Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Happy Christmas!

So it turns out we were right, and although we only put two presents under the tree for Peter to open this morning, he did get overwhelmed within an hour or two of getting up! He did really well though considering the changes to his routine, and how much sensory input he was getting from the new toys, different words (people saying Happy Christmas etc.) and music, and new smells and tastes that Christmas brings. We decided to have our big Christmas Dinner in the evening after he'd gone to bed, so Peter had familiar meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but he really surprised us by asking to try several new foods today including warmed mince pie and soy cream, pâté, a parmesan and garlic twist, and soy ice cream (you can see the sort of day we were having…)

Peter has many more presents to open, but we're going to spread them out over the next few days to help him to cope. He's a delightful person to give gifts to - he tears the wrapping paper carefully and examines each item inside including any packaging, instructions or booklets. Today he got genuinely excited opening a new blanket! Esmeralda's mum is here visiting for a few days and is completely smitten by him. He's definitely part of the family already!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

How little we know

Every time we've passed a certain fast food chain since Peter arrived with us he's pointed at the big yellow logo and looked excited, so on Sunday we decided to round off an excellent weekend by having a meal out. As we approached, Peter got more and more excited, and as we went through the doors he looked like he couldn't believe his luck. Peter's diet is quite limited due to some sensory issues around food so we didn't think fries or nuggets would go down too well, but he does enjoy nesquick, so I confidently ordered him a fish finger kids' meal to see if he'd try it, and a chocolate milkshake.

We sat down and started getting our food out of the paper bags, Peter looking on expectantly. He hasn't really got to grips with straws yet, but Esmeralda started him off on his milkshake, he took a few sips and everything seemed to be going well. That was until all the food was on the table and we started to eat.

Peter watched me as a I raised a chip to my mouth and made an indignant noise. I offered it to him, he batted it away. I picked up a nugget whilst he stared at it intently, I offered it to him, he glared at me and threw it on the floor. Esmeralda unwrapped the toy that came with the meal and hopped it across the table, and Peter didn't deign to look at it (I don't blame him, it was quite a disappointing toy). He picked up the paper bag that the food had come in and shuffled through the rubbish inside. We realised at this point that we had no idea what Peter's mum and dad used to order for him, so we didn't know what he was expecting and he couldn't tell us. We felt awful.

Esmeralda suddenly realised that we'd forgotten to pick up any sauces, so went over to the counter and brought back some BBQ and ketchup pots. I opened a pot of BBQ and dipped in a chip, and Peter suddenly looked hopeful and pointed at it, so I handed it to him. He licked off the sauce, made a face and dropped the chip as though it was poison. He reached over to the table, picked up the fish fingers that had come with his meal and poked them. Esmeralda wondered whether he wanted to try them, and dipped one in some ketchup. Peter's face lit up, he licked the ketchup off the fish finger and handed it back for Esmeralda to dip again. He finished the whole pot of ketchup and then sat back in his buggy and was happy to move on.

Trial and error is a big part of fostering, especially when you consider how little we know about children's lives before they arrive with us and the fact that many are developmentally unable to tell us things that really matter to them. I'm glad we got it right this time, although I don't think we'll be going out for lunch and ordering Peter just ketchup very often!

Monday, 9 December 2013

O Christmas Tree

Christmas can be a very difficult time for foster families. There are so many traditions wrapped up in the festivities, and each one can be a trigger to foster children that reminds them of past Christmases at home with their parents. These could be good memories, as every family has their good times together, or they could be bad memories. What may be a harmless glass of wine with dinner on Christmas Eve could be a reminder of a Christmas Day spent without food or presents whilst their parents slept off the alcohol from the night before. Watching a foster sibling open a much longed for present could be a reminder that at home presents were given as bribes or rewards for abuse. A fleeting comment about burnt turkey or lumpy gravy could be a reminder of an argument that turned into domestic violence.

Even if there are no bad memories, adverts are constantly telling us that Christmas is a time for families, and children may be aware that other children are allowed to spend the holiday season with their parents and they are not. Contact around Christmas can be very painful and confusing for both parents and children, as they exchange gifts and try to have their celebration in the strange environment of the contact centre.
(This is for children with autism, but I suspect that one for fostered children would look quite similar)

This is our first Christmas with a child in placement. We don't know anything about Peter's past Christmases, and due to both this and his additional needs we weren't quite sure how to approach Christmas this year. Should we put up a tree and decorations? Should we do the big pile of presents under the tree? What about Christmas dinner? Would he enjoy visiting Father Christmas? How will he cope with other people opening presents in front of him?

In the end we've decided to go quite low key. We put up the tree yesterday (which Peter loved), but have put it at the back of the living room rather than the front, to avoid moving Peter's toys and so that he can choose to go near it or not. Peter has food anxieties so we're going to have our main meal and open our own presents in the evening on Christmas Day after he's gone to bed, and we're going to gradually spread out his presents over a few days (and leave some unwrapped) and see how it goes rather than having a big overwhelming pile of gifts. Esmeralda's mum is coming to stay over Christmas week and is being very understanding of the fact that it's going to be a bit different this year.

Peter's making so much progress that next year will probably be completely different, and he may well cope with a bigger build up with talk of Father Christmas and presents under the tree. Of course, as foster carers we don't know exactly what our family will look like next year - we may have one or two more children with us (and a labradoodle if Esmeralda has anything to do with it!) so will need to consider their needs too. Whilst we'll incorporate our family traditions, Christmas will more than likely be different every year!