Wednesday, 29 January 2014


Over the months that Peter has been with us we've found quite a lot of people get very excited once they realise that we have a dog, and tell us lots of wonderful stories of how they've known/read about/seen on TV that children with autism have their worlds "unlocked" by a special relationship with an animal, usually a dog. They then wait expectantly for us to tell them all about how this is magically happening in our home. We were guilty of this ourselves whilst we were waiting for Peter to move in - imagining teaching Peter about empathy, hygiene, eating and toileting whilst he helped us to care for Lady and anticipate her needs. We thought he'd probably attach to her before he attached to us, and pictured the two of them snuggled up together.

Well suffice to say Peter does not have this magical relationship with Lady and it was definitely not love at first sight (on Peter's side at least) - he really couldn't care less whether we had a dog or not!

This has improved a little over time. To start off with, Peter completely ignored Lady and refused to acknowledge her at all, whilst she desperately tried every trick in the book to make friends with him. After a few weeks he touched her on the side without looking at her, and a month or so later he would throw her ball if she put it directly in his way. These days he'll occasionally stroke her tail or briefly pat her tummy, has said her name a few times and has shown that he realises she's a dog by pointing to her lead and saying "woof woof"! He will occasionally allow her to sniff his neck which makes him smile, but usually he just pushes her out of the way if she gets too close. Thankfully she's very robust and doesn't mind!

We've taken her to school a few times when we go to pick Peter up, and whilst his teachers and the other parents and children love her, Peter just gives her a disdainful glance, although he does seem to enjoy watching her walk alongside his buggy on the way home.

Peter does like animals - he can name most farm and zoo animals and knows the sounds they make, he's fascinated by the squirrels in the park, and he loves watching fish, butterflies and birds. Maybe Peter and Lady's friendship will develop as time goes on and they'll become firm friends, but for now poor old Lady is getting the cold shoulder!

Friday, 24 January 2014

School and the looked after child

Looked after children (or children in care) are much less likely to achieve academically than children who are not looked after. This can be for a multitude of reasons, for example - lack of early stimulation, several school moves, attachment difficulties, missing a lot of school before they came into care - but in most cases is due at least in part to heightened anxiety levels. A five year old has recently been told that the family finders are looking for an adoptive family for him, a 15 year old living in a children's home is worrying about moving out to live independently when she reaches 16, an eight year old who's just come into care is concerned about whether his drug addicted parents can look after themselves without him, an 11 year old still expects a beating from his foster father after school because he thinks that's what all adults do, a seven year old doesn't yet trust that her foster parents are going to give her enough food every day and hides her school lunch in case she's hungry later, a 10 year old has just found out that his younger siblings are going to be adopted without him…

Put very simply - when a child has such high anxiety levels they are unable to concentrate on school work because it isn't important to them.

There are obviously exceptions, and children in stable long term foster placements are statistically likely to do better than those who move around which is great news for Peter as we're now moving towards permanency for him.

We've been working for the last few months on lowering Peter's anxiety levels by building up trust, and his progress is really clear to see. We love his school, and we're very grateful that he was able to get a place to start this term, but we've definitely seen his anxiety levels rise as he's in a new environment (again) and doesn't know what to expect. He's testing the boundaries and we've been told of several behaviours that would be unacceptable at home but his teachers just laughed about!

I'm sure it can be difficult, especially as it's a school without much experience of looked after children, for the teachers to distinguish between behaviours that are related to Peter's additional needs, typical behaviours for a 4 year old, and those related to his early life experiences and more recent upheaval. It certainly is for us! We just need to try to work together to make sure he's supported so that he can achieve to the best of his ability. He's a bright little boy and we're very proud of him!

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Another placement

Now that Peter's been with us three months and has made such fantastic progress, we're starting to seriously talk about and consider when might be a good time to add a second foster child to our family - how old that child should be, how Peter will cope initially, which additional needs we think we could handle etc.

I don't think either of us are ready for the emotional upheaval of another pre-adoptive placement, nor do we think that having a child join our family as a short-term placement would be good for Peter, so at the moment we're looking at another, probably younger, child on long-term/permanency. There's no hurry, as we want to make sure that Peter is well settled both at school and at home before we go ahead, but the matching process can be lengthy and is even more important with a child already in placement, so there's no harm in starting our search for the right child early.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Back to school

Peter starts his new school on Tuesday and whilst we're excited about the new opportunities and experiences he'll have, we both feel a bit sad that the holidays are over as we've had such a lovely time together.

Esmeralda took the whole school holiday off work, and 2.5 weeks of having two adults completely focussed on him have been fantastic for Peter. We did a count up recently - since he moved in with us 11 weeks ago he's gone from using about 10 single words to 200 words and phrases, and 50 of these have been during the Christmas holidays! His language and communication are really blossoming, it's amazing to see. He's confidently eating several crunchy foods now, and we're sure that this has helped his speech as his muscles are getting a better workout.

His behaviour is completely different now, you'd barely know he was the same child. He had a period of regression after a contact session recently, and it really served to remind us how far he's come.

Peter has met quite a few friends and members of our extended family over Christmas which has been really good for him to develop his social skills and coping strategies. He's walking for longer periods outside holding hands without needing to use the buggy (today was for almost an hour) and we're working on his awareness of danger and road safety. He even managed a family meal out in a restaurant on Boxing Day! We'd had it booked for months, and even though we pre-booked our food and phoned ahead of time to make the waiting staff aware, we thought he'd last about 10 minutes and we'd then take it in turns to walk around outside with him. He surprised us all by sitting beautifully in a dining chair playing on the iPad after he finished his food, and we stayed for the whole three course meal!

We couldn't be more proud of Peter and his progress, and are looking forward to the Easter holidays already!