Schools Out

For the past fortnight the Bears’ school has been in transition, with each class getting settled in their new classroom and with their new teacher. Things seem to have gone fairly smoothly but I checked in with Little Bear’s teacher yesterday, just to be sure.

I wrote a few weeks ago in Support about school (and us) having secured funding top-up funding for Little Bear. I have recently found out that the school have been able to advertise for a TA and that they have employed somebody and this person will provide Little Bear with 20 hours of support per week. Obviously this is great. They will work from 8:30 am so will be able to greet him and will finish at 12:30 meaning he gets support for some of his lunch time – a flashpoint when things often go awry. He will have 1:1 or small group support available for all his core subjects.

I’m very pleased about this.

Things are never perfect though and there are a couple of little niggles at the back of my mind. Firstly I didn’t expect the TA to be anybody that I knew. It turns out she is a parent of children in the same school. I don’t know her but I know of her as she has previously volunteered in the school, in fact in Big Bear’s class. She used to hear them read and was quite infamous amongst the parents for making slightly judgemental comments in their take home books.

I have noticed that if you smile at her she tends to look the other way.

I feel a little uncomfortable that she is a parent too and that she is going to know lots of things about Little Bear’s background and his behaviour and his learning needs. I have to assume that she is a consummate professional.

I am going to need her to start speaking to me though because I consider there to be a team around Little Bear, consisting at the moment of the teacher and myself & Grizzly, and Mrs. C will soon be an integral part of that. We will need to work closely together and will need to be consistent in our approaches. I am trying to keep an open mind and am hoping that we can achieve the partnership that I’m aiming for.

Little Bear’s teacher and I have agreed to let Mrs C settle in and get to know Little Bear and then for us to have a meeting in maybe the third week. This will help us all get up to speed and hopefully signal the start of a good working relationship.

Unfortunately Mrs C has been tied up in her old contract and has not been able to meet Little Bear during his transition weeks. The school have provided a different TA for the interim. Little Bear has bonded with her well and has been happy to work with her. His teacher and TA have been impressed with what he has been able to achieve with support. He has concentrated well and been co-operative.

There is an obvious risk that the inconsistency of returning to a different TA could throw Little Bear. There is a risk that he may not bond with her as easily and may not be as keen to work with her. I hope this is not the case and it is just my natural tendency to think of all the things that could possibly go wrong talking. I am keeping everything crossed that Mrs C’s firm approach will be ideal for him and that he will work with her quite happily.

My chat with the teacher also revealed that whilst things are going pretty swimmingly in the mornings, the afternoons are a different story. Little Bear does not have support in the afternoons. He seems to be doing ok with accessing the carpet time plenary session but when the children are meant to be doing some independent recording it sounds as though he is doing whatever he fancies. I can see why he would because he cannot do independent writing yet and it sounds as though he is struggling to occupy himself with something constructive and is tending to get into a bit of bother instead. The reduced supervision will be difficult because we know he has a tendency to lash out where verbal negotiation is needed and we also know that the other children have a tendency to purposefully push his buttons. With the best will in the world the teacher cannot see everything at once and it is quite a full on class. I can see why things are going belly-up.

It sounds as though the one thing that will occupy him is the IPad… I really don’t want him to spend every afternoon glued to a screen. Hmm.

Also, it seems as though Little Bear is not being particularly co-operative with things such as tidying up when asked. This is interesting because he generally will tidy things away if I ask him to at home. Ever the opportunist I suspect he is just doing what he can get away with. It is so important that we all handle situations like this in the same way otherwise Little Bear picks up on the inconsistency. When he detects that the boundaries aren’t particularly clear or firm I do think that his anxiety rises and his behaviour deteriorates.

My plan is to let the holidays happen and to send an e-mail ready for the start of term with some thoughts on things that might help. Perhaps it would be helpful to have a bank of activities that would occupy Little Bear when he can’t access the work – things that would provide him with a bit more variety and learning potential than the IPad alone. I’m also wondering about alternative recording options for him such as recordable switches and talking tins, until his writing has developed a bit more. I will need to be clear about how we manage it if Little Bear refuses to tidy up or turn the IPad off when asked.

It could be that afternoons without support are not ok but we’ll have to see how things go.

The conversation made me even more thankful that we got the funding that we did and made me shudder to think what things could have been like if Little Bear was trying to manage whole days without tailored support.

I need to forget about it all for now though: school’s out! I have no idea how a whole academic year has gone already. Time really does fly.

When I tucked Little Bear in tonight I told him how proud I am of him and how well he has done at school. I know it hasn’t been plain-sailing but overall I am very happy with how his first year has gone. He’s done brilliantly. Over the summer we can really focus on his speech and keep trucking with the reading and writing. I know school is out but the learning needs to continue. He’s pretty keen these days and we can easily weave lots of learning into the things he chooses to do.

So far I am feeling keen and enthusiastic for my task ahead but I think we should take bets as to how long I will last before I’m tearing my hair out and counting the days until term starts again!

 

 

Schools Out

Support

Support can come in many forms and from a range of sources and this week we have experienced some of them.

The first thing was that we got an outcome on the funding application we made to the LA for additional support for Little Bear on his transition to year 1. We had not applied for a full EHCP but for ‘top-up funding’, of which there are several levels. This is short-term funding, just for the next academic year. It avoids a full assessment (which is required for an EHCP) but obviously does not give the long-term commitment and legal obligation of an EHCP. The point of top-up funding is to support “accelerated progress” for those children who need it. We felt this was ideal for Little Bear because given his background (neglect) he does need more support to catch up with his peers and it is difficult to say at this stage whether he will continue to need that throughout his school life or not.

Our application for funding was supported by the school and the Educational Psychologist and we had all contributed to the paperwork. We know that the leap to a more formal education in year 1 will be huge for Little Bear and that he will still require access to the EYFS. We also know that Little Bear needs very specific and 1:1 support to learn new tasks and to move forward with his educational targets – I wrote about the type of support that makes a difference to him last week in Jigsaws. Therefore, we were all agreed that additional funding would be required, on top of the £6000 the school are obliged to provide from their SEN budget.

On Wednesday the SENCO was waiting for me when I came to pick Little Bear up from school. “Have you seen the letter?” she said, “we’re fuming!”. I had not seen the letter as although the LA had addressed it to me, it hadn’t (and still hasn’t) found its way here. She ushered me in and we went through to the office she shares with the Head to read it. The first thing I noted was that the letter referred to Little Bear in his birth name. I have no idea how that came about as he has been legally adopted for over a year now and neither school nor us had used that name on any paperwork. It is quite concerning that the name is still in circulation and still on somebody’s data base somewhere.

The letter itself said that the LA were rejecting our application for funding as it had been sent in on the wrong paperwork (it hadn’t), Little Bear was making “excellent progress” and there weren’t any Speech and Language targets even though we had talked a lot about his Speech and Language Needs (there were targets included with the application). This was very annoying and disappointing. However, school had been very proactive and the Head had already phoned the LA and given them a telling off. He had got them to agree to read the paperwork properly and to take it back to panel, which happened to be taking place the next day.

Although I was annoyed, there was nothing I had to do as school had handled it and I felt reassured that they were on our side and were prepared to fight for Little Bear, just as I would be. I do feel lucky that this is the case as I’m only too aware of others in a similar position where the school would not have supported their application in the first place. Other schools would have just accepted the rejection letter and would not have queried it and the outcome would have been completely different.

When I shared what had happened on Twitter, it was lovely to get virtual support from friends and people I have never met who were outraged on my behalf.

Last night, I got a call from the SENCO. They had heard back from the LA, who had evidently realised they had cocked the whole thing up and who had now read the application properly and have granted us the funding! In fact, now they’ve thought about it, they have seen fit to grant us a level higher than the one we actually applied for.

I’m so happy that this has been resolved as I really feel it will make the difference between a rocky transition and Little Bear being able to do the very best that he can next year. Getting the right support in place for him is absolutely essential and thanks to the ongoing support we receive from school that has now been achieved and they are looking at employing a TA.

 

The second bit of support I got this week was rather unexpected. Little Bear has not been well at all. He had a course of antibiotics a couple of weeks ago but it has made little difference. He has a horrible cough and is just not himself, even though he is still running about all over the place. I have been umming and erring about taking him back to the doctor for a few days now but I had to go myself on Tuesday and sat waiting for over an hour and a half in the ridiculous ‘sit and wait’ clinic they operate. The thought of sitting there for that length of time with Little Bear filled me with dread so I have to admit I was avoiding it and hoping he might miraculously recover. When I saw his pale face and not as enthusiastic as usual running at sports day yesterday I knew I really did have to take him.

I decided to call them and be honest: maybe they could help me out by letting me have an actual appointment slot? I wasn’t too hopeful as the receptionists at our doctors are just like everywhere else – a little scary and you have to basically beg and give them far too much medical information to even have a chance of getting in.

I rang them anyway though and explained that Little Bear has some difficulties with behaviour and cannot tolerate waiting for a long time. I felt a bit fraudulent doing it though I’m not sure why as it is true. There weren’t any slots yesterday but the lady assured me that if I called in the morning they would be able to help me. A while later she called me back and said someone had just cancelled, would I like to book their slot? It was really good of her to take the time to remember us (they must get loads of calls) and to bother to find my number and call me back. This morning she called me again – the doctor had phoned in sick but she had jiggled things about so we could still have an appointment.

We have now been and only needed to wait 15 minutes which was much better. Little Bear was hanging off the reception desk and licking my arm and running about so I think they could see my issue!

Once again I feel lucky that when I asked for the support, it was there. I suppose it was a small thing but it did make a big difference to my day.

 

The third type of support I have observed this week was from Big Bear towards Little Bear. At sports day whenever Little Bear was participating in a race, Big Bear and the entirety of his year 3 class chanted and shouted for him. It was lovely.

 

This week I have also run one of my Communication Workshops. It was attended by prospective and current adopters. I love meeting other adopters in this context as hearing their stories is always so interesting. Sometimes I meet someone who is having a hard time of it and I can really sense their anxiety and worry and their being constantly on the brink of tears. I think it’s because I can see myself in the early days in them. I tend to go home and think about them a lot and hope they have the support around them that they so badly need.

Adoption is not an easy route. There are so many things that we have to constantly have on our mental agendas, so many things we have to chase up and even fight for. Good support is absolutely critical. I am, as ever, incredibly grateful for the support and kindness we have been shown, not just this week but every week. I know others are not so fortunate but I do think it is reassuring for us all that good support does exist and can be found somewhere.

 

Support

Jigsaws

I know this seems a slightly strange blog topic but Little Bear has taken a real interest in jigsaws recently and in doing so I have learned a lot about how he learns and how he needs to be taught.

Up until very recently Little Bear has not shown an interest in activities that require sitting still and concentrating, such as jigsaws. He has had lots of other needs in terms of developing his play skills so I haven’t been too concerned. Having a bigger brother who does sometimes (not a lot as he too doesn’t like sitting still) do these types of activity has helped Little Bear a lot though. If Big Bear is doing something, Little Bear generally wants to do it too. As I have got really strict with screen time and have been encouraging Big Bear to find other things to occupy himself one evening he did sit down and start doing a jigsaw. Of course Little Bear was in hot pursuit and got one out for himself too.

I had to intervene as I knew that the one he had chosen was too difficult. We swapped it for a very simple one with 4 large pieces. At that stage, it was too much to ask of him that he try to complete it on his own. Little Bear put the first two pieces he found together, couldn’t make them fit immediately, growled and chucked them across the room. It would have been easy to abandon ship at this point. However, I was feeling particularly resilient that day and decided to persevere. “Come on, you can do it” I cajoled, shifting the pieces about so that two that went together were close to one another. Little Bear managed to put them together with a surreptitious jiggle of the bits from me. I made a big thing of how clever he was. Could he stick another piece on I wondered aloud.

I began to get concerned because he didn’t seem at all able to see that we were making a picture and with only two pieces left there weren’t many options. He would try to put a straight edge into a hole or a corner piece into the middle. Each time he perceived himself to be failing at the task (which happened every few seconds), he would lose his temper and throw the pieces and sometimes break the ones we had already done if I wasn’t quite fast enough. Rather than losing my temper (which would be easy to do if feeling frazzled) it made me even more determined that he should feel success and complete the task. I think at one point he got up to wander off and give up. It was hard to know how far to push him but I knew that he wouldn’t think he could do jigsaws unless he actually did one so I pretty much made him come back and finish it off. I gave a lot of help and short of actually putting the pieces in place for him, heavily scaffolded the task. All the while a part of me wondered if I was placing too much pressure on him as perhaps he actually wasn’t capable of doing it?

However, jigsaw finally completed, we were able to high five, applaud and do lots of bows. Big Bear is always fabulous in these situations and spontaneously joined in with the praise. Now that the marathon of completing one 4 piece jigsaw was over I thought we could tidy up and go to bed. However, to my surprise Little Bear had other ideas. He wanted to do another jigsaw. So off we went again. It wasn’t much easier the second time and Little Bear certainly wasn’t a natural at ‘seeing’ the picture and matching bits together. I thought back to the discussions we’d had with the Educational Psychologist in which he said that Little Bear’s language scores were in advance of his visual skills, a statement that at the time I had felt must be wrong. However, was this the type of thing he meant? I had to agree that what I was seeing was concerning and that without a significant amount of adult support, Little Bear would not be able to complete even a very simple jigsaw at the age of 5.

We persevered and geed on by his previous success Little Bear was pretty determined to complete the next one. That is not to say that he didn’t lose his temper or become easily frustrated but with encouragement and a calm approach and I have to admit, an element of me refusing to allow him to fail at it, we completed another and another and about 5 more. In the end I had to call time on it and put him to bed.

I was astonished when in the morning he wanted to do more still. He got out every jigsaw we own one by one and we painstakingly completed each of them until the playroom floor was covered. I tried to teach him strategies to make it easier e.g. that one has a straight bit. It is an edge. It goes at the side. Or that was has two straight bits. It is a corner. I pointed at similarities between pieces. Look, that one has purple on it too or the cat’s tail is missing, I wonder where it is.

I repeated myself a lot. No matter how much I said it, the task didn’t seem to be getting any easier for Little Bear, not least I suspect because ‘edge’ and ‘corner’ were new words for his vocabulary. But I had to admire his persistence. I don’t think there are many children who would want to keep going and going at something they are finding so hard. I kept the praise level high and despite Little Bear repeatedly saying “I’m rubbish at jigsaws” I tried hard to re-frame that thought and help to show him otherwise. Once the floor was almost entirely covered, he began to admit that he might be The Jigsaw Master.

This was just a couple of weeks ago. Little Bear still likes to get the jigsaws out but now he can complete a 30 piece jigsaw on his own.

Nothing about this situation is as I would have predicted it and it has taught me several things:

Firstly, when Little Bear doesn’t appear to be able to do things, is it because he really can’t or because he doesn’t believe he can? I rather suspect that he often gives up at the first hint of failure as his default position is to assume that he can’t. This leads me to think that sometimes putting a bit more pressure on him to complete a task the first time he encounters it is the right thing to do to show him that he can (with a high level of support of course).

However, it is hard to know which tasks to target and whether it is realistic to expect him to achieve them. Taking a hard approach to tasks that he might not be able to complete would be really damaging.

Secondly, I do feel there was an element of Little Bear having difficulties learning the task. I don’t think he was ever going to spontaneously figure jigsaws out by himself. However, it has shown that with specific teaching he can learn and he can generalise his skills pretty quickly. He needs specific teaching of strategies e.g. he couldn’t notice the similarities between pieces so I had to verbalise things that seemed obvious. Once he has been taught these strategies and there has been a lot of repetition of them, he can apply them well. I suspect this is due to differences in his neural pathways, caused by years of neglect. However, just because he can’t learn something the usual way, doesn’t mean we can’t find a way around it and create a new neural pathway for him.

Thirdly, because of the first and second point, Little Bear can’t really be expected to try new tasks by himself. He needs a grown up by his side to keep him regulated, focused and to give him heaps of positive feedback. I really hope we get the EHCP funding we have applied for as this is the very reason why he needs it.

I have found at home that if I get the support wrong the first time we try a task that can be the end of his engagement with it forever, so good support for new tasks is essential.

I am genuinely shocked at his progress with jigsaws and at what he can do now. The fact that he was so motivated to succeed, despite all the barriers, is nothing short of inspirational. He allowed countless repetitions of the task over the course of a few days which will undoubtedly have cemented his skills much more quickly. He even sat and helped with a huge jigsaw of the world that the 4 of us were working on the other day. It was hard for grown-ups but he now believes he can do jigsaws so wasn’t unduly phased. He did brilliantly and Big Bear got bored before he did.

I am now thinking about what other tasks we could tackle in this way. We have managed it with Maxi Hama beads – we had the same “I can’t do it”, “you do it for me” situation the first time we tried those but by the end of the morning he was pushing my hand away saying “I do it myself”.

I have also noticed that once Little Bear has mastered a task his attention span suddenly increases beyond recognition. His teacher called me in the other day as she was shocked that he had sat on the rug in a corner of the classroom for a whole hour by himself doing jigsaws. They had all been muddled up and he had painstakingly sorted and completed them. She had never seen him concentrate for more than 10 minutes on anything and didn’t know that he could.

This weekend, Little Bear spent several hours making Hama bead creations until he had used every single bead and I had to make a hasty Amazon purchase.

Evidently confidence is playing a huge role in Little Bear’s ability to learn. Little Bear, you really need to believe in yourself as much as I do because what you have achieved so far is nothing short of astounding.

And thank you to the humble jigsaw, who knew I could learn so much from you?!

 

 

 

 

 

Jigsaws