A NEW BEGINNING

Social media is awash this week with ‘first day at new school’ photos; smart kids beaming proudly in their as yet unstained new uniforms. Buster starts a new school today, but I don’t feel happy or proud. Today he starts at an EBD school. Buster bravely boarded a ‘special’ bus into central London with a group of people he’d never met before. Of course we gave him a joyous ‘It’s going to be fantastic, you are fantastic’ send off , but as the bus rolled away I felt extremely sad. Gone are the days of walking up to school together with his big brother and the dog. Gone are friendships with local peers, the chatting at the gate, the impromptu playdates.

We tried EVERYTHING we could to keep Buster in mainstream education but two things prevented us. Firstly our own understanding of Buster’s needs, they were more complex than we initially realised and putting him in a three form entry school was not the wisest of moves. Perhaps a smaller school would have helped, perhaps a long spell of schooling at home would have helped. Maybe if CAMHS had been more interventionist in early therapies? We’ll never know…

The second cause was the school itself. Despite encouraging, lobbying and a good deal of external pressure the school simply did not attempt to become in any way attachment aware. Buster’s tantrums and explosive (sometimes violent outbursts) were always perceived as behavioural issues that could be corrected and dealt with through exclusions. Buster had a fully funded EHCP but no staff member working with him ever got trained in attachment and early trauma. I sent suggestions of free training courses to the head and inset ideas and this was met with disdain as senior management knew best… I found the head intractable and at times deliberately obtuse. He wanted Buster out.

By the middle of year one, the multiple exclusions meant Buster’s self-esteem hit rock bottom and our family stress levels hit an all-time high. The proverbial straw came when the deputy head rang us in the summer term to announce that future exclusions would be a week at a time. We were being forced to look elsewhere. We considered other (less severe than an EBD school) options for Buster, but as he had had so many exclusions, at such a young age, other schools would not take him.

So now he’s in a school for children with severe behavioural difficulties, many of whom come from extremely difficult and dysfunctional families, very much like the one Buster was removed from. I know the school will have many benefits; the staff seem brilliant, it is holistic, therapeutic and class sizes are small and manageable. There’s a good deal more play and bags more understanding of children’s complex social needs. But it is very different… and it does feel very sad that our tiny son, whose favourite programme is Peppa Pig, is thrown in amongst the toughest to teach kids in South London.

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CAROUSEL OF CONFUSION

Attachment or not attachment that is the question…

We are on diagnosis number six for Buster. So far in the roll call we have: ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder), FASD (Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) Neurodevelopmental delay, mild autism and separation anxiety (more commonly known as attachment disorder).  These various diagnoses have come out of paediatric and CAMHS assessments.  We are utterly confused as to the best way to parent and what this all means.

CAMHS initial treatment was to put us on a parenting course called “The Parent Child Game” which was in equal parts patronising and unhelpful.  “Extreme ignore” is a session I never want to repeat as it ended in a full scale meltdown which had me and Buster in tears in front of a two way mirrored audience.

So the picture that emerges for us is; it’s complicated. Buster has a myriad of issues that require a myriad of strategies.  There isn’t a silver bullet/gold standard parenting style that will help. We have read heaps of books and attempted dozens of strategies but none work in isolation. Bits seem to help.  But the problem is, a child who becomes so easily dysregulated  has poor impulse control and school especially aren’t able to cope with his outbursts.  All we know is: he’s scared.

We still believe that attachment disorder underpins a lot of his behaviours because they are, without fail, much worse when we are not around.  He spends a lot of time in a state of high anxiety and we are the best ones to soothe him when he gets overwhelmed. Some of the triggers that set him off  we are aware of (busy spaces, loud noises and either one or both of us being away) but a lot of the time it’s educated guesswork.

Traditional parenting really doesn’t work. Lots of carrots and a couple of sticks does, sometimes.  Taking things away simply reinforces his already low self -esteem. He is occasionally motivated by sticker charts but soon disinterested in them. I think the biggest shift for us is in recognising that when he does have meltdowns, it’s because he is petrified and we can learn from him what it is that scares him. We recently attended a Great Behaviour Breakdown course and I have never heard so much sense spoken about our children. Fact: early trauma and loss has a profound effect on our children and the more we understand trauma, the more we can help our kids and our struggling families. 20160501_144255 (1)

A GOLDEN TICKET

Being told we were to receive a fully funded EHCP for Buster was the equivalent of finding a Wonka’s Golden Ticket. We were elated. A year of painful school meetings, social work meetings, paperwork, arguing, advocating, appointments with various doctors, CAMHS and support services, more paperwork and lots of stress had paid off.  Full funding basically meant that Buster would get 1:1 classroom support and hopefully this would increase his chances of remaining in mainstream school.545

If anyone had explained to me, at the beginning of our adoption journey, the amount of advocacy I would have to do on behalf of my adopted children I would never have believed it.  Prior to adopting I had a rose tinted view of the world that our children would be cushioned by a net of societal support and understanding. This is no longer my view.  If your adopted child has issues, be prepared to fight. We stood on the precipice of a massive sink hole with school and Buster almost got washed down it.  It makes me effervesce with anger that support has to be so hard fought.  I have a sound working knowledge of the education system after teaching for so many years, but what about families who don’t have that kind of knowledge?

Other than people within my immediate social circle I also gleaned a lot of advice and emotional support via twitter.  Thank you tweeters, too many of you to mention but in terms of groups…massively helpful twitter accounts: @AdoptionSocial  @TheOpenNest  @ThePOTATOgroup  @lgbtadoptfoster   you guys rock.

Adopted children almost exclusively have difficult starts but many people working with children still believe adoption is some sort of panacea. Perhaps the biggest hurdle faced by most carers and adopters is the level of awareness schools have. Few teachers have a working understanding on  attachment issues, neurological developmental difficulties and the effects of early loss and trauma on children’s social/emotional and educational success. There is also a lot of evidence to show that many adopted children have problems with executive function which impacts on all areas of learning.

You may be lucky enough to be in a school with a strong understanding of your children’s needs, but if you are not, then you may have to be the one enlightening the staff and pushing for entitlements.