Halfway Day (or Schedules, scones, and screaming)

Today marks the halfway point of the summer holidays for us: it’s day 20 of 40. It feels like much longer. The words I’m seeing from other adopters are ‘relentless’ and ‘incessant’. These words are used all year round, of course, but the summer seems to amplify those feelings because culturally it is supposed to be a holiday. It isn’t. It’s six weeks of dysregulated children being given nice things and days out and not appreciating any of it and telling you what a horrible person you are. All. Day. Long.

halfway-day

There are those parents who look forward to the summer holidays as a time to frolic in the sun with their little cherubs, picnicking on home-grown houmous and organic mini-quiches, unfettered by the constraints of the school run. Good for them.

I am not one of these parents.

As I have mentioned ad infinitum, I have a schedule. This is what keeps us all on the right side of sanity. (Just.) Anything remotely unfettered causes meltdowns for them and more stress for me.

Screaming: a day in the life

This weekend we tried the frolicsome picnic thing – well, as near to frolicsome as we get. We took our picnic to a National Trust place with huge grounds, headed straight for a picnic bench and got started on lunch. Barely two bites into her artisanal organic roll pizza bread, Joanna started a strop, saying she wanted to live on her own in the woods (a favourite idea of hers when she is overwhelmed by the idea of family). We had no idea what had triggered it, so I put down my quinoa salad pork pie and took her aside for a chat.

She continued. Suicide threats. Wanting to see what children’s homes are like so she could think about living there instead. Hating her sister. Being extremely jealous of Charlotte’s new second-hand-from-eBay bed. (Joanna was given a brand new desk at the same time, something she has wanted for ages. This was not enough, obviously we love Charlotte more, etc.) I listened and let her get it all out of her system. I didn’t have anything much to say apart from a bit of PACE-esque wondering about why she thought she’d be better off without us and what she thought that would be like.

Once she’d finished, we rejoined the others, and the meal continued, with regular ‘sensory breaks’ – ie sending them to run around a tree, push against a tree, do press-ups, etc. That worked really well for Charlotte, who is unable to sit still for long. But not Joanna. She was determined to stay angry.

Stopping and listening

After the picnic – which was curtailed after another dose of insults from Joanna – we carried on. The plan had been to do a ‘Gruffalo trail’ which was set up all around the grounds. But following someone else’s route and activities was not to madam’s liking, so we abandoned that for a while to let them run off and make dens in the hedges while we had a sneaky cream tea. Hurrah.

Eventually we finished the trail and got them into the car, where Stephen Fry’s reading of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone worked its magic on them again. This has been one of the successes of this holiday. I thoroughly recommend trying Audible if you haven’t given it a go yet.

The Harry Potter books are particularly good value via Audible because they’re so long – on a monthly subscription each credit is £7.99, so it works out much cheaper than buying them without a subscription (and you still get to keep your books even if you cancel). The first one is nearly nine hours. The second one, which I bought today, is more than ten hours. HELLO, calmer journeys and mealtimes. I am sold.

(Yes, this is an affiliate link. To – if you choose Harry Potter – at least NINE FREE HOURS of audiobook. You’re welcome.)

The schedule: does it help?

There are a few places where we’ve deviated from the schedule – mainly because of the weather, which has meant swapping some of the days around – but otherwise it is working well. My definition of ‘working well’ means that the activities are happening and at least one member of the family is deriving a modicum of pleasure from them. (See how my standards have fallen!) The girls are used to consulting it to see what’s happening, and if that saves just a handful of meldowns and ‘Muuuuuummmm’s then it’s worth the effort. So yes, it helps.

What’s next?

This week we have five days of childcare, one day scheduled for shoe and uniform-shopping, and one initial visit to Joanna’s new psychotherapist (more of that anon).

Next week is a hodgepodge of days out with grandparents, bribing incentivising the children to help clean the house, a sprinkling of sanity-saving activities, and packing. On the Friday we are Yorkshire-bound for our ‘holiday’.

For the last week of the holidays we will be based in the Dales, where I will be spending a couple of days at self-care camp (exciting!) and the rest of the time with Pete and the girls. They usually find being away from home hard, so I anticipate plenty of dysregulation and stress all round. There should just about be time on the Sunday to squeeze in a transition visit to school before they go back on the Monday. Aaaaand breathe.

How is your summer going? Can anyone report back from the new school year and tell us it’s going to be OK? 😉 Let me know in the comments.

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10 things to pack for holidays with adopted children

Clothes… suncream… weighted blanket? What are your essentials when taking anxious children away from home? As the school holidays get underway, here’s an updated post from the archives for those about to embark on holidays with adopted children.

10-things-pack-holidays-adopted-children

Here goes…

We’re off on holiday this weekend and the packing is underway. It’ll be our fifth holiday with the girls and I have a mental list of things we need to take to keep things as calm as possible.

1. Pictures of home

Though they’re prepared for seeing the holiday cottages we stay in and have an encyclopaedic knowledge of all the area’s amenities well in advance of our arrival, the girls still tend to have pangs of homesickness (I think this is generally a good thing  in terms of feeling rooted in our home). So on the morning of departure, we go around the house saying goodbye and taking photos of them in all the rooms on my phone. Then I can whip out my phone when required, and show them it’s still there. This works a treat.

2. Postcards to colour

Any old postcards will do, but the colour-in ones provide an extra keep-them-occupied activity. These can then be sent to friends, family, and teachers. Teachers are especially important to Joanna and Charlotte because of the between-classes limboland that the summer holidays represent. If we send postcards there’s a chance it will remind the teachers to reciprocate, making the transition in September a bit easier. I like these ones and these ones. Another alternative is to use the Postsnap app to create postcards. (Use code 3D04BE to get £2.00 of free credit on the Postsnap app after you make your first purchase.)

Postcards to colour

3. Social story books

Being away can sometimes stir up transition anxiety relating to school, so we take the girls’ social story books with us in case we need to talk about how their day will be the same and how it will be different next term. The school produces these books for us each June (with a bit of a nudge from us) and they are helpful. (If you’re not familiar with this idea, it’s a photo-based book that talks them through the day: ‘I go in through this door, I hang my coat here, I say hello to Miss X, I sit here, etc’. More about writing social stories here.)

4. Favourite toys

10-things-pack-holiday-adopted-childrenMainly a teddy of their choice and a few portable games we play as a family at home – Uno, Dobble and Qwirkle. These help to provide a bit of normality.

I’m not sure what it is about these three games in particular that really engage our two – possibly that they are very visual and quite tactile, so there are things for them to hold, which helps to keep their attention as sensory-seekers. They are definite favourites though.

 

5. Kindles

I’ve already written about my love of the Kindle. In our family, they are a sanity-saver in the early mornings when the children are Very Awake at an hour when we wish to remain comatose. Providing access to their Kindles at 6am might help them manage not to start swinging from the curtains or mooning passers by from their bedroom window (yes these things have happened on holiday before). Worth a try.

6. A new DVD

Yes, more screen time. This year, we’re introducing them to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and I am possibly a bit overexcited about that. Joanna is desperate to see it, having read the book at school. I have also bought her the book of Chamber of Secrets. I think that’s the rest of the holiday sorted.

[Update: recent favourites in our house have included Sing and The Lego Batman Movie. Both are highly recommended, though as ever, check out the reviews at Adoption At the Movies to get an idea of what’s right for your particular child(ren).]

7. Lego

It’s a bit of a holiday tradition for us to have new Lego on holiday. Last year we had a campervan holiday and made a Lego campervan to match. I also made Lego boxes (lunchboxes full of Lego with the green Lego mats glued to the lid as a building surface) based on an idea I saw on Pinterest, and they were a hit.

  

8. Bubbles

Great for regulating breathing and therefore for calming down – we tend to use bubbles several times a week at home, so they will definitely be coming with us on holiday, where there are often plenty of ‘opportunities to calm down’ (a.k.a. meltdowns).

9. Medical kit

While a first-aid kit is probably a good plan, I pack a medical kit that is probably at least 50 percent placebo: plasters for putting on scratches that are imperceptible to the naked eye (cartoon ones for bonus points); E45 cream (our go-to placebo); hayfever medication (actually necessary some of the time, when we dispense it at bedtime to make full use of any drowsy-making side effects); and Calpol (ditto).Enchanted unicorn plasters

10. Sensory stuff

Because the new environment is endlessly fascinating/potentially overstimulating from a sensory perspective, with all kids of new textures in soft furnishings, different sounds,  different smells, etc, I try to anticipate this by being on high alert the second I step in to the place. Knick-knacks are moved out of harm’s way, windows are locked, things that are supposed to be fiddled with are put in their room(s) to try to divert them: fidget toys, chewy toys, a body sock… and my bag of transition toys comes into its own.

Other ideas

  • Pillowcases from home – for familiar smells to help them sleep
  • Portable blackout blind – to help with early rising
  • House rules – a reminder of consistency
  • Schedule for the holiday – to help with anxiety about unpredictability

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6 sensory activities for summer

The end-of-term transition anxiety has kicked in here this week. The dysregulation has moved up several notches. Both the girls are tired. There have been lots of tears and slammed doors and shouting about how terrible we are followed by apologies and more tears and cuddles and a bit more wailing and then calm (more-or-less). Time to break out a few more of my tried and tested sensory activities to see us through to the end of term and into the holidays.

6-sensory-activities-for-summer

Note: this is an update of a post I wrote last summer. This stuff works really well for us, so I’m sharing it again.

Around here, as in many adoptive families, holidays are hard work, especially the first few days of adjustment to the different routines. Joanna (8) and Charlotte (7) both have sensory issues caused by their early experiences: Joanna’s are primarily aural (oversensitivity to sound and a fear of loud noises), while Charlotte’s are mainly oral (she likes to chew things – toys, clothes, books – and is very fussy about food and will not countenance the idea of a raw tomato within five feet of her plate). Both are also quite fidgety and love to fiddle with things – to self-soothe because of attachment-related anxiety.

Enter the list of sensory activities to help them stay regulated, happy little sausages during the holidays. You’ll note that all of these are of the uncomplicated ‘buy it and get on with it’ variety, rather than Pinterest-worthy creations that require you to spend a week crocheting the shoelaces of elves first. The only one that requires any advance preparation is number 4, but that’s just putting some stuff in the freezer overnight. Job done.

1: Beads

The beads are a great calming activity – the sorting and threading and concentrating works beautifully to help them stay regulated. Seriously – it’s amazing. I have rarely seen them so calm! As long as there are enough of each type to go around and sibling rivalry doesn’t kick in, all is well. This particular set was £6.00 from Tesco and has kit for four necklaces with lots of beads left over. I haven’t been able to find it there this year but there are similar kits on Amazon (try the WINOMO Alphabet beads or Melissa and Doug Deluxe Wooden Bead Set).

2: Playdough/Plasticine/FIMO

An oldie but a goodie – give them a supply of dough, cutters and rolling pins and let them do their thing. (All you have to do is watch it get trodden into the carpet.) Nice and tactile for those who enjoy that sensation and/or the creative possibilities. Alternatively, our OT recommends the gloop made by mixing cornflour and water. It’s great for making fingers work harder and giving that feedback their muscles need.

3: Baking

Basically an edible version of the previous idea – adding an extra sensory experience into the mix. Use a simple biscuit recipe and let them go mad with the cutters, or for a treat try my chocolate cake recipe. (This cake is EPIC and also completely foolproof.)

chocolate-cake-small.jpg

4: Frozen archeology

A great idea for hot weather. Take some of their plastic toys and freeze them in a big container of water (with food colouring or a bit of orange squash in to hide the toys if you want), then give them a spoon to perform their archaeological dig! This activity provides new tactile experiences to keep sensory-seekers interested and can be combined with playing in a paddling pool for extra entertainment! Joanna and Charlotte love this.

sensory-activities-for-summer

5: Water

Charlotte completely lights up with joy when she’s in a swimming pool, and it’s a full-on immersive sensory experience, so our girls have a fortnight of swimming lessons every summer. But if that’s not an option, then a middle-of-the-day bath can work, especially if you colour the water with food colouring. In hot weather, the classic run-through-the-sprinkler game reliably produces a lot of shrieking and giggling in our garden. In hot weather we sometimes peg out a tarpaulin on the grass and squirt washing-up liquid or bubble bath on it. We then put the hose at the top end (our garden is on a slight slope). The girls love to slide down the slope and get covered in bubbles, then rinse off in the paddling pool. (Don’t have a tarpaulin? Grab one from camping shops or from Amazon here for under £6.50.)

Our garden bubble-slide.

6: Masking tape racetrack

This one needs a roll of masking tape (washi tape works well too) and some Matchbox-type cars. The first time we did it I designed a course for them myself, but Joanna added her own modifications. I like to include plenty of obstacles to make it more of a sensory experience. We have cushions to drive over, maybe a beanbag mountain, a cardboard tube tunnel, whatever we happen to have in the recycling box at the time. I find that the girls’ attention span increases when they can use the tape themselves after I’ve done the basic layout. They also enjoy using lots of props (e.g. people, trees and buildings from their train set and toy farm).

Racetrack

An early prototype

I hope you find these helpful during the holidays. If you you have other sensory play ideas I’d love to hear about them. Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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6 ways to help an adoptive family in the summer

For many parents, the idea of filling a six-week summer holiday with endless activities, day trips, the library’s summer reading challenge, and new-school-shoe-shopping is enough to make them want to hide under a large beach towel for the duration.  And if you’ve been in the vicinity of an adoptive parent whose child(ren) struggle with end-of-year transitions, you may be aware that they have more holiday apprehension than most. Our children’s behaviour is often less predictable, more volatile, and especially when they are struggling with the ‘all at sea’ feeling of being out of routine, they can just lose the plot. It’s very demanding to parent these children, who need specialist therapeutic techniques to calm their oversensitive, maladapted fight/flight/freeze responses. How can you support them appropriately? Here are my six ways to help an adoptive family in the summer holidays.

6-ways-to-help-an-adoptive-family-in-the-summer-holidays

1. Don’t mention the transition

When talking to adopted children, remember that they are more likely than average to struggle with the end of term, the summer holidays, and the prospect of adjusting to a new teacher, new classroom, and the added pressure to keep up at a higher academic level. They may be missing friends, upset at saying goodbye to a teacher they have become attached to, and generally feeling sad and wonky. A jolly ‘I bet you’re excited about the end of term/the holidays/being in year X’, while well meant, might not be tremendously helpful. Unless they initiate that topic of conversation, stick to something safer. Remember that although they might be fine with you, any stress may be hidden and stored up for release when they feel safe at home later, ie, a meltdown aimed at their parents.

Statements, rather than questions, often feel safer when a child is getting used to being around someone new or a new place. Something along the lines of ‘Hi Joanna, it’s good to see you again. The biscuits are here, you can help yourself, and George is on the swings if you want to play’ is the sort of thing that would put my children at ease. Even a simple ‘I like your T-shirt’ is a good way to avoid talking about school and school holidays.

2. Offer childcare

Offer to take the children out for a day. Or for an afternoon. Or just to the park for half an hour. A little bit of breathing space to mentally regroup is likely to be very welcome. If you have more cash than time, maybe offer to pay for a holiday club, or swimming lessons. If it’s not appropriate for the children to be separated from the adoptive parents at the moment, maybe you could bring an activity to the house – a craft to make, or a game to play, so Mum/Dad can have a lie down in the the next room, for example. Or all meet up at the park/for a picnic/at soft play/etc. Just having an extra adult present can sometimes help children contain some of their more ‘exuberant’ behaviour (and sometimes not, so take your cue from their parents).

3. Send postcards

You don’t have to be on holiday to send a postcard. One from your home town will be fine – if the children have been there and recognise the picture, so much the better. It’s lovely for them to know that others are thinking of them when they are elsewhere, and especially when they’re out of their routine. If you want to go a step further, you could seek out the postcards that are also jigsaws (my children love these), or use a company such as Photobox to create your own. Pete and I use the Postsnap app to send postcards to the children when we’re away – you upload your own photos and it creates and sends a postcard from within the UK, meaning that it arrives sooner than a traditional postcard from overseas. I recommend it. (Use code 3D04BE to get £2.00 of free credit on the Postsnap app after you make your first purchase.)

4. Check in with the parents

While the family is out of their term-time routine, they might not have their usual support systems in place – people at the school gate, teachers, social workers, others, to talk to. Offering them a chat, either in person, on the phone, or by text, can give them a place to offload. Just send a message to say you’re thinking of them. Offer to get the coffee and meet them somewhere the children are occupied.

5. Offer resources

They may not have the time or energy to use all of them, but there are some great resources online. Keep it simple – stuff they can print and do rather than things that need a lot of preparation. For example, you could point them towards the excellent downloads on Twinkl for summer holiday activities and for transitions. Twinkl membership costs £48.99 for a year, which sounds a lot but is good value if you make the most of it. We get our money’s worth by using the printable sheets for practising tables, the visual timetable cards, colouring sheets, games, labels, telling the time – it even has child-friendly mental health resources. Some other alternatives can be found on Pinterest (but beware ‘Pinterest perfectionism’), and I have a few of my own humble offerings, including the summer holiday schedule.

6. Read a book

If you’re planning some summer holiday reading of your own, you might consider swapping one of your novels for something that explains a bit more about the realities of adoptive parenting. Some suggestions:

Sally Donovan’s No Matter What
Dan Hughes’ Building the Bonds of Attachment
Amber Elliott’s Why Can’t My Child Behave?

All of these will equip you to support your friends with a greater understanding of their experience and parenting techniques. (Read these already? Check out my reviews to find something else.)

Thank you

Many adoptive parents say that friends who support them are few and far between. Your willingness to help an adoptive family in the summer, in sensitive and appropriate ways, is very much appreciated. Thank you.


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  • You can also sign up here to receive my monthly newsletter. It contains my recent blog posts, my favourite adoption-related blog posts by others, and relevant resources from around the web.
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Create your easy-peasy summer holiday schedule

That long expanse of summer holiday fills some with joy and others with horror. For those of us with children who thrive on routine, the summer can be a difficult time. They find it hard to adjust to the differences and anticipate September transitions to new classes and new schools.

Enter the summer holiday schedule.

creatre-your-easy-peasy-summer-holiday-schedule

Using the summer holiday schedule

This is an easy-to-edit Word file that I update every year. It’s not complicated, just the dates from the end of one term to the beginning of the next, with an activity or two marked on for each day. a the moment that tends to be about as much detail as they want, though we also have a Twinkl visual timetable on hand for days when they need a bit more clarity about a simple day at home (‘But what are we doing after lunch?’).

I use them in the Christmas and Easter holidays too, because Joanna and Charlotte thrive on knowing what to expect. If I could add a meal plan for the entire holiday that would make them happier still.

Here’s ours for this summer (click for larger version).

How I fill the summer holiday schedule

This is Joanna’s first year at a residential summer camp (I’m not sure which of us is most excited about this prospect) so that was scheduled first (purple). Charlotte will be spending a few days with my parents so we can have some time off (pink). Then the SEN activity club the girls love – I booked as many slots as i could for that (yellow). Then because I’m talking part in the self-carecamp in Yorkshire at the end of the holidays, we’re turning that into a family holiday by hiring a cottage nearby, which fills out the last week (green). We’ve just renewed our national Trust membership and are determined to recoup the cost, so I scoured the magazine for local child-friendly activities (brown).

Being outdoors is great for Joanna and Charlotte, so, weather permitting, there are also a smattering of days where it simply says ‘park’ and ‘garden fort’. (Note: this is an excellent garden fort kit that keeps them occupied for ages, especially when combined with an old shower curtain for the roof. Highly recommended.)

The rest is filled in with things like a ‘jobs and rewards day’. This is code for ‘get them to tidy their rooms, do the hoovering and clean the bathroom, which is pleasingly endorsed by their OT, in return for a small supply of Freddos, new crayons and those awful magazines with plastic tat attached’. There’s also a pyjama day. This basically means ‘you can watch DVDs while I do all the laundry from the holiday and if you stay in your PJs it means you’re not creating any more for me to wash’.

Your own summer holiday schedule

Of course your family’s schedule will look different from ours. You may not have childcare. You may have exotic holidays. Maybe yours involves a lot more time at the beach, the swimming pool, or the ice cream shop. (We can but hope, hey?) But scheduling your holiday in advance takes a huge amount of stress out of the whole business. It gives children a sense of certainty about what to expect, and it helps parents not to flounder in the face of weeks of nothingness.

To make your own, I’ve produced a blank template. You’re welcome to download and edit it to suit your family’s needs. Some people do a text-only one like mine, others like to add clipart or their own drawings. Whatever works for you.

blank-summer-holiday-schedule

Download yours here:  HLM Blank summer holiday schedule 2017 (MS Word)

More tips

If your children struggle with the back-to-school transition, you might like to try a couple of things we do. First, schedule a school visit to the new classroom for the end of the holidays, to go and say hello and refamiliarise them with where everything is. We arrange this with the headteacher in July (so it’s not yet on our schedule above). Second, plan something fun for the first weekend of term, and include that too, so that it doesn’t look like the fun stops when school starts up again.

I’d love to hear how you get on with this summer schedule – or summer holiday planning in general! Leave me a comment or let’s talk on social media.


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Review | Neurodiversity

Barb has autism, and Lois is her therapist. Neurodiversity is their story. And it’s great.

Review Neurodiversity

It’s not a word I use often, but I think it’s fitting here. This book is a romp through the authors’ various neurodiverse experiences, both personal and professional. These include autism (this is the main focus of the book), ADHD, anxiety, dyslexia, and being gay.

It doesn’t sound like hilarious subject matter, and at times it was deeply moving, but it is also very funny. Their sense of humour is on display throughout the book. They have a lot of fun with tales of their experiences, anecdotes from therapy, brilliant success stories from Lois’s other clients, and just being generally amusing.

How is this book useful to adoptive parents?

First, a disclaimer. There’s nothing specifically about adoption in the book. But keep reading! Obviously if you or a family member have autism, ADHD, anxiety or dyslexia, there’s something here for you. It covers all these topics with both realism and wit. There’s also a pleasingly political bit about the fight for same-sex marriage legislation in the US.

The focus of the book is Barb’s autism – ‘the really bad kind’ – and the way she has overcome many people’s expectations of her to become a writer and podcaster despite being mute and only able to communicate using one finger to ‘peck’ at the keys of her laptop. She describes herself as ‘disguised as a poor thinker’ – a brilliant description of what it must be like to have her intellect and creativity stuck inside a brain and body that won’t cooperate in a typical manner.

Some days the words won’t come, because she doesn’t think in language.  Some days she bites her own arm until she draws blood. Sometimes she attacks others. But she refuses to let the autism win. It’s inspiring stuff. It’s encouraging to those of us with neurodiverse children. I’d say that it’s worth a few hours of your time to read it. And it’ll make you laugh.

Also, there’s some useful stuff about the therapeutic techniques that have worked for her. Things such as

‘I am not in the penitentiary today because I have a swing in my front yard and I know how to use it.’ 

See? Useful. Practical. Stuff we can work with.

Neurodiversity: what’s it about?

The book’s blurb describes it as follows:

A candid, practical, and defiantly funny guide to embracing neurological differences – from a bitingly witty autistic mute and her dyslexic, ADHD-wired, lesbian therapist.

Shattering the conventional notion of disability, Neurodiversity sheds light on autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit disorders (ADD/ADHD), dyslexia, and other neurological differences as natural human variations with their own challenges and strengths. While backed by brain science, the authors write from personal experience. Speechless (literally) due to severe autism, Barb Rentenbach communicates by typing one letter at a type. (Though “disguised as a poor thinker,” she’s imaginative, dedicated, and exceptionally patient.) Her therapist and friend, Lois Prislovsky, Ph.D., is an educational psychologist whose distinctive traits include dyslexia and ADHD. (She’s also married to a woman, a mom to a teenage son, and enjoys any new challenge – the wackier the better.) In alternating chapters, Barb and Lois share real-life stories, mind-opening insights, and down-to-earth advice to encourage everyone to see beyond labels, treat others with respect, and help each unique person become his or her highest self.

Written with honesty, compassion, and ribald humor, Neurodiversity offers reassurance and practical tips for parents, educators, employers, LGBT families, and anyone who loves someone who is different. Readers will discover:

  • The payoff of presuming competence and listening well (even to non-verbal people).
  • Do’s and don’ts for managing anxiety. (Do facilitate optimism. Don’t overprotect.)
  • Ways to help ADHD children excel, without medication. (Tips: Limit access to video games but don’t make unrealistic restrictions on movement.)
  • …and much more.

“Autism is my prism, not my prison,” Barb Rentenbach declares. A fun take on serious issues, Neurodiversity presents two wonderfully different perspectives on understanding how different brains think and maximizing our collective human potential.

Excerpts

These are some of my favourite parts of the book.

‘The truth is, aggressive outbursts have always been a part of my autism.

The frequency of my aggression has decreased significantly over the years, as I have become able to communicate more efficiently and REGULARLY. I don;t think I can report the severity of the attacks has waned. But to be fair, I bite my own self more than I do others. I find that makes me more popular.’

‘The brain automatically responds to threat. The limbic system can;t discern if danger is physically real. Despite orthodontic differences, a saber-toothed tiger and the cruellest popular girls in school heading your way may elicit the same physiological response. In The Fear Cure, Rankin classifies these as “True” and “False” fears. True fear is triggered when life and limb are threatened, and False fear is in your “imagination”. Both types of fear are bad for your health if sustained, as our bodies are not designed to be frightened often. Chronic reaction to stress is toxic if unrelenting. The good news is that both True and False fears can be beneficial, if you learn how to filter the messages.’

(The authors signpost readers to a lot of other useful and relevant books. I love this.)

For parents:

‘Children need to practice handling stress, fears, deadlines and mistakes. The acceptance of “not always getting it right” is a lesson we need to demonstrate and teach. It promotes brain growth and life-long learners.’

‘Persevere and remember to laugh. Laughter is like cross-fit for the brain. It engages and strengthens multiple regions across the whole brain and promotes flexibility.’

‘Don’t be too permissive. Letting children do whatever they want, whenever they want, does not “take the pressure off”. In fact, too much freedom may cause a child anxiety. Children become fearful and overwhelmed when given too many choices and denied limit setting. Set boundaries. Provide structure and clear, consistent rules so your children may concentrate on learning, growing, and exercising self-control, leaving the responsibilities of mature decision-making to you.’

Summary

Though not adoption-specific, there’s a lot here to encourage those of us parenting neurodiverse children who struggle with living in a neurotypical society and conforming to its rules and expectations. Those of us whose families are a little (or a lot) unconventional will find no condemnation here, just a useful collection of ideas to try, anecdotes to laugh and cry with, and the feeling of having connected with two authors who are immensely relatable and engaging. I recommend it.

The details
Professional Reader

Neurodiversity:: A Humorous and Practical Guide to Living with ADHD, Anxiety, Autism, Dyslexia, The Gays, and Everyone Else
Lois Prislovsky and Barb Rentenbach
Mule & Muse Productions with Sojourn Publishing
£20.33 (Kindle £7.62/FREE on KindleUnlimited) (Audiobook £14.60)
Published 1 June 2017

Disclaimer: I received this book free via NetGalley in return for my honest review.


Before you go…

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Headspin: an update

How do other adoptive parents juggle all the stuff that we are expected to cope with? How does anyone cope with all the advocacy and admin and energy required for parenting two or more children with additional needs of any kind? This week I am really feeling the resulting headspin. My brain has way too many tabs open – too much stuff pending. Too many forms, and emails, and meetings, and phone calls.

headspin

As we hurtle towards half term (how did that happen? It was only Easter ten minutes ago), here’s what’s going on with us.

SEBD school visit

As I’ve mentioned previously, Joanna’s needs are not being met in her mainstream primary school, and she needs an alternative placement. Following the EHCP review, we visited our first SEBD school. I asked most of my questions. The school was good – lots of evidence of good strategies in place for helping the children with self-regulation, lots of breakout spaces for children to use to calm down, staff whose job it is to track children around the premises and help them to return to where they are supposed to be, that sort of thing. The OT facilities were particularly impressive. We liked the headteacher. But I had an uneasy feeling, and I haven’t quite put my finger on the reason.

The boarding dilemma

Part of it is about boarding. We’ve said we’d like to consider weekly boarding. I’m still torn about the boarding side of things – we need the respite, it means fewer transitions and long car journeys for Joanna, but she is still only eight years old, and I don’t want her to think of it as a rejection. When the person showing us round the school said ‘And here’s where we teach them to do their own laundry’ I had to take some deep breaths as I thought about what is in effect someone else parenting my child during the week and her learning all those little steps towards independence from someone else. Once we’d left the school I may have had a bit of a cry about that. Trying to put my feelings aside and focus on what is in Joanna’s best interests is a bit harder than I thought. Turns out I feel pretty horrible about asking for respite when it means my little girl living somewhere else. I need to get over not being able to meet all her needs myself, however much I’d like to. That’s hard. I don’t understand my own thoughts and feelings about it all. How can I be jealous of someone else getting to do that stuff with her and for her and yet at the same time be asking for respite because I am finding it so hard myself?

So. We still have at least two more schools to visit, but I haven’t booked them yet. There’s so much processing to do; so much else going on; so much psyching myself up for it all needs to happen.

Risk assessment

A few weeks back, as well as scaling a 7-foot wall and escaping from school, there was an incident where (a) Joanna ran away from home, (b) we tackled her to the ground in the park after 40 minutes of not-quite-chasing her; (c) a couple saw us grab her, heard her scream and assumed we were abducting her; (d) said couple called the police; (e) I pre-emptively emailed  school and PAS; and (e) the police came round to talk (supportively) about it all. PAS subsequently came out to do a risk assessment to help move things along in terms of the support they can offer. The idea is that by illustrating the constant need for us to be risk-assessing all the possible moves the girls might make, the CPV, the risk of various types of self-harm and putting themselves in dangerous situations… they can justify providing us with respite and putting pressure on the SEN team to speed up the school placement business.

Occupational Therapy

Meanwhile the OT has started working with Charlotte. (A full year after the OT assessment was done, but let’s leave that rant for another day.) Today she is in school talking to the teachers about both girls. She’s also doing an observation of Joanna as part of her assessment. Said assessment will form part of the paperwork for the EHCP review, which should support our case to get appropriate help for her. Obviously the funding isn’t yet in place for the OT to work with Joanna as well, but apparently PAS are working on it.

CAMHS

Joanna is still on the waiting list – that’s 8 months since her assessment. Charlotte is on the waiting list to get an appointment to be assessed. Not even a date for the initial consultation yet. Don’t hold your breath.

Alternative psychotherapy

Joanna’s previous therapist (whose funding didn’t get renewed in the LA handover debacle) has recommended that Joanna have EMDR therapy which sounds a bit strange at first but seems to get great results. An ASF application for funding went in two months ago. PAS are supposed to be chasing it and/or funding it themselves. Again, no news.

FASD assessment

We continue to pursue an FASD assessment for Charlotte. The paediatrician has bounced it back to the GP with a permissions form for us to complete. Sounds straightforward, but they expect us to sign to say that we’ll accept the panel’s verdict about what happens next, which could mean Charlotte actually seeing the paediatrician, but could be them sending us on a parenting course. That is one of the options they can prescribe and if we sign the form, we’re saying that’s acceptable, which it isn’t. Obviously. I’m very much up for any course that is FASD-specific, but not as an alternative to actually seeing a medical professional who can make a diagnosis. So we haven’t signed, and the school nurse is having a conversation with the GP about it all. Again, no news for a week or so. I’m expecting a call any day.

The book

After a ridiculously long hiatus which we’ll put down to ‘dealing with life’, I’m resuming work on my self-care book. (Hurrah.) This week I’ve completed a first draft of the first chapter and have sent it to some agents I’m meeting next month. (If I say that quickly it doesn’t sound as scary.) More details will follow, and there will almost certainly be more requests for people to be case studies for various aspects of self-care in the weeks/months to come. Watch this space.

Self-care

I between all this, I have my now annual self-care week – a solo trip to soak up some restorative mountain views, sleep, practise my excruciatingly poor German language skills, shut down a few of those headspin-inducing tabs for a whole, and generally be Hannah, not just mum. That’s coming up in a couple of weeks, or to be precise (not that I’m counting…)

I. Cannot. Wait.

Peace! Sachertorte! Mountains! Strudel! Maybe the occasional yodel… I am so thankful for the airmiles that Pete clocks up with work.

So in the next 24 hours I’ll be sticking my Teach Yourself German cassettes on again (‘Ist der Garten schön? Ja, der Garten ist schön…’) and battening down the hatches for half term. I hope yours is a (relatively) peaceful one.

PS I’m sorry if you’re sick of seeing this on Twitter. But I’d be so grateful if you could spare a minute to vote for me in the #BiBs awards if you like what I have to say about the importance of self-care for adoptive parents. Thanks.


BEFORE YOU GO…

  • If you found this post helpful or interesting, please vote for it. Thanks! 🙂
  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
  • You can also sign up here to receive my monthly newsletter. It contains my recent blog posts, my favourite adoption-related blog posts by others, and relevant resources from around the web.
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10 mental health challenges for adoptive parents

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week. To mark the occasion, and because I believe that the mental health of adoptive parents is both (a) critical to the success of adoptive placements and (b) massively overlooked and under-resourced, here are my 10 mental health challenges for adoptive parents.

Keep reading below for my five possible solutions, and my rallying call for a new campaign.

10 Mental Health Challenges For Adoptive Parents

10 mental health challenges

These are just some of the things I  – and many others – deal with on a daily/weekly basis. Any one of these is difficult. Taken in combination they are a threat to good mental health.

  1. The fight to be respected as an authority on what is best for my children, not dismissed as ‘just Mum’ because my professional qualifications are in a different area.

  2. The fight to get them the support they need. The constant stream of forms, appointments, phone calls, waiting lists, and rejected applications.

  3. Frequently explaining to professionals and passers-by that actually, it isn’t our parenting that’s the problem.

  4. Battling to stay regulated while the children scream in my face, throw things at me, and try to hurt me, because I gave them their lunch, or asked them to put their shoes on, or said it was bedtime. (Read more about child-on-parent violence in adoptive families.)

  5. Helping them to become regulated again after a meltdown when I want to curl up under the duvet on my own and release some of the stress with a good cry.

  6. Trying not to dwell on the hurtful things they said while they were angry, and convincing myself they didn’t mean them.

  7. Living in fear of confrontations with other parents because of my child’s behaviour towards theirs.

  8. Making time for self-care, only to have it interrupted by a call from school because they can’t cope and want me to go and calm my child or collect her.

  9. Trying to ensure the children hear consistent messages about their worth and behaviour at school and at home; that they’re not thought of as ‘naughty’.

  10. Being the administrator and communications hub for every aspect of my children’s care. The meetings. The emails. The phone calls, the form-filling. The trying to get all the different parties – PAS, GP, CAMHS, OT, EP, psychotherapist, school – to speak to each other and just copy me in on emails. Trying to manage them all is a full-time job in itself. On top of my actual job. And therapeutic parenting. Oh, and self-care. And having a marriage that benefits from time spent together outside of childcare and meetings and paperwork.

Aaaarrrggggghhhh.

So what’s the solution? If only there was a neat answer. I have a few suggestions though.

5 possible solutions

  1. Prioritise self-care. MummyWriter wrote an excellent post on this recently, and you can use my free self-care resources to get started. Until things change on a wider scale, we have to manage this for ourselves. I’m sorry, it’s rubbish that it’s like this, but it is. Look after yourself. Start here.

  2. Connect with the adoption community. Reach out to other in the same situation. Twitter is especially excellent for this, but I also go to Adoption UK’s local meetings and other informal gatherings of adopters. I recommend going to adoption conferences and training courses whenever you possibly can, not just for the content, but to meet other adoptive parents and to experience being among people who understand. I don’t know how people manage without the support of other adopters. This is such a massive source of sanity for me.

  3. Don’t sweat the small stuff. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, pick your battles, both in terms of the children’s behaviour and the stuff you fight for with school and support services. Sometimes (most of the time?) you can be fighting battles on multiple fronts simultaneously. Of course you’re exhausted. You need support. Get the people who are supportive to fight some of them for you. Put some of the others on hold until next week. And then go and have a sleep.

  4. Don’t vote Conservative. I’m sorry to get political here but the cuts to social care imposed by Conservative governments have played a huge part in getting us into the current mess, where tiny budgets and understaffing restrict the help received by vulnerable people. THIS IS HORRIBLE. Vote for those who will fund social care, mental health, and the NHS in general. We need those things.

  5. Ask the powers that be for a proper national campaign, like the ‘Maternal Mental Health Matters’ one that ran last week. Not just the constant recruitment ads for new adopters. Adoption agencies need to care for the adoptive parents who are already living this, in at the deep end, because without us the whole business falls apart. The adoption charities need to work together on this. The voluntary agencies are probably a bit better at this than the LAs. Let’s share good practice and be open about what’s needed.

So let’s start working towards the launch of an Adoptive Parents’ Mental Health Week. Heck, I’m claiming the #APMHW hashtag now.

Join in! Tweet a few LAs and VAs and ask them to think about it. Something like this, perhaps:

Let’s make this happen. Because we’ve earned it. 


BEFORE YOU GO…

  • If you found this post helpful or interesting, please vote for it. Thanks! 🙂
  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
  • You can also sign up here to receive my monthly newsletter. It contains my recent blog posts, my favourite adoption-related blog posts by others, and relevant resources from around the web.
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30 questions to ask SEBD schools

Having started the fight to get Joanna into a specialist school in the last couple of weeks, we’re keen to keep up the momentum and arm ourselves with plenty of first-hand knowledge from Actual Visits so we can make the best possible case to the SEN panel. And here is where it begins: my 30 questions to ask SEBD schools.

They want paperwork, they’re going to get paperwork. I’m going to write a masterpiece comparing and contrasting the various options. Bring it on.

30 Questions To Ask SEBD Schools

To recap: we’re looking for a specialist SEBD (social, emotional and behavioural difficulties) school for our eight-year-old daughter, Joanna. Her current mainstream primary school can’t meet her needs or cope with her dysregulation and violence. We are struggling at home  with both girls’ CPV and fighting each other. (Read more about our CPV experience here.) There have also been a couple of running away incidents lately – one from school and one from home. Arrrgh.

We’ve just had an EHCP review (brought forward after a rash of exclusions for violence last term) and although we had a good argument for a particular school based on a lot of Googling and scouring of websites, we agreed that we also need to visit the three schools under discussion in order to make an even more informed choice.

30 questions to ask SEBD schools

We’re going to see the first school (our current first choice) this week. I’ve been thinking up questions. Here’s my list so far.

The home–school relationship

1) How do you keep in touch with parents?

2) How frequent are communications – not just about academic progress, but behavioural and general comments in what’s going on for her?

3) What does the partnership with parents look like in terms of consistent strategies around behaviour to make sure Joanna receives the same messages at home and school?

Academic issues

4) How does the transition from mainstream work? What would that look like for Joanna?

5) What would the year 4 timetable look like for Joanna?

6) How do you measure academic progress?

Therapy and behavioural issues

7) What therapies are available on site?

8) Are class teachers/TAs trained in issues relating to early trauma?

9) What proportion of the pupils come from a similar background?

10) Would she miss lessons for therapy? How does that work?

11) Is therapy delivered 1:1 or in groups?

12) Joanna has been working happily in class for 90 minutes and is then given a maths question that she can’t immediately work out. Her self-esteem is threatened and she suddenly becomes angry, shouting, throwing a chair at someone and running out of the room. In your school, what happens next?

13) Do you have much sensory OT work incorporated into the classroom?

14) What are your expectations of her? What happens if she fails to met your expectations?

15) What measures do you have in place to stop her running away?

Boarding

16) What is in place for keeping in touch with Joanna during the week? Can she call us?

17) What routines are in place in the mornings and evenings?

18) Who would be looking after Joanna in the mornings and evenings? Can we meet them?

19) What happens if she’s ill?

20) Can we see what the rooms are like?

Social skills

21) What help is available to Joanna for developing social skills, building friendships, etc?

22) What are the male/female ratios in her year group? In the school overall?

23) Are there any extra-curricular activities available (eg football, chess, drama)?

24) Joanna really struggles with transitions. What do you have in place to help with different types of transitions (on a daily basis, between school years, and from primary to secondary)?

25) What behavioural issues is she likely to learn from other pupils? What are the main issues they face?

Securing a place

26) If we really want Joanna to come here, what are the arguments you’d recommend us putting to the LA in the EHCP review paperwork?

27) What’s your relationship like with the LA’s SEND team?

28) Do you have any other advice for navigating the system?

29) How competitive is your admissions process?

30) What do you think is the school’s best selling point?

More questions

These 30 questions are just a starting point. I’d love to hear other people’s, especially if you’ve navigated this process already or are doing it at the moment. Is there anything you think I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments or on social media (see below).


BEFORE YOU GO…

  • If you found this post helpful or interesting, please vote for it. Thanks! 🙂
  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
  • You can also sign up here to receive my monthly newsletter. It contains my recent blog posts, my favourite adoption-related blog posts by others, and relevant resources from around the web.
Please share, like, and follow

Review | The PCOS diet plan

PCOS is really common, especially in the adoption community, and can cause weight gain amongst other symptoms. Enter specialist eating plans to help lose the weight and improve the other symptoms. If you like your meals to be heavy on the science and intense on the planning front, The PCOS Diet Plan could be just the book for you.

Review PCOS Diet Plan

My PCOS experience

I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) at the age of 17. The person doing electrolysis on my rampant facial hair (picture Evan Baxter’s ‘It just keeps growing back’ scenes, if you will) suggested it would be a good idea to investigate the possibility with my GP. After numerous blood tests and ultrasounds and being prodded about Down There by student doctors (mortifying), the diagnosis was confirmed, I was handed a prescription for Dianette, and off I went.

It wasn’t until later that I read more about PCOS and the association with weight gain. I was a bit overweight as a teenager and as an adult have managed to lose large amounts of weight with Weight Watchers a couple of times, but it is a battle and on top of the trials and tribulations of adoptive parenting (read: I eat when stressed) I have not yet been able to conquer it again since the girls arrived.

PCOS and adoption

I know that many people come to adoption having had issues with fertility and that PCOS is a common problem. I ran a poll on Twitter:

The result: more than a third of my Twitter followers who took part in the poll have a PCOS diagnosis. This is higher than the average in the overall population (estimated at 10%), and especially when I didn’t ask only women to participate in the poll! It wasn’t conducted in an especially scientific manner. But it is broadly in line with what I expected, ie that there is a higher-than-average prevalence of PCOS among adopters. With that in mind, I tried out this book to see if it’s worth a go.

The Book: First impressions

If you’re either (a) really into nutrition or endocrinology, or (b) love to do a lot of detailed homework before starting something new, it’s more likely you’ll enjoy the first section of the book. I found it like wading through treacle, which, given the emphasis on avoiding refined carbs, is probably not the effect the author was going for. The first half of the book is not dissimilar to an academic paper, with lots of citations of various studies and long latinate science vocabulary that explained the why and took a long time to get to the ‘what to do’ element. I’m fine with a couple of chapters of it, but spent at least an hour’s reading wishing the author would cut to the chase and give me some sample menus so I could see what I was dealing with.

The PCOS Diet Plan: what’s it about?

The short version is that women with PCOS should aim for a plate of food that is 50% non-starchy vegetables, 25% protein (eg chicken or fish), and 25% wholegrain carbs, with yogurt of milk as a snack between meals. The long version (and it is a lot longer) involves ‘carb budgets’ and using one of the diet/nutrition apps (I used MyFitnessPal) to work out how many calories you should be on for your height and weight and then dividing those up between carbs and proteins. I’m used to having all these details figured out for me by Weight Watchers and just dealing in points, so it made my head spin a bit.

If, like me, you’re a frazzled adoptive mum looking for simple steps to lose a few pounds, you might want to pass on The PCOS Diet Plan.

I wanted to love it.

I tried it out for three days.

It was just too complicated.

I ate fewer carbohydrates, was alarmed at how much sugar there is in a mango, and had to faff about entering nutritional values into the app. Yes, I lost a few pounds. But I couldn’t sustain all the faffing on top of an already bonkers lifestyle (y’know, the CPV and whatnot). For people with more time and inclination, I’d say go for it, but it’s not for me.

The details
Professional Reader

The PCOS Diet Plan
Hillary Wright
Ten Speed Press
£14.18 (Kindle £14.99)
Published 2 May 2017

Disclaimer: I received this book free via NetGalley in return for my honest review.


Before you go…

  • If you found this post helpful or interesting, please vote for it. Thanks! 🙂
  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
  • You can also sign up here to receive my monthly newsletter. It contains my recent blog posts, my favourite adoption-related blog posts by others, and relevant resources from around the web.

Please share, like, and follow