was certainly a challenge though and if the truth be told I was quite unsure how to handle it. Even now, having reflected about it on my drive back and to work this morning, I am still none the wiser about what a better way of handling it might have been.

The thing is that we are quite familiar with dysregulation. I wrote about it in my last post as it tends to pay us a visit on Saturdays. Little Bear’s usual dysregulation is reactive: it doesn’t come out unless we make a demand of him like asking him to go to the toilet or eat a meal. Left to his own devices in an imaginary demand-free zone I think his behaviour at these points would probably seem quite calm and nothing out of the ordinary. When a demand is made, he will resist and refuse and might lash out. However, if we left him alone he would not come looking for trouble.

Last night’s uber-dysregulation (I’m clearly making up terms to suit myself here), however, was on a whole other scale. Last night’s dysregulation was combative and purposefully provocative and very difficult to manage.

Things seemed like they were going awry when Grizzly picked Little Bear up from school. He was scowling and grumpy: not his usual default demeanour any more. The teacher didn’t need a word though and although we had a bit of resistance on his arrival home, Little Bear settled quickly. We spotted the signs so fed him and let him rest in front of the tele. Tea and in fact the whole evening went without the need for remark. It was only when I said it was bedtime and insisted after some refusal that Little Bear did need to turn his I Pad off that I knew I was in for it. It’s hard to describe but there is a visible change in him at these points. His body language, facial expression and whole comportment were different. He does not seem like the same child when this happens.

I persevered with bedtime, keeping everything the same as usual. I asked him to go for his “night night wee”. He went into his bedroom. I asked him again. He rolled around on the floor. I began to count as I always do. I got to 3 and he looked me directly in the eye and didn’t move. I said “ok, that’s one story gone”. He usually has 3 books and we regularly use their removal as a consequence if needs be. This upset him and he began to cry but did go to the toilet. I could see the way this was going and tried to reason. I explained that he had made a bad decision so lost one story but if he made some good decisions now, he could still have 2. He called me an idiot. I removed another story. He started chanting “mummy is stupid” so I removed the third. It’s hard because I knew he was dysregulated but it isn’t ok to call me names every time I do something he doesn’t like. Perhaps I should have tried to ignore it instead.

As he was now quite miserable and grumpy, I tried to cajole him. “If you get ready super quick and are really sensible, you can win 2 of your stories back”. I felt this was fair. I was giving him a way out and most children would have seen that 2 stories was good, it was what they wanted and I think they would have tried to buck themselves along to get them. In fairness, I think Little Bear would have on a usual day. In fact most of the time when he loses stories I don’t give them back and he usually accepts that. Not last night though. No. Last night he began getting his knickers in a twist because he thought I should let him win 3 stories back. Perhaps I should have just let him but clearly I can match him in a battle of who is most stubborn (oh dear) and I felt it was the wrong message.

I was able to distract him though and we jumbled our way through getting into pyjamas and doing teeth well enough that I did let him have his stories. He listened well and enjoyed them. We had a nice 10 minutes of quality time together. Little Bear seemed his usual self. That is, until the second I put the books back onto the shelf. At that exact instant, Dysregulated Little Bear was back. It was literally as though someone had flipped a switch.

Me: “okey doke, lie down in your bed then”. Little Bear does not. Me: “come on, Mummy let you win your stories back and we’ve had a lovely time. Let’s be sensible now”. Little Bear: “no”. Me (probably sounding exasperated) “Little Bear, you’ve got some choices now. You can either lay down and be sensible or not. But if you don’t, you know there will be a consequence. It’s your choice but I think you’re really tired and a big sleep would make you feel better”. Little Bear (continuing to hang his legs over the side of the bed): “no”. Me: “ok”. At this point I left the room and sat on the landing so I could still keep an ear out for him.

I was swiftly followed by something (probably a dummy) being pelted at the door then various other items. I could hear a range of crashing and bashing, wall kicking, bed-rocking etc. Little Bear then started shouting and hurling insults. I chose at this stage to ignore him because I knew all this behaviour was designed to attract my attention. However, being stubborn as I am, I have previously sat outside his door and ignored him for a very long time in the hope he would run out of steam but he didn’t. I wasn’t entirely sure that ignoring would work this time either. I pondered my options.

It is difficult in these situations because there are not many options and of all the options not many are favourable ones. I feel that at these times Little Bears WANTS me to lose the plot with him. He wants me to shout and ball. Sometimes I think he wants me to hit him. Sometimes I really feel like it. I think this has something to do with Mirror Neurons though it is odd because to my knowledge Little Bear has not been in a domestic violence situation and has not been physically abused. Nevertheless, he is sparring for a fight and it sometimes feels as though nothing will work until he has managed to escalate the situation and got whatever it is out of his system. Obviously I never do hit him (and don’t think hitting is ever an actual option) so need to have a better strategy.

When he had been shouting for a while, he started saying “why aren’t you speaking to me mummy?”. I said that he wasn’t behaving very well at the moment but I would speak to him if he spoke to me nicely. I asked if he was ready to speak to me nicely. He said he wasn’t and went back to shaking his bed about.

At the point when I felt his bed might actually fall down I decided I had to try something different so I went in to speak with him. I gave him another chance to make a different choice and lie properly in the bed. He did not take it and probably called me something inappropriate so I decided to get him out of the bed and try a ‘time in’. I sat him a couple of feet from me on the landing, making sure there was nothing within his reach that could become a missile. I could see him from the corner of my eye. His behaviour continued to be provocative – moving from the spot I had told him to sit on, trying to turn around, trying to move behind me. It felt like a battle for control.

I distinctly remember sitting in Prep Groups talking about managing behaviour. We were talking about distraction and why that is so much better than a consequence and one lady piped up saying “but then you’ve let them win” and we all inwardly groaned because we knew the whole lesson was about not making it a battlefield or about winning or losing. As a parent you have to be the bigger person. You have to let some things go purposefully unnoticed. You have to pick your battles. You are meant to be therapeutic.

However, how do you distract a child at bedtime? I don’t want to distract him, I want him to go to sleep. I also have to be very careful with Little Bear because the rules need to be the rules. He knows where he’s at then, without any uncertainty. Consistent rules make him feel safe. I can’t have a rule where you aren’t allowed to bounce on your bed except when you’re feeling rubbish and then you can. That doesn’t work. The rule is that you can’t bounce on your bed. If I made an exception one day, the next day, Little Bear would think he could do it again. Last night, he was checking all the rules and I felt I had to make sure they were still there.

I also felt that he was spiralling out of control and on some level he needed me to make sure things stayed under control so that he felt safe. He needed me to keep him under control. In that way it WAS a battle for control.

Needless to say that having all these thoughts and insights is all well and good but you still have a spiralling child who you have now been trying to get to sleep for 2 hours. I did eventually lose my temper and shouted at him and it was a shame because although when he first arrived you could practically explode and he wouldn’t bat an eyelid, he does now look pretty frightened if one of us shouts. It took holding him for a while and some more discussion and wondering to get him to calm down. Even then he still said he wasn’t ready to go to sleep sensibly.

I left the room again and after a minute or so, he said “mum, I happy now” and when I went back in it was as though the switch had been flicked back again. Whatever “It” had been was over. We had kisses and cuddles and he settled down.

I didn’t feel good about my handling of it. I wished I hadn’t shouted at him in an angry way. We have found before that unless he has a good cry and gets everything out of his system he won’t settle and somehow you have to make the escalation stop. I’m open to suggestions if anybody has any wise words.

The saving grace is that he could have been having that meltdown at the school disco which would have been MUCH worse.

I don’t know what was behind it but I’m hoping that the Easter Holidays are going to be just what we all need.

A bad bedtime

Saturdays

When Saturday rolls around I think most people are grateful and ready for a rest. No school run, no work, no expectations. Saturday is meant to be a good day. Saturday should be about a slower start, family time, fun and freedom. However, since Little Bear started school we’ve started noticing that Saturday has stopped delivering. Saturday is now actually quite tricky.

On Saturdays Little Bear is shattered from a week at school. He has worked hard, tried his best and by Saturday seems to be hitting a wall of tiredness. On Saturdays Little Bear is dysregulated.

Grizzly works very hard all week too. He works long hours in a high pressure job and, like many of his colleagues, struggles to adjust from the working week to the weekend. He is shattered and in need of a lie in and a bit less pressure. He needs easing in to the weekend. He needs a break.

Big Bear is normally pretty chipper on a Saturday morning because he plays football for his team. He usually marches into our bedroom not long after 7 with the announcement “number 15 is approaching the pitch!”. He is over excited.

Little Bear has a swimming lesson at 9am on a Saturday morning. I have to admit I don’t love it but at least it gets it out of the way and the rest of the day is free. Usually I take Little Bear swimming and Grizzly takes Big Bear to his football match, occasionally the other way around. Nobody gets a lie in.

After swimming we try to get Little Bear to have a rest and a snack. Sometimes if we have to go somewhere else and he doesn’t have time for that things tend to go AWRY.

How Big Bear is depends on the football match. If they have lost or he has not scored or somebody has fouled him or all of the above then he might be in a football GRUMP.

We usually re-convene after lunch and attempt to do something or other. This may or may not go well. Often it involves Little Bear ignoring all instructions/ doing the opposite of them and Grizzly increasingly struggling to remain calm. Little Bear seems to know that Grizzly is finding the day hard too and seems to be especially disobedient for him. This pattern generally continues until bedtime when Little Bear often loses the plot entirely.

Every now and again we don’t have the energy for this type of Saturday and we try to keep things EASY. This weekend Big Bear’s football match was cancelled and Grizzly was especially tired from travelling so we decided to skip the swimming too. When Little Bear woke us at 6:30 am we gave him his I Pad and he lay in bed with us playing on it for a while. It meant we were able to shut our eyes for a bit longer, even if we weren’t actually asleep. Although this is a nice bit of lazy parenting which definitely has benefits for us we do have to be careful with it as if we leave giving Little Bear his breakfast for too long, things will go AWRY.

Little Bear will refuse to go to the toilet/ come to the table/ eat the breakfast. When we insist that these things do have to be done, he will say something rude like “idiot” or “stupid mum” and growl. We will try to ignore him.

Grizzly and Little Bear find everything easier if they can go outside so even though they are at risk of winding each other up, they often go outside together to do some jobs. This Saturday they cleaned Grizzly’s car and moved some gravel about. Big Bear and I popped to buy him some new trousers as he insists upon growing and got some plants to finish off the front garden.

We then needed to have an early lunch as we were meeting some friends at the park afterwards. When Little Bear is tired he is not too good at eating his meals. He tends to sit at the table but fiddle with anything and everything but not his actual food. He will try and lie on the bench or sit on the back of it. It can be incredibly irritating, especially as he is hungry and will eat the food if we feed it to him. It must be some sort of control thing but I’ve never properly understood it and it can be frustrating, especially if we are in a rush. Grizzly finds it particularly difficult.

We eventually all managed to get into the car. Unfortunately we got stuck in roadworks on the way to the park. Little Bear gets quite anxious if we don’t get somewhere quickly and tends to talk non-stop. He will say things like “over take the cars Dad” and will get increasingly annoyed when you don’t do it. We will try to explain to him that it’s a queue because they are working on the bridge and the cars have to wait for the green light. We can’t over take because it would be dangerous. Little Bear seems to have a bit of a fascination with crashing though and will then start talking about how we should crash and will argue that black is white and that crashing would be good and that it wouldn’t matter if it hurt people. I don’t really think he means it but because he has set himself on that trajectory he doesn’t seem to be able to stop.

Ignoring Little Bear at these points is not really a useful strategy because it tends to make him more insistent or louder or he turns to insults. Distraction can work and sometimes a calm explanation can but at other times he gets “beyond himself”. I can’t quite remember how it started but on this journey he disagreed with/ disliked something Big Bear had said. It wouldn’t have been much – you could say that the sky is blue and that might annoy him at these moments. Whatever it was, the two of them started with a “I will” “you won’t” kind of argument. If Little Bear isn’t getting the outcome or response he’s hoping for, he will say something like “you will or I will kill you” or “fine then, I will chop off your head”.

It is quite disturbing how often he references decapitating somebody but we try not to get too excited about it. I don’t think he actually means it, I think it is a way of verbalising his inner discomfort at the time. However, it is unpleasant and he does need to learn a more appropriate way of expressing himself. Usually at these points we will say something like “if you carry on being rude, you can stay in the car with Mum/Dad when we get to the park. It’s your choice” and then try not to engage with him. The explicit consequence seems to help and the fact that he knows we would follow through with it.

It is difficult because whilst it is important to be understanding of Little Bear’s feelings and to empathise with the reasons behind his dysregulation, his behaviour does impact on everyone else in the car and it can feel like a pressure cooker ready to blow. We find we do need to somehow stop the escalation otherwise it’s too difficult to drive the car safely. On a couple of occasions it has been necessary to stop the car but thankfully not many times.

I find it can be a fine balance between being therapeutic and drawing a line under behaviours that are not acceptable/ adversely affect everyone else. As a Mum I have to meet everyone’s needs as best I can and that does mean there are times that Little Bear needs to “get on with it” even if he doesn’t quite feel like it.

Once we were at the park, everything was calmer. Little Bear was tired and wanted a lot of cuddles. He did quite a lot of spinning on his tummy on the roundabout. The sun was shining, Grizzly and Big Bear found some people to play football with and all was well.

When we got home, we made sure Little Bear had a rest.

Tea time brings the same issues as other meals but Gary was here and we were keeping things easy so she fed him and got cuddles and all was fairly well.

At bedtime we quite often have some refusal issues with getting ready but Little Bear loves his stories and the threat of removing 1 of those usually works to keep him focused. He listened to his stories and we had some cuddles. We skipped him reading his book because I knew he couldn’t manage it. It is after I settle him and go out of his room that the monkey business usually starts.

We still sit outside of Little Bear’s door for this reason. If we fully removed supervision I’m not too sure what he would get up to but I know it wouldn’t be sleeping. This Saturday he got out of bed/ threw things/ shouted various things through his door (which wasn’t shut, just to, as he doesn’t like being shut in a room). I think I sat there for about 45 minutes or so. It wasn’t too bad but most nights are much better than this now. Often Little Bear will chat a little but settle down and sleep quite quickly. He mostly doesn’t try to get out of bed or scratch the walls or throw things any more. He usually says “I love you Mum” not “hideous idiot mum”. But not on Saturdays. Saturdays can be tricky.

The good thing about Saturdays is that they are followed by Sundays which are usually a much nicer kind of day. One of us usually gets a lie in. This weekend it was Mother’s Day so we both got up and all had a nice breakfast together. We usually manage some quality family time on a Sunday. This weekend we went to the zoo. Little Bear walked beside me, he followed instructions, he was calm in the car, we chatted about the animals, we went on a boat, we had FUN. Little Bear is like a different child on Sundays. We had the odd small blip – I got a slap because he was getting over-hungry but generally we had a lovely day.

Little Bear wanted to get a cuddly bat. He announced it on the way there. He has some birthday money so we said he could. We went all around the zoo and had lunch and an ice-cream before we went to the shop. Little Bear didn’t moan once and was very happy to be united with his bat when the time finally came. He has creatively named it “Bat” and it apparently slept hanging upside down all the way home in the car.

Little Bear is such a good boy but Saturdays can be tricky.

 

 

Saturdays

Juggling

I tried to write a jaunty blog post yesterday because last week I promised positivity and also because I wasn’t feeling quite myself and I thought it would cheer me up. Now that I’ve read it back I’ve realised that it sounds like a person trying really hard to be upbeat but not quite achieving it and for that reason comes across as quite fake. As much as my default is to try to put a positive spin on things I do also feel strongly that my blog should be honest and representative of our real life. With that in mind, here is the honest version of how things are at the moment (cue a massive juggling analogy).

Any parent knows that managing day to day life is a big juggling act. You have a whole array of balls that you need to keep in the air at any one time. There are the ones everybody has: making sure there is food in the cupboards, meals on the table, clean clothes in wardrobes and a house that is vaguely tidy and clean. There is the keeping your children and any pets you might have alive ball. There is the making sure you have a card/ present as appropriate for any relevant birthdays/ weddings/ christenings/ funerals/ new homes ball. There is the making sure you give enough attention to your friends/ family ball. There is the work ball. For me that is currently self-employed work which means going out and finding work and selling myself. I’m loving it and getting lots of job satisfaction but nevertheless I have to make sure it fits in with everything else.

There is the stuff logistics ball – has each person got what they need for today’s activity? Is the reading book in the book bag? Is the football kit clean and dry? Where exactly have the shin pads gone?

There is the parenting nitty gritty ball. Are your children happy? Have you done enough reading with them? When exactly did you last remember to wash them? I find they take turns to give me the most concern but parenting Little Bear is represented by a larger ball than the other things so far in this analogy. Parenting him involves a lot more analysis and unpicking of behaviour. I have to be on my toes. In yesterday’s jaunty post I wrote this sentence: “behaviour-wise nobody has said “could we have a word” for a while” and then I went to pick him up from school and his teacher said that very phrase. Little Bear had, out of nowhere, had the worst day he has ever had in school. He was in trouble at lunch time for spitting milk in children’s faces and slapping them on the head. His behaviour didn’t improve back in the classroom and he had more ‘thinking time’ than anything else. He also tried to jab some children in the face with scissors. Hearing that list of behaviours in reference to your child is never a positive experience. I then added “talk to Little Bear and try to figure out what on earth is going on” to my list of things to juggle that night.

This morning I reminded him about our chat, saying “please don’t stab any children with scissors today”. In a voice trying to come across as very reasonable, Little Bear replied “I wasn’t stabbing mummy, I was trying cut their heads off and find their (Adam’s) apple”. Add in a ball of concern about the future and well, just general concern.

Sometimes, due to the size and weight of Little Bear’s ball, it can throw out the whole juggling act. Sometimes it takes all my energy to keep from harming him. Sometimes the whole family can be impacted if he is having a bad day. We have moments when it seems as though his weighty ball could knock all the others to the floor and scatter them about. I always have a keeping going no matter what ball and a therapeutic parenting ball up my sleeve though, just in case.

Parenting Little Bear also involves keeping on top of appointments with other agencies such as Audiology, Educational Psychology and Speech and Language Therapy. It involves keeping up to date with where his development is at and figuring out ways to overcome any difficulties he might be having. For example he was really struggling with learning to blend sounds together for reading so I tried lots of different ways of working on it, before realising that his auditory memory was not sufficiently developed to hold three sounds in it e.g. ‘c’ ‘a’ and ‘t’. I realised that he would never be able to blend until he could do that so had to figure out ways of developing his auditory memory. I love the challenges he poses me and I love being able to help him overcome them. Nevertheless, keeping on top of Little Bear’s development is another ball that I juggle.

Occasionally the other services involved do not meet Little Bear’s needs in the way they should and I have to advocate for him. Last week I wrote about our experiences of the local Speech and Language Therapy Service which led to the addition of another ball: making a formal complaint. For interests’ sake I have not yet received a response…

Grizzly helps of course with this whole juggling act where he can but he has an exercise ball sized work ball that he has to keep in the air.

Generally I would say that we have the above juggling act covered. Of course I haven’t mentioned internal pressures such as the trying to keep vaguely in shape ball (10,000 steps a day and as little sugar as possible. That’s the plan anyway…), the keep the blog up to date ball, the try to get a book published ball, the should we start a craft business ball. There are many more but I won’t bore you with them, you know the kind of things I mean.

There are quite a few balls in the juggling act but we’re used to it and in the most part everything works pretty well.

What has happened recently is that we seem to have gathered some extra balls. Some are self-inflicted, some unexpected but they have threatened to topple the whole act.

The main thing that we have added is the lets build an extension ball. It seemed like a good idea at the time and the end result will undoubtedly be brilliant and I will be going around marvelling at its beauty for months after its completion. However in the meantime it has meant adding in a manage all the workmen ball. I have to say that we have been very lucky and they have all been very personable. However, there have been the sorts of issues you would expect such as electricians turning up before you’ve had chance to plan where you want the sockets and turning off the power just as you are trying to cook the boys’ tea. There have been a lot of pressured decision balls and trying to remain calm in the face of builders telling you they’ve discovered a massive problem balls. There has been a whole additional layer of people and stuff management.

Thankfully the building part is now finally finished but I have instead added in a do your own decorating ball. I will be pleased with myself afterwards but at the moment I’m not too enthusiastic about it.

Little Bear has an upcoming birthday. Add in an organise a party ball and buy him some presents ball.

The things that have been pelted in like curveballs started with Gary (Grizzly’s Mum) being taken to A and E. You can read about that in A Mini Crisis. Add in a worrying about Gary ball. She stayed with us for a week then when she was barely back on her feet, the next crisis hit. Supergran, Grizzly’s elderly gran was taken into hospital. She has now been there for 12 days and is potentially very poorly. She is having more tests next week. Add in a trying to fit in regular visits to the hospital ball.

It is no secret that I adore Supergran. I think everybody does because she is a very likeable person. She may be 50 years my senior but we have lots of things in common and I very much do not want her to be poorly. Visiting has mostly been good in that we have chatted and joked and I have felt able to cheer her a little. However, Gary and I had a not so good visit this week. Supergran was uncomfortable and it was distressing for both of us. Add in a ball of worry and upset about one of my very favourite people.

Add in a Big Bear is off school with Tonsillitis ball.

At times this week I have felt the weight of all the balls above me. It is getting harder to juggle them: there are quite clearly too many. However, I’m hoping that honesty is the best policy. I don’t think that adding in a pretend everything is fine when it isn’t ball will help. The plan is to gently lay down all but the essential balls over the weekend and indulge in a bit of rest and self-care. The stress is doing bad things for my shopping habit and I’ve fallen right off the no-sugar wagon after a couple of years of being on it. I think for this weekend I will try not to concern myself over that. I just need a little break. When Monday comes around, I will roll up my sleeves, gather the balls and juggle again.

 

Juggling

A bit of a rant

Beware lovely readers this post is going to get ranty. I apologise in advance because I pride myself on being a blogger with a positive outlook and can usually find something that I’m proud of/ happy about/ amused by that I can share, even when things get challenging. However, even if I dredge the silty bottom of today’s subject matter I cannot think of even one half positive to balance things out. So for one day only I’m just going to vent.

The thing is that our local Speech and Language Therapy (SaLT) Service is turning out to be completely and utterly useless and for the first time in my career I am embarrassed by association.

Little Bear was referred last February. As most of you will know he was experiencing developmental delay caused by neglect with more specific and significant speech and language difficulties on top. His communication difficulties impacted on every area of his life, from his learning to making friends to his behaviour. I felt he had a high requirement for therapy, not least because he had had such poor stimulation for the first 3 years of his life.

We were offered an initial assessment appointment on 4 separate occasions and each time the appointment was cancelled by the SaLT Service. Apparently the therapist had experienced a string of personal problems. I was empathetic, things happen, it can’t always be helped. It wouldn’t have happened where I used to work though: somebody else would have covered for the therapist after the first or second cancellation.

Eventually Little Bear was seen on our 5th attempt, after 8 months of waiting, back in October.

I don’t think I was ever going to particularly enjoy taking him to his appointment: I’ve been doing Speech Therapy my way for a long time and obviously you do things a certain way because you think that is the best way. I knew a different therapist would do things differently and I would need to sit on my hands and try to distance myself as best I could. I have worked with lots of other therapists though and I know that my way is pretty similar to most other people’s way and I would have been very happy for any of my colleagues to see Little Bear.

I wasn’t totally convinced that the differences I saw in how the therapist ran Little Bear’s initial assessment could be passed off as style differences but I gave her the benefit of the doubt. I noticed that she didn’t take any time to get to know Little Bear or build up any rapport with him. There wasn’t any chat about what he likes or how old he is or where he goes to school, she just spoke with me to do a case history then assessed him very clinically. His behaviour during the session was off the scale compared with what was typical for him at the time.

During the assessment she didn’t transcribe his speech, just making some basic notes. I concluded her memory must be a lot more detailed than mine. She didn’t ask me anything about his social communication or memory skills.

At the end of the initial assessment, the therapist concluded that Little Bear’s expressive language skills were pretty much in line with his age (??!) and that his needs were not that severe. She agreed to put him on the waiting list for therapy though and said an appointment might come through before Christmas if we were lucky. I somehow came away feeling like a neurotic parent who had completely exaggerated my child’s needs.

Little Bear had a huge meltdown on our arrival home and flatly refused to go to school afterwards. He has never done that before or since and I had to carry him there with his dummy and blanket.

Then we waited. And waited some more.

We recently received a letter inviting us for a “follow up” appointment. It was at 8:45 am on the Friday of half term. I certainly wouldn’t have chosen to get both boys out of the house earlier than on a typical school day during their holiday but beggars can’t be choosers. We’d waited a year by now, I was damned if I was going to try to change it.

We arrived 5 minutes early and checked in at Reception. “Do you know which therapist it is?” the receptionist enquired. I didn’t. “It’s just that there are 2 and one is currently stuck in traffic” she explained. I really hoped it wasn’t our one.

It was our one. We duly took a seat and waited. This could have gone either way and we were just lucky that Little Bear was able to tolerate a wait today. I think it helped him that Big Bear was there too.

Little Bear did try to tell me that he was nervous this morning though. Previously you could just spring things on him and he would either go with it or not, depending on what sort of day we were having. He is getting a lot more aware of what’s going on now though and he knew that the ‘talking lady’ would expect something from him. Although he wasn’t able to say “I’m nervous” or “I’m worried”, he tried his best to get the idea across to me without a meltdown. He said “I think I take Phoebe to see the talking lady and he sit on my knee”. Phoebe is his cuddly dog who barks and wags her tail. Ok, I said. “Why? Does Phoebe want to come?”. “Yes, cos it might be scary”. “Might it? I don’t think the talking lady is scary” I tried to reassure. “Yes” he said “speaking might be scary for Phoebe”. Aha. I think perhaps he knows his speech isn’t quite how it should be and he knew that it would be under the spotlight today. We decided that noisy Phoebe might be best left at home but he brought 3 cuddly puppies to sit on his knee because they are “more sensible”!

What a shame to make an anxious child with attention difficulties (who finds sitting still difficult at the best of times) wait in this manner. Why arrange an early appointment if you couldn’t be sure of being there? I was getting cross but again tried to be reasonable. It wasn’t her fault the traffic was bad.

Eventually, the other therapist who was there came out to us. She was starting her own clinic at 9:30am but could squeeze us in. Apparently her colleague lived a fair distance away and was never going to make it.

We walked into the clinic room to find another person in there. She was later introduced as a student though I was not asked to consent to her being there which I know is the standard procedure.

The lady who had stepped in was obviously trying to do us a favour but was clearly flustered and had not read the notes. She started reading them while I was there and began firing questions at me: “how are his vowels?” “Have they improved?” “What about his word retrieval difficulties? Are you still concerned about those?”. As she was using technical language I assumed she knew I was a SaLT. “What is he working on at the moment?” she asked. “Well, we have started doing some work on ‘pl’ and ‘bl’ sounds” I explained. “Why?” she demanded. “Err well, because he was reducing those clusters and it was affecting his intelligibility” I replied. “Oh” she said “seems odd, those sounds are very complicated”. “And because I’m a Speech and Language Therapist” I retorted before I’d really considered whether that was a wise thing to say. I did well and kept the swearing inside my head though.

She proceeded to attempt an assessment with Little Bear. She was clearly in a rush and didn’t bother with any rapport building either. I could have told her, had she asked me anything about his behaviour and how best to manage him, that sitting him next to a big stack of toys would impact negatively on his ability to concentrate.

Once the assessment was over, she said “yes, he does have some speech difficulties I’ll put him on the waiting list for a block of therapy. Is that ok?”. Well no, after a year of waiting and thinking that therapy was starting today, no, that isn’t really ok. On querying whether today was meant to be the start of input, she explained that they have a lot of children waiting and some for quite lengthy periods so they are just seeing everyone to “check in” so “everybody has had something”. I can only think that that terrible piece of clinical decision making is due to having to meet some sort of waiting time target. It makes literally no sense because we still haven’t had anything. We haven’t had one piece of advice or even a strategy to use. Time is being wasted reviewing everyone who is waiting and doing NOTHING with them when they could have used that time more productively to start several children’s therapy. Although assessment is essential from a clinician’s point of view, on its own it does nothing to improve outcomes for children.

The whole experience was painful. We were very quickly dismissed, with minimal attention paid to Little Bear. I think it is just common courtesy to praise a child and let them know that they co-operated well at the end of a session.

I have been quite unsure about writing this post as it feels so wrong criticising fellow professionals. However, the whole experience to date has made me feel like an old person who says “it wasn’t like this in my day” as if things have changed beyond recognition over the past 50 years or so. Yet I am not elderly and I only left the NHS last year. Nevertheless I do not recognise this as the Speech and Language Therapy that I know. Where is the quality? The bit where you care about the children and families you are trying to help? The bit where you are thorough and try to consider all aspects of a child? The bit where you look beyond the snapshot provided by one rushed assessment? The bit where you think about a child’s background and the impact that their communication difficulties are having on their life? The bit where you don’t keep patients waiting, where you manage your diary in a realistic way and you prioritise the children who need you most?

If this is what people’s experience of SaLT is, I’m not surprised that nobody really knows the breadth of what we do and that as a profession we have a bit of an image crisis. I am ashamed to be associated with the type of service that has been provided to us. I know that each individual failure in our case has had a fairly reasonable personal excuse behind it but overall the quality of the service Little Bear has experienced is not excusable.

We have experienced the Audiology Service, Educational Psychology, School, Health Visiting and other medical professionals and I have felt well supported by them all. It does upset me that it is SaLT in particular that is letting us down.

And so we wait again.

 

*Rant over. I promise some positive sentiments next week.

 

A bit of a rant

November at Adoption: The Bear Facts

It feels like literally 3 seconds since I was sitting here writing last month’s round up but here I am again and November is over. Here are our best bits:

Events:

  • Half term took place in the first week of November for us. In order to curb Big Bear’s growing I Pad addiction and to encourage him to spend time doing other things, we started the holiday by limiting I Pad time to 30 minutes per day. I was also strict about TV time. It was allowed but I didn’t want the I Pad just to be replaced by another screen. It was the best thing we could have possibly done and I truly believe it led to a much calmer and more wholesome holiday. In fact, the half hour limit is now a permanent feature at our house (mean Mum!).
  • I spent the first couple of days on my own with the Bears. Day 1 was fairly disastrous (I can see a pattern forming, the first day always seem to be a disaster) but day 2 was lovely. We went to the shops, had a wander around, bought new shoes (how had their feet possibly grown again??) and went to the Library where we got involved with a craft session that happened to be on. I have been trying to engage Little Bear with the Library for a while now. It has been a bit of an uphill battle but I was really pleased on the day in question because he took time (seconds, but still) to choose his own books for the first time and then concentrated really well for the craft. Both boys made a rocket which I’m still proudly displaying on my shelf.
  • I treated Little Bear to a comic and Big Bear to some Match Attax then we got a hot chocolate and some toast. I felt as though they actually wanted to do that and we weren’t just sitting down because I was tired and needed caffeine! We sat for a quite a while and Little Bear coloured in his comic and Big Bear looked at his cards and we seemed like a civilised family!!!
  • That afternoon we went to the cinema to see The Trolls which we all enjoyed. We happened to bump into some friends there and spontaneously went to the nearby soft play area with them to burn off some steam. It was a really lovely day.
  • Grizzly was off for the second half of the week and we went to a couple of parties. I also baked twice with the boys that week. Previously I have had double of everything so that they could have all their own stuff and there would be no arguing over whether it was fair or not. This time I chanced it with one set of equipment and ingredients and took turns to give them little tasks to do. I was really impressed with how they coped with it and what a calm experience it was.
  • We went away for the final weekend of half term as a surprise for my Mum’s 70th birthday. The boys put lots of effort into making her cards and cake and we had a really good family weekend. Little Bear was a little anxious on the journey because the plan was quite complicated (we were going somewhere else on route and though we were meeting my Mum it wasn’t at her house) and he needed lots of repetition but he settled really well once we there.

 

  • Big Bear played in his first football match. After saying that he wasn’t headed for the Premier League (Bad Mum!) I couldn’t believe how well he played! He showed a real grit and determination on the pitch that I don’t think I’ve seen in him before. It was brilliant to watch and then I nearly wept all over the mud as they made him man of the match! Little Bear coped fairly well with having to watch and was very proud of his brother. We have avoided taking him to watch again though as I think behaving yourself on the side of a cold pitch for an hour is quite a big ask and there are probably better ways we can spend the time.

 

  • When the last match was on, Little Bear and I went to pick up Aunty Giraffe for a visit. It was lovely to see her as always. Little Bear is very fond of her and the fact he hasn’t seen her for a few months in between visits doesn’t seem to matter.
  • We did family things over the weekend then on the Monday Aunty Giraffe and I escaped for a spot of shopping. Grizzly ended up being at home and was able to pick up the boys. Very selfishly, I was really excited to be out past school pick-up time and shopping turned into the cinema (to see a grown up film!!!) and dinner. Very decadent but ace.

 

  • Last weekend we attended our VAA’s Christmas Party. I bumped into quite a few familiar faces: a family whose prep group I had spoken at and who now have a tiny baby in their charge through concurrency; some adopters who had attended one of my Communication Workshops and now have 2 little girls; a couple from our prep groups and their little girl. It was lovely to see everyone, especially to meet the couple from our prep groups again, in the same building where we first met, now with our little people in tow. I also met a not so familiar face: one of my Twitter friends. It’s quite surreal to meet somebody you know so much about and so little about at the same time but also lovely. Finally, our Social Worker had tasked us with finding another couple who didn’t know anybody. We did find each other and I think we have quite a bit in common (I suspect our SW knew that) so we are going to have coffee soon. Phew! My adoption network seems to be growing quite rapidly!

 

School:

School has largely continued to go well for Little Bear. There have been some incidents but I’m going to count them as positives as I’m really pleased with how school have handled them. All the incidents have taken place at lunch times when there is less supervision and the supervision comes from mid-day assistants, not teaching staff. The incidents usually involve Little Bear playing a game that he shouldn’t be e.g. fighting and the game usually ends in him kicking/ hitting/ biting somebody. From what I can tell, all hell usually breaks out at that point, a dinner lady shouts at him that’s he naughty and drags him to a teacher. Little Bear is unable to explain what has happened or why and he gets punished, not the other child who is usually also involved.

That sounds pretty bad but I spoke with his teacher about it as soon as I spotted the pattern and she had separately spotted it too. She had already spoken to the Head and SENCO to say that she didn’t think the usual system of giving a red card and getting a good talking to from the Head was appropriate for Little Bear. She had concluded that the supervision wasn’t appropriate and that the mid-day assistants needed more support in managing his behaviour in a more constructive way. She asked for my permission to meet with them and explain Little Bear’s needs to them in more detail. She would give them strategies that work in the classroom e.g. thinking time and if they didn’t feel sure about what to do, they could bring Little Bear to her and she would manage the situation. She confirmed that his behaviour is good in the classroom and it is just a matter of handling him more constructively. I did suggest he needed to be watched more closely too because if the opportunity is there, he will get into mischief. I usually ensure the opportunity isn’t there.

His teacher also said “he is not a naughty boy, he just needs more help with boundaries and knowing what is acceptable. I will not have him branded as a naughty child”. That was what I was planning to say but clearly I was preaching to the converted. So yes, there have been a couple of bumps in the road but top marks to school for their sensitive and child-centred handling of it.

There is now a protocol in place for the mid-day staff and so far there haven’t been any further mishaps…

In terms of his educational targets, Little Bear continues to make progress. He is secure in his knowledge of Phase 2 phonics so is now learning Phase 3 and working on blending Phase 2 in school. The blending is proving difficult, as I suspected it would, due to Little Bear’s speech processing and auditory memory difficulties. However, he is mostly able to identify the first and last sounds in words so I don’t think he’s as far off blending as I did a few weeks ago.

Now that he has found out what numbers come after 10, he’s got a bit muddled with seven and eleven and the whole sequence has gone a little wonky again… I’m sure we’ll get there eventually!

Little Bear has discovered pens and has even requested paper a few times recently. He is making some good first attempts at mark making now.

I am super proud of how he is getting on as always.

Me, Myself & I:

I have mainly been making Christmas decorations (our first craft fayre is tomorrow), cups of tea for builders and doing Christmas shopping. I have run another Communication Workshop which went well but we are now on a mission to improve marketing and hopefully get more people next time.

Snapshots:

  • Little Bear asking me to put the radio on then the two of us holding hands and dancing around the kitchen
  • Little Bear showing great empathy with his friend who was crying and trying to find ways to cheer him up
  • Little Bear going back into his classroom each evening when I pick him up, trying to share his treat with his classmates. It’s all good when it’s a packet of sweets, not so much when it’s a giant cookie that several children take a bite out of!

Big Bear’s mini projects:

We have made quite a lot of decorations for our tree now, with some help from Little Bear and I for one can’t wait to get a tree now. Here is a little selection of some of the different things we have made:

img_5675

 

Project Home Improvements:

The builders are in! Well, in fact, they are out. They are building the outside parts of the little extension we are having at the moment and they are going to wait until the New Year to knock through. Thank goodness! So far, it’s fairly painless and they are nice guys so apart from making a few decisions about where windows need to go etc. and making hundreds of cups of tea, it hasn’t really caused me any stress. It means I can do my favourite bit which is picking paint colours etc. Hopefully by the end of January I might be able to show you.

 

 

November at Adoption: The Bear Facts

Little Bear Starts School

Over the past few months we have been a little trepidatious about Little Bear entering full-time education. I think my biggest concern was over his behaviour. It’s pretty much a given that you have to do what you’re told at school. You can’t really growl at your teacher or tell her to “shut up” if you don’t like the sound of what she’s telling you. You definitely can’t scratch, bite or hit her. Or anyone else for that matter. It’s better if you don’t scream the place down. You shouldn’t try to climb over the fence to get out. All of this could be, well, challenging for Little Bear.

Secondly I was worried about how he would cope academically. The combination of plenty of early neglect and significant speech and language delay has led to him being significantly behind typical expectations for his age. I didn’t want him to be out of his depth at school. I didn’t want him to feel as though the teacher was speaking a foreign language or that nothing around him was making sense.

However, at the same time, Little Bear was showing us he WAS ready for school. Throughout the past year of dropping Big Bear off every day Little Bear has been asking if he can go too. His transition went really well and he was pretty angry with the summer holidays for impeding him from getting to where he wanted to go: school. He was very excited about shopping for his school shoes and about the arrival of his school uniform.

When Big Bear started school I knew they would be prising him from my leg for weeks to come. He’s the youngest in his class and although I didn’t have academic concerns about him, he wasn’t emotionally ready for school. It felt like a huge wrench to me that my first born (and at the time, only) child was leaving me and I was very weepy for the first few days. Then I discovered my freedom and realised there is definitely a positive in having your child in school!

When it came to it this time, my earlier concerns were mainly on the backburner and taking Little Bear to school for the first time was a happy and positive experience. He was super excited and went in confidently from day one. I do think these milestones are easier for children with older siblings as they have a much better idea of what it’s all about and they know what to expect.

I did feel the need to check in with his teacher at the end of the day but she said he had had “a brilliant first day” and there had been no behaviour incidents.

So far so good.

The Bears’ school doesn’t have a staggered start – it is full days right from the beginning. I figured that towards the end of the week, as Little Bear got tired, more behaviours would appear. But they didn’t.

We are now over 2 weeks in and his teacher recently described his behaviour as “impeccable”. I am genuinely astonished by this as his behaviour at pre-school would never have been described that way, nor his behaviour at home.

However, I have to say that his behaviour at home has settled too. Obviously we have had our moments – not least weeing on everything in sight on Saturday, including the swimming pool changing room floor and up the wall in McDonalds’ toilet! We have had countless wet pants and weekend mealtimes were characterised by hysteria and hyperactivity.

Despite that, Little Bear’s compliance has been good and we have not seen a regression in any of his skills (apart from the wetting) like we did at the start of the summer holidays.

We have tried to make things easier for him as starting school is a huge step. The dummy is having greater use as he can’t really relax properly without it yet and Little Bear is often found lying on the sofa with it after school. I have relaxed the “try to feed yourself” rule as he’s visibly too exhausted and I’d rather he gets a good meal into him. His appetite seems to have improved considerably and so does the speed of his chewing (which has always been painfully slow) but I have absolutely no idea why that should be.

The teachers have taken on board that Little Bear needs truckloads of praise and that the green/red card behaviour system won’t work for him. Consequently he is trying his very hardest to please them and is succeeding every day. I’m sure this is in turn a welcome boost to his self-confidence.

I’m so very proud of how hard he is trying and how significantly he is confounding expectations (mine and everyone else’s).

Earlier in the week I attended a parent’s talk about literacy and numeracy in Reception class and momentarily felt the stuffing knocked out of me. He has done so brilliantly that I happily trotted to the meeting not really thinking about its content.

As I sat on the unyielding plastic chair in Little Bear’s classroom, my eyes naturally scanned the vista. Beside the teacher was a wall display consisting of a photo of each child in the class and their hand drawn self-portrait. I quickly sought out Little Bears’. Aw, cute, I thought. Two very long legs not actually attached to anything, a dot then a scribble that was probably intended as a head. Then I scanned the rest. They may as well have been produced by Van Gogh the difference was so stark. Surely someone else’s would be at a similar level to his? No.. Seemingly not. Well, never mind, he’ll be better at other things I consoled myself.

The talk began and the National Curriculum expectations for Reception were laid out: “in stage 2 your child will learn 6 sounds, in stage 3, 25 more… They will come home telling you about graphemes and phonemes and what a split digraph is… They will be able to identify the first sound in words and blend sounds together…Counting is easy, all children start school being able to do that. It is understanding quantity that’s more difficult… Great games to help them at home are Snap and Snakes and Ladders… Your children will need to count forwards, backwards, count on and do number bonds to 20… We know you all do lots with them and have been doing for the past 4 years…”

It went on. I felt a grey mist descend on me and knot tighten in my stomach. I felt tears threaten to fill my eyes. Shit. Little Bear is so far behind. He has SO much to try to do this year. The task feels colossal and fairly impossible. We haven’t had him for 4 years I want to shout – nobody helped him for the first 3. We’ve only had him a year and it is not enough. It isn’t fair to expect this of him. Counting is evidently not as easy as you think it is, unless it goes “1, 4, 18” as Little Bear thinks it does. We can’t play those games you are suggesting: Little Bear couldn’t concentrate on them, understand the rules or follow any of the number bits. I’m pretty sure he isn’t going to come home telling me about split digraphs as he’d have a devil of a time getting those words through his speech processing system let alone trying to say them. Shit.

I shouldn’t really have reacted like that (as Grizzly helpfully pointed out when I got home) because it is not so long ago that Big Bear was in Reception so I clearly did know the expectations. I also quite clearly know that Little Bear is delayed in his development and that he is bound to be behind his peers who’ve had better starts in life. I think it’s just that I have re-set to Little Bear Scales and against those he is flying. Hearing the Actual Scales brought me back down to earth with a nasty bump. Also, knowing something and hearing it from someone else is quite different e.g. I know I have a prominent nose but I don’t want anyone else to tell me that!

I swallowed back the tears and tried to be a grownup about it. I went to have a chat with his teacher. It was a good chat because she was honest. She acknowledged that he does have a lot of ground to make up and that he isn’t at the same level as his peers. She was also positive and reassuring. She said we would go at his pace. We would give him more time to settle then consider what support he might need that could be funded through his Pupil Premium money. She can see the intelligent boy trapped by his speech and language difficulties that I can see and I know she will do everything she can to help him. I can tell she is already very fond of him. She can see the progress he has made since she visited him in pre-school. She can see progress in his play skills, in his ability to now play collaboratively with others instead of alongside them and in his ability to listen and to follow instructions. This is huge progress in a short time by anyone’s standards.

She told me that on the baseline assessments they have been carrying out that most of her ticks are in the 40 to 60 month range. Now, that nearly brought the tears back as on Little Bear’s last assessment at pre-school, in July, he had just gone into the 30 to 50 month bracket. His teacher is just as surprised by the speed of his progress as I am but she said she double and triple checked her assessment to ensure she wasn’t over-estimating his abilities and she is confident it’s right.

Almost exactly 1 year ago when Little Bear started pre-school, he was assessed as emerging at the 16 to 26 month level across all his skills. I don’t think anybody would expect a child to progress from a 16 month level to a 40 month level in one year. It makes me cross because clearly Little Bear was always able to achieve, he was just never taught or nurtured. We haven’t done anything magic, we have just parented him.

The chat also restored my calm and allowed me to hope once again. Realistically I don’t expect Little Bear to meet National Curriculum expectations at the end of Reception. The ask is nigh-on impossible. However, I’m sure he will continue to progress and astound us with what he CAN do. Who cares about Actual Scales? I’m going back to Little Bear Scales. He’s doing better than fabulously on those and I’m super proud of my little dude.

So far our communication with school has been good and I feel as though they “get him” and know how to manage him. I can’t ask for more at this stage.

Though I do wonder what a split digraph is…

 

 

 

Little Bear Starts School