The Importance of Acknowledging Adoption

 

We adopted our GG when she was a year and a half. We didn’t know if she would walk or talk. Fortunately she doesn’t stop doing either one! For years, we learned all we could about autism and immersed her and ourselves into that world. She had so many physical, emotional and medical needs when she was younger, I have to admit, adoption stuff got put on the back burner. We had read all we could before she came to us but once she was here…nada. The year she turned 8 years old we were at our wits end. My husband and I didn’t get any sleep for about 8 months. In the past, if one of us were too exhausted, the other one was full of energy ready to take over. Not the summer she turned 8! We were both sleep deprived, frustrated and had lost our patience. Gracie was screaming every night and would give us one look and turn around and go back to sleep once we went to her room to check on her. She was our alarm clock every morning once we did finally fall asleep. She was waking up her brother and sister most nights too because she was so loud! We couldn’t figure out what was going on. She also had to be with us All. The. Time. One day I was going to get something out of our van. I ran out without announcing it to anyone because I was just going to be a few seconds. As soon as I ran out the door, I heard GG yelling out her window! “Don’t leave me! Come back! Don’t leave!” All of a sudden, it all made sense! She was worried we were going to leave her. That is when the adoption stuff came more in to play. I came inside, held her and we talked about how we were never going to leave her. We spoke about our forever family. We also realized that every night when she would scream until we went in her room, she was just making sure we were still there.

So, we role played. If she wanted to make sure mom and dad were still there, she could get out of bed, tiptoe to our room and peek inside, then go right back to sleep. She’s done it every night since! That lasted a few years and now she doesn’t need to check on us anymore. Most of the time.

If your child is adopted AND has special needs, don’t forget the trauma they have gone through. Even if your child was in a loving foster home or came directly to you from birth. Losing the sounds and feeling of their birth mom’s heartbeat that they’ve only known for 10 months is traumatic.

For some tips and resources on adoption, please click here.

 

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Adoption Tips & Resources

Here are a few tips and resources:

When you first meet your baby/child give them some pictures and a blanket that smells like your family to take home with her. (We had visits first before she was permanently with us).

Keep his/her schedule the same for at least a year. For example, snack, bath, brush teeth, story & snuggles, bed. The same order every time! And only you and your husband/wife take care of all of her needs for that time. I know grandparents, aunts and uncles may want to help out, but this is the critical year for you to bond with her.

Make a Lifebook together! This photo book starts from the day he/she was born. Not when they first came to be a part of your family! Their story starts from birth. Check out this website & book written by Beth O’Malley.

Visit her foster family a few weeks after she’s settled in. That way she can see that it was a decision that everyone made together, and that the foster family is still alive and well.

If she is a little older but still drinking a bottle, let her have it a little while longer. You want to keep things as consistent as possible.

Be open about it. We tell GG all the time that she must have gotten her beautiful eyes from her birth mom or dad. Or we talk about her birth (the things we do know about it) and what it must have been like. We talk about how she is blessed with 3 moms – a birth mom, a foster mom and a forever mom. (And dad’s too). That’s a lot of people who love her. We write letters to her birth mom when she wants to. There are no secrets. (We do however keep any details she isn’t old enough to understand yet).We talk a lot about how blessed we are to have her in our lives.

Here are some good books to read:

The Connected Child 

Adopting the Hurt Child

Parenting the Hurt Child

Toddler Adoption

These are a few of the books that I still remember. It has been a while since I’ve read anything on Adoption and I’m sure there are many more that I’ve forgotten and have never read. A search in amazon will give you a lot of options to choose from but also check out Parent Books! They have every book on every topic of parenting. They are a store based out of Toronto but you can purchase their books online.

If you have any other questions or concerns, feel free to send me an email!

 

 

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Starting School – Inclusion or Not…

This is a choice that you will have to make yourself based on your own child, but I thought I would share with you our experience. It all depends on the type of support your school board is going to provide, but again, you know your child best! Go with your gut. Here is our experience and what we’ve learned from it.

When GG first got diagnosed we saw many health care providers and therapists. We read every book and went to many, many workshops. The advocating workshops taught us how to communicate with the school team. The workshops were also about our child’s right to attend a mainstream school. “They deserve to be where every other child is. They shouldn’t be secluded because of their diagnosis. They have the RIGHT to be at school with other children, in the same class. They should not be segregated in an integrated setting.” These same workshops left you feeling strong enough to fight the school board and advocate for full support if needed. I now had the tricks and legal wording I needed to make sure they understood my daughter’s needs and provided for them. As an EA, I see parents come in to meetings ready for the “fight” because in all honesty, that is what it has come down to with all of the cutbacks we are seeing. The Catholic board advertises full inclusion and that our children are a respected member of the school community. I believe in their hearts, they want that to be true. But over the years, I have worked with children who have only needed academic help to being a flight risk, harm to self/others, and attendant care, to now only working with the child who is most “disruptive”. Even children who need help with toileting, are non-verbal and a flight risk don’t necessarily get support if they are quiet and easy-going.

That is one part of making a decision on whether or not to go to a mainstream school. The other part though, and this is where I am all for segregating (shocking I know) is that some our children never feel like they belong.

GG was the type of child who would copy any negative outburst or self-harm she witnessed. So being in a class with other children with autism who did this would not be a good placement for her at that time. Also, academically she was pretty close to the same level as her peers until grade 2. She seems to be stuck at this level for most things (maybe some grade 3) and she is now in grade 8. The gap just gets bigger and bigger. Socially, she is like a 4-6 year old in grade 8 class with a bunch of 13 year olds. She has lost all confidence in herself. She is so aware of her differences and needs compared to her peers she absolutely hates it. She uses up all of her energy trying to fit in and be like everyone else. Her pediatric psychologist said it is like being a Buddha in a Catholic school. You get along with others, yet you never really feel like you fit in. She is full of stress and anxiety. She is pushing her support away by being rude, non-compliant and silent. Our happy go lucky girl (most of the time) is now angry and somewhat depressed. I’m sure teenage hormones are a part of this as well!

We tried to get her into a class with children who are diagnosed with LD (the autism class had too many children that she could not relate to but the LD class had more peers struggling like she was). The wait list was so long, they didn’t believe she would get there before grade 9. Now we are on the search for the best high school placement for her.

Some things to consider when choosing a school:

*Location and transportation – you need to make home life easy for you and the family as well

*Amount of support needed and the availability at that school to provide it

*Social struggles that may arise in the future. How aware is your child going to be of their differences and what is their personality to be able to handle that?

*Knowledge of staff and accessibility of the school

You can request meetings with several different schools and interview them just as you would if you were hiring someone to do a job for you.

Click here to see a list of questions to ask when interviewing different schools.

If you can or may need to in the future, home schooling can also be a great option if you are able to do so mentally and financially. There are many different home school groups in communities that you can tap into for support. Click here for homeschool resources and information.

 

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Interviewing Schools

Here are some questions you could ask while interviewing schools:

  1. Tell me about your special education program.
  2. What would class instruction look like?
  3. What experiences do you or your staff have with (fill in the blank) diagnosis?
  4. How can they support your child’s learning?
  5. How long are the wait lists for physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy etc.?
  6. If needed, what kind of 1:1 support would your child receive (Educational Assistant, Special Education Resource Teacher, etc.)?

Click here for some great info. and resources that apply to Ontario schools.

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Holiday Hangover!

Wowzers!! Our GG has a major meltdown after every holiday or special occasion. We call it the “Holiday Hangover”. It never fails. Each and every time. After Christmas and her birthday are the biggest ones. Screaming, crying, laughing to screaming again. Scratching herself and bending joints. After 13 years, this is the FIRST time ever that she hasn’t had a meltdown! Now it’s only January 1st today, but we usually have it on the 26th of December. Fingers crossed we’ve passed the timeline! 🙂

Every year I wish there was something we could do to prevent it. But for us, the reality is, we gotta let her have it! She has to get it all out in order to feel normal again. I think with all of the excitement, sensory overload, sugar rush and disappointment that it has all come to an end (especially her best friend & elf, Sparkle, heading back to the North Pole for the year) is just too much for her to handle.

So for now, we let her have at it for a while in her room, then we hold her if she will let us safely to provide some deep pressure. I’ve put her between the mattress and box spring when she requires more pressure than a hug can give. It can last an hour or more. It’s hard to watch and hard to listen to but it has to come out. It is literally like a volcano has exploded. We don’t discuss it for at least two to three hours later. We then talk about some strategies she can try next time and discuss her feelings if she is able to express them. If not, we move on with our day.

If you have other children in the house check out my post on Sibling Sanity. There are some ideas on what your other children can do while the house is filled with cries and screams!

If you have any tips to help us out, please share!!

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Surviving the Holidays

Christmas is GG’s favourite time of the year! She would talk about it all year round if we let her! But it can also be extremely stressful. She is filled with excitement and wonder and worries and questions! OMG the questions and comments about Christmas are never ending!

She worries about being on the nice list, she worries her elf will have lost her magic, she worries about how she will control herself around all of the food and she is stressed because we are so out of her regular routine, we don’t know what we are doing from day to day.

Here are some things we do to enjoy the holidays…

Schedule for the Day/Facing the Unknown: We try to keep as much consistency as possible. We keep to her scheduled eating (breakfast at 9:00, snack at 10:30, lunch at noon, snack at 2:30, dinner – when it’s ready). But over the holidays when we are visiting friends and family we let her eat 3 small treats or 1 large one if there is a display of food. We are fortunate that she will follow these rules even if she doesn’t like them.

We will write down a schedule for the week on a piece of paper and/or a whiteboard in her room. If we don’t know what we are doing we still make up a schedule but it just says “Stay at home”.   Some children (and adults) will benefit from a stay at home schedule that includes ideas of different activities they can do while at home. Such as 9:00 Painting, 10:00 iPad, 11:00 outside play, etc.

Change of Plans: If you have already told your child you will be doing one thing but then plans change unexpectantly, you can make up some little cards to help. The trick is to have these cards and bags handy. Store some in the glove box, your purse, by the door, etc.

Here is an example:

Change It Up!

Take Your Pick:

-Chew a piece of gum

-Choose a toy from the bag

-Take 5 deep breaths

-Suck on a candy

Hand your child the card when telling them about the change of plans. (Always introduce and teach a new strategy – such as this card – before needing to use it. Role playing works great)!

Getting a toy, piece of gum or candy distracted GG enough to get over the change in plans. She never chose the deep breaths! Lol The bag is just a small bag with a drawstring from the $ store filled with some characters, stickers, lego pieces etc. (also from the $ store). You can use pictures taken from google images instead of words if your child doesn’t read (or is too upset about the change to read).

Allow Downtime: We also allow more down time than usual. Spending time with other children is very difficult for her. As much as we try and encourage her to play when other children are visiting, we don’t bug her too much during this time of year if there are large crowds. For us, the holidays are not a time to teach play skills because it is too overwhelming for her to retain anything.

Every child is different and I’m sure each one of you has a challenge that occurs year after year. So instead of making this post too long, write a comment or send me an email with some of your difficulties and I’ll try to get back to you with some specific strategies. (The best I can without visiting and seeing you and your child in person). You can reach me at  wellbalancedlife@rogers.com

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Sibling Sanity

Having a sibling with special needs can be very rewarding but it also comes with it’s own set of challenges.

The first part of this post is really me bragging about my kids but it’s also to give you hope that things will be ok! Feel free to scroll down to the strategies section if you’re short on time. 🙂

Starting with the great benefits, our children are extremely accepting, patient, supportive and kind. (Maybe not always with their sibling, but when necessary, they will always defend them)!

They are always making friends with other peers in their school/class/team/etc. with and without needs.

When my daughter was young, she always invited the children who normally don’t get invited anywhere to her birthday parties or out to a movie. Not because she felt bad for them but because she could see beyond what others may be intimidated by and genuinely liked the friendship they built together. Whether that friend had autism or was just quirky or was socially “different”.  She always sees the good in people.

GG’s brother has a heart of gold too. He is sensitive and kind and extremely thoughtful when it comes to others. If he does do something he shouldn’t to fit in he has major regret. Together we come up with a way to make things right. But if he sees someone with special abilities being treated unfairly, you bet he will step in.

I believe growing up in a family with special needs has opened their eyes to the challenges, heartaches and struggles that any child or adult may go through. They know that everyone has their own story and their own struggles and to not judge anyone because of that. Seeing their sister grow up to be a young girl who wants nothing more than to be accepted has shaped a part of who they are. We couldn’t be more proud of all 3 of them.

Here are some strategies to try out during those difficult moments:

The Screaming Meltdowns: This sucks! No other way to put it. When someone is screaming for hours, you just want to cry yourself sometimes. It is loud, annoying, sad and just plain awful.

If you have another adult or the kids are old enough to go out on their own, send them outside. Give them a few dollars to walk to the store for a treat (make sure they eat it all before coming back)! Walk to the park, go for a drive, wherever you can go.

If they can’t leave the house or are young, try setting up an area in the house they can go to when the crying is happening. Have a few pillows, a bean bag chair, iPod, iPad, headphones, books, lollipops (you can get some healthier ones at Homesense, Marshalls or Winners). Basically a hang out spot where they can go to chill out. A little tent for smaller bodies to sit in would be fun too!

If your children are older and/or have to get their homework done, a space in their room for this helps out. If you have room, set up a desk area. If space is tight, get one of those lap pillows with the hard top they can write on. Have headphones with an iPod or some other music source or try out some noise reduction headphones! They work great!! It doesn’t block out the noise completely but does a pretty good job. Just google or check out amazon.ca. Look up EAR PROTECTION headphones. You can get a pair for about $30.

Time Consumed by Needs: Let’s face it. Our child with needs takes up a lot of our time. And that’s ok! We are happy to help her! But you have to remember to make time for the others. Kids AND hubby or wife.

We have what we call “Special Time” with each other. That is 1 on 1 or 2 on 1 time with each child. As often as we can, we schedule time on the calendar for both their dad and I (or just one of us) to do something with one of the kids. It’s called Special Time because we are together. It doesn’t matter what you do. It could be going to the park, out for dinner, skating, sledding, visiting the library, even hanging out at home watching a movie on our iPad snuggled up in bed. We even have “Talk Time” where we hang out in our room just talking about stuff.  Once a year we schedule a bigger outing. We would head out to the city and go to a Disney on Ice show, or Monster Trucks. My husband and daughter have been going to see the Nutcracker Ballet for 11 years now! It might be an overnighter at a hotel where we swim, jump on the beds and get room service. It’s great quality time together that is all about them. Not their siblings. Just them. And it’s precious.

Make sure to schedule time with your partner as well. We try to plan a date night once a month. It might be a dinner, movie or even lunch during our lunch break from work. It’s hard but we try not to talk about the kids. Although I don’t think we’ve ever been successful with that! Lol Make sure to schedule this on the calendar. Even a walk after dinner.

If you need someone to watch your children find another family who you trust that you can take turns watching their children also. Or a young teenager who has experience (maybe a sibling) is a great choice too. A teacher or educational assistant that works with your child at school is another great option.

Click here for some respite support services you can tap in to for Ontario residents. I’m sure no matter where you live, there are supports in place. A quick google search should help. If you still need assistance, send me an email and I’ll see what I can find out for you.

Hopefully this helps but if you need more help with something specific, send me an email. We’ll figure something out together!

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Day of Diagnosis

We chose a special needs adoption and although we weren’t sure of the road ahead, we didn’t have to grieve for our loss that so many families do. Grief is real. I’ve worked with so many children whose parents are still grieving years after their child’s birth. This is normal. You have to go through all of the stages. And although I’ve felt a smidgen of this, I haven’t dealt with this side of things. So if you are comfortable commenting below with your story if you feel it could help just one family, please do. Also, check out this letter written by Emily Perle Kingsley titled “Welcome to Holland” that may give you some comfort!

Our Story…

When we first left the doctor’s office after receiving G.G’s autism diagnosis, I remember feeling relieved to finally have a path to follow! It explained so much and now we had direction.

Driving away from the doctor’s office we thought “OK! Now what?!” The doctor provided us with some information on government resources and pamphlets and that was about it. Don’t get me wrong! She is a phenomenal pediatrician!!! She did a wonderful job with G.G. during her assessment and took the time to answer any questions we had. The problem was, I didn’t know what questions to ask! I had worked a little bit with a child or two who had autism, but if you’ve heard the term, “When you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met ONE person with autism.” It is so true!! As much as many people diagnosed with autism share certain characteristics, they are all extremely unique! We didn’t know what to expect, what the future would hold, or what all of our needs would be! And I mean ALL – G.G., hubby, her brother and sister and myself. So please keep reading my posts! I will share our adventure, provide you with some strategies & resources that you can start with right away and links to help your whole family live a Well Balanced Life!

Let our journey together continue! You are NOT alone!

xo

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Diagnosed! Now what?!?!

Gracie’s first diagnosis was autism so that is where we are going to start. For those of you who have a child with a different diagnosis, check out the resources page for something that may help you there. Also, keep reading this post, because you never know! Something might be of use to you here. If you still aren’t sure where to turn, send me an email at wellbalancedlife@rogers.com and I’ll see what I can do!

First thing’s first, take a deep breath! Know that there is a TON of support out there for you and your family! I will do my best to let you know about all of the freebies out there.  You should qualify for a disability tax credit which can help out with some therapy and resources also.

Here are some links to the Ontario Government website that can answer many of the questions you may have. The menu on the left has a list of options for those with another diagnosis.

Next, get your child on the wait list for IBI (Intensive Behavioural Intervention). You can actually get your child on the wait list if there is suspicion of autism. IBI is not for everyone and not everyone qualifies. But it is a long process to get to the top of the wait list so you might as well get started now. If your child doesn’t need IBI therapy by the time they call, great! You just let them know that your child doesn’t need their services. If your child does need it, well you will be happy you put them on the long wait list! No harm done planning ahead! Here are some FAQ from the Ontario government website on IBI. To get your child registered click here for more information. Your child needs to be referred by a physician or psychologist so definitely ask your doctor/pediatrician about this! Once you are on the list for IBI services, you may be provided with support while you wait.

There are several support systems in your own community. If you are not sure, ask your doctor. They should have a list of contacts for you to see.

Remember, as hard as this can be, you now have a path. Some sense of direction. Learn all you can. It is a community like no other so try and find other families who have been down the same road.

That’s what this blog is all about. To let you know you are not alone! Together we will see the exceptionalities and wonder of our children. And together we’ll get through the tough times.

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