Mislaying The Positives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll tell you why.

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

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

ACES another one

 

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

ACES

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Mislaying The Positives

Adoption’s a rollercoaster, just gotta ride it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Adoption’s a rollercoaster, just gotta ride it

Seeking the Positives

I know I promised last week that for this blog post I would write something shorter and lighter so I will endeavour to but to be honest it has been a confusing kind of day. My brain is a bit of a mangle and I’m not too sure, at this stage, how it’s going to come out.

My thoughts are around the idea that when it comes to adoptive parenting, how you feel about events really depends on how you choose to look at them. I suppose that’s true of many of life’s events but there is something specifically yin and yang about parenting a child with some behaviour challenges.

I find that in so many situations there are positives. I don’t know if my glass is half full or what, as I am very much a realist, but I do like a positive. I seek them out and collect them. The rub is that for each positive or few positives, there will be an equal and opposite negative. It’s as though when one hand gives, the other takes away.

For all the fabulous things Little Bear does, he’ll do something ridiculous and I guess it’s down to us at those moments, to decide whether we let that thing taint the good stuff or just let it go. Sometimes it’s impossible to be objective about it. Sometimes things push your buttons so much that you can’t help being irked. Sometimes you have given warnings and explained the cause and effect of an action and given ample chances and your little darling has chosen to do that thing anyway. At those points it is hard to find the positive.

At other times, I find myself dithering a bit. I find myself thinking theoretically that he shouldn’t have done x, y or z but that it hasn’t actually upset me at all and therefore should I bother making a point of it or not.

I suppose what I’m saying is that there is a lot of sifting of behaviour going on: a constant analysis of whether things have gone well or whether they haven’t, when you balance up the negatives and positives at the end of it all. This thought makes much more sense if you consider a specific event. For example, if we went to a party and Little Bear had played well with the other children and had sat for his party tea but at one point he had nicked someone’s balloon and had purposefully popped it, making them cry, is that, on balance, a successful or unsuccessful event? I could decide that the balloon popping was a big incident and therefore feel bad about the whole thing. Or, I could think that in the grand scheme of things, popping a balloon was small fry and that at parties, some incident or other is par for the course. In that scenario I can come away feeling pretty chipper and like things went as well as they should. The event is the same in both examples. The only thing that has changed is my perception of what happened.

When we became adopters (specifically of Little Bear and his particular needs), there was a natural adjustment period in which we changed our perceptions of what constituted a successful event. I suppose we made adjustments to our expectations based on his developmental level, behaviour at the time and knowledge of what he could/ could not reasonably cope with. To begin with, that was going to a place without us getting thrown out. If we achieved that and nobody ended up in A and E, it was a clear success. I think we have continued to adjust those expectations as he has developed and progressed so that now, we expect much more from him.

What’s difficult at the moment is knowing, accurately, what he really is capable of in any given situation. I think our expectations are pretty reasonable: we never demand exemplary behaviour all of the time because that’s clearly ridiculous. I think we take a lot of shenanigans in our stride. We never expect an event to go by without some sort of minor issue or three and that’s ok. We’re pretty adept at ignoring the less than perfect.

What is getting increasingly tricky are the situations when behaviour very clearly doesn’t live up to expectation; when we know Little Bear is capable of more or better. I think we are faced with a choice at these junctures: do we blame regulation/ his history/ the wind direction and allow those things to justify his behaviour? Or do we think that, actually, he is capable of more and should have tried harder? I am very much an analyser, a seeker of answers, a person who actively considers behaviour from all angles. I am very much about looking beyond behaviour, thinking about what it communicates and what may have triggered it. I do those things as a matter of course. However, I find myself occasionally wondering whether in doing so, I always find an excuse for Little Bear when, let’s be honest, all children can be little so and so’s sometimes and also that, as he grows older, he will need to take increasing responsibility for his own actions.

The reason I wonder this is because yesterday was Little Bear’s nativity. He had worked hard to learn all his lines off by heart and he delivered them perfectly. He was in all the right places at all the right times and did a sterling job. Then, as if to provide the yin to his yang, he proceeded to writhe about the front of the stage, hanging off the front and generally mucking about. He had been on the stage for approximately two minutes so even by his standards it was a remarkably short time to have got bored already. I know that he knows he shouldn’t do that. When the head teacher spoke, Little Bear was the only child who took it upon themselves to heckle him. It wasn’t cool.

I decided to speak to him about it later because there was an evening performance too. Sometimes, if there has been a problem with situational understanding or social expectations, a little chat to make things more explicit can help. I felt he was pretty clear on the behaviour expectations. However, lo and behold, in the evening performance, he pretty much repeated his antics from earlier, adding in a fracas with the other donkey and once more loudly disagreeing with the head teacher.

I couldn’t help going away feeling as though the negatives of his behaviour had outweighed the positives of line-learning and delivery. Grizzly came away feeling similarly.

As with all situations, I think we now have a choice of how to view the event. We could continue to be disappointed by his behaviour, knowing he is capable of more. We could choose to think that if only he had tried a little harder, he could have lasted the final two minutes without incident. We could consider that the other 59 children managed it, several of whom are also adoptees, as did all the children in Reception class who are two years younger than him. That line of thought could lead us to wanting to talk to him about it.

However, it’s done. No matter what we think or say, he can’t undo it. Given that, what would be the point of expressing our disappointment to him? It would only shame him.

We could choose to excuse his behaviour. We could blame it on tiredness, the anticipation of Christmas, dysregulation, the audience – a whole multitude of possible culprits. By exonerating him, would we be at risk of thinking he doesn’t have the power to control himself when he very clearly does?

Perhaps there is another way to view it. We could decide to view it from the point of view that Little Bear wouldn’t be Little Bear if there wasn’t a moment of indiscretion. We could just write the last 2 minutes off as collateral damage. We could focus on the fact that, despite having DLD, Little Bear managed to learn 52 words, arranged into 6 sentences, all off by heart and delivered it clearly and loudly. Those facts are phenomenal and fairly unbelievable given his difficulties with auditory memory, language and speech.

I don’t think it matters too much which perspective we choose to take, because none of them can change the event itself. There are no more nativities coming up that we could hope to go differently. Therefore, I think I choose the last version; the most positive. I think I seek the positives because they make everybody feel better. The negatives are difficult. The negatives draw unwanted attention to us as parents, they call into question our parenting in other people’s minds and they cause us embarrassment. It is difficult to be fighting the fight of getting school to understand your child and their behaviour then seeing them seemingly choose to clown around in front of all the parents, staff and half the school.

For one’s sanity, it is often preferable to take the positive stance.

I’m getting better at sweeping the negatives aside and letting them go. I just hope that in doing so, I’m not lowering my expectations of Little Bear unduly and I’m not finding justifications for his behaviour when I should be demanding better.

*

Anyhoo, it’s nearly Christmas and I have presents to wrap. All that remains is to say I hope you all have a calm and happy Christmas and enjoy time with your loved ones. I asked the boys if they have any Christmas messages for you. Predictably, Little Bear told a rude joke and sang a song about Uncle Billy losing his willy. Big Bear says, “Merry Christmas you filthy animals”. So, you know, good luck (I might need some) and enjoy the festivities. Lots of love from all The Bears xxx

 

Seeking the Positives