Advice for prospective adopters

I’m an adoptive parent who is quite vocal on the subject. So every now and then I’m approached by friends, or friends of friends, asking about my advice for prospective adopters as they are starting the process. I’m always happy to talk adoption, don’t claim to have all the answers, but do have a few pieces of advice. I wish I’d had this stuff drummed into me when we started the process seven years ago. What follows is an adaptation of an email I sent to a friend recently.

In answer to the main question – should I/we do it? – my answer is yes. Yes, it is often incredibly hard and I regularly question my sanity, but I am still very much in favour of adoption. If reading about child-on-parent violence and the questionable delights of post-adoption support haven’t put you off, then here’s what I think you need to know.

advice-for-prospective-adopters

Gather information. Lots of it.

I recommend you take these six steps during your decision-making process, so that you have as much information about the reality of adoption as you possibly can. You’re not adopting a child who is a bit sad but can be cheered up with a cuddle and a multipack of Freddos. You’re inviting a small person who has been neglected and abused into your home, where they will process all that stuff for years to come and often be difficult to help. Regardless of what they tell you at this stage, your agency’s post-adoption support may or may not step up to help you as your child destroys your home/marriage/sanity. You need to be prepared for this.

1. Read all the books

Sally Donovan’s books are amazing. It should be compulsory to read No Matter What and The Unofficial Guide to Adoptive Parenting. While you’re at it you should probably get hold of Billy Bramble too, ready to put on your child’s bookshelf.

[If you don’t see a shiny widget here, containing my recommended reading list, click here to see a less shiny version.]

I’ve included a couple of books about FASD (Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders) on my list. A huge proportion of children in care (some estimate 80%) have been affected by alcohol exposure to some degree. You can find out more from the FASD Trust, the FASD Network and NOFAS-UK.

There are also reviews of other adoption-related books on my blog pretty regularly, and there’s a Twitter-based book club for therapeutic parents that theoretically ‘meets’ at the start of each month but has fizzled out a bit lately. Search for #tpbooks or the organiser, @pedallingsolo.

2. Use social media

Get an anonymous Twitter account – anonymous so you’re less easy for birth family members to find. Follow adopters – I’m @hlmeadows and I’m usually about several times a day. Some other accounts to get you started are @sallydwrites, @mralcoates, @gayadoptiondad, @mumdrah, @frogotter, @mizzanels, @meandminimees, @suddenlymummy. There are loads of adopters and it’s a really friendly community. Several of these people experience child-on-parent violence (CPV) so that features in our conversations quite frequently. You might find this glossary of adoption-related abbreviations helpful.

There are a lot of adoption Facebook groups, many of them secret and reliant on meeting members offline. (I find all the drama and cliques there a bit exhausting and generally stick to Twitter instead.) This Facebook group for prospective adopters is good.

3. Follow adoption blogs

The two best places to start are Full-Time Tired’s Weekly Round-Up and The Adoption Social’s Weekly Adoption Shout-Out. They’ll give you a pretty balanced picture of adoptive families’ everyday life.

4. Lurk on the Adoption UK forums

They frightened the life out of me before we adopted but it was all good preparation! Find the Adoption UK forums here.

5. Listen to podcasts

Start with The Adoption and Fostering Podcast (Al Coates and Scott Casson-Rennie) and The Honestly Adoption Podcast (Mike and Kristen Berry). The latter is American but still very applicable to the UK experience.

6. Talk to lots of adopters

adoption-uk-conferenceYou could come to the Adoption UK conference in Birmingham in November to hear what’s going on for adopters nationally. It tends to be a mixture of discussion of government policy and AUK campaigns, discussion of child psychology and how to parent children with a history of trauma, and stuff that is helpful to adoptive parents. Pete and I will be there, and you don’t need to be a member to attend. (Everyone will look exhausted. This is the default setting.)

If you decide to go ahead…

Having made the decision to start the process, my main piece of advice is not to be in such a hurry to get through the assessment that you make decisions that set yourself up for problems later. Take your time in making these choices, because you’ll be living with them for a long time.

1. Investigate voluntary agencies as well as the local authority

We went via our local authority and support has been decidedly patchy.

PACT have a great reputation for support, but there are also Coram, Barnardo’s, Family Futures and others (First4Adoption has a full list). I’d suggest having conversations with several and getting a good sense of what post-adoption support they offer. Also be aware that all the adoption agencies are in the process of being regionalised – joining together to combine resources. This may be a bit of a shambolic business for a while but should ultimately be an improvement.

2. Think very carefully before adopting siblings

We thought we’d save the hassle of going through the process twice and be doing something helpful as siblings are harder to place, but it has been very hard dealing with that dynamic. Ours have different issues and drive each other crazy and fight All. Day. Long.

3. Don’t sign on the dotted line until you have a support package in place

We raced through the process in order for Joanna to have our surname before she started school and didn’t do this, so some of our concerns were put aside and it was then a fight to have them taken seriously. We’d probably still do the same thing. But if you have the option of waiting and getting everything ironed out while they are still the local authority’s responsibility, then that’s probably better in the long run.

4. Get your church involved with Home for Good if it isn’t already

home-for-goodAdoption and fostering charity Home for Good runs training for churches in how to support adoptive and foster families appropriately. Their booklet on support is also excellent – I give these out by the armful at every opportunity. Try to take people from your church to the Home for Good summit (annually in the autumn) to help them ‘get it’. Don’t do what we did and change churches during the process so no-one knows you and getting support is much harder.

5. Ask questions

No question is too big/small/silly when you’re making a life-changing decision. I’m happy to answer anything – leave your questions below or find me on social media.

Before you go…

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  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
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If you liked this, you might also like:

10 ways to help an adoptive family 
Rage and me, the human sponge
Thank God it’s Monday: adoptive parenting at the weekend

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50 sanity-saving summer holiday activities

Now the summer holidays are well underway, are you running out of ideas to keep the children busy? Don’t panic! Here are 50 of my favourite sanity-saving holiday activities.

50-sanity-saving-summer-holiday-activities

  1. Visit the library.
  2. Build Lego models.
  3. Go hunting for new games in the charity shops.
  4. Make a den under the table/behind the sofa.
  5. Decorate the path/patio with chalk.
  6. Have scooter races.
  7. Write postcards to your family and friends.
  8. Make junk models from the contents of the recycling bin.
  9. Make pizza.
  10. Write Christmas wish-lists.
  11. Make a scrapbook of your summer with photos, tickets, and drawings.
  12. Design your own board game.
  13. Make Christmas cards.
  14. Make things out of holey socks.
  15. Design your own T-shirt.
  16. Go swimming.
  17. Do a garden treasure hunt.
  18. Blow bubbles.
  19. Make your own ice cream (whisked double cream + tin of condensed milk + extras).
  20. Fly a kite.
  21. Play musical statues.
  22. Have a board games tournament (play all the games you have and see who is Winner of Winners).
  23. Get brochures from the travel agent and plan a perfect holiday (cut out pictures of the nicest hotel, swimming pool, food, etc)
  24. Rearrange their bedroom furniture (if they will cope with the change).
  25. Home spa – nail varnishing, massage, give each other hairdos…
  26. Plant flowers.
  27. Use printable activity sheets (these Twinkl outdoor activity sheets are free to download).
  28. Make ice lollies.
  29. Play with Fuzzy Felt.
  30. Make people out of lolly sticks and washi tape.
  31. Go to the beach.
  32. Find a playground you haven’t visited before.
  33. Visit a pick-your-own farm.
  34. Make fairy cakes.
  35. Make models out of Plasticine or Fimo.
  36. Go blackberrying.
  37. Make your own animation (a friend gave this to Joanna and it is very fun).
  38. Visit a pet shop.
  39. Make a scene with gel art window decorations.
  40. Go litter-picking with grabbers.
  41. Earn a Blue Peter badge.
  42. Make an alarm to keep your annoying sister out of your bedroom.
  43. Make wax rubbings of coins, leaves, Lego bricks…
  44. Design a new pencil case for going back to school.
  45. Go birdwatching/tree-spotting/vehicle-spotting with an I-spy book.
  46. Create a mini-book about something you love.
  47. Put on an audiobook.
  48. Fill an in-car entertainment station.
  49. Create an animal footprint tray for your garden.
  50. Do a science experiment.

And if none of those will work today, my vote is for putting a new film on their Kindles and having a small doze on the sofa. How about you? Let me know in the comments.

Before you go…

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Blurt BuddyBox: a review

I am a long-term fan of The Blurt Foundation. I love their dedication to self-care and the way they seem to genuinely enjoy brightening people’s days. The Blurt BuddyBox is one of the ways they do that. You can buy them as a one-off or by subscription, and as long as you place your order by the end of the previous month, it turns up in the second week of the month, filled with self-care surprises.

blurt-buddy-box-review

I like self-care, and I like surprises. #Win.

This month’s box is on the theme ‘All at sea’, and it’s a great one. For starters, it includes a book, which is one of my favourite forms of self-care. There’s also a little sewing project for crafty types, a candle for self-care traditionalists, and the monthly Blurt Zine which is a fab little booklet to encourage and inspire self-care.

So are they any good for stressed-out adoptive parents? Should you get one yourself? What sort of stuff is inside? Here’s what I found when I lifted the lid.

Sea Air Yankee Candle

sea-air-yankee-candle

Was it going to smell of seaweed? Fish and chips? Seagull? I popped off the glass lid and wafted it into my nostrils. To me, it smells more of flowers than the sea – I’m thinking the gardens on the seafront at Eastbourne rather than the wild Pembrokeshire coast or the salted and vinegared delights of Whitby. On balance, the flowers might be what more people want to smell in their bathroom. If you want your bathroom to smell of fish and chips, you can always eat fish and chips in the bath. (Why have I not done that before? It sounds fun.)

Conscious Water Serenity Water Enhancer

conscious-waterI admit, a water enhancer is a new one on me. That’s what squash is for, isn’t it? But I’ll try most things once, so gave it a go and added the sachet to my glass of water. It’s basically a cordial, and needs a good stirring in to stop it all sinking to the bottom of the glass as mine did. To start with I didn’t taste anything, and then there was a subtle orangeyness at the end. It might take a bit of getting used to if you usually have more strongly flavoured drinks. For regular water-drinkers though, this makes a nice change to add to the occasional glass of H2O.

Mapology ‘How to Make Better Decisions’ map

how-to-make-better-decisionsIf you have teenagers, this would be a great one to put on the wall where everyone in the family can see it. It’s perhaps a bit complicated for younger children, but many of the principles are good life lessons – making lists of pros and cons, working out what your guiding values are before a big decision comes along, asking advice from people you trust.

I’m not so sure that if still undecided after all that I’d want to toss a coin or consult my horoscope for a final decision on something important such as ‘Which school should I choose for my child?’, but other than that, it looks helpful. I also like the look of ‘Let’s Negotiate’, another booklet in the series.

Sew-on fabric badge

A sew-on octopus badge? What’s not to like? If I had a denim jacket I’d sew it on to that, but I don’t, so I had to give this one a bit more thought.

I opted to sew it on to a towel for Joanna to take to camp with her – I think it will make her smile.

Stacey Swift Postcard

I think I’m right in saying that Stacey does all of the postcards for Blurt, and she’s consistently great. I love the artwork for this month’s box, which includes rather marvellous seagulls, otters and lighthouses.

Even the tissue paper inside the box has them on – this is another example of the attention to detail that’s great about the Blurt kits.

 

 

Blurt Zine

blurt-zineThis is always one of the best bits of the BuddyBox. It’s a little 8-page booklet on the box’s theme, containing self-care inspiration and encouragement.

Highlights of this one include ‘5 ways water soothes the soul’ a short article on the benefits of visits to the seaside, listening to water, watching fish, having a bath, and staying hydrated.

There’s also a great piece on surviving (metaphorical) storms. The Zine is deliberately small and easy to stash in a bag or pocket for a portable pep-talk whenever you need it.

water-soothes-soul

‘I want to be calm’ book by Harriet Griffey

I-want-to-be-calmThe title won me over straight away – what adoptive parent doesn’t want more calm and sanity in their life? (And an aside: there’s an I want to sleep in the series too. HELLO.)

Short version: this is a brilliant little book about stress and self-care. Clear, practical, and easy to read in one sitting.

I was impressed that within a few pages there was a helpful description of the function of the amygdala and how long-term stress can ‘re-set our internal stress thermostat and it takes less and less to set off our red-alert reaction… It begins to feel “normal” to be functioning in a constant state of stress’.

If you’re thinking that this perfectly describes your child, I’m with you. But it may well also apply to you, the adoptive parent who juggles it all. Yes, me too. I enthusiastically recommend this book. it would make a great gift for any other stressed adoptive parents of your acquaintance if you’re buying; if not, then put it on your Christmas wish list.

Details: I want to be calm: How to de-stress by Harriet Griffey, published by Hardie Grant.

Summary

I’ve had a few BuddyBoxes now, and this is my favourite by a long way. The book has a lot to do with that (it really is excellent), but I also enjoyed sewing on the badge, because it meant I had to sit still for a few minutes. I liked sniffing the candle (even if there wasn’t the slightest whiff of fish and chips), and reading the zine. I may well be buying a few copies of the book for friends for birthdays and Christmas presents.

So, should you get a BuddyBox? I’d say that if you have a spare £21.50 to spend on your self-care you should certainly give it a try. (Unless you really dislike getting parcels of surprises, in which case, maybe not so much.) I  like the way each of the boxes I’ve had has make me try something I wouldn’t have thought of in terms of self-care: I only buy candles at Christmas, I wouldn’t have discovered this book, and our household would not have a towel with an octopus badge on it. So it has definitely added a bit of cheer to the Meadows household as we batten down the hatches for the end of term.

If you’d like to try the next one, place your order on the Blurt Foundation website before the end of the month. August’s theme is ‘Summer Camp Adventure’ and there are woodland animals in the picture so I’m all in.

August-buddybox-summer-camp-adventure


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  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
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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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  • You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. I love to talk to fellow adopters.
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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.


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  • If you found this post helpful or interesting, please vote for it. Thanks! 🙂
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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.


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Review | The Special Parent’s Handbook

This book covers it all. From food issues to advocating for your child, via handling meltdowns and battling with paperwork, The Special Parent’s Handbook addresses everything with the humour and practical advice that comes from hard-won first-hand experience. Whether your child’s issues are physical, mental, or emotional/behavioural, there is something here for you.

Professionals should read this too. There is so much here about the impact of being relegated to a mere ‘service user’ on actual human beings. The Powers That Be could learn a lot from The Special Parent’s Handbook about how our mutual interactions can be improved by listening – really listening – to young people and their parents.

Review: Special Parent's Handbook

About the (amazing) author

I first became aware of Yvonne in March this year. She was tweeting about an event she was organising for parents of children with violent, challenging behaviour, or VCB. As I fall into that category twice over, I signed up straight away, and on Saturday 1 April joined 80 other parents in London for the conference.

At the conference, a well as hearing from a number of experts in the NHS and legal fields (find them all on this Twitter list) about their perspective on children with additional needs and helping them to access services, Yvonne spoke about her experience with her son Toby. As is usually the case, the people who live this are the ones who are most helpful. Yvonne talked about how she helps Toby to regulate by reducing instructions to short phrases, often sung to him to remove any stress from her own voice which could cause his behaviour to escalate.

It completely blows my mind that Yvonne wrote this book in four weeks flat having received a terminal cancer diagnosis. Yvonne – I know you’ll read this – you are such an inspiration and I have no idea where you find all your energy. Thank you. What you have achieved in this book and continue to achieve through all your campaigning and bringing people together is amazing, and I know there are hundreds of us who appreciate it all. (Do please remember to put your feet up occasionally!)

So. Why is the book so good?

About The Special Parent’s Handbook

The Special Parent’s Handbook is gold. In my Amazon review I summarised it like this:

This book is great. Yvonne has such a depth of experience and the wisdom that comes from having learned a lot of things the hard way. Her family’s story is told with humour, grace, and insight and in a way that makes it all very relatable. Her advice on accessing services you didn’t know existed and on battling for the help your family needs is invaluable. I related to so much of the content. It should be required reading for all the professionals we encounter as well as for SEND parents and their friends and families.

What it covers

Toby has a combination of disabilities: learning difficulties, autism, and a physical disability which means that he needs to be tube-fed. You might wonder, then, how his mum’s unique experiences with him translate into more broadly applicable advice for other parents. Yvonne has managed this well, by separating the advice into chapters by topic while also weaving in her family’s own story. To give a flavour of the wide-ranging advice, here are a few of the chapter titles:

  • The Advancing Army of Professionals
  • Building your Support Network
  • Siblings
  • Becoming the Expert
  • Being in Hospital
  • Hospital Appointments
  • CAMHS
  • Education
  • Social Services
  • Food Issues
  • Meltdowns

My children Joanna and Charlotte have no physical disabilities, so although I read it cover to cover, I particularly honed in on the chapters to do with support, both formal and informal, and on the behavioural stuff (meltdowns, siblings, and food issues). It addresses these incredibly well. The writing style is conversational and very accessible, making it ideal reading for exhausted parents with little residual brainpower at the end of a difficult day!

Real-life advice

Though Yvonne’s children are not adopted, there is a huge amount of overlap in the types of services she has needed to access, and the battle to be heard and respected as a parent is the same across education, health, and social care. I thought Yvonne’s advice on this aspect of parenting was one of the highlights. It includes tips such as putting a framed photo of your child on the table in important meetings, to remind the professionals that this is about the child, not their budgets and policies. My Kindle highlight facility went into overdrive on this book because it contains so much real-life helpful advice. You know what I mean. Actual practical stuff that helps. This is the book’s focus. She nails it.

Summary

Review | The Special Parent's HandbookI recommend this book wholeheartedly. Whatever additional needs your child has, the guidance on advocating for them, on surviving as a special needs parent, and on doing it all with your sanity and sense of humour intact are all here. Adoptive parents may even rejoice that there is no specific mention of post-adoption support, though social services in general are comprehensively addressed.

Once you’ve read the book, I can also recommend connecting with Yvonne online. You can find her on Twitter (@YvonneNewbold), through her website (yvonnenewbold.com), and through her various Facebook pages: The SEND Parent’s Handbook and Breaking the Silence on VCB.

THE DETAILS

The Special Parent’s Handbook
Yvonne Newbold
Amity House
£12.33 (Kindle £7.36)


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Review | The Secrets of Successful Adoptive Parenting

The Secrets of Successful Adoptive ParentingI recently reviewed The Secrets of Successful Adoptive Parenting for the current issue of Adoption Today, the magazine for members of Adoption UK. (If you’re not a member, I recommend it – helpful magazines, local meet-ups, and an excellent conference.)

Space is naturally limited in print, so here is a longer version of the review than the one I submitted.

About the book
This is a thorough guide to how to manage many of the challenges of adoptive parenting, primarily aimed at helping adopters who are still pre-placement to prepare appropriately for the task ahead of them. And it does this job well.

Summary
The book covers a wide range of topics under six main themes: the emotional journey, empathy, compassion, communication, child development and preparations. It includes explorations of parents’ values, children’s memories and grief, and the provision of structure and consistency. The sections on support, brain plasticity, and introductions are particularly helpful. The chapters are short and manageable and it is a straightforward read.

Going deeper
The author bases her advice on her own experiences with her daughter Lucy, who joined their family aged 4, and on six other children whose stories are briefly used for examples throughout the book. These sections bring the theory to life and help to make it relatable and tangible. I would have liked to see more emphasis on these children (though they were anonymised composites) – what challenges did they present to their carers, and how were they resolved? It seemed to me that the author extrapolated from her own experiences with her family to imply that all adopted children can behave as beautifully as her own daughter if parented appropriately. I struggled with this implication, particularly in the context of CPV (child-on-parent violence), which isn’t really addressed. I have no issues with the strategies – in fact we have used the vast majority of them ourselves – but in our case they haven’t all worked as well as the book suggests, because our lives are just not as neat and tidy as that.

Conclusion
In summary, this is a good ‘general overview’ book to recommend to prospective adopters once they’ve started on the assessment process. Perhaps those who are at the ‘still considering their options’ stage might benefit from reading something that talks with a little more unrestrained forthrightness about the challenges so that they know what they’re getting into (such as Sally Donovan’s books which I cannot praise highly enough). Those who are more than a year post-placement are likely to have encountered much of the content already, and to be researching information more specific to their child’s needs. But for reading during the preparation stage, this is just the job.

The details
The Secrets of Successful Adoptive Parenting
Sophie Ashton
Published July 2016
Paperback £12.99/Kindle £8.96


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Review | 30 Days of Hope for Adoptive Parents

30daysadoptiveparents_n174113The title sounds promising, doesn’t it? We could all use a dose of hope, especially as we’re unlikely to be getting much from post-adoption support. Sorry, did that sound too cynical? We’ll come back to that in a minute.

The basics
This book is a 30-day devotional aimed at Christian adoptive parents and prospective adopters. But it’s not just that – it’s also the author’s own story of the adoption of her daughter from China. (She is an American living in Australia.) This narrative forms the foundation of the devotional and the Bible verses and pontification about the theology of adoption are slotted in around that. It works.

The back-cover blurb is encouraging, too:

‘You finally surrendered. You opened your heart when you said, “Yes, God, I’ll adopt.” But now, you’ve discovered that opening your heart to the idea of adoption is the easiest part of the journey. Now comes the reality of the emotional ups and downs that only another adoptive parent can understand.’

Security vs reality
The book does live up to the promises of realism in the first half of the book. I appreciated the author’s honest comparison of her expectations – of herself and of others – to the reality, from matching through to support. There’s also a lot of talk of living outside of comfort zones and secure predictability.

‘But is secure really the goal? Should it be the goal? “Live worthy to the calling you have received,” Paul instructed in Ephesians 4:1.’

‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. – John 15:13

‘God’s calling? opposite of the American dream, but surpassingly greater, don’t you think?’

Fair point. I like this acknowledgement of difficulty and struggle and discomfort. This is what looking after the marginalised and vulnerable is supposed to look like. Jesus didn’t do flower-arranging in suburbia. He got his hands dirty.

Sharing potential
The book also weaves in a lot of other people’s experiences, which could potentially make it a great way to share the reality of adoptive parenting with others. I’m thinking particularly of the sorts of Christians who instantly want to assume if your child still has issues then you’re probably not praying hard enough. They might benefit from reading sections like this.

‘Here’s what a few adoptive parents said they wish others understood about their lives and their children:

  • “I wish they understood that I love my adopted children as much as they love their biological ones.”
  • “I wish they understood that we are still the same people. Having adopted children doesn’t mean we no longer like or do the things we did with our biological children prior to adoption. We want friendship and support more now, not less.”
  • “I wish they understood it hurts when someone asks questions about our children compared to ‘normal’ children.”
  • “I wish they understood that we aren’t adopting because we just have to have more children! I’ve heard people say, ‘Well don’t you have enough already?’ But what they don’t understand is that it’s not about having enough. It’s about answering God’s call to care for the fatherless and love our neighbor. It’s about love for God and for others.”
  • “I wish that they understood that our family is different from their families.”
  • “I wish people knew that when they tell us how awesome we are or how they could never do what we do, it takes away our ability to say how hard it is.”
  • “I’m a single mom to two Chinese princesses and sometimes I feel like I have to keep my thoughts and struggles to myself because I’ve had comments made to me about how I chose to be a single parent to two. Actually, the Lord chose me. I never dreamed I’d be a single parent once, let alone twice.”
  • “I wish people realized we don’t need answers or advice; we just need a listening ear, a text, a phone call, a meal, or a coffee date—something to help us feel connected to the outside world when those first few weeks and months home are hard. And sometimes the years are hard and we need people to understand that we are the same, but different. God took us on this journey of adoption and that ‘yes’ has changed us in many ways. We have new opinions, goals, and priorities. We may forget to call you back or text; we may parent our children differently now and some of that looks weird. We need grace and understanding as we navigate this new world we ventured into.”’

YES. A big amen to that.

Hold on a minute
And it was all going really well, but towards the end of the book, I thought a bit of idealism crept in again and I struggled to relate to the author. This passage in particular sent my eyebrows skyward:

‘My adoption agency has an entire staff dedicated to post-adoption support for families. As in, there are people on call, ready to help with any range of issues, from cocooning to attachment to caring for the mental health of their adoptive parents. In their preplacement training, the staff emphasizes, “Call us. If you say you’re not struggling in some way after your child comes home, then we know you’re not telling the truth.” I was given permission to admit that post-adoption life is challenging. I was told I would experience difficulties, that I could voice my struggles, and that I would be well cared for when I asked for help. Do you want to know how many times I’ve made that phone call? Once? Twice? A half dozen times? Actually, none. Zero.’

Wait. She has support on tap – including mental health services for adoptive parents! – and hasn’t called them? This is so many leagues away from my own experience of battering on a door that opens just enough to give me hope and then slams in my face again that I had to read it twice. It’s all very well to write about relying on God and whatnot, but he generally tends to work through Other People, such as the professionals who are trained in helping with this kind of thing. headdesk

I got the sense towards the end that the author was keen to conclude the book with a positive resolution and that was going to happen regardless of any personal struggles she or her contributors might be facing. And I understand why she would do that, both from a theological standpoint and an editorial point of view. It’s neat and tidy and provides some sort of soothing balm to the not-too-desperate-just-a-bit-frazzled Christian reader. I would just have found it that bit more helpful if it was a little more… raw.

Summary
The author’s experience is different from mine, her challenges are different, and if she has not yet been desperate enough to call on post-adoption support then (a) that’s great and (b) it’s unfair of me to expect this from the book. So I’d say to cynical British readers, or those elsewhere who’ve adopted older children via foster care and are dealing with major difficulties such as CPV: certainly read the first half. It’s good stuff. And then for the second remember the author’s perspective may be different from your own and she is allowed her happy ending, even if ours feels a while off yet.

The details
Professional Reader30 Days of Hope for Adoptive Parents
Jennifer Phillips
New Hope Publishers
£8.01 (Kindle £3.88)
Published 6 February 2017

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


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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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