Football: A Yardstick for Progress?

Back in the summer of ’15 (no, I am not re-inventing a song) Little Bear had just arrived. It was both a blessing and a curse that this momentous event had taken place during the summer holidays. It was great because it answered the question of how we were going to possibly manage meeting our youngest son a couple of hundred miles away whilst also managing the needs of our elder school-age child.

However, once we were back, the days stretched out interminably ahead of us. Grizzly and I were both on leave and there was no school or pre-school to give some much-needed structure to our days. There was just us and a very unruly seeming energetic mass of a child who at the very minimum needed to be kept out of immediate danger all the livelong day. With the benefit of hindsight I can say that he was traumatised and emotionally at sea. At the time I don’t think we quite knew what had hit us and I’m pretty sure we had barely a second to think about it.

We discovered, within the first hour of his arrival, that being inside the house with Little Bear was kind of difficult. He could not be contained in one room and wandered, nay prowled about, seemingly looking for the most dangerous or unwanted (by adults) tasks to engage in. He was everywhere: up shelves, in cupboards, under furniture. Little Bear was not in any way tuned into language so didn’t respond to any verbal means of trying to shape his behaviour. We spent the first weeks trailing after him, like a Police dog trailing a criminal, trying to anticipate what he might do next, trying to keep up with him, trying to offer distraction. We had to physically remove him from dangerous situations, which triggered his fight response and we were often bitten, scratched, hit or kicked.

It quickly became apparent that we might fair slightly better outside. Wide open spaces were good because there weren’t many things you couldn’t touch and Little Bear could be freer. Obviously the not responding to language thing was tricky, especially when you wanted him to come back. There was many an occasion when Grizzly had to sprint after him but notwithstanding that, things were easier.

You cannot actually live your life in a field though so we did have to try to make do with our small-ish back garden some of the time.

Left to his own devices, Little Bear would have spent the whole day watering the garden with the hose until a flood came and we would have needed Noah on speed-dial. We did of course allow Little Bear some hose time but it was essential we introduced some parameters if we were ever going to gain a modicum of order. As an aside, on one occasion of supervised hosing, Little Bear accidentally caught the sunlight at just the perfect angle to create a rainbow. It was one of the first times he responded to my communication to “look” and together we shared the same reference point and together marvelled at the amazing rainbow. I remember feeling more happy than you might think about that because I had actually reached him. After that we often tried to make a rainbow collaboratively and he began to see the point of me in an interaction. He also learned the word “rainbow” which was a big deal in his otherwise depleted vocabulary.

While the rainbow moment was a mini-turning point, I still did not want a flooded garden and knew that Little Bear needed help to engage with other outdoor activities too. Big Bear was 6 at this point and had recently got very into football. He was keen to be outdoors and was never far from a ball. Little Bear was also interested in the ball and generally ran straight though the middle of a kick-about with the sole purpose of nicking said ball. This was incredibly annoying from Big Bear’s point of view.

We tried to explain that Little Bear was little and didn’t understand games yet or that there were rules and he was really just trying to play. Big Bear could entertain this type of reasoning and would try to follow Little Bear’s lead. Little Bear would pick up the ball and run off, saying ‘catch me’ and looking for you to chase him. Big Bear or one of us would oblige. As he was shouting ‘catch me, catch me’ that’s what we tried to do. Only, when we did catch him, all hell would break loose. I guess because when the catching actually happened he decided he didn’t want it after all. I suppose being grabbed by people you aren’t sure if you trust yet is pretty frightening.

Little Bear would cry, we would be scratched. We would try some reasoning but Little Bear couldn’t process it. Five minutes later Little Bear would be running off with the ball shouting ‘catch me, catch me’ and the whole merry-go-round would begin again.

It was very difficult to manage or to see how to manage it a different way. All we knew was, it was a very inauspicious start to a footballing career and we probably had not just adopted the future David Beckham.

In the summer of 2016, things had developed a little. Big Bear was now getting good at football and wanted to practice properly. Little Bear had fallen totally in love with his brother and wanted to do whatever he was doing. If Big Bear was playing football, Little Bear was close by. Unfortunately he still had a penchant for ball-snatching and though Big Bear is extremely patient with him, it really did push his patience to breaking point. Most football games ended in one or the other or both in tears or storming off.

By this point Big Bear was pretty knowledgeable about the rules of the beautiful game and both he and Grizzly did their utmost to teach the basics to Little Bear. There were a few problems. One was that Little Bear could be (and still can be at times) rather oppositional so rules were like a red rag to a bull. If you told him he wasn’t allowed to pick up the ball, his first urge was to pick up the ball. Another problem is that Little Bear had very poor resilience then and the smallest knock or comment or his own perception that he had done something bad would be enough to cause him to purposefully kick the ball out of play or boot it at someone or call someone a name or hit them. Football continued to be a source of stress, distress and very little enjoyment for anyone involved.

Thankfully for Big Bear, he played football at an after-school club and he joined a club outside of school so he could get his fix somewhere. Interestingly, he had had a rough time because he didn’t like football when he was younger and it had really impacted on his ability to be accepted by the other boys. We had been reluctant about allowing him to join a club as it can be so competitive and the last thing we wanted was for his confidence to take a further knock, for example by being kept on the bench if he wasn’t perceived to be good enough.

Grizzly researched all the options and found a club with an inclusive ethos where all children get an equal go, irrespective of how good they are. Despite our reservations, it was a fantastic experience for Big Bear and did wonders for his confidence, both inside and outside of school. He continues to play for them now and apart from a recent appearance of nerves (a whole other tale, there is always something!) he loves it.

By the summer of 2017 a glimmer of football-related hope began to appear. Little Bear was beginning to tolerate the rules. He accepted they were there but was often in conflict with himself over sticking to them. He was still easily upset and something like the other team scoring a goal could be enough to cause a bit of a situation. However, the situation was generally less dramatic than before and mostly involved him stropping off to a corner of the garden for five minutes.

Alongside this, Little Bear’s language skills had now developed unrecognisably. We could start to talk about how he was feeling and what might be causing his behaviour. We could say things like “I think you are feeling a bit frustrated because the other team scored. That’s ok. Sit there for five minutes then join in again when you’re ready”. We generally didn’t make too much of a fuss and often if we ignored the outburst he would just join in again a few seconds later by himself. We always praised the good decision he had made to come back. We also tried some other techniques like bringing a squidgy stress toy outside with us and Little Bear would go and squeeze that if he was getting annoyed, rather than shouting at somebody or running off with the ball.

Football still had its moments but as the summer wore on I realised that the boys were starting to have a kick-about on their own after tea, while I did the washing up (handily positioned in front of the back window where I could keep a watchful eye). More often than not, the game would go without hitch and I would silently count my blessings when they came back in. They even started to set each other up for specific bits of play e.g. Little Bear would throw the ball so Big Bear could volley it in. Maybe football could be fun in the Bear household after all?

Not long after term started again, Little Bear began asking to join the after school football club that Big Bear attended. I had a lot of concerns. He is extremely tired after school, making listening harder than usual. We were having a very rough phase in the classroom and Little Bear was frequently in trouble for being disruptive. The guy who runs the football is lovely but not especially firm and I’d always rather suspected the children ran amok. Little Bear is not a child who should be allowed to run amok. It is not wise. It could be extremely detrimental.

Little Bear clearly wanted to go though and I had to listen. I decided this was a rare time that a sticker chart might work. I was clear with Little Bear that I couldn’t let him go to the club if he wasn’t going to listen to what he was told because that could be dangerous. The rules would be there to keep him and his friends safe. He gained stickers by doing what he was asked in school, at home and if he was with others like his grandparents. If he didn’t manage to do as he was asked, nothing happened. If he did manage to, a big fuss was made about his ability to make good decisions and he got a sticker.

By October half term the chart was full and I kept to my word and signed him up. I did speak with the football coach about Little Bear’s needs; that rules need to be clear and consistent for him and that he needs to know that the coach and I will talk and if things are not going well, the coach will tell me.

I knew I had to let him try but I was worried.

Last week, out of the blue, I received this message:

Just a quick one, I know you were unsure about signing Little Bear up for football but he has been amazing! I love coaching him, football or PE, just wanted to drop you a message to let you know. And then Big Bear is something else, great kid that doesn’t get the credit he deserves, he’s fantastic.

And my heart melted.

How lovely of the coach to take the time to send me that? I wonder if he really knows how much that means?

I couldn’t possibly have predicted, back in 2005, mid back garden flood, that my little dude would be able to overcome so many hurdles that he would be able to not just cope but flourish in a football club only 2 years later. He’s a phenomenon.

Maybe we did adopt the future David Beckham after all?!

 

And as for Big Bear, he is an extremely patient and lovely big brother and I hope that I at least give him the credit he deserves.

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Football: A Yardstick for Progress?

Guilt

The Bear’s had a bit of an incident with one another during the holidays. It wasn’t anything major, probably an everyday occurrence in most households. Play had got a bit over-excitable resulting in Big Bear accidentally hitting his brother instead of the ball he was aiming for. Big Bear immediately felt guilty which makes him uncomfortable. I think he did apologise though (I was upstairs letting Grizzly handle it). Little Bear, stinging from the blow and also because his favourite person in the whole world had delivered it to him, was upset.

Upset is easily confused with anger by Little Bear so instead of crying or moving away, he gave his brother a sharp kick (no doubt he had flown straight into Fight or Flight territory). Now both Bears were upset and a little enraged. Grizzly attempted to referee but at that point neither was ready to see sense.

I could hear Grizzly explaining that Big Bear had hurt Little Bear accidentally. He had not meant to. He had said sorry. The incident should have ended there. He explained that Little Bear should not have kicked him back. He suggested he too say sorry and then the whole thing could be forgotten.

Little Bear was not ready to apologise though. He wasn’t calm. He was very annoyed. I suspect by this point he was starting to see the error of his ways and the anger was beginning to turn inwards. He was feeling guilty.

A big difficulty, when you are someone who feels bad about yourself already, is that this type of normal self-condemnation is difficult to deal with. I suspect that when your heart is already filled with self-doubt and feelings of worthlessness, an additional feeling of guilt can be too big an emotion to squeeze in. What often happens here, and has been happening for the past year or so (previous to that Little Bear didn’t really experience guilt I don’t think), is that because the guilt cannot be contained and dealt with inside, it tends to spill outwards.

“Big Bear is an idiot!” I can hear him shouting. “He’s stupid. You stupid Big Bear!” and so followed a tirade of further insults.

Big Bear, already upset from hurting his brother and having had his apology thrown back in his face, could not deal with the name calling and marched off to his bedroom, slamming the door for good measure.

Little Bear, aware he had further upset his brother, no doubt felt even worse about his own actions and also marched off to his bedroom, also slamming the door for good measure.

“Well that went well,” remarked Grizzly sarcastically, coming to find me upstairs. As we started to chat about whether I should get involved or not and who Grizzly should go to first, we heard movement on the landing. There was a knock on a door then a little voice. “I’m sorry Big Bear” we heard. “I’m sorry I hurted you. You are very strong. I love you”.

It was unfortunate because Big Bear was still upset and not really ready to accept the apology in a gracious way. However, it did mean that Grizzly could go to Little Bear and make a big deal out of him being so mature and sensible and apologising by himself without any help from us. Because it really was a big step forwards and we were both very proud of him for how he dealt with it.

During similar previous incidents one or other of us has had to sit with him for a long time, trying to explain that he isn’t actually annoyed at the person he has hurt, even though he is shouting at them and insulting them. We have tried to explain that it is because he feels bad about what he has done. That he feels guilty. We have tried to explain that you don’t need to keep feeling bad about it. You can say sorry and maybe have a cuddle and then it is finished. You need to forgive yourself. Sometimes, if Little Bear has purposefully hurt himself and had similar feelings of guilt, we have encouraged him to afford himself the same respect. You ‘apologise’ to yourself, square the incident off and move on.

Obviously all that is pretty complex for a 5 year old, especially one with language difficulties, but it really seems that he is starting to take it on board. Understandably, in the heat of the moment, he still becomes upset/angry but he is certainly able to calm more quickly and is getting much better at identifying his own emotions and making more positive choices about how to react. Previously guilt would have led to a downward spiral and all sorts of other behaviours would have appeared. A small incident like the one I have described could easily have ruined a whole day.

The concepts of ‘forgiving’ and ‘guilt’ have been useful in other situations too and Little Bear is beginning to use the words himself.

This holiday we have also spent time with my brother, girlfriend and their dog. The dog is still young and can be pretty boisterous herself. Little Bear LOVES the dog (I suspect he over-loves her if that is even a thing). We took her for a walk. Little Bear had a great time throwing the ball and playing fetch. On the way home, he got tangled in the lead and fell over. It hurt his knee, as well as his feelings. “I don’t forgive you” he kept saying to the dog. No, we reassured, you don’t yet. You are still upset with her because she hurt you. She didn’t mean to though, look, she feels bad about it. She’s sorry. When you’re ready, you can forgive her and be friends again.

On that occasion Little Bear was able to verbalise that he wanted to hurt her back, because she had hurt him, but he did manage not to follow through physically. After a bath, he was ready to move forwards and announced that she was forgiven!

There is clearly still some way to go but I’m pleased we have made a start at unpicking some of these more complex emotions and that Little Bear is able to reflect on them.

Although Big Bear was not ready to move on as quickly as Little Bear after the hitting/kicking incident, there was a difference in his reaction too. Previously this type of altercation with his brother would have led to catastrophizing. It would have dredged up all the old feelings of whether he really wants a brother at all. This used to lead to him being generally unhappy and us needing to rally round and involve the grandparents to make sure he got some extra special time (and a break).

This time, though he needed a bit more time on his own, he did still say, “I love you too” back through his closed door. There were no fallout chats later on.

Less than an hour later, having allowed both boys to eat their tea separately and on the sofa (I find it’s always wise to eliminate any blood sugar issues), they were friends again. They snuggled up together watching a programme like Ninja Warrior and laughed a lot. All was forgiven.

If anything I think they were extra nice to each other because a little bit of guilt was still lingering.

Guilt

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 Grandparents View of Adoption

This week’s post has been guest-written by my parents. This is their account, in their own words, of how the adoption process has been for them:

 

When Mama Bear and Grizzly told us that they wanted to adopt, we weren’t altogether surprised. It had come up in conversation before. We were happy for them but had our concerns, which, of course we did not pass on to them.

How would Big Bear be affected?

Would we be able to accept a stranger as our grandchild?

Would we be able to be fair to both children or just favour Big Bear?
During the selection process I filled in the forms on behalf of the family (as a referee).  An onerous task! Naturally, we wanted the adoption to go through as all the Bear family were determined to become adopters. On the other hand, I needed to be as true to their characters as I could and not paint too glowing a picture. Surely nobody is perfect?! It seemed to be a long and arduous process. We felt very much part of it. Finally, the acceptance day arrived. Matching  followed. We were on tenterhooks. Who would arrive?

We knew Little Bear had arrived. However, we were not allowed to be introduced to him immediately. Very frustrating. Eventually the day came. We met in a park, a non-threatening environment. I don’t think I have ever seen such an angry bear. His behaviour was totally non-standard. Fortunately Mama Bear and Grizzly had decided that the only way to cope with him, was to have definite parameters. Not popular with Little Bear, judging from the scratches on Mama Bear’s hands.
We began to worry even more about Grizzly and Mama Bear. They had undertaken, what seemed to us, an impossible task. Big Bear was not happy and felt threatened. He had never seen such behaviour or ever heard the screams of frustration which emanated from Little Bear. The latter was confused and made sure everyone knew how unhappy he was.
After this initial meeting, we decided that the only way to gain Little Bear’s attention and affection was to leave him to make the first move when he felt ready. The first time he moved in for a cuddle, I felt as though I had won the lottery. The hugs were few and far between but amazing when they happened.
There were first times for many things:- putting Little Bear to bed; collecting him from pre-school; visitations to our home; taking him out on our own. Delightful times but also very stressful. We had to go against Gran Bear instincts of not being too bossy or prescriptive. Sometimes we had to shout!
Fortunately, those times have passed and Little Bear has blossomed. He shows his brother how much he loves him. Tantrums are few and low key. He has begun to make friends. Mama Bear and Grizzly are hugged and kissed and obviously loved. We, too, are accepted and hugged when he is in the mood.

As far as we are concerned Little Bear is part of our family. We are happy to be his Gran Bears. It has been a difficult journey but with incredible results. We are so proud of Mama Bear and Grizzly for wanting to adopt in the first place, but also of how determined they have been to show Little Bear that in spite of the hard times, they love him and he is staying with them. Big Bear has not been excluded but included in every step of the journey. Grizzly is constantly heard saying, “We are your new family. You are staying here forever.”
It makes me so sad to think that there are many children who could blossom like Little Bear, if they were given the chance. If they were in a stable home and loved.

 

 

 

 

A Grandparents View of Adoption

Speech & Language & School

Although Little Bear is making progress with his speech and language skills all the time, I continue to have concerns about this area of his development. I think him being in school has made some things more noticeable. The fact that he is now away from me for long periods of time, in which I have no idea what he has been up to, sometimes leads to difficulties. I know a lot of children don’t like talking about their school day but I think Little Bear is often keen to share the things he has been up to but unfortunately he frequently still doesn’t have the language skills to be able to. I have to rely on things like the Facebook updates his class teacher posts or things other parents mention. If I have a starting point, Little Bear can then usually tell me something.

There are things that happen that he just can’t explain e.g. when he injured his eye at school requiring a trip to hospital, he couldn’t tell us how the injury had come about or why his eyelid was bleeding. We had to rely on another child’s account to get to the bottom of it.

There continue to be situations when I can’t understand what he’s trying to say to me and strangers certainly struggle. Thankfully his teachers seemed to have tuned in pretty quickly but I think there have been some communication breakdowns with his peers. They seem to be going through that phase where they tell each other that they can’t play or they won’t be inviting you to their party. It’s typical 4 year old stuff but Little Bear is at a disadvantage because he struggles to negotiate verbally. Where others might argue back or try to be persuasive, Little Bear has already used up his best attempt at joining in by saying “can I play?” If he is then rebuffed, his hurt feelings and lack of any other options still lead to a physical response now and again.

Little Bear is good at persevering when we don’t understand him now but he understandably gets frustrated when he has tried and tried and still can’t get us to. Sometimes his attempts at words are nothing like the target word so it can take a long time (even several days) to figure out what he means e.g. we finally worked out that “boarbuh” is actually ‘Paw Patrol’. He struggles to imitate words accurately so even though we have been tapping out the syllables for him and modelling each bit clearly, he can’t copy them in any recognisable way. Equally I used the word ‘soggy’ to describe a wet cardboard box. Little Bear already knew ‘foggy’ and now thinks that is both weather and a wet cardboard box. I just can’t get him to hear or mark the difference.

This morning I said to him “I’m not sure about swimming today, you sound quite husky”. Little Bear then said to his Dad “I can’t go swimming, I’m too whisky”.

There is definitely something going awry with his speech processing system. This system helps you to analyse the words that you hear, figure out what sounds they have in them, in what order, how many syllables etc. Your brain should then store the word accurately and send instructions to your mouth muscles of what sounds you need and how to make them whenever you want to say the word. Things can go wrong at any point in that process and I suspect there might be more than one problem with Little Bear’s speech processing.

However, all the phonics work that is happening at school is brilliant and will help with his speech development too. He has continued to surpass expectations by learning all the letter shapes/ sound correspondences in phase 2 phonics in the first half term. At school and home we are both focussing on helping him to hear and identify the first sound in words e.g. sun starts with s. This will be essential because it is all well and good knowing the letter shapes but he will not be able to read if he cannot break words down into their individual sounds and then stick those sounds together to make words. At the moment if you try to get him to blend sounds, he just can’t. You might say “c-a-t” and he’ll say “banana”. Blending is a very difficult skill so we will aim for identifying first sounds to start with and go from there.

We have made progress with the auditory memory side of things too and Little Bear is finally able to count! He can get to 5 reliably and to 10 with a little bit of prompting. The best thing about it has been his motivation to keep trying and his determination to succeed with it. He has a very similar attitude to learning his phonics.

When he first started bringing books home to read I got a little concerned. Obviously he is not expected to read words yet so he brings the picture books where you are meant to talk about what’s happening in the pictures. To begin with it was a disaster as he just didn’t get the concept of describing what he saw. I honestly felt it would have been easier to teach him to sight read a word. However, we persevered. I would get him to tell me whatever he could, usually just one word. I would then put that word into a sentence and model it for him. I used questions such as ‘who’ ‘what’s happening’ and ‘where’ to help him give the key information, then I could formulate the sentence for him e.g. Me: “who’s in the picture?” LB: pig Me: “Yeah, what’s the pig doing?” LB: “jumping” Me: “He is jumping. Where is he?” LB: “bed” Me: “Good, the pig is jumping on the bed”.

We continued like that, painfully, page by page, for some time. I assume that’s what happened when he read to his teacher too. He has done brilliantly though and now attempts a sentence for most pages most of the time. There might be some little words missing but he makes a good attempt.

I really noticed his progress when he had his first NHS Speech and Language Therapy appointment last week. The therapist assessed him using a picture description task. When he started giving answers such as “the man is riding a horse and the horse is jumping over the fence” I knew she probably wouldn’t be as concerned about him as I felt she should be or as she would have been had he been seen sooner.

Unfortunately it has taken 8 months and them cancelling 4 appointments for us to finally get an assessment. I didn’t find it a particularly fun experience, mainly because I wanted to be able to attend the sessions with my parent hat on, not my Speech and Language Therapist hat but when I walked in the first thing she said was “so you’re a Speech and Language Therapist I believe?”. Someone had helpfully written it on the referral form… Little Bear was also having some sort of regressive behaviour moment and suffice it to say that it was stressful to manage him with a professional looking on.

Either way, he is now in the system and will be attending for regular therapy soon. I’m not loving the idea of having to take him out of school for it and I don’t think he is either, judging by the size of the meltdown that took place when I tried to get him back to school after the first appointment. However, I know that school will carry out any programmes given to them and we have been talking about his Pupil Premium funding and whether any of that could be used to provide speech and language input that is more integrated with his education.

We are continuing to scale the word mountain that I talked about in Living with Speech and Language Difficulties. We are getting there, word by word, syllable by syllable. I don’t think the pinnacle is in sight yet but we continue to climb and that is the best we can ask.

 

 

 

 

Speech & Language & School

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

August at Adoption: The Bear Facts

Another crazy, busy and fun filled month has passed. Its round-up time!

Events:

The first week of August was a combination of us being at home and me returning to work after my Adoption Leave (see Goodbye Adoption Leave for my musings on how the year went). I eased myself in gently with only two days of work before disappearing again on annual leave for our holidays.

During that first week we had a couple of really good days out. One was to a family fun day at a local park where the boys had a donkey ride and tried archery and Grizzly had a go on a Segway. The second was to an adventure park that is actually very close to where we live but for some reason we have never tried it before. It has go-karts, more archery, hay bales to climb on, a huge inflatable pillow to bounce on, tractor trailer rides, massive zip wires and loads more. We spent a very enjoyable day there and two boisterous boys got plenty of sensory stimulation and burned a good quantity of energy.

Grizzly ended up being off work the day before we went on holiday which meant he could entertain the boys whilst I did the packing. I usually find that part of the process pretty stressful and am usually exhausted by the time we fall into the car the next day. However the fact that we were both around meant everything went a lot more smoothly. The holidays themselves were generally a success too. You can read about them here: The Bears go on holiday.

On the way back from our week at the seaside we stopped in to see our friends for a night. We have stayed there before so we knew Little Bear would be fine with it. The 5 children had a brilliant time together as they always do. I got a little carried away chatting with one of my friends (who going forwards I am going to refer to as Aunty Giraffe as she is a big part of the boy’s lives and it seems weird not to refer to her more specifically) and stayed up way past my bedtime, then ended up having a mini party in the bathroom at 2am as Little Bear had woken for the toilet and my mum-in-law was awake worrying that she had broken the blind cord!

As soon as we were back at home again, our attentions turned to our upcoming Adoption Celebrations which took place later that week. The weather caused us a bit of stress but both our court celebration and the party we held 2 days later went brilliantly. I have very happy memories of both events and will definitely be getting some photos printed soon. The Bears loved it and Little Bear coped surprisingly well with having a house full of people. We had the bouncy castle all weekend which made them very happy and in fact they were still bouncing on it when the guy came to pick it up again.

Four days later Aunty Giraffe came to visit. The boys were very excited about this as she hadn’t been able to make the party and they both love it when she stays. Always one to think of everything she had adopted an animal each for them as an adoption celebration present. Big Bear had a gorilla and Little Bear a Lion, their respective favourite animals. I’m not sure that Little Bear really understands the concept of it because it isn’t the same as his adoption: he won’t ever meet the lion. However, he has the cuddly toy lion which is tangible and which has come to live with him and of whom he is now very fond.

Aunty Giraffe stayed for 4 nights. On Thursday she had a day out with Grizzly and the boys while I went to work (groan) then on the Friday we did a bit of baking and took the boys for a walk and a picnic in the park.

On Saturday one of our University friends was getting married so we left the boys with my parents and had a grown up day at the wedding. Thankfully the Bears were on their best behaviour and my parents did not look exhausted or dishevelled when we returned (big bonus: they might babysit again!).

It was nice to see how well Little Bear got on with Aunty Giraffe as he hasn’t actually met her that many times. He was very friendly towards her and was desperate to go and find her each morning when he woke. It was also good to compare his behaviour this time with when she stayed last time back in January. Although that visit had gone ok, we had had quite a few issues with him wanting to play on her Tablet but then not give it back, which had led to several big meltdowns. He has certainly learned a lot about other people’s possessions and doing what you’re told since then.

That brings us to this week. My attentions have turned to making sure we have all the right uniform and are vaguely organised for the imminent return to school. I have tried to make the most of my days with the boys before they disappear off again. It’s a tricky balance between getting them a bit rested ready for the new term (they both seem tired) and not allowing boredom to creep in. Today turned into a fairly long and busy day but we’ve had a lovely time. I didn’t have a pre-decided plan and I’m thankful that we are now able to allow days to evolve and just see where the fancy takes us. We started off at a park (we have a few different ones that we circle between) then tried out a nearby bakers for a take-away lunch which we ate in the car. I kept the windows closed as the boys spent the whole time pointing out bald people!! Afterwards we drove to an ice-cream farm which turned out to have a maize maze at it. We had to find hidden words then if you got them all you won a free ice cream. They boys basically just ran round and round inside the maze for ages whilst I struggled after them in my flip flops trying not to lose them! At least I got some much needed exercise.

Later on our friends came to meet us and ended up coming back to our house for some tea. Their little girl is Big Bear’s age and I’m always a little bit amazed that the 3 children play so well together. The bigger 2 are very good at including the little dude. It did make for a very raucous tea time though!

Milestones:

Little Bear had his first proper play date. Regular readers might remember that when Little Bear finished Pre-school I left my phone number for the Mum of his friend. I didn’t know if that was weird behaviour or how she would feel about it and whether or not she would get in touch. I was very pleased when a couple of weeks later she sent me a text and we arranged a meet up. It wasn’t awkward and we chatted easily while the boys played (I was muchly relieved). The boys were very happy to see each other and called each other’s names and ran to one another as though they were on a film set. The only problem was that there was a constant exchange of rude words between them which was quite difficult to quell. Words were had afterwards. However, my overriding feeling was positive. I was pleased that Little Bear had been able to leave his Preschool without a complete severing of ties. Hopefully this would help him to see that attachments are worth making and you don’t have to go through life constantly leaving people you like and love behind, as he has had to so far.

This month we have celebrated the anniversaries of meeting Little Bear and of him moving in. You can read about my Reflections on Adoption One Year In here.

Last month I talked about Little Bear showing a budding interest in Lego. This has gone from strength to strength and he got a couple of sets as presents when we had the party. He now has a couple of different superhero figures and some vehicles. He absolutely loves them and I can’t believe how long he has managed to sit still and play with them. He seems to have discovered the joy of small world play and it is as though he cannot satiate his hunger for it. He pretty much wakes me up every morning with “Mum, can we go downstairs? You play with me?” and I seem to be getting bored before he does.

It is different playing with Little Bear than it was when Big Bear was the same age. Big Bear had very strict rules on his games. If we were playing Lego we couldn’t mix in a bit of Playmobil. There was no way he was up for that. He also went through a big phase of demanding “make the man talk” which used to give me performance anxiety! What should the man say? What if I didn’t want to make the man talk? The games were detailed and Big Bear had very clear ideas about should happen in them.

Little Bear is much more of a play maverick. He loves a mash up: a plastic anteater with Duplo men; Lego men in a Playmobil Police Station; dinosaurs with superheroes. It is brilliant to see him engaging with toys so positively and persevering and letting his imagination run wild. It is such a contrast to the boy who used to spend all his time flicking switches on and off and fiddling with taps.

Little Bear is also becoming more independent with his dressing and toileting which I’m pleased about with school just around the corner.

The fact that he has also started to recognise some letter shapes blows my mind.

Big Bear had a first this month too. He went to his first live football match. He went for his birthday instead of having a party. He absolutely loved it (apart from the noise: “Mum, they had noisy horns, people were horning everywhere”!) and cannot wait to go again.

This might seem like a strange thing to mention but this month the Bears had their first bath together in a year. Oddly, they did have a bath together on the first day they ever met as they had both got wet and both needed to get warm and put dry clothes on. In retrospect it was a huge error as the day ended up being a disaster and Big Bear was totally overwhelmed by Little Bear’s wild bath time antics. Since then I would have liked to bath them together for practical reasons but I haven’t insisted on it as Big Bear really didn’t want to. For quite a while he wouldn’t change in front of Little Bear and wanted the loo door firmly closed. As their relationship has developed things have changed drastically on this front – recently they were both in hysterics in the bathroom together while Big Bear was on the loo. I have no idea what was so funny (Grizzly was there too and couldn’t shed any light on the matter) but apparently privacy has gone out the window for now. I was still surprised though when Big Bear suggested they have a bath together the other day. I think it made Little Bear’s day and really shows how far they have come in their first year as brothers.

Snapshots:

  • Little Bear saying “I want to live with them forever” at the court celebration
  • The three bears playing a very lively and laughter-filled game of swing ball in the garden
  • Playing Uno Attack with both sets of grandparents

There are no Project Home Improvement updates this month. Hopefully there will be next time.

August at Adoption: The Bear Facts