Ben and Holly

For the longest time my boy had no interest whatsoever in the tv or any screen activity. We had an iPad for 3 years before he was even willing to touch it. I believe it was because he was unable to make any sense of the images.
L has a vision impairment which has gradually improved over the years but it meant that he had very little visual motivation. Until recently any images we used to help him learn or understand needed to be photos. A drawn or animated image did not make any sense to him at all.
Not any more!
L now has very strong opinions about what should be screening on our tv. Given a choice it would 24/7 Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom.

20140406-180416.jpg

Now there’s watching &enjoying a show and then there’s enjoying it so much that you can’t even hear the dialogue. Squeals of delight, leaping and bounding around the furniture like a high tension spring. L is deliriously ecstatic.

It’s hard to deny him this sweet joy. So I am sharing it with you instead!

;

Small Details

A photo a day for autism acceptance in April

I was looking through my recent photos looking for something to show you today when I noticed a small detail within a larger shot.

The photo was one that I took while we were at the respite centre yesterday. The larger shot shows my boy in a joyful dance, playing with his ribbon while the afternoon sun shines through the sliding doors that he loved so much.

The detail I noticed, was that his feet were not touching the floor. His face is happy, I know he was letting loose one of his squeals. It was just a sweet moment.
Tonight I’m celebrating for a friend whose little boy has taken a giant leap. He is a beautiful kid with many complex needs and had shown no sign of becoming verbal. Till now! What a game changer! All expectations blown to smithereens. Small details can make such a big difference.

20130422-222516.jpg

Attachment – Yes, I’m Going There

The word ‘attachment’ is getting a pretty good run in the media these days with anxious and sometimes competitive first world parents trying to work out just how this whole child raising thing should go. Most of these kids are going to be fine simply because they are being raised by parents who love them, who nurture them, reassure them, comfort them and delight in their very being. Ultimately these kids know who they are, they know where they belong and they have an intrinsic understanding of what it is to be loved and to love.

They have that wonderful warm, reciprocal, consistant and responsive experience called secure attachment. Their parents most likely had it too. This is why even as greenskin newbies they leapt into action when their baby cried, did cartwheels when they got that first smile and seriously believed their kid may be a genius when those first imitative behaviours emerged – oh sorry, I meant smiles, waves, words.

For the kids who have ended up in foster care and for those who fell through the cracks in the system, life is not so simple. When you are born into a family where your birth is not the happy occasion it should be, where the parent/s lives are dominated by their addictions, their mental health issues, their own gaping unmet needs, where there is no home to go home to, where your cries are ignored or simply not understood, where you are left in your cot all day, where no one looks into your beautiful eyes with love and hope, where no one checks that you’ve got ten amazing little fingers and toes. Then to put it simply, the brain does not develop in the same way.

It’s stark isn’t it? So when you wonder how someone can abuse and/or neglect a child, remember this image. Because what has happened, is their brain never got the chance to develop in the same way as yours. Not only are they unable to have a deep understanding of giving and receiving love, they have not developed the executive functions of the brain where we make complex decisions and prioritise our actions, where we can delay our gratification and where we learn about trust and empathy and compassion.

But it’s not a done deal, especially for children. The plasticity of the brain means that we can develop new neural pathways, new understandings, new skills. This is what a foster carer helps to do.

It’s not easy to create attachment when a baby or a child has learnt that they will not have their needs met. They go into survival mode and try to meet their own needs as much as possible. They have good reason not to trust you or anyone for that matter. Love, a warm bed and good food is not always enough.

They will push you away, uncomfortable with cuddles and affection. Even tiny babies will push your arms away, wanting to drink their bottle facing away from you, avoiding your eye contact. They do not view you as being any more important to them than a passer by. They don’t really understand why you would want to do anything for them. They will argue about rules and oppose any form of authority. You could turn yourself inside out arranging something special for them and they will just shrug their shoulders and walk away.

It’s a long term proposition. Not helped when the system sends them back to an abusive/neglectful situation, or moves them from placement to placement, or splits sibling groups or they end up in residential care or they age out of the system without getting what they needed when they needed it.

Attachment is one of the keys to happiness. Knowing that someone is there to watch over you, allowing you to explore your world safely, helping you to develop your independence and seeing and believing in your potential, meeting your needs and celebrating your achievements. Someone who is there to pick you up when you fall, the emotional home base, your supply of resilience when it’s tough. We all deserve that.

image credit: peanuts

Kids can develop secure attachment in foster care. They may need some extra help to get there, but that’s what foster carers and the professionals that support them are there for.

Just so you know: I’m not a psychologist, psychiatrist, neurologist, scientist, social worker or baby whisperer. Take whatever I say with a grain of salt and consult the professionals if you are at all concerned about your child or someone you know.

For clarity, I am talking about the theory behind attachment, not Attachment Parenting. I am not advocating for Attachment Parenting or any particular style of parenting.

And…I KNOW that the foster care system is not all it could be, no matter where you live. I just try to do my bit to improve it.

The Goalposts Just Shifted

Day 23: Autism Awareness Blogathon

I know that as a parent, you spend most of your time dealing with the practical aspects of parenting. When your child has autism we do the same thing, but we don’t have the assurance of the future that you do with a neurotypical child. We don’t know what our/their future will look like. So we focus on the day to day and try not to get disappointed with ourselves for dreaming about this mystical, clouded  idea of a future hoping it will be full of happy, meaningful independence. Because, seriously, we have NO idea what it will actually look like.

On the weekend I attended a really fantastic conference session presented by Michael McDowell of the Childhood Development Network – one of our local private multi-disciplinary clinics here in Brisbane (Australia). And now I know why this Paediatrician has had his books closed for some time! Here’s the rundown from the session:

Our goalposts as parents need to be on our child’s transition to adult life. If we frame what we do as our children are growing with that pivotal point in mind, then we can effect great change. Most importantly our decisions can be made with this child & family focused outcome in mind rather than what the therapists/teachers/specialists etc. might think, however good their intentions may be.

There are four main areas to consider:

  1. Mental health and happiness
  2. Social participation
  3. Vocation/meaningful daytime activities
  4. Independence to the greatest degree possible

Using these four categories, look at constructing a plan which focuses on the next 6-12 months but with the bigger goal of transitioning into adulthood with all four areas optimised always in mind.

McDowell suggests developing a ‘team’ drawn from our community. Look to your extended family, work, sport and social groups, teachers, kids in your child’s class and within the broader school. Identify who you might like to include in your child’s team then look at how you might bring them into the team.

Develop a simple profile of your child remembering that you are controlling the message and the information you are sharing about your child. The profile should include the positives – what your child is good at, likes and what is likeable about them; the difficulties – what is unexpected or hard for your child and how they adapt; and the reasons it may be difficult for your family, the challenges you face in caring for your child.

Communication needs to be parent driven, keeping the team informed, bringing them together to share ideas and celebrate successes with your family. The team can be fluid with roles and goals delegated appropriately, but are all committed to working with your family to assist you in achieving the best possible outcomes for your child.

It’s important to keep in mind that we want our children to enjoy being themselves. Their positive self awareness, how they think about and manage themselves as adults, stems from feeling safe and loved within their family and wider community and this in turn builds resilience.

I don’t feel like I’ve really captured the spirit in which this information was delivered. It was actually quite empowering whereas what I’ve written above sounds a bit clunky. I really like the idea of planning with the end goal in mind and I feel like I already have the makings of a ‘team’ – people who love and care about my child. I know I need these people in my life whether I formalise their roles or not. I had to call on quite a few of them just to be able to attend the conference (3 different babysitters on each of the two days!). 

One of the most important messages this guy had was to focus on the family as a whole, not just the child. Our children need their families to be strong and happy, not worn out parental wrecks who are angry or divorced and sullen, resentful siblings. So go now, get off the computer and give your partner a warm cuddle and tell them that you love them.