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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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.


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Thank God It’s Monday: adoptive parenting at the weekend

It’s another of those things that separates me from the other parents at the school gate. On the rare occasions that I find myself engaged in a conversation outside school and not ducking in early to retrieve Joanna after some misdemeanour, someone will inevitably pipe up ‘nearly the weekend’, with a sense of joyous anticipation.

I don’t share it.

‘That Friday feeling’ for me is one of dread.

Welcome to adoptive parenting at the weekend.

Thank God it's Monday: Adoptive Parenting at the Weekend

Them and us

For them, the prospect of a weekend conjures up mental images of fun, relaxed family time. A spontaneous day out, perhaps, or a kickabout with a football in the garden.

For me, being kicked about is closer to the mark.

I wonder what the weekend will bring. Not what Pinterest-worthy craft projects we can do together, but,

Coathanger‘How intense will this weekend’s meltdowns be?’

‘Will this be the weekend the patio doors get a stone thrown through them?’

‘is this going to be the day she succeeds in bashing a hole in our bedroom door with a wooden coathanger?’

‘Will the stuff she throws at me – or worse, one of the others – from across the room cause a serious injury?’

‘What are the triggers going to be this time? Dare I ask her to brush her teeth? Or tidy up after herself? Or might that be the thing that provokes a rage?’

It all depends

In our family, weekends divide between Saturdays with childcare and without, and Sundays where we make it to church and those when we don’t have that fight. (See ‘Adoption and the Church Thing‘). We usually book the childcare several months in advance. The Sundays tend to be a bit more tentatively planned, and sometimes we abandon our plans in the face of a meltdown like this one.

Two types of Saturday

On the Saturdays we have be somewhere at a certain time, a violent outburst about getting dressed/brushing teeth/etc is more likely, but the bonus of a day’s respite childcare is like an oasis for us. The girls often go to a playscheme for children with disabilities, for which they qualify because of their sensory issues. (Naturally it wasn’t post-adoption support who told us about this possibility, but other adoptive parents.)

On the Saturdays they’re not doing that, we will usually try some combination of activities usually including time outside (in dry weather) or screen time (in wet weather). These are the most reliable ways to help them stay more-or-less regulated for an hour or more. There will still be meltdowns. It’s a very unusual day that doesn’t include one. Days out rarely fall into the category of ‘family fun’ – there are the fights in the car, the bickering over activities, the transition meltdowns when something is over, and again when we arrive home… exhausting doesn’t really cover it. It’s relentless and overwhelming and horrible.

The Sunday Dread

I’ve already talked about Sundays,  which are either filled with church, or a film, or an outdoor activity, or some combination of those, interspersed with a bit of door-kicking and eardrum-splitting screaming (when Charlotte explodes) or shouting and stamping and sulking and muttering (if it’s Joanna’s turn). It’s unusual for us to have childcare on a Sunday, so Sunday is the one that has to be faced pretty much every week, with that conversation at about 8.30am:

‘Are we going to try for church today?’
‘I suppose we should…’

Which isn’t really the way I want to feel about churchgoing.

How do we change it?

Ah, there’s the question. if only there was a nice neat answer. If another professional asks me if we’ve done any parenting courses I may reel off a list of exactly how many specialist courses, workshops, seminars and books I have absorbed over the last six years. I mentally wrote this list in the shower this morning along with a snarky diatribe about exactly how much of my time is spent (a) practising; (b) researching; (c) writing about and (d) discussing therapeutic parenting techniques.

I thought about printing out some of my book reviews to have on hand for such occasions. Then I could thrust them huffily at those who ask this question without thinking that the person they are addressing sounds like she might have a brain, possibly a degree or two. Do they not therefore think she might have acquainted herself with all the possible avenues of support on offer? Or that they are the first person to suggest parenting violent children might require a bit of extra learning?

More Saturday childcare is one answer, but it’s not a very satisfactory one. I adopted because I do actually want to parent my children, not just clothe them and make their packed lunches. The childcare gives us respite, but it doesn’t solve the problem of family time being a complete rollercoaster of giggles and reading books one minute, and door-kicking and threats to kill us the next.

To be continued

We don’t want to disrupt. We want help to continue to parent them. But the crux of the matter is that if we are not allowed to restrain them, eventually someone is going to be seriously injured or killed. Pete and I cannot provide the level of care they need without being trained and supported in the use of restraint: it is not something we enjoy but it is a necessary part of parenting violent children.

And so, though the thought makes me feel as though I am failing them, we are seriously considering asking the LA to fund at least one  place at a specialist boarding school which caters for exactly the needs our girls have. Including violence, sensory issues, FASD, and the impact of early trauma. Yes, there is actually a place that can provide all this support and an education. An outstanding one, if you care about what Ofsted have to say about these things. But that is a story for another day, and doubtless a protracted battle for funding if we do pursue it.

Meanwhile, if you’ve been in this position, I’d love to hear from you. And if you have positive things to say about boarding school, please do leave a comment.


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Eye contact in adopted children: attachment, FASD, or autism?

Charlotte (age 7) is struggling with eye contact. And therefore so are we. Is it an attachment issue, FASD, or even autism? How concerned should I be? And should I be starting the fight for yet another assessment? Where do I start to find out? What information is there about eye contact in adopted children? Here’s what I found out.

Eye Contact In Adopted Children: Attachment, FASD Or Autism


Not today, thank you

It’s hard to know what Charlotte wants at any given time, as she changes her mind a lot. Sometimes she demands that we look at her, other times she screams at us not to look at her. Sometimes she wants to look at us, other times she refuses to. On extreme days, our children even scream at us for looking in the car’s rear-view mirror while driving. Not because we are looking at them, just because we’re using it to drive safely! Argh.

Possible diagnoses

I’d like to find out what this problem is about so that I can respond appropriately. Is it primarily an attachment issue? Is it part of FASD? Could it even be a sign of autism? Without a diagnosis it’s hard to know where to start. Is the advice for dealing with eye contact within each of these diagnoses the same or different? I did a bit of research to find out.

(Disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional. What follows is based only on my own experience as a parent and a bit of Googling.)

Eye contact in attachment disorders

John Bowlby (Mr Attachment Theory himself) lists eye contact as one of the critical factors in healthy attachment. His view is summarised by Psychology Today:

‘If the caregiver is responsive to the child’s signals and interacts with sensitivity, a secure attachment will be formed, reinforcing the child’s own positive emotional states and teaching him or her to modulate negative states. Deprived of the mother’s gaze, the area of the brain that coordinates social communication, empathic attunement, emotional regulation, and stimulus appraisal (the establishment of value and meaning) will be faulty. Such children are likely to develop “insecure attachment” along with all sorts of subsequent losses in self-esteem and feelings of belonging.’

So for Charlotte, whose birth mum wasn’t able to provide this for her, attachment looks like a possible contender. She probably didn’t have consistent doses of eye contact in her first few months of life. As a consequence, it may just be too threatening for her now.

Side note: though we were taught as prospective adopters that attachment theory is basically gospel truth, I am increasingly hearing of respected professionals calling it into question. I’m hoping to cover that in a future post.

Eye contact in FASD

It was harder than I expected to find good information about eye contact in FASD. One helpful resource is produced by psychology students at McMasters University in Hamilton, Ontario. They have a blog, ‘Live and Learn with FASD‘. There’s also an associated YouTube channel on which they have a series of videos for young people with FASD to help them improve their eye contact. They say:

‘It has been shown that some children with FASD experience problems with maintaining eye contact, and will typically look elsewhere on someone’s face when they speak. Their amygdalas, which play a role in processing emotions in the brain, tend to be less dense than in children without FASD. … While individuals [with FASD] tend to look at the centre of a picture of a face that is not moving, when a person’s face who is talking appears they tend to look at the mouth instead. This is because when the mouth is not moving, the eyes are more of a stimulus than the mouth in general, but when the mouth is moving, the mouth is a more important stimulus for the proposed pathway along which the information is processed’.

Eye contact in autism

Eye contact is well-known as a symptom of autism. An article from the charity Autism Speaks, ‘Why is it so hard for someone with autism to make eye contact?’ explains:

‘The act of making eye contact is extremely stressful for some people affected by autism. There are many books and articles written by adults with autism who describe the terrible stress they felt when well-meaning parents and teachers tried to force them to make eye contact during conversations. In many cases, they describe being further distracted and unable to focus on the conversation because of this insistence.’

This does sort of sound like Charlotte at the times she screams ‘STOP LOOKING AT ME!’ She has a few other behaviours that I’ve seen described as autistic traits, too. She loves pretending to be a dog, she likes lining things up, and she has sensory issues, especially around food, which can lead to massive meltdowns. Tomato on her plate? Salad leaves? She’ll scream, push the plate away, and either hide under the table or leave the room, slamming the door behind her and shouting. However, there is also a lot of overlap between FASD and autism, which leads to the question…

Which is it?

This helpful printable chart summarising the overlapping behavioural characteristics in FASD and other diagnoses indicated that FASD and autism are both possibilities. (I took this to our GP and it was a really useful tool to discuss it.) As Charlotte’s behaviour ticks all the boxes for FASD, I think it highly likely that she has it. Autism, though? Though I occasionally wonder about it when she exhibits certain behaviours, I don’t think so. This chart from MOFAS (below) is helpful in explaining the differences.

Differences Between Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and Autism

Source: Dan Dubovsky MSW SAMHSA, FASD Center for Excellence

FASD Autism
Occurs as often in males as in females Occurs in males 4 times as often as in females
Able to relate to others Difficult or impossible to relate to others in a meaningful way
Restricted patterns are not commonly seen Restricted patterns of behavior, interests, and activities as a core area
Verbal communication may be slow to develop but is not commonly significantly impaired Difficulty in verbal and non-verbal communication
Difficulties begin at birth Difficulties may begin after a period of normal growth
Difficulty in verbal receptive language; expressive language is more intact as the person ages Difficulty in both expressive and receptive language
Spoken language is typical Some do not develop spoken language
Spontaneously talkative Robotic, formal speech
Echolalia not common Echolalia-repeating words or phrases
Stereotyped movements not seen Stereotyped movements
Ritualistic behaviors not commonly seen Ritualistic behaviors
Repetitive body movements not seen; may have fine and gross motor coordination and/or balance problems Repetitive body movements e.g., hand flapping, and/or abnormal posture e.g., toe walking
Social and outgoing Remaining aloof; preferring to be alone
Difficulty with change and transitions Inflexibility related to routines and rituals
Can share enjoyment and laughter Lack of spontaneous sharing of enjoyment
Can express a range of emotion Restricted in emotional expression
Funny; good sense of humor Difficulty expressing humor
Microcephaly more common Macrocephaly more common
Considered a medical disorder in the ICD.  Not in the DSM-IV Considered a mental disorder in the DSM-IV

I’ve added colour to indicate where Charlotte’s behaviours fall definitively on one side – and that is mainly on the FASD side. She does have some language issues, such as becoming non-verbal at times of stress, using a made-up language and babble, and often preferring to communicate through grunts. (Some might say that sounds like a typical teenager.) But in other areas her social skills are generally OK. Yes, her level of empathy is a bit lower than I’d like. But she certainly prefers to play with others rather than alone, and she is very, very talkative. She also has a fully-functioning GSOH. Hmmm.

Conclusion

Problems with eye contact in adopted children are not desperately unusual. People have discussed the topic in a couple of threads on the Adoption UK forums, for example. It could ‘just’ be a consequence of early neglect. I’m aware that neglect in the first 18 months of a child’s life has a massive impact. (This was the age at which Charlotte was taken into care.) But my gut feeling is that it’s more than that. This is partly because I have Charlotte’s sister Joanna to compare her to.

Joanna was in the same birth family for even longer (nearly 3 years). Eye contact is occasionally an issue for her, but not to the same extent, and with Joanna it is almost always shame-related. Charlotte’s seems to be fuelled by something else: I get the sense it comes from overwhelm of some kind.

Meanwhile, we’re pressing on with trying to obtain an FASD diagnosis, and I’ll ask these questions when I’m finally face-to-face with someone who knows about this stuff. And as I find out more, I’ll update this post. If you have other sources of information on this topic, please leave them in the comments.

Further reading

I recommend these two books about FASD, both of which contain very practical advice and strategies, including a bit about eye contact.

You might also like to visit:


Have you experienced eye contact issues in your child? What are your thoughts? Please let me know in the comments.


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Hello, goodbye (part two)

img_5720

(If you missed it, or want a refresher, read part one.)

Note: there are lots of sets of initials in this post, so there’s a glossary at the end if you need it.

Hello again, Joanna’s therapist
You may recall that as part of the long saga that was our still-not-fully-resolved battle with PAS in the autumn of 2016, PAS fell out with Joanna’s therapist (who was a fantastic advocate for our family in the face of their unpleasantness). They refused to apply to the ASF for continued funding of her CBT, which the placing LA had put in place a year earlier. The lovely therapist continued to see her for free for a couple of months, but that eventually wound up and Joanna has been without therapy for two months, not to mention distraught at another goodbye, having built up a good relationship. We expressed our extreme dissatisfaction with this outcome and they are finally in talks with the therapist to see if they can come to some agreement. And so we wait and see.

 Goodbye, counsellor
This week I had my eighth and probably final session with the counsellor I’ve been seeing since the start of the year. As I’ve said before, it wasn’t really going anywhere, but she has helped me clarify some of the things I’d been thinking about, namely that

(a) I love my work and it is OK to prioritise that as part of my self-care and life outside of parenthood; and

(b) PAS are likely to continue being a bit rubbish and it is going to be better for my sanity to stop trying to get them to do their jobs better and get on with finding and funding support privately, regardless of my strongly-held belief that this is unjust and wrong.

PAS offered to pay for my counselling sessions at a meeting in mid-January, but obviously haven’t, and the poor woman needed paying, so naturally I paid her. PAS are now moaning about how they don’t reimburse parents and they need to pay her directly, etc. Whatever.

Hello again, GP
Our GP is great. I went to see her again about the FASD assessment for Charlotte which was previously rejected by the paediatrician who clearly didn’t understand the difference between FAS and FASD. Argh.

This time I went armed with letters of support from school and PAS saying this is what needs to happen. She is going to apply again, and has asked me to supply any other evidence I can lay my hands on, such as an annotated version of the FASD behavioural symptoms chart, details from Charlotte’s CPR which point to the likelihood of birth mum’s drinking during pregnancy, etc.

I also told the GP about the increased CPV from Charlotte and showed her the door video. She got it. Really got it, in a way that PAS just haven’t. I asked about what help was available for us locally. She asked what support we had in place. I talked about Twitter and my friends whose children have autism. She asked what official support we have. I said none. She was appalled. She’s investigating what support there is for parents experiencing CPV. I’m looking into getting to an FASD Trust meeting (as usual with such things, my nearest is an hour away).

We finished the appointment with a discussion of our options if we were to pay for therapy of various kinds, what with the waiting lists being horrendous and PAS being somewhere on the scale between hopeless and abusive. She has recommended a local team of psychologists, including trauma specialists, who sound amazing. Their website claims they’ll get back to you the same day with an appointment for an initial consultation within a couple of days. Just like that. I still feel like it is a betrayal of my left-wing soul and I can’t easily reconcile it all, but nor can I do nothing when my children are suffering, Pete and I are dealing with the consequences, and all that stands in the way is some cash. (Don’t ask how much. I have no idea yet but the GP said ‘It’s not cheap’. The bank of Mum and Dad is on standby – sometimes being an only child of generous parents is Very Useful.)

Hello, new OT
Having been on the cards since the assessment was done in May, Charlotte is about to start seeing an OT regularly. It’s another one of the things that got shelved due to the handover between LAs when our three years post-AO was up and they decided they needed to do another assessment of our support needs, we told them what our needs were, they ignored that, faffed about telling us off, etc. Anyway, six months later, the funding is in and it’s happening. Joanna’s being assessed too. The word is that this OT is really good, so we’re hopeful that she’ll help us understand some of the sensory-seeking stuff and how to help the girls get what they need in the right way (ie not chewing blu-tack and toilet paper, for starters).

And so we wait a bit, push a bit, pursue things for ourselves a bit, and see how it all plays out. But after a pretty horrible six months, there are glimmers of hope.

Glossary
AO – adoption order
ASF – adoption support fund
CBT – cognitive behavioural therapy
CPV – child-on-parent violence
FAS – foetal alcohol syndrome
FASD – foetal alcohol spectrum disorder
LA – local authority
OT – occupational therapist
PAS – post-adoption support


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9 favourite toys for sensory seekers

When you mention that your child is a chewer and a world-class fidgeter (in polite company, a ‘sensory seeker’), there are a lot of people queuing up to advise you how to handle that.

So this post isn’t that. It’s just a list of the things we use around here to help the girls (mainly Charlotte, age 7) with their sensory issues, with links to places to get hold of them if you’d like to try them yourself.

(1) Some parents and OTs talk about the Chewbuddy as though it is magic. It’s a silicone chew that comes with a lanyard so it can be worn around the neck. We tried it, but Charlotte doesn’t like the texture of it all that much. I don’t blame her. It’s basically like a dog toy, very rubbery and not satisfying to get your chops around. It squeaks on your teeth which might disturb people who are bothered by that kind of thing. You can do a fun trick with it though: tuck the legs inside the head and wait for it to uncurl and jump in the air. It’s strangely compelling.

(2) The Cubebot is a fidget toy which we thought might help the girls to concentrate on whatever it was they were supposed to be doing in class. Um, no. He is very fun to play with, and I quite like having him on my desk when I’m writing, but I think he was thrown in the classroom and was generally not a welcome addition at school.

(3) The Tangle toy is available in a variety of colours and textures and is another great fidget. It’s probably not recommended for chewing because it breaks into sections and pieces could be swallowed. I suspect Charlotte sucks on it more than chewing it – I haven’t yet found any bite marks! It’s very fun and tactile, and another one we’ve sent in to school with her. Again, I like playing with it too if it finds its way onto my desk.

(4) When Charlotte had her sensory assessment, the occupational therapist suggested a body sock would help to provide the proprioceptic feedback that Charlotte needs. You can buy them online, but we made ours (thanks, Mum) from Lycra fabric and elastic. It’s probably a bit bigger than is ideal, but she loves it. We call it the calming-down bag. She gets in and we call out the names of objects and she makes their shape – banana, tree, football, star, etc. We encourage her to hold the large shapes which require her to stretch against the resistance of the bag for a count of ten.


(There is a child in there somewhere.)

(5) Not a sensory-specific toy, but one that has a a texture that Charlotte enjoys using. We used to call them Sticklebricks when I was a child, but these Bristle Blocks, along with Lego, encourage fine motor skills and visual planning.


(6) Another chew toy – this bracelet is a slightly more discreet wearable option. The disadvantages are that they can flick saliva at people sitting nearby (ask me how I know), and that they are very easily dropped on the floor and then put straight back in the mouth (nice).

(7) A solution we use most days at the moment is this combination of a safety lanyard and hard plastic chew. I should make very clear that these chews are intended to be sewn inside fabric toys, not to be used on their own as we do. However, we examine them frequently (every day or two) and replace them as soon as they are starting to reach a point where small bits of plastic might come off and be ingested. Use this with caution and take note of the safety warnings.

(8) In an attempt to make the cuffs of her school uniform less attractive as a chewing option, we gave Charlotte a box of cotton hankies for Christmas. They have her initial embroidered with flowers on one corner, which she loves, and they’re much cheaper to replace than school jumpers, can travel with her to school or live under her pillow at night, be sprayed with my perfume if required, and generally provide a soft chewing option.

(9) This teething chew has been a long-lasting favourite. I found ours in Sainsbury’s but you can also get them on Amazon. It provides several different textures and is one of Charlotte’s favourites (she likes the squishy green section best).

Do you use any of the same toys, or do you have more recommendations? I’d love to hear your comments.


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You Baby Me Mummy

 

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Rage and me, the human sponge

Adoptive parenting: sometimes it feels as though you live in a parallel universe. I don’t think most people realise that this is our reality: frequently dysregulated and violent children; a lack of support; and after having tried everything you can possibly think of, still feeling helpless to make anything change for the better. And still they rage.

beware-children

‘Beware children’ by David Howard on Flickr. Creative Commons licence.

The door

This was our bedroom door at 9.45 this morning (Saturday). We were locked inside. Charlotte (age 7) was on the other side.

The trigger

We’d just told her (after the usual five-minute warning) that her TV programme was over and she needed to get dressed. She went from calm to this in about 20 seconds, and none of the recommended calming strategies made the slightest difference. We’d tried kneeling down on her level, using very calm and quiet voices, offering cuddles and labelling her frustration, rocking her like a baby as she was obviously regressing… but she wasn’t having any of it. After receiving a particularly painful pinch in the chestal area (yes, OW), I gave up on the therapeutic approach for a bit and just locked the door, because I was very much on the verge of becoming dysregulated myself.

I only filmed one minute, but this lasted 40 minutes. It then took another 20 to get her from curled in the corner of her room, nonverbal, to calm enough to dress her (while she stayed under a blanket).

The aftermath

And then, slowly, gradually, we started to get on with our day. But although I felt some relief in my having remained regulated (just), prevented any breakages, and come out the other side, there was – is – still a deep dissatisfaction with the situation in general and how we are equipped to handle this.

The analysis

Is this really the best we can do for her? Is this really the best PAS can do for us as a family? Just telling us to walk away while she rages? It doesn’t sit comfortably with me that there isn’t anything else we can do to help her. No therapy. Not even a diagnosis yet, despite my firm belief that this is ARND we’re dealing with and there ought to be some professional help available.

The effect

I feel like a human sponge. All jaunty and squishy when looked at from afar, capable of absorbing all the rage the children throw at me, soaking up Pete’s grief and frustration at not having the family he envisioned because this is not something he can fix with firm boundaries and refusing to give in. But I am at capacity. I can feel it leaking out. I do a lot of crying when I have the house to myself. Or in the shower. Or wherever else I feel I have ‘permission’ to show it. I can’t keep on mopping up everyone else’s stuff unsupported.

‘See it as a game’

I have a counsellor. I’ve had five sessions with her now. She’s very friendly and everything but I can see that what I tell her about our reality shocks her. I was hoping she’d be more robust. I don’t really feel I can fully offload there, either. So it’s stuck. Is the solution another counsellor? Perhaps. But is the energy I’d expend on the search likely to be worthwhile? I’m hoping, as she gets the measure of it all, she’ll move on from saying ‘Try seeing it as a mental challenge to get what you need from post-adoption support – a sort of game you can enjoy’ to ‘Let’s look at ways you can avoid having to deal with them at all and get your family the help you need within the next six months rather than the ridiculous cycle of requests, funding applications, waiting lists and rejections.’

It’s not a game, though. This is our life.

To be fair, I did start to have this conversation with her this week. I said it would be easier to swap my freelance work (which I love but isn’t especially regular or well-paid) for a part-time job with a regular salary in order to reliably fund the therapies our family needs and avoid the need to engage with the LA’s gatekeeping of the ASF cash (and, ideally, avoid our hopeless PAS full stop). I hate the fact that I have to choose between going private (which as a lefty, I have fundamental objections to) or sacrificing my family’s wellbeing and waiting for the state services to kick in – if they ever do. That’s a whole other blog post. But for now, I am job-hunting. I’m hoping that this way lies sanity.

Note: if you found this interesting, or have your own CPV experience to share, you might like to visit my new CPV stories page.


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What adoption means to my children

Our daughters Joanna and Charlotte were adopted at 4 and 3 respectively. They’re now 8 and 6. Although my feelings about National Adoption Week are decidedly mixed (short version: I wish they put as much energy and cash into post-adoption support as they do into recruiting adoptive parents), in honour of the occasion I thought I’d ask our two what adoption means to them and what they’d say to prospective adopters. Here are their thoughts on the subject.

Me: What do you think about adoption?

Charlotte: Adoption is a good thing because if you have songs on your phone then you can dance to them. And you get lovely cuddles. And you get to make stuff and your lovely mummy and daddy help you make things. They can also help you read especially when you’re grumpy and they can help you calm down. They walk to school with you even when you don’t want them to.

Joanna: Adoption is good because you get a nice new mummy and daddy that look after you properly and you get to have fun with them and they help you learn lots of new things. And they give you proper cuddles because your old birth mum and dad didn’t give you proper hugs but this mum and dad give you nice hugs. It’s good having a new mum and dad because they love you properly and don’t hurt you. Your mummy and daddy can always help you stop arguing and fighting and solve problems with you.

Me: And what would you say to someone who was thinking about maybe adopting children?

Joanna: When you have adopted children they can sometimes be jabbery so please be warned! You can adopt a child if you want to because you can give them nice food even though you have lots of meetings. But they will like being with you and you will be a happy family. (That is a compound sentence.) And also you can help them with their homework and have a nice family cuddle and a nice family chat and watch films together.


So there you have it. (If you’re new to my blog and considering adoption, you might also like to check out some of my previous posts about the reality, including a typical day in the life, our experience of child-to-parent violence, and our relationship with our post-adoption support service.) It’s not always dancing and cuddles and happy families, and Joanna is not wrong about the number of meetings. But if I’d known all this, would I still have done it? Absolutely.

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‘But they look so innocent’: our CPV experience

(‘Sorry Daddy for hurting you, I hope you get better.’)

(‘Dear Mummy, I am sorry I hurt your lovely husband.’)

When your mantlepiece is routinely filled with cards like these, something is really not right. These are this week’s, written by Charlotte, age six, after she kicked Pete so hard in the stomach that it left him unable to move, even to stand up, for several hours.

All he’d done was to tell her it was bedtime.

Our children saw a lot of domestic violence in the birth family home – Joanna for nearly 3 years, Charlotte for 18 months. It’s not their fault they learned to deal with strong emotions by resorting to force. They didn’t have the opportunity to learn anything different.

They had six months of play therapy in the first half of this year, whereupon the therapist decided it wasn’t helping either of them (we knew this before it started, but post-adoption support couldn’t/wouldn’t give us any other kind of therapy). Joanna is now having weekly CBT sessions, which is a definite step in the right direction, but still isn’t the intensive thrice-weekly psychiatric intervention that we and the current therapist agree she needs.

Charlotte is currently not receiving any help at all, though she is ‘in the system’ awaiting an OT, having had an assessment. She has ‘attachment-related sensory-seeking’ issues, which isn’t quite an SPD diagnosis, as far as I can tell (put me right if you know better), but in practice means she chews a lot of things (toys, clothes, bedding, paper, toilet roll, blutac…), will have a meltdown if there’s a tomato or too many salad leaves on her plate, and is very wary of trying new foods.

Both have caused us a number of injuries in the time they’ve been with us. In week one of placement, Joanna bit me on the tummy, drawing blood even through my jeans. More recently, during our two-week holiday, she bit Pete, pushed Charlotte into a metal grating that caused a graze up her arm, and scratched my leg with a fingernail while I was restraining her during a meltdown.

Pete tends to get the brunt of it – he has been kicked while driving several times, once in the head. I mainly get scratched and bitten rather than kicked.

At school, Joanna is worse. She is violent to staff there at least once a week, often two or three times. Teachers have been bitten, kicked, scratched, hit, had their hair pulled, had things thrown at them, and had drinks poured on them. Whenever the work is a tiny bit challenging (ie she doesn’t know the answer the instant she sees the question), she finds it too threatening and the fight/flight response kicks in.

Charlotte, on the other hand, is fine at school. She’s behind academically, we think mainly because she’s emotionally immature and therefore not ready to learn. But she is never violent there. This is both good news (for obvious reasons) and bad news (because no-one else sees the problem and it’s therefore much harder to get help for her).

So what do we do? We ask for help All The Time. I update post-adoption support every time we have a major incident, so it is all logged on our files. We have made three applications to CAMHS – one each via school, post-adoption support and the GP, all of which were turned down or didn’t even get off the starting blocks. The fourth application (via our excellent GP) has gone in this week, and the fifth is going via school at the start of term. If I need to, I will keep on going at least until we hit double figures. What’s the alternative?

Living with two angry and violent children is hard. Very hard. It’s exhausting, emotionally and physically. But if we don’t continue to pester people to help them, we’ll eventually have two violent teenagers, and to be honest, I think that might well end in a disruption. We’re not quite at breaking point yet, thankfully, but I can see that it could easily happen. We love these girls, and we intend to honour our commitment to them with everything we have, but there may come a point where it is Just Not Safe for them to live here anymore. That prospect feels horrible. I feel guilty typing it out. But there it is.

The right sort of help is a long time coming, though. I’m not entirely sure what it will look like when it arrives, but I’m hoping it’s going to involve the girls shouting at a therapist occasionally and getting things properly dealt with.

It’s going to be a long haul.

If you’ve had, or are having, a similar experience, I’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch through the comments or on Twitter or Facebook

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How to survive taking adopted children on holiday

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Photo credit: Henry Burrows (Creative Commons licence)

Yes, I love them. No, that doesn’t make holidays with them any easier.

For our family (and probably for many others), a family ‘holiday’ is just about moving all the usual stress of adoptive family life, and adding in some travel (stress), a new environment (stress), transitions and possible homesickness (stress) and a barrage of new sensory experiences – sights, tastes, smells and sounds (stress). We manage all those things as well as we can, but there is very little actual rest or relaxation for us as adoptive parents. We’re happy to have a holiday with our children and to give them that experience (despite the stress, they do enjoy it). But we have come to see how much we need respite from our little treasures in order to recharge and be all they need us to be, too.

Hopefully in the next twelve months I’ll be able to report back on a week’s child-free holiday with my husband. Meanwhile, following my post on what to pack, here’s what I’ve learned this week while away with Pete and our children.

  1. Although we’ve tried it once before, with similar consequences, we have now established once and for all that our daughters cannot share a bedroom without annoying each other and being generally disruptive. This makes for very expensive holidays, so we need a different plan next year. (Joanna will be old enough to go to a residential camp. Do we dare try it?)
  2. The girls need a clock in their room(s) in order to be able to stay quiet until a specified time, and many holiday places don’t have clock in bedrooms. Always travel with a clock.
  3. Amazon Prime is a wonderful thing (see point 2). Ditto grocery deliveries.
  4. Doors must remain closed when rooms are unoccupied to reduce the temptation for Charlotte to ‘borrow’ or damage things, just like at home. Example: wax crayon on our pristine white sheet and duvet dover. Gah.
  5. Wax crayon can come out in the wash (or the owner of our flat is very kind and a good fibber).
  6. Do not leave washbags unattended in the bathroom (see point 4). A large amount of toothpaste and half a can of shaving foam went down the toilet because Charlotte thought that would be interesting.
  7. Planing holidays around childcare works well for us. The beach mission holiday club the girls are at is amazing and they love it. It’s the second time we’ve done this (different locations, same organisation). Two hours to ourselves every morning makes such a difference.
  8. Kindles are a massive sanity-saver. We’ve set them so they work from 6am to 6pm, in the hope that they will be asleep from 6pm to 6am. I’m also installing new (free) games every few days.
  9. Bribery Motivational rewards for staying quiet in the morning work well. Rewards issued so far include kites, colouring books, pocket money, sunglasses. (But after the first night’s 3am alarm call I have been waking up at 4.30am regardless.)
  10. We can survive family holidays with sanity-testing children provided we have enough sleep, caffeine and cake.

It’s important for me and Pete to remember that our children won’t behave the way we want them to just because we need a rest. They can’t. Something we’ve talked about a lot this week is not projecting our own childhood holidays on to them and expecting them to cope. They won’t sit and read or do a jigsaw quietly for a couple of hours so we can read our books. They won’t bicker any less than they do at home. There will be more enquiries about what and when the next meal might be.There will be a mix of overexcitement and boredom. There will be a lot of reminders that this is supposed to be a holiday for everyone. And despite all the tantrums and biting and 3am awakenings, there will be a handful of photos at the end of it all that show ice creams and sandcastles and cuddles and smiling faces, which make it look like we we all had a lovely time – two full weeks of jollity. Thankfully that is what they seem to remember.

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