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!

 

 

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Schools Out

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

My 1 Year Blogversary

As with a lot of things I’ve done over the past year I started blogging entirely by accident. I wasn’t particularly active on any social media channels and although I was already an adopter, I had never thought of seeking support online. I had absolutely no idea that there was such an established and friendly community of adopters and fosterers on Twitter. I would probably have thought if I’d have considered it, that it would be difficult to get to know people and it would be full of trolling. I’m suspicious minded like that.

One day, just over a year ago, an e-mail appeared in my inbox offering an opportunity for adopters to become Social Media Champions. You could attend a training session and they would help you to start a blog etc. Having never harboured any desires to blog, the next thing I knew I was replying.

A few days later I got another e-mail saying there had been quite a bit of interest and unfortunately there were not enough spaces for everybody to attend. I had not been successful in getting a place. I was surprisingly disappointed: perhaps I really did want to be a blogger after all?

Not one to take no for an answer I decided to see if I could figure it out for myself. After a few mind-boggling evenings of googling and trying to decipher technical jargon, somehow Adoption: The Bear Facts was born. Since then I have written and posted in my blog every week and I absolutely love it.

One year in I still don’t think I’m a very technologically savvy blogger. My site is fairly basic and I don’t own my own domain. I probably don’t know about half the possible functions of my platform. I have managed to acquire a small group of followers and the lovely people of Twitter are always very kind with their liking and re-tweeting. I have taken some ginger forays into linkys but there is certainly more that I could do to improve my reach.

The thing is that the bit I really love is the writing. I think I’m a little bit addicted to it. Even on the few occasions when I have been organised enough to prepare a couple of posts in advance and I don’t actually need to write anything, I find myself still wanting to. If I can’t fall asleep my brain starts to “write” things. I have mentally written whole posts at 4am before then had to commit them to paper in the morning before I have forgotten them.

I find the writing very therapeutic. I think what it has done for me is allowed me to step outside of our adoption and family life in a virtual way. It helps me to inspect our dynamics and consider any difficulties from afar without actually leaving the house. It has metaphorically turned our lives into a small ball that I can hold out in my hand, in my mind’s eye, and inspect from any angle. When something happens that worries me or needs unpicking in some way, my first reaction now is to write about it. In doing so, I’m usually able to sort out my position and become clear in what should or should not be done.

It also turns out that I’m much better at expressing myself on paper than I am verbally. I am a talker but I feel more comfortable being really honest and talking about my feelings (especially if I’ve been upset) through my writing. I’m probably quite introverted really. I definitely prefer to solve my own problems, rather than letting others help me, which is something our Social Worker highlighted during our assessment. It wasn’t something I knew about myself prior to that as I do like chatting with people and would consider myself quite open. However, she observed that I tend to take more of a listening role and if I have a worry or concern, tend to keep that more to myself. She had some concerns that if I encountered difficulties once we had adopted I might not ask for help: a potential risk factor in any adoption.

Now that I’m aware of it I have to make conscious decisions to draft in a bit of help when I need to. My default is still to have a good analyse by myself though and that is where the blog comes in. I think it has allowed my family and friends a way of knowing how things are going and how we are feeling without me necessarily needing to actually tell them, which is of benefit to all of us. In sharing our ups and downs I often find out that somebody else has been through something similar and that is reassuring too. Many of us adopters are in the same boat.

I have always been a bit of a chronicler: I still have all my cringe-inducing hand-penned teenage diaries; but I’ve never written so others can read it. I like the fact that through my blog I’m building up a huge memory bank of the boy’s childhoods whilst hopefully, at the same time, raising awareness of issues that I consider important. I don’t think there are that many personal accounts of adoption out there, not in book form anyway. There are quite a few of us bloggers about now but as everybody’s experience of adoption is different, the more the merrier. It can only be a good thing to have enough writers out there to build up a really representative range of stories. I try to share ours with a positive voice.

Another issue close to my heart is speech and language difficulties; something that I feel continues to be poorly understood. As a Speech and Language Therapist and Mum to Little Bear who has Developmental Language Disorder, it is something that features quite often in my blog.

Did you know that over 1 million children in the UK meet the criteria for Developmental Language Disorder? Most people haven’t even heard of the diagnosis. In contrast, almost everyone has heard of Autism despite there only being about 700,000 children in the UK who meet that diagnosis. Developmental Language Disorder continues to be poorly understood, missed and misdiagnosed. It is extremely common in children labelled as having “behavioural difficulties” and amongst those who find themselves within the Youth Justice System.

For me, helping Little Bear to navigate school whilst he’s not able to tell me anything about what has happened when things have gone wrong for him, has made the need to raise awareness even more pressing. There have been occasions recently where I have felt he has been wrongly blamed for things because other children are more articulate than he is and he is not able to defend himself verbally. Thankfully his class teacher mostly understands his difficulties but other staff, such as dinner ladies do not and do not take his communication levels into consideration when investigating what has happened.

A well respected Professor in the field of Speech and Language Therapy, Dorothy Bishop (@deevybee) is currently raising funds to make an awareness raising film about Developmental Language Disorder. If you want to contribute or find out more about the project you can follow this link: Raising awareness of DLD

The only down side to blogging is that because I love the writing so much, I can sometimes get a bit lost in it. Sometimes I get my writing done but not my washing! It has also caused me to get ideas about writing becoming more than a hobby… You never know, I’ll have to see what the next year brings.

All that remains is to say a huge thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read or share or comment on any of my posts and especially those of you who read every single week. THANK YOU! I really do appreciate it and it stops me feeling like a little whisper in the wilderness.

 

My 1 Year Blogversary