September at Adoption: The Bear Facts

I am very pleased to say that, unusually for us, September has been a quiet and fairly calm month. The children are back at school, I have finished work and the nights are drawing in. There’s a chill in the air, the conkers are ripe and autumn is beckoning. I LOVE this time of year. I love the switch from summer brights to olive green, burgundy and mustards. I love boots and cosy cardigans. I love weekends in the woods crunching in the leaves then warming up with a hot drink. I love Saturday nights in with Strictly and X Factor. I love mid-week TV, thank you Cold Feet. I love the promise of what is to come, the burgeoning excitement of Christmas. And as always I love my Bears. Here are all the best bits of the past month:

What we’ve been up to:

The boys have settled back into school brilliantly (see School section below). I was a bit concerned that once they were both at school, we might struggle to give Little Bear enough 1:1 time. However, this term Big Bear has found several after school clubs he wants to join. I have signed him up as he’s never shown that much interest before and I think it will be good for him to try some different things. It means that 3 times per week Little Bear gets me to himself for an hour. Everybody seems to be coping pretty well with the new arrangements so far and I’m just about keeping on top of who needs what when – clean uniform, football kit on Wednesdays, a pound on Thursdays for a bacon butty, show and tell stuff, golden time stuff etc. Again, I have no idea how people cope with more than 2 children!

At the weekends the boys are continuing with their Saturday morning swimming lessons. They are both enjoying it and doing well. I’m not sure Little Bear knows any technique but he seems to like spending a lot of time under the water and manages to propel himself along somehow.

The rest of Saturday usually involves chilling out as both Bears are shattered from school and maybe a trip to the park later on. On Sundays we have been going to our local country park for a bike ride. Big Bear has been *able* to ride his bike for a while now but has not actually been riding it as he lacked confidence and was pretty paranoid about falling off. We kept saying we must get him on it but due to general busyness we hadn’t. A couple of weekends ago, out of the blue, Big Bear announced that he was going to ride his bike that day. We seized the moment and trooped off.

We spent a lovely morning in the park. Big Bear tried really hard and although he needed help to get going, he was soon riding around in a fairly straight line! The fact that he was now riding his “big bike” meant that Little Bear could ride the smaller bike. It is a Police bike with a siren and a storage container on the back which is clearly the stuff of dreams for small boys. Little Bear is a pro on his balance bike so we had never really anticipated him needing the stabiliser stage but he loves it so we have let him get on with it. They were both very happy and we got to walk around behind them, enjoying the early autumn colours and having a modicum of adult conversation.

Last weekend some friends and Grizzly’s Mum joined us for the cycling trip and we all went out for a spontaneous pub lunch afterwards. The pub has a garden and play area so we sat outside afterwards and the 3 children played without incident. In the end we only moved because it started raining. It was lovely.

The rest of the time the boys are at school and as I have now finished working, I am left to my own devices.

Although leaving work is definitely the right decision for me, it was sad to say goodbye to my colleagues and the buildings I have considered my work home for the past 13 years. I will still see everyone though and they have promised to keep me in the loop about any meals out etc. In fact I’m popping back in for lunch next week.

At home I’m still getting used to being off. It’s hard to slow down and acclimatise to the break being indefinite and not time limited like an adoption or maternity leave. I have a very long list of all the things I want to get done now that I can. I seem to be attacking the list with some vigour and relishing getting things done. People I chat to seem to think I’m probably sitting about reading all day and though I find this slightly irking I think they probably have a point. There is certainly a balance to be found between tackling “the list” and having some relaxation. Nevertheless, it is quite sad how much pleasure I’m getting from jobs such as clearing out my spice cupboard (nobody needs things that went out of date in 2005!), tidying the top of the wardrobe or organising all the photos! I’m having a true spring clean (in autumn) and I think the people in the charity shop pretty much know me by name now.

I feel that once my home is in order, I can move on to other things that are a little more career focussed. I did meet with our VAA yesterday and have agreed to run some more Communication Workshops for them later in the year and next year which is great and a start to moving things on career-wise. Hopefully watch this space for further updates…

It has not been all work and no play though. It is a fairly unique situation to be in – 5 free days between the hours of 9 and 3, so I do feel the need to celebrate it. There have been quite a few shopping trips (all those new season clothes and colours…) and I have been catching up with friends. I have a couple of friends off on Mat leave so it’s nice to spend time with them.

I spent a lovely day out with Grizzly’s Gran. She has just had her 86th birthday and it has become a bit of a tradition that we give her M and S vouchers then Grizzly’s Mum and I take her to the big M and S for a spree. She absolutely loves it and we always have a laugh. This time, she had to admit that the walking was a bit much and we borrowed a wheelchair. It’s the first time she has allowed it, having always been too proud. However, it made the trip much easier for her and by the end she was practically doing stunts! I’m glad that she saw the possibilities wheelchair use could afford her (more trips out, not more time stuck at home) and that she faced it with her usual good spirit and humour.

This month we have also had our First Experience of Letterbox.

School:

You can read about Little Bear starting school here: Little Bear Starts School.

He continues to be settled though we are having a lot of wetting incidents. Although I am not pleased about the constant washing of school uniform, I am happy that this is the only ‘issue’ we are experiencing at the moment. I can deal with wetting if behaviour and everything else is good.

Little Bear is making friends, which is lovely to see and hear about. Interestingly he has gravitated towards the other 3 adopted children in his class. He seems to play with 2 of them as a trio and separately with the 4th boy. It is such a positive thing for him to have specific friends whom he talks about at home and who he is able to play constructively with. A year ago, when he started pre-school, Little Bear played alone. I think this was mainly out of choice, because he didn’t trust others and probably thought it wouldn’t be worth the effort. Maybe he thought he would leave them soon. It took a long time for him to even learn anybody’s name. I’m so pleased that he is now forming relationships, playing with others and being kind to them.

A side effect of Little Bear be-friending his fellow adoptees is that I have met 2 new sets of adopters (I knew one of the families already). It’s strangely comforting to know that there are parents nearby and in the same class who get it. And who might experience similar issues to us.

Little Bear has started bringing a book home now and learning his phonics. The book only has pictures and he is supposed to talk about what is happening in them. So far, he’s finding it pretty hard due to his language skills. Sometimes he just manages one word. As always, I am trying to see it as a language-learning opportunity and am doing a lot of sentence modelling for him.

Big Bear is happily settled into Year 3 and so far we are not experiencing the anxiety issues that we did last year… I’m keeping everything crossed.

Big Bear’s Mini Projects

We are still doing them whenever we can though we don’t manage one every evening now that we are back in the school routine. We are still in quite a major Hama bead phase and Big Bear has been making flags with them. Today we got creative with pipe cleaners and made this wacky bouquet:

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Snapshots:

  • At tea time on the first day of school I asked Big Bear if he had seen Little Bear at school. He said “yeah, I saw you in the dinner hall, didn’t I mate? We had a big hug. You were eating your dinner really well weren’t you mate?”
  • Seeing Little Bear try really hard at swimming and get moved up to the next group
  • Seeing Big Bear master confident bike riding
  • Little Bear seeing his friend at football pick-up and offering him a turn on his bike without any prompting

Project home improvements:

Our planning permission has been granted which is great. We are now getting quotes from builders etc. and choosing everything. I am particularly obsessed with choosing the right front door. I’ve never had a new front door before and it is a lot more complicated than you might think!! Hopefully more news soon…

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September at Adoption: The Bear Facts

This week I… ran my first communication workshop for adopters.

Last week I wrote about Little Bear’s difficulties with speech and language (see Living with Speech and Language Difficulties ). When Little Bear arrived, it struck me how significantly his communication difficulties impacted him, us and our ability to form bonds with one another. A communication barrier was not conducive to bonding. Little Bear’s difficulties with expressing himself compounded his confusion and frustration.

I was thankful therefore that I had my professional background as a Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) to fall back on. At least I knew what strategies to use to improve his language skills and how to modify my language so he could understand me. And then I thought “but what if I didn’t?” What if I wasn’t an SLT? How on earth would I know where to begin? I felt that Little Bear’s speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) would probably become another thing for me to worry about and puzzle over, along with his sleep and behaviour. I felt that not knowing what to do for the best would be stressful. Then I thought “surely there are lots of adopters in that situation?”. It is very difficult to find any statistics on it but as the majority of children entering the care system will have experienced some degree of neglect, it is not a huge leap to suggest that large numbers of children needing adoption are likely to have SLCN. If nobody speaks to you in your infancy, you will not develop age appropriate language skills.

My conclusion was that there must be many new adopters in situations such as my own, living with a child whom they were struggling to communicate with, but without any training in speech and language to support them.

A nugget of an idea formed but I was busy surviving the early months of adoption.

In December, the newsletter from our post-adoption support service arrived. It asked adopters if they had any ideas for additional training that could be offered. I think perhaps they were being polite but I waded on in anyway (!) and suggested there was a gap for some communication training.

A few e-mails later and I was meeting with the Service Manager to discuss what we could offer. I am aware from reading other people’s stories on Twitter etc. that we are extremely lucky with our Voluntary Adoption Agency (VAA). They already offer a wide range of courses and workshops and also individual consultations to any adopters who are finding things difficult. In fact we had already benefitted from these ourselves when Little Bear’s behaviour was particularly challenging and he was keeping us up half the night.

It wasn’t really a surprise then that the Service Manager was forward-thinking and open-minded. She was very much on board with my ideas and we agreed to try a workshop in May (I needed time to prepare it).

May has come around surprisingly quickly! All of a sudden I found myself on my hands and knees, rummaging in the under-the-stairs-cupboard desperately searching for my other sensible shoe. A new presentation definitely calls for a matching outfit and one shoe wasn’t going to cut it. Fashion disaster averted, I could then worry about who was going to attend my workshop. I had written it for adopters but a few days before it, I discovered that 10 of the 12 participants were in fact professionals, which was a little daunting.

On arrival I found out that my one set of adopters were actually prospective adopters so there wouldn’t be anyone in the room with a child with SLCN. There was little time to panic though and the next thing I knew I was standing up and wittering on.

I needn’t have worried about who would be there. It was so refreshing to train a room of people who were so enthusiastic and motivated and who were so engaged with the session. The brilliant thing about there being so many professionals was that they now know what the workshop is all about and will promote it to families when/if we are able to run it again.

There was a wealth of experience in the room which lead to interesting discussions.

We talked about the interface between speech and language therapy and other psychotherapeutic interventions. We agreed that this relationship has not been well explored and that there is scope for joint working and sharing of knowledge.

We discussed that Talking Therapies may well not be ideal for children with SLCN and that there is a need to develop their language skills first.

I talked about how complex communication is. I talked through listening and attention, comprehension, expression and speech – giving tips on how to spot difficulties in each area and practical advice about strategies to use.

I spoke briefly about the links between language and behaviour. There was a lot of discussion around this and again it was felt that there is a need to explore this in more depth.

There was a consensus that more is needed for those working/living with teenagers – as language difficulties are often still present but are frequently overlooked or misunderstood.

We talked about the word “no” often being a trigger for behaviour in itself/having traumatic associations and if there were any ways to get round it. I have to admit this had me scratching my head and I will need to think some more. I’d love to know if this is a problem for anyone reading and what strategies you have used to overcome it.

We started to form a vision of a Specialist SLT service for fostered and adopted children. A service which would be responsive and act when needed e.g. right at the start of placements. A service which would be provided by SLTs who are knowledgeable about attachment and trauma and would consider a child’s communication difficulties within this context. The impact of the communication difficulty on bonding would also be factored in and strategies/ therapy could target both. It would be a service where an SLT and a post adoption support worker/ social worker would work in partnership.

It sounds fabulous and I’d love to be involved. The problem, as always with these things, is funding. Some routes are being explored so, hopefully, one day, this vision might become a reality.

This week’s workshop was a great start. I feel very optimistic thanks to everyone’s participation and responsiveness.

It was also reassuring that I do still know what to do in the work arena, after being on adoption leave for the past 9 months (I wasn’t sure if I did, especially after the shoe incident).

I very much enjoyed running the workshop and hope there will be more to come. I then went to pick Little Bear up from preschool and got called in for a “chat” about his behaviour. Back to reality!

 

This week I… ran my first communication workshop for adopters.