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

First and Lasts

Just to be contradictory I will talk about the Lasts first.

This week has been Little Bear’s last in Reception class. As of Monday he will be taking part in two transition weeks in his new Year 1 class (and ditto Big Bear in his new Year 4 class). I think many children who are Care-experienced find goodbyes difficult: they tend to stir up lots of emotions about loss, lost relationships and missing people. Goodbyes can be pretty anxiety provoking and hard to find a way through. Little Bear has been lucky this year in that the goodbye is really only to his classroom as his teacher is moving up with him. We are very relieved about this as it should definitely ease the anxiety and I’m hoping it will mean a smooth run into Year 1 without any need to play catch up while a new teacher figures out all his quirks. Likewise all the same children will be in his class.

However, there is still the finality of last shared reading sessions, last days in Reception and on Friday a last day afternoon tea for parents. We nearly didn’t make the last shared reading session as I had caught a bug and had succumbed to sleep on the bathroom floor (yes, grim indeed). Thankfully Grizzly was working at home and reshuffled everything to make it. He was really glad that he had as Little Bear was over the moon to see him and had been anxiously waiting for one of us to appear. He was well aware that it was the last time we would have the opportunity to go to it.

Although still a little green around the gills I made sure I was there for the afternoon tea on Friday (I just pretended that the children hadn’t really made the scones and that they wouldn’t be at all contaminated by sticky fingers and that mine didn’t really have a hair on it!!). Little Bear was so happy to see me and was more clingy than usual. We spent a lovely 20 minutes or so building a Duplo house. Little Bear was not keen on sharing the Duplo or me with any of his peers. He didn’t really want to come away from me to join his class in singing to us, even though I was right there watching.

The parents all went outside for a few minutes whilst the children did final registration. I must have been slightly out of Little Bear’s eye line while I ferreted around in the ‘jumper dumper’ (a depressing wasteland of sloughed off sweatshirts) and he must have panicked that I had left him, though I never have disappeared before. He tried to distract himself with another scone but the TA said he couldn’t have one. This was the final straw in what was evidently a simmering pressure cooker of emotions. Little Bear made his last exit from Reception class by pelting his toy at the waiting parents and screaming.

Thank goodness for the emergency KitKat in my handbag.

The emotions continued to be untameable on the walk home when Little Bear insisted upon balancing alongside the roadside curb edge despite me telling him several times to walk on the path part as it would be further from the cars and much safer. Little Bear was unable to heed my instructions and I eventually had to move him to the safe part of the pavement. This resulted in a hit and a scratch which I chose to ignore.

A few seconds later Little Bear said “I just scratched your hand” in a small sad voice. “Yes, you did” I replied “but I’m ignoring it because I think you’re feeling a bit sad”. I suggested that when we got home it might be a good idea to have a rest in front of the TV. When we got in Little Bear wasn’t particularly up for that plan. Nor was he keen to go to the toilet when I asked him to and was starting to get offensive.

Usually at these times you can talk, reason, cajole, shout, fully lose it to your hearts content and Little Bear will not heed your words. However, somehow he got onto my knee and must have listened to what I was saying (though it didn’t look or sound like he was listening at all). I did some wondering about how he might be feeling and maybe it had something to do with it being the last day in Reception class. I gave reassurance about his teacher going up with him and Big Bear chimed in, in that instinctive way that he has, about how Year 1 is not scary and will be fun. I suggested that Little Bear was likely to head towards getting himself into trouble if he continued as he was and that I was trying to help him not to do that by giving him a rest. By some miracle something resonated and he asked if I would sit with him on the sofa.

We spent the next hour or so with Little Bear wedged between my thighs, his legs atop mine, the back of his head pressed into my chest watching Paw Patrol. I didn’t think it was a coincidence that the programme he chose to watch was one he used to choose when he was a bit younger.

Lasts are so hard for our children. Evidently the last day had brought all sorts of other things into question for him, most basically, was he still safe with us or were we leaving him too? I wonder how long he will need to be here before he can stop asking that question.

 

The First that I wanted to talk about is much more positive, though it has been hanging in the balance for most of the week. Little Bear was meant to be going to stay at my parent’s house this weekend. It would be the first time he had slept out since being with us (23 months now) and when I thought about it, I realised it was a pretty big deal.

Big Bear has slept out quite a few times now (sometimes because he needs a break) and on the last few occasions Little Bear has felt quite left out. Up until recently we would not have considered it all, being as though it would only have been fair to the grandparents if we could have sent Little Bear with some Valium and a flak jacket for them. As that wasn’t possible, we really couldn’t have inflicted the task on them.

However, apart from one fairly bad occasion, my parents have put Little Bear to sleep at our house successfully several times and sometimes he can be angelic at bedtime these days. The problem is that bedtimes are still very variable and we couldn’t guarantee what kind of night he might have if he went there. Irrespective of all that, my parents were feeling brave and we had pencilled in this weekend to have a try.

Bedtimes throughout this week have not been good. Things have been thrown, pulled, poked and spat on. Grizzly and I decided that if Little Bear could not show us that he could be sensible at bedtime, at least on Friday we couldn’t allow him to go. It just wouldn’t be fair and could go really badly. Of course we wanted the first attempt to be successful. However, we were pretty keen on it going ahead because Big Bear was super excited about getting some Mum and Dad time and as always we would have to balance both of their needs. Little Bear really wanted to go and has been excited about it for ages and my parents really wanted him to go.

I was very clear with Little Bear last night that he needed to get into bed and try to sleep. He shouldn’t be standing on the other end of his bed or pulling his door or shouting or throwing things. I was clear that if he couldn’t be sensible he couldn’t go to his grandparents. I know he understood this because he explained it back to me.

Bedtime did not go particularly well. It wasn’t horrendous but he certainly wasn’t trying to sleep and I did get called an idiot. It took quite a long time.

This is where adoption gets complicated. Although I know that Little Bear understood the rules I don’t honestly think that he can control himself enough yet to stick to them (not all the time anyway). This is where giving a consequence is unfair – is it really right to punish something he cannot control? Well, no. However, I could not have re-iterated and reinforced the rules more and as I had been clear about the consequence in advance, would I now be undermining myself and the rules if I didn’t follow through? How would Big Bear feel if his plans were scuppered by his brother’s behaviour? How would Little Bear feel in the morning when he found out that the consequence was really happening? Would it damage his self-esteem that I didn’t trust him to try the sleepover? Another day a fresh start and all that…

It is very easy to tie your brain in a knot of over analysis.

In the end Grizzly and I reached a compromise we were both happy with and I ran it by my parents to check they were on board too. Little Bear did get a consequence for his bedtime behaviour: he was not allowed his I Pad today (we are consistent in our use of this rule and feel it does have a useful impact and has helped with sorting the bedtime behaviours in general). However, we agreed to let him try the sleepover. If things went awry and he did not co-operate my parents would bring him home. Big Bear would get his evening out and I would keep everything crossed that Little Bear could manage.

This morning Little Bear woke me before 6:30, already half- dressed and asking me for a “packing bag”. I was pleased that I wouldn’t be dampening his enthusiasm. He was fully dressed and packed by 7am.

Although Little Bear was excited, he seemed a little nervous too. He wondered if my parents would come if he shouted them. He was upset Big Bear wasn’t going too. He would miss him. He needed reassurance that it was just one night and he would be back tomorrow.

It is not just Lasts that are complicated – Firsts have their fair share of issues too.

I have purposefully waited until this evening to blog because I really didn’t know which way things would go but I’m very happy to say that Little Bear has managed to get to sleep at my parent’s house and though I’m sure there will have been some shenanigans they were not sufficient to end the mission. I’m so pleased that we will be able to tell him how proud we are of him tomorrow and that we have missed him (the house is strangely quiet) and that he can sleep over again another time if he wants to because he behaved himself and my parents enjoyed him being there. Well done Little Bear, another fabulous first to celebrate.

Also well done and thank you to my parents as the three of us have had a lovely time going out for a grown up tea and seeing Despicable Me 3 and Big Bear is very happy.

Phew. I wonder what next week’s first days of Year 1 will bring?

 

 

First and Lasts

Reports

It is school report time here at Bear HQ and once again it has got me all reflective. This time last year in Achievement I wrote about how standardised assessments and age-related expectations are not going to be the right way to measure Little Bear’s achievements.

Back at the start of his time in Reception class I had a bit of a wobble about how much was expected of him and how unrealistic it would be to ask him to meet those expectations by the end of the academic year (you can read about that in Little Bear Starts School). The expectations that are in place do not take into account a neglectful first several years of a child’s life or the significantly lower starting point that they are beginning from. After all, it would be impossible to expect a child to go from not being able to count to knowing all their number bonds to 20 in one year; or expecting a child who cannot write their name when they start school to be writing little narratives by the end of term. You wouldn’t expect a child with significant speech processing difficulties to be able to read fluently in one year or a child who is extremely resistant to adult direction to be fully compliant every day.

We did not expect Little Bear to meet the expectations as it was an impossible ask. I am not surprised therefore that he hasn’t met them. However, it would seem that I do have a little bit of an issue with the way the information has been shared.

The Bear’s school have switched to new-fan-dangled online reports. I understand why: OFSTED must love it and it must be much more time-efficient for teachers. However, call me old-fashioned, but I would much prefer an actual piece of paper (you can’t even easily print our ones out to keep for future posterity). There are lots of tabs along the top and you have to click on each to get different information.

The very first tab is a summary of where your child is at compared to expectations. On the left there is a scale with the following descriptors: well above expected, above expected, at expected level, below expected and well below expected. The core subjects are along the bottom and your child’s level is shown through coloured traffic lights. For Little Bear that means a row of red lights across the ‘below expected level’ line. They may as well flash and sound an alarm alerting you to your child’s lack of achievement.

Grizzly and I had a chat about this and he thinks I’m being oversensitive. He thinks it makes perfect statistical sense to do it this way otherwise what are you comparing your child to? My issue is that I don’t understand the point of comparing him to targets which we have already established to be unobtainable. Surely that is setting him up to fail? What I would like to see is a comparison between where he was at when he started the year and where he is at now. I don’t care where he is at compared to average Joe Blogs, that information won’t make any of us feel good. I understand that what I’m asking for is probably a complete data nightmare but in theory it would be a much more positive report because it would show the massive progress that he HAS made not what he hasn’t.

I asked Grizzly how he would feel if Little Bear were scoring right across the “well below expected range” or how he would feel if every report we ever get for Little Bear shows him to be in this “below expected” range. He’s much more pragmatic about these things than me and said well if that is where he’s at it’s where he’s at. Which is of course completely true but I can’t help feeling that this way of displaying data makes getting a report for a child with any level of additional needs a fairly negative experience. It certainly felt different to opening Big Bears and seeing his neat row of green lights.

The rest of the tabs offend me less. There is one with the teacher’s comment, one about behaviour and ones where you can see a list of targets your child is working on and which descriptors they have already met. I do find it a bit odd that the focus is on Maths and English and little else. What if your child excels at PE? Or Art? Or Music? There isn’t anywhere in either boy’s report where that can be reflected which could potentially add to the negativity for a child like Little Bear who struggles most with the core subjects.

Anyway, having come back to look at the reports again, I can see that maybe my opinion of Little Bear’s as a whole has been tainted by the red lights. The comments from his teacher are lovely and do mention “superb progress” and that he “has worked extremely hard”. It says he is polite and respectful to grown-ups but his attitude to his peers “needs to improve”. It says that he is happy and settled but that he does test boundaries and is still learning to remain focussed.

All of the above is true but what it doesn’t really reflect is just how spectacularly wrong this year could have gone and in comparison how fabulously he has done. That version might go something like this:

Although Little Bear does not always listen and sometimes hits his friends, he has had less than 20 red cards, he has not been sent to the Headmaster and has avoided getting himself excluded, all of which were real possibilities in September. The fact that he is described as being polite and well-mannered is nothing short of an actual miracle. He could easily have bitten/ scratched/ kicked or thrown something or told his teacher how stupid she is each and every day of term time. The control and self-restraint he has developed is fantastic.

On beginning school Little Bear could not count to 4 for the love of God and we were driving ourselves mad chanting the numbers over and over. He can now count easily to 10, forwards and backwards and is just a tiny bit more practise away from making it to 20. He can recognise all the number shapes to about 13 and is managing some very basic adding and taking away.

In September Little Bear was pretty much unintelligible to people outside of the family. He could just about recognise his name written down but couldn’t recognise any other words. He knew maybe 5 letter shapes. He couldn’t tell you if words rhymed or what sound they began with. He most definitely couldn’t blend sounds together. Now, he recognises all the letter shapes, which he learned surprisingly quickly. After a lot of hard work and perseverance he has mastered blending which is no mean feat and can read at a basic level. He has even gone up one reading level on to Red books which he is extremely proud of. Considering the fact that Little Bear was attending a Special Needs nursery before he moved here and the likelihood of literacy in his future was slim to none, his progress has been phenomenal.

At the start of term Little Bear could hold his pen well and could scribble but his pictures didn’t look like people and he couldn’t write at all. He can now write his name and draw a picture of himself with most of the right body parts. He can form letters really well and can copy from a grown-ups model. He can make some attempts at independent writing.

Little Bear is happy and settled at school. He has learned all the routines. He loves show and tell and is now confident enough in his communication to stand up and talk in detail in front of the class. He has taken part in assemblies and school trips and has behaved appropriately.

The year could have been a complete disaster. Little Bear could have been like a fish out of water. His behaviour could have been out of control. He could have struggled with all the learning and not made any progress.

Instead, I feel he has achieved above and beyond any expectations we could have had for him. If there were a chart for progress, he would have a row of bright green lights in the “well above expectations” row. Instead the row of red lights he does have seems to figuratively piss all over his bonfire. I am not finding some of the other parents’ bragging about how advanced their children are particularly helpful either.

Anyway, I shall brush myself off, endeavour to develop a slightly thicker skin and focus on what I know really matters: Little Bear has had an extremely successful first year at school. We have secured the funding we need to build on his progress next year and I have no doubt he will continue to exceed the limited expectations his early life tried to saddle him with.

Reports

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

SaLT, EP & an Assembly

It has been a busy week at Bear HQ for meetings with professionals and thinking about Little Bear’s needs. On Wednesday we had our second session with his Speech and Language Therapist (SaLT); on Thursday Grizzly and I met with school and the Educational Psychologist (EP) and today Little Bear had an assembly and his first taste of public speaking. Each event has been thought provoking in its own way.

SaLT Session 2:

This week’s session consisted of further assessment and rapport building. The Therapist is continuing to impress me. This week she gave me the assessment findings from the previous week as she said she would. I find it is all very well professionals promising things but it is the actually doing them that earns brownie points.

The results are interesting, with scores ranging from the 5th to 75th percentiles. For those not familiar with percentiles, a score at the 5th percentile means that if you took 100 children the same age as Little Bear, he would score better than only 5 of them but at the 75th percentile, he is scoring better than ¾ of them. It is an unusual and atypical scoring profile. You would usually expect children to have a cluster of scores round about the same level across all of their skills. As all of these scores relate to his comprehension (understanding) of language it is even more unusual but nevertheless it is as I had expected for him.

Little Bear scored well on his understanding of basic concepts such as hot/cold, same/different, in/on/under. We have worked on these concepts so I would expect his knowledge to be fairly good. The longer or more complex an instruction became, the more difficult Little Bear found it to follow. Instructions containing more complex concepts such as before/after and ‘all except’ were also tricky for him. This fits with our feeling that he can understand a lot more than he used to but that we still need to simplify our language and that the more complex an idea is, the more repetition Little Bear needs.

His grasp of different sentence structures was at the lower end of the expected range and was impacted by his lack of awareness of pronouns.

Despite all that, the scores do also reflect positive progress as at first assessment (when he was seen briefly by a private provider in his pre-school) all his scores were at the 1st percentile. That shows me that his attention and ability to be assessed has improved as well as SaLT input having being effective. Working on language really does make measurable differences in performance. It will be  interesting to see how his scores change over time, especially now that he is having formal therapy alongside the things we do at home.

The Therapist gained more brownie points as she had evidently reflected on Little Bear since our last session. She had noted the unusual quality of his speech and had suspected his vowel sounds might be distorted. This is not a typical pattern of errors and is not a part of “normal development” i.e. most children make speech errors when they are first learning to speak. The errors usually follow a pattern e.g. back sounds such as ‘k’ are made at the front of the mouth instead sounding like ‘t’. This is an expected part of development and it usually rights itself as children develop. However, making vowel distortions is not a typical developmental process. In fact it is fairly rare and neither Little Bear’s Therapist nor myself have ever tackled it in therapy before. Little Bear’s Therapist could have pretended to me that she did know what to do and could have just made up some therapy as she went along. However, she identified that she needed to know more and discussed Little Bear with a colleague who specialises in hearing impairment and would be more knowledgeable about vowels. Consequently she now has a more targeted assessment that she is going to try next week. I find this honesty and seeking of support reassuring. It is important to know when you don’t know. In my view, it makes her more competent, not less. There is nothing worse than somebody who doesn’t know that they don’t know (“unconscious incompetence”) and just blunders on anyway.

The other thing this conversation did for me was provide me with relief that finally another professional (who isn’t me) has identified that Little Bear does not have run of the mill SaLT difficulties and that between his spiky language profile and his dodgy vowels, he does have a Speech and Language Disorder not a straightforward language delay. For any SaLT’s reading, she has not used the new terminology of “Developmental Language Disorder” yet, a term which I do think applies. It will be interesting to see whether she does as we go forwards.

Meeting the EP again

We first met the EP a few weeks ago when we had a consultation meeting. You can read about it here: Seeing the Educational Psychologist

Since then he has spent a morning in class with Little Bear. He observed and played with him and took him out of class for some formal assessment. His teacher told me on the day that Little Bear had been exceptionally well behaved and she wasn’t sure the EP would have seen all the things we had been worried about.

Interestingly the first point that he raised at our feedback meeting was that he had noted Little Bear playing well and interacting appropriately but mostly minding his own business. He had observed on a number of occasions that some of the other boys were quick to blame him for various things when in fact he hadn’t done anything wrong at all. We have had our suspicions about scapegoating and other children exploiting Little Bear’s difficulties with communication but it is different to have that confirmed by a neutral professional. Obviously it is completely wrong and worrying because nobody wants their child to be victimised. I am glad that school are aware of it but I do understand their difficulty in policing everything that happens as they can’t be everywhere or see everything. We shall be keeping a very close eye though.

In general, the EP was pleased with Little Bear’s social and play development. He had carried out some assessment and that showed Little Bear’s non-verbal (cognitive) scores to be around the 10th percentile (below average) and his verbal score to be around the 38th (within the average range). This result is completely at odds with my hunch which is that Little Bear has good cognitive skills and significantly poorer speech and language skills. I think there are a few reasons why it may have come out this way:

  • We have worked A LOT on language and Little Bear has made a lot of progress. We have probably worked on the types of activity that were used in the verbal assessment but not on the ones in the non-verbal bit so he was essentially more practised at the verbal one
  • The verbal assessment used won’t be as accurate as anything used by the SaLT
  • It is difficult to truly separate verbal and non-verbal abilities when so many activities intrinsically rely on language knowledge. The EP talked about picture matching activities such as bird with nest and dog with ? This type of task relies on a child’s knowledge of vocabulary and the meaning of words (semantics). It relies on them having good semantic links between words, something I suspect Little Bear doesn’t have. He does have a lot of words now but I suspect they are stored in a jumble, not nice and orderly and therefore it is hard for him to find the ones that should go together. I feel this says more about his language ability than his cognitive function.

Although the EP is lovely and I have found him very useful, this just highlighted to me how pernicious language difficulties are and how difficult it is to get even very educated professionals to truly understand the impact of them. I am so grateful that I finally have another SaLT on side who really does GET IT. I hope.

The rest of the meeting was taken up with reviewing the strategies already put in place. I was very pleased that school were able to give detailed feedback so are evidently using the strategies and they seem to be working well.

We also discussed transition to year 1. Thankfully Little Bear’s teacher is going to move up with him which assuages a lot of our concerns but it is the jump from EYFS provision to more formal learning that is worrying us all. Little Bear is certainly not ready to sit at a desk all day or to complete learning tasks independently. School are absolutely brilliant at providing him with the specific intervention he needs but we have all agreed to apply for funding in the hope that this will secure ALL the right things next year, when a TA in the classroom is not a given. Next week’s job will be completing all the paperwork…

Assembly:

During the Easter break we were tasked with helping Little Bear learn his words for today’s assembly. I was a bit concerned as only a couple of months ago, Little Bear struggled to hold 3 numbers in his auditory memory long enough to repeat them back to me. Learning words was not going to be easy for him. Yet today he stood up in front of the whole school and a load of parents, walked sensibly to the microphone and speaking loudly, without any sort of prompt, said all of his words: “Every day we are running or walking a mile and its keeping us fit and healthy”. I don’t think everyone understood what he was saying but I don’t care because it was a phenomenal achievement for him.

I have just picked him up from school and he has the dreaded take home book. I absentmindedly flicked through it when he handed it to me and was shocked to see pages of children’s handwriting. “Oh God, look at this” I said, waving it under my friend’s nose. “Don’t worry” he tried to reassure me “they’ve had that for a week”. I didn’t like to tell him that it wouldn’t matter how long we had it for, Little Bear still wouldn’t be able to write more than a copied or dictated very tiny sentence. It is SO hard not to compare and not to feel disheartened. However, I know that my gorgeous little dude is working as hard as he can with every fibre of his being and in his language disordered world, learning 16 words off by heart is incredible. Writing or no writing, he’s still incredible.

 

SaLT, EP & an Assembly

Saturdays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Saturdays

Juggling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Juggling