I feel a little embarrassed that I have left it so long to post – I’m not even sure why I stopped.  But how about I give it another go?

A year is probably too long to catch up, but I’ll give the last twelve month’s fostering a paragraph of its own.

Little Jamie ended up staying almost four months, and in that time he and I developed a lovely relationship.  Despite his autism he was very responsive to our interactions and I was happy to see his sign language and speech develop considerably during that time.  But when his first foster mum finished her medical treatment she was keen and ready to have him home, so we transitioned over a week, then said our goodbyes.  The next few months saw no placements – very few babies and toddlers came through our agency during that time.  So, after a little discussion with the family, we decided to put our “preferred age” up to six, and a few days later we were placed with a five year old girl I’ll call Beckie. That was in mid January  so Beckie has now been with us six months. Angel still comes to us for respite one weekend a month – he loves Beckie (but I’m not sure the feeling’s reciprocated).

Although this is the first time Beckie has been in fostercare, it would appear she has had a fairly disrupted early life, often being cared for by friends and family members for significant lengths of time when her Mum was unable to do so.  I think an older sister, now seventeen, has paid a large part in her care as well, and Beckie seems very attached to her, and seems to miss her more than she does the rest of her family.

The early weeks with Beckie were pretty easy.  She was quiet and undemanding,  happy and contented.  She seemed  remarkedly easy going and very adaptable.  A  good thing, as in those first few weeks with us she started Prep at the local school,  had thirteen badly decayed baby teeth removed under general anesthetic, and was involved in the lead up and actual wedding of our oldest daughter, Jess.

In those first few months I concentrated on helping Beckie to feel like she belonged in our family, giving her as many “normal” family experiences as possible. She responded well to a fairly structured bedtime routine, and boardgames and story reading  became integral to that. She wasn’t very ready for school so we often spent time doing activities and games to help her learn her sounds and numbers, and to improve her fine motor co-ordination. Now, half way through the school year, her improvement has been quite noticeable, and she spends most of her spare time on these activities (yesterday’s rainy Sunday afternoon she spent  making cards for all her friends at school,  asking me to spell all their names as she wrote in each one) .

I must admit the last few months Beckie hasn’t been quite the cheery and easygoing little girl she first appeared.  As she’s settled into the family she seems comfortable to let her guard down, so we sometimes experience  contrary and defiant behaviour that was previously unseen. I think she also struggles to balance the ongoing relationship she has with her birthmum, who she sees weekly for a couple of hours, and her growing attachment to me. Kids sometimes pull back when they realise they’re growing closer to their fostermum, maybe in a sort of emotional loyalty to their “real” mum and to protect themselves from being hurt. I see this quite clearly in Beckie.  We will have a couple of good days where she’s very happy and cuddly with me, then she suddenly does an about turn, refusing to comply to the normal demands of getting ready for school or bed, telling me she hates me, not wanting me to touch her or clean her teeth or brush her hair, activities she normally loves me to do.  Eventually her anger just dissipates or turns to distress and she lets me soothe her with cuddling  and rocking, and it all comes good again.  It seems like a cycle we just have to have.

Portia, who turned sixteen last week, is in year ten and very involved in her sports, music and drama – plus she has a parttime job  working in a local bakery five hours each Saturday.  So long as she takes her Concerta every morning, she stays on top of it all.  By the end of the day she starts getting a bit hyped up and disorganised, and that’s when she starts annoying her brother and sister with her jibes and nagging.  Luckily she usually takes herself to bed about then.

Seth has had a difficult start to the school year.  After seven blissful weeks of school holidays over the Summer he started in year eight the first of February.  We immediately struck trouble – in the first weeks of school he ran away four times, usually following an altercation with a teacher.  The kid who used to switch off and lay his head down on the table and refuse to work when he got overwhelmed  had begun to act out instead.  Not exactly aggressive, but definitely oppositional and belligerent.  And teachers were not willing to deal with that!

I attended meetings at school and we discussed what was happening to Seth – a new school year with a lot of new teachers who just didn’t know FASD  (because I hadn’t the chance to properly introduce them to it – very few professionals in Australia do know about FASD), an increasing gap in his ability and understanding and the demands of the year eight curriculum, the contrast of school with the freedom of the summer school holidays, and the raging hormones of an almost fourteen year old . We were stuck with the limitations of a state school system that only provides real special education in schools specifically for kids with an IQ under 70.  Kids like Seth are offered the services of a teacher aide (he shares his with three other boys in the class) and a modified program i.e. lower expectations and easier worksheets within the regular classroom with a curriculum aimed at the typical year eighter.  Seth was sitting in a maths class with kids learning about fractions and decimals whilst he struggled with a page of  equations requiring number facts to 100, without the concrete materials he would need to complete these sums (which he’d be too embarrassed to use even if it was made available).  He usually managed to get through half the day, but by the end of break at 12 o’clock,  some little frustration would result in a blowout and he’d do a runner!

The school tried hard to come up with some solutions to the problem but none of them could really address the underlying difficulties of teaching a kid with all the learning difficulties of FASD. Basically  Seth ended up home again for the next three months, not even home schooling – just no schooling at all.  At the end of May we got him along to a small community school about twenty minutes from home, for kids who have not met with success in mainstream schools.  He tried it out for a week or so and agreed it was better than his old school, so we enrolled him and he’s now been there the first two weeks of this term.  He’s not enthusiastic but he does get up each morning and leaves on time with Ian, who drops him on the way to work.  He’s in a class of twelve, with each kid working individually. The mornings are spent on numeracy and literacy, the afternoons he chooses from a number of electives – designed to build upon the kid’s interests and strengths.  It seems like Seth is staying safe and sticking to the computer programs.  Hopefully he’ll be adventurous and take on some art, music, or martial arts program in the months ahead.  I feel hopeful that this school will be able to work with Seth, despite his significant learning disabilities and consequent behaviour problems, and keep him somewhat engaged for another few years before helping him move into employment.  Is that too much to ask?

In the meantime I try to educate just about everyone I meet on FASD.  We were allocated a social worker (through the Department of Education) to help us work out Seth’s schooling needs.  She’d hardly heard of FASD before meeting Seth, but took it upon herself to go off and research, so that should hold her in good stead for the future when she may well meet other alcohol effected kids, even though they may not have a diagnosis (there being no real FASD diagnostic services in our state, or even the country, that I’ve  discovered) .  I’ve tried to educate Seth’s pediatrician, but she didn’t seem all that interested except to try him on a few medications, ritalin and straterra, neither of which seemed to have any noticeable effect. The principal and integration teacher at his old school certainly know a lot more about the effects of alcohol on a child’s brain than they did previously – it may help them to understand other children presenting with similar learning difficulties in the future.  And every foster carer I talk with learns a little more about what they should be looking for when children come into care, even if I can’t refer them anywhere for diagnosis and services, as I would love to be able to do. Since Seth joined our family as a tiny baby over fourteen years ago, I have endeavoured to learn all I can about FASD, for his sake, and to support  all those other parents out there also living with the damage from fetal alcohol. Some hobby, hey?

3rd Jul, 2009

Fostering again

Although I still have Angel visiting one weekend a month and little Shane for two days a week, I was happy to receive the phone call asking me to take on the placement of another two year old boy for around six weeks.  I’m picking him up this afternoon so I should be downstairs sorting out his room but I thought I’d share my news instead.

This little guy is presently with another carer (a friend I’ve known for years)  but she has to go in for an operation on Monday and will need a fair bit of time to recuperate before she will be ready to have little Jamie back with her. We’ve had a few visits with him and one overnight stay, during which he seemed fairly settled, so hopefully he’ll adjust to the move without too many difficulties.

Jamie demonstrated some unusual characteristics during his infancy which concerned his carer (a very experienced lady who has been fostering babies for over forty years) and were put down to early trauma and the lack of a good attachment prior to coming into care at five months.  With good care and attunement he improved and developed a good relationship with his carer but she still had concerns.  It took months to convince the protective worker, who saw Jamie rarely and felt there was nothing unusual about him, to allow her to take the little boy (then almost two) to see a paediatrician.  A couple of visits later the doctor diagnosed Jamie with autism which explained a number of his odd behaviours and gives everyone a little more direction.

He is two and a half, has very little language, plays with toys in a fairly limited fashion and interacts with people on his own terms.  In the short time I’ve had him with me I’ve found he will listen to simple conversation and short stories,  engage readily in fun, physical play with me and the two older kids, enjoys being held and accepts hugs and other affectionate contact. I’ve yet to see him dissolve into rage or even get upset, but I hope he already feels comfortable enough with me to be held and soothed when that does happen (as I’m sure it eventually will!)

I wonder what Angel will think when he arrives for the weekend (end of next week) and finds another two year old in his space and with “his” family.  I’ll have to rope Portia in to be very available that weekend (she’s pretty good with little kids – lots of experience in a fostering family) so we can share the attention around.  Should be fun….(but anticipating hubby will spend a fair bit of time hiding out in his study!)

Now I’m off to sort out our fosterkid’s  room – just a bit of dusting and rearranging of toys and clothing – ready for the new occupant.

17th Jun, 2009

A weekend with Angel

We recently had Angel for a weekend respite.  He’s just over two, has very little language, but he is constantly on the go and I found it quite hard to keep up with him.  Any time I tried to engage him in an activity he’d leave me sitting  in a pile of duplo blocks or surrounded with toy cars and by the time I unfolded myself from the floor and reached him, he’d have  all the cooking pans out on the floor or my library books from the shelves (lucky I’m good at repairing torn pages with invisible tape!).

The calmest times of the weekend were long walks in the pusher when he even had a nap, bathtime – where it was worth wiping up bucketfulls of water to have him contained in one spot for almost an hour, and bedtime – he snuggled in my arms with his thumb in his mouth, wrapped in his favourite soft, fleecy blanket, and peacefully drifting off to sleep.

When Angel left my care four months ago it was into the custody of his Grandma but his mother and great-grandmother also live in the home and have some care of him. During the week he spends over nine hours each day in daycare where I imagine he has a number of carers. Having lived with me for nineteen months right through his infancy he developed a pretty strong attachment which I feel is still very evident when he’s back with me for just that one weekend a month.  I wonder who he feels close to the other twenty-eight days?

I worry that with so many caregivers in his life he doesn’t have a healthy strong attachment with any single one of them and this could be detrimental to his development – to his language acquisition, his ability to focus and stick to an activity, or to quieten down enough to play a game or listen to a story.  All weekend I struggled to do any of these things with him – I’d have to catch him first!

But he is a child who engages well with people. He often came to me and ask to be picked up (he knows the word up! …and to raise his arms).  He was happy to share cuddles when he hurt himself or was getting a little tired.  He excitedly showed me things, gave me things and greeted all members of our family, people and animals with delighted joy. And he’s quick to laugh when anyone engages him in a bit of fun. He especially loves the rough and tumble activity he shares with thirteen year old Seth.

I don’t feel confident that Angel has managed to transfer his attachment from me to another significant person in his life (and who would that be?) but I have to hope that the strong, secure relationship he developed with me over the year and a half that I was his mum has given him qualities and resilience that will help him to  grow and develop as he should.  And I hope that Grandma agrees to continue these monthly respites so I get to see him grow for a little while longer and continue to spend time with this little boy that I so love.

Our fostercare agency is having a slow time at the moment with fewer than normal placements coming in.  I guess that’s a good thing – hopefully it means other services of a preventative nature are doing their job and keeping children with their families.  Meanwhile, since Angel went home over three months ago I’ve been keeping myself busy with assorted household chores and constructions and crafts, and even flew up to New South Wales last week to spend some time with my Mum.

(That’s a story in itself.  Mum’s little township was cut off from the airport by floods, which meant hubby and I had two nights in a motel biding our time and impatiently waiting for the water to go down.  When it didn’t my Mum we chartered a helicopter to pick us up and deliver us to the soccer field near her house – an amazing 25 minute trip hovering less than one thousand feet above the coastline of northern New South Wales!  What an adventure – and weren’t my kids envious!)

I can keep myself busy and useful and I don’t mind my own company, but when you’re a foster carer not having a little one to care for leaves life feeling a little empty. So it’s been rather nice the past month or so minding a friend’s little boy a couple of days a week.  This little fellow, nearly three, has been in care with his baby sister for around seven months now.  When I saw my friend (a single mum with no adult children at home) struggling to meet the needs of these two littlies or find any time for herself, I offered to  help with the little boy (I’ll call him Shane) who I’d met a few times and felt very drawn to.

This is the second time Shane has been in foster care, the first time being as a baby.  It would seem both his Mum and Dad have personal problems of their own and struggle to parent their two babies  adequately so Shane appears to have missed out on a good parental attachment and has also had experiences that have caused him significant trauma. He’s a little developmentally delayed, has poor speech, doesn’t know how to socialise with kids his own age, is quite aggressive to his little sister and even occasionally to his carer, and is prone to meltdowns for reasons not always obvious to those looking on. So when I pick him up on Tuesdays and Thursdays to take him home with me for a few hours his carer has a chance to spend some uninterrupted time with the little girl and I have time with Shane trying to make up for some missed experiences that most three year olds would take for granted. And we have fun.

Shane loves playdoh, water and bubbles and, when given a little encouragement, slopping about in shaving cream.  At the park he likes to lay on the grass and play in the tan-bark under the swings.  Sometime soon I need to pick up some clean river sand and fill the plastic sandpit so he can play about with that too. He likes to hold my hand to walk along the curb, but he doesn’t like the swing and won’t come down the slide.  When I make him an obstacle course he will climb over and into things but not under or through them so we’ll work on some of those challenges.

His carer complains that he won’t be comforted easily, that she can’t cuddle him or soothe him, so Shane and I spend quite a bit of time working on that.  We play baby games with his fingers and toes.  I sing little songs that end with me hugging him or tickling or kissing him on the nose.  I roll him around on the shaggy floor mat that tickles his bare tummy. I have furry, fluffy puppets and teddies move over his body and up his tshirt, hugging him and caressing  his face.  Mostly I wrap him in a soft coral-fleece baby blanket and I cuddle him on my lap as I rock in the chair and whisper little stories and songs in his ear and tell him what a sweet and lovable little boy he is.  I only have Shane those few hours twice a week but I’m determined to make the most of our short time together and give him what his own parents were unable to and his foster carer finds difficult to.

While I don’t have a child in my care I borrow someone elses and on those nights I go to bed feeling like my day was worthwhile.

2nd Jun, 2009

Homework Stress

It’s coming up to report writing time at school and I’ve received a number of requests from teachers for Seth to complete overdue homework.  Seth is very unmotivated when it comes to any school activities and is extremely unwilling to do homework.  He tells me “school is prison and home should be freedom” and wants to write to the Government to get them to abolish homework because kids already do enough work at school.  With an attitude like that how do we encourage him to complete his homework?

My older four kids, by the time they got to secondary school, had an idea that they were at school to learn, that there was satisfaction in a job well done, and that skills and knowledge had advantages down the track.  I guess because of his FASD Seth doesn’t look past today and certainly has no sense of the big picture.  Telling him he needs to learn maths this year so he can do next year’s maths and maybe go on to do a computer course at College (which will require some maths) just doesn’t convince him. And even if his homework is relatively interesting and stimulating he is not easily engaged.

So in the end I have to resort to bribes and threats.  Mostly this revolves around his computer time, the currency that means the most to him. I’ll put a note on his computer screen saying “You may go on the computer as soon as you finish your cultural project”.  He’ll argue and whine and attempt to negotiate – “I’ll just play this one game then I’ll do my homework”, and I try to stay calm and consistent and remind him that if he quickly does his project now, with me helping him, he’ll be done in an hour and can go back on the computer.  Instead he gets upset, slinks off to his room or goes out on his bike, returns later and starts the whole argument again.  By the time he realises there’s no alternative he’s in such a cranky mood that he puts little effort into his work, needs to be guided through step by step and ends up with a very poor project which he has no pride in and usually ends up forgetting to hand in on time!

I’m feeling very frustrated with the situation, and wonder how we’re going to get through the next few years working this way. I can’t see Seth learning anything through his homework and his immature attitude seems to be worsening with adolescent defiance, not improving with the acceptance and wisdom of age which I noted in my older “neurotypical” teenagers when they got to this age.

Some people tell me that homework should be his problem not mine and that I should let the school deal with it by giving him detentions and suchlike.  But Seth isn’t good at understanding consequences and I feel like that will just increase his anxiety about school and his reluctance to be there. We step on eggshells with these kids.

Anyway, I’d best go off and finish the housework. Seth will be home from school soon and the two of us have a lot of homework to get through tonight.

8th May, 2009

Part-time fostercare

I have no foster children at this time.  It is almost three months since Angel returned to his Grandmother’s care and he comes to us just once a month for a respite weekend (I’m picking him up from his daycare this afternoon and he’ll stay till Sunday – I’m quite excited at the prospect!)

My daughter Jess works at our fostercare agency and tells me there are no more than one or two placements coming in each week at present, and a good number of carers available, so I’m guessing it might be a while before we have another little one in the house  (and so few kids coming into care has to be a good thing,  doesn’t it?).

Meantime I’m helping out with a little boy who’s in care with a friend of mine. He is two and a half and has suffered a good deal of trauma and neglect within his birth family.  He and his baby sister, just  turned one, have been with my friend for six months, and although things have improved (not so much screaming and head-banging) he still has some very challenging behaviours.

One problem is that he is quite aggressive towards the little girl, and has to be constantly watched.  He is prone to sudden outbursts and periods of dysregulation, and is also somewhat developmentally delayed.  He really needs a lot of individual attention and my friend finds this difficult – as a single parent living alone she feels unable to meet his needs fully when his little sister needs her so much too.

So whilst I have a fair bit of spare time I’ve committed to taking the little boy (I’ll call him Shane) out to the park or back to my place a couple of times a week.  I’m hoping to give him lots of sensory experiences, like water and sandplay,bubbles , coloured rice, playdoh and suchlike, because I think he’s missed out on that sort of play, and it might help him “catch up”  a bit.

A few weeks ago I sprayed shaving cream over a little plastic table and he played with that very happily.  His favourite pasttime  was to run a little metal car through the sludge then give the car a “bath” in the tub of water I had on the floor.  He became very repetitive with this play so I let him go for a while then diverted him with a few other ideas.  But he definitely preferred his car bathing.

When I gave him a sponge and showed him how to wipe the shaving cream off he became very engaged with that too.  Between the two of us it took some time to completely clean up the mess, but it was in the middle of the kitchen, so no drama.  I took some photos too.  Thought I might make some little laminated books of the activities we do, to try to encourage his speech.  He’s really only speaking in single words, so this needs some encouragement. I’m enjoying this little guy’s company, and am hopeful my time with him will be helpful to him, as well as giving his carer a little respite.

So with no full-time placement I have lots of time to do stuff that is usually too difficult with a baby or toddler around.  I’ve had my sewing machine out making curtains and cushions (and little padded sleeping bags for Seth’s pet rats). I’ve been reading more, doing a little knitting (a hooded poncho for my little friend Holly’s baby born doll – hope it works out.  I’m sort of making it up as I go along!) and the other night my hubby and I took the two kids to the movies – no babysitter required!

I am keeping busy – and that’s without the scrapbooking I keep promising myself to get back to – so I guess it doesn’t matter that I might be waiting a while for a foster child…..but I can’t help but feel that I’m just in limbo, and I won’t feel completely satisfied till I’m fostering again.

15th Mar, 2009

Catching Up

I’ve been away from my blog for a while so this post will be a catch up so my little handful of readers know where I’m at. Life got very busy in the later months of last year. I have to admit it was all a little overwhelming for a while and reading and writing blogs was the last thing on my mind.

Home schooling Seth with a toddler around was difficult enough, but we were renovating at the same time which added extra noise, mess and stress to our lives.  I was so busy most of the time keeping Angel out of trouble as our old kitchen and family room were slowly demolished that I often had to leave Seth working alone, usually on the computer, which meant he never got much work done.

When Angel went off for a couple of hours access or went down for his afternoon nap I attempted to spend some active learning time with Seth.  But wouldn’t you know it, that would be the time the builder would call me out to discuss some tedious but important aspect of the renovations. By the time I got back to Seth he’d lost the little bit of enthusiasm we had built up and I’d wear myself out trying to reignite his interest, usually to no avail.

Is this typical of kids with FASD do you think?  Seth is very difficult to engage, and he doesn’t possess a lot of curiosity about the world.  He showed a little interest in a few aspects of bodily function (typical of a twelve year old boy) so I went out and bought a rather expensive and exciting book (a DK book called “ALIVE – the ultimate pop-up human body book”).  I figured even if we just read it together and explored all the little pop-up sections and the working bits he’d learn something about how the body works, but getting him interested was like pulling teeth!  I got excited about stuff I hadn’t looked at since year eleven biology, but he didn’t share my interest.  Even when I traced around his body (onto a wall that would later be painted over) and we used the book to draw in the main organs  in his body, he kept asking me how long was it going to take,  when would Portia be home, could he go and ride his bike…

In the end most of Seth’s learning came from his interest in computers and cameras. If I could use either of these in the process of him doing an activity it would be a little more successful than if I didn’t. (Thank goodness for modern technology!)  He shares these interests with his big brother and they spent one day together in early December making a video for a competition run by Big Brown Box. Wasn’t Seth thrilled when they won the competition and he’s now impatiently awaiting the delivery of a new computer as part of their winnings.

As much as I enjoyed spending time with Seth during his homeschooling stint (but feeling forever guilty that I wasn’t teaching him enough), I must admit I was glad when mid December came around and we decided it was time for him to graduate from Primary school. Our State schools don’t break up till a few days before Christmas but the private school system tends to finish a week earlier – so that’s the timeline I followed.  The whole family went out to dinner, we presented Seth with a certificate and a book and he began his seven week break before commencing  Secondary School the first week of February.

Just two days before Christmas our renovations were all complete including the new kitchen and an enormous under cover deck which is perfect for family gatherings and a great place for toddlers to play.  We set up a plastic cubby house for Angel and bought him a ride-on tractor with a trailer. After months of not being able to let him outdoors to play, except out the front on the asphalt driveway,  I could now just close the child-proof gate and let him wander in and out as he pleased.

Not for long though. Soon after that was Angel’s court case, and a decision was made that he would go into his Grandmother’s care after four weeks of transition which included increasingly longer overnight stays.  So during the end of January and the first few weeks of February Angel spent most of his time with his birth family, coming back to us for a few days at a time before returning to Grandma again.  He seemed fairly settled in both homes, although he was always very excited to return to us and cried quite pitifully when the worker took him away.  But the reports from his protective worker were positive and she felt he was building a good relationship with Grandma so when it went to Court on the 18th of February custody was awarded to Grandma and he returned home the next day.

Life is quiet without our lively little boy, and at times I miss him terribly, but I reminded myself that the outcome of reunification is what we as foster carers strive for.  But it’s hard parenting a baby for nineteen months then having him leave.

So now we’re taking a break from fostering and I’m having a catch-up time.  Portia and Seth have been at school for six weeks, and Angel’s been away for most of that time.  With the renovations complete I have a few building and cleaning and sewing jobs to complete which would be impossible to do with a toddler around.  I hope to cross them all of my list by the end of term as we’re going camping for a week over Easter and when we come home I’ll let the agency know we’ll be available for placement again.

In the meantime I’ve been doing a bit of extra training, mostly around infant care, although we’re looking at taking on a toddler to preschooler next time rather than another little babe.  I’m rather keen to try out all that training I’ve done (including  seminars by Bruce Perry and Kate Cairns) on reparenting the traumatised child and building up a relationship with an unattached child which will be much more pertinent to fostering an older toddler than a small baby.

Meanwhile, I have plenty of time to read my favourite blogs, and no excuse not to regularly post in mine!

6th Sep, 2008

Educating Seth

Seth has been attending a small private alternative school for the last twelve months.  We chose the school for its small class sizes, individualised teaching and thematic and engaging approach to the curriculum.

I worried that it didn’t fit the recommended criteria for a classroom suited to kids with FASD, being fairly open and stimulating with a busy, flexible time table but I hoped that the very experienced and creative teaching would make up for that.  And in some ways it has.

Seth was homeschooled for half a year before attending this school after we pulled him from a state school. The state school just wasn’t meeting his needs and his self esteem and interest in school were definitely affected, but at that stage we didn’t have a diagnosis of FASD  (specifically ARND)  so we didn’t even understand what his needs were.

Our six months homeschooling was not all that successful as I had a lot of difficulty motivating Seth, keeping him on task and providing him with the peer socialisation he craved back at his old school with all the mates he’d known for five years. So this little school which two of our older children had attended happily for a few years seemed the answer to our problem. Seth settled in fairly happily, made friends, and started to develop a more positive self image and attitude to school.

But there have been some problems, mostly of a behavioural nature, and I’ve occasionally blogged about them. Seth, typically, is impulsive and not very aware of the appropriate nature of his actions. He’s not aggressive or violent, but he is a dare devil and an adventurer. He doesn’t see why he shouldn’t do things that are exciting even if they are inappropriate.  Being out-of-bounds, taking art supplies from the classroom, buying his friends drinks with money he shouldn’t have had, are just a few of the incidents he’s been involved with lately.

Nothing he did was done alone.  He always had other kids happy to join him, and maybe sometimes they even instigated the activities, but it seemed Seth was a common denominator.  What is more, once he was caught out Seth became quite angry and defensive and, if overwhelmed, he’d simply run.

The final straw occurred while he was away on a two night school camp.  We received a phone call on the second day asking us to come and pick up Seth as he’d got into a bit of trouble. He and another kid had been reported to “joke” about getting up in the night to damage a teacher’s car because she’d yelled at them.

Hubby picked him up.  Seth was upset and wouldn’t get out of the car once he arrived home, but I talked him round and he came inside but refused to talk about what had happened.  Over the next few days I tried to have quiet little discussions with Seth about all the incidents of the past few weeks. Some he told me about, others he denied, and some he just seemed to have forgotten!

On the Monday we had a lunchtime appointment with Seth’s teacher and the principal. It wasn’t good.

They won’t have Seth back as they feel his behaviours require too much teacher supervision and intervention and impacts on the other kids too much. In a very democratic and free school like this Seth is not a good fit.  I understood but I was devastated anyway.  Where to now?

We had hoped that Seth, who is actually due to move up to secondary school next year, might have had one extra year at primary school to help him learn a little more and be a little better prepared for the transition to a new school.  Given that is no longer an option we’ve decided to enrol him at our local secondary college for next year and fill in the next term and a half with homeschooling again.  There seems no point in searching out another school for just four months, so again I face the daunting task of teaching a child with significant learning difficulties, this time with a distracting toddler running around.

The local secondary college he will be attending has to apply for educational funding for Seth on the basis of the various assessments he’s had in the past eight months.  The more funding he gets, the more time he’ll have allocated with a teacher aide.  I know he can only work with the constant attendance of a patient adult, so I’m hoping our application gets a good response.

The school will also modify the program for Seth. Instead of a second language he will be in a small group for remedial English.  He will have his own maths curriculum to follow (probably based on the grade four program) and he will not be expected to participate in the whole grade activities, although he’ll still be in the classroom. I will put together a kit about Seth specifically, and FASD in general, and have been promised all teachers in contact with Seth will be advised to read and learn from these, so I hope that does really happen.

I’ve also asked that they build in some structure to his recess times, explaining that such free time is when he gets into strife.  They talk about directing him into the optional lunchtime activities, such as roller skating in the gym, juggling class, handball competitions, and library sessions.  They will also keep an eye on him and monitor the kids he hangs out with, knowing how easily influenced he is.

Seth himself knows that unstructured time is a danger to him.  He admits that having unsupervised time goes to his head, that he looks for interesting things to do and that he gives no thought to what will happen afterwards. On that basis I hope he is co-operative about having his time structured for him.

Meanwhile, he is home with me all day with twenty four hour supervision, so he isn’t getting into any trouble at all.  We run our classroom fairly loosely, basing our time table on Angel’s sleep times and access visits (for which he is picked up and returned home, so I don’t have to leave the house) .  During these times I give Seth specific instruction in language and maths while we are both able to focus (I’m certainly a lot more focused than he is!) and then the rest of the day while the toddler’s roaming about the place we do cooking, crafts, reading, board games, walking and some shopping and cleaning. On Wednesdays he comes to Playgroup with me and either reads in the car or plays with all the little kids.

He takes regular breaks throughout the day to do a bit of gymnastics (the mattresses from his bed stay permanently on the family room floor) or skateboarding out in the driveway.  We are renovating at the moment and his latest fun game is to skip about on top of the joists of the unfinished deck, throwing in the occasional handstand. He is happy and contented, relatively co-operative and enjoying his days with Angel and I. I don’t know if this relaxed school style will make it harder for him to transition to high school in five months time, but I’m not going to worry too much.  I’ll just relax too, and enjoy this extra time with my sweet boy.

11th Aug, 2008

Update on Angel

Angel’s been with us over a year now, and the caseplan is still for reunification… but slowly.

Court was adjourned this week because Angel’s birthmum didn’t turn up, and Grandma arrived late.  We weren’t expecting any changes to be made at this point anyway as Grandma is travelling overseas during most of September and requested that the reunification plans be put on hold till she returns. So instead of starting unsupervised visits in August and overnighters in September, we’ll stick with the two hour supervised visits, two or three times weekly, until October.  So our little boy stays just a bit longer.

And he can come with us when we travel interstate for two weeks to visit my mum in September, during the next term break.  Oh joy – travelling over sixteen hours by car with a seventeen month old.

I’m keeping my eye out for small, cheap novel toys that might keep him amused, and I’ve arranged the trip so we travel mostly during his nap times with a long stretch from 7pm till around midnight.  This is so necessary as he really hates car travel after the first twenty minutes unless he’s sleeping, and his way of telling us he’s bored and restless and “get me out of this car seat” is to open his mouth and scream with a high pitched shriek that pierces our skulls!

Does any one have good ideas for how to keep a toddler happy in the car? If so please share them with me.

At present I get to meet and chat with Angel’s Grandma once a week when I pick him up from access.  We just talk about him, how he’s going and what he’s learning (he speaks a few simple words now, and can baby sign for ‘food’ , ‘milk’ and ‘more’ and he’s a very actively running and climbing).  We play and talk with Angel, sharing the joy and laughter that goes with a sweet playful toddler, and then I take him home.

They don’t talk about him coming home to stay, and they are pretty casual when he leaves, but I shouldn’t complain, because that makes it so much easier and more pleasant for both Angel and myself.

9th Aug, 2008

Developing a Conscience

When I picked Seth up from school the other day he clambered into the car and asked me “Mum, do you have five dollars on you?” When I answered that I didn’t and what did he need it for, he looked sheepishly away and said “I stole it last week, so I have to return it to the office”.

Well, I was momentarily flabbergasted as this is not typical of Seth’s behaviour.  Despite having FASD, stealing other people’s stuff has never been an issue although I have suspected him of sometimes taking the odd coins laying around.  Rather than making  accusations on those occasions I’ve given the talk about how I need to trust other family members not to take money I leave in places like the car, or the zip pouch on the pusher, so I was surprised that Seth would steal so publicly.

Before driving away from school we discussed the incident, and it seems that, despite a little embarrassment, he was not too concerned about what he did.  I felt better for it having been a group crime – he and another boy had each stolen a five dollar note while a couple of others watched out for the return of the office lady. At least it spreads the accountability around a bit.

Remembering a find I made while doing the washing a few days previously, I asked Seth what he’d done with the money.  He was a little vague about this, replying that he must have spent it at the milkbar or something.  “Surely you’d remember spending five dollars…”, I prompted (while recognising Seth’s memory deficits, surely spending a ‘windfall’ of five dollars on chips and lollies would be memorable within the last couple of days).  “I don’t remember ” he replied, with no concern.

“Well” I said to him, “I’m just wondering about the wet five dollar note I found in the washing machine the other day.  I guess it must have fallen out of someone’s pocket. I was wondering whose it was.” His eyes lit up and he exclaimed “Oh, yeah, so I didn’t spend it.  I can take it back to the office tomorrow”.

I questioned him then about how they were found out and whether there were other consequences to their crime, apart from paying the money back.  It seemed one of the “watchers” felt guilty the next day and told his mum what had ensued so she’d rung the school.  Seth and the other young boy were drawn out of class separately to explain their case and given a little talk about stealing and trust, but there were no disciplinary procedures except to talk to their parents about it and to return the money.

I discussed this issue of trust with Seth for a while but I found it quite frustrating as he just didn’t seem to care or understand that others at the school may not trust him now.  I even did a bit of role playing suggesting an example of a friend who won’t let him near his bag in case he steals from it, but Seth just thought that was silly….”My friends know I won’t take their stuff”.  He was more troubled when I pointed out that he won’t be able to collect and count the money on “special food Wednesdays” any more so I laboured that point for a while in the hopes of him developing some sense of the consequence of his misdemeanour.

Then I asked him “So if you weren’t planning to spend the money, why did you steal it?” and he replied, ” It was exciting and we wanted to see if they could catch us!”

Although this is what I’d expect from my dare devil son, it worries me like hell because he’s not even a teenager yet so how’s he going to be in a few years?  It’s enough of a risk for any young teenager, being egged on by his peers and wanting to impress, but how much harder for our kids with their fetal alcohol affected brains to make the right decisions when they don’t see the consequences and are impulsively seeking an adrenalin rush by taking exciting risks?

It reminds me of an article I read a while ago, possibly recommended by a fellow blogger, which described so well why kids with FASD are seen to have an under-developed conscience.  This helped me to understand better how a sensitive and empathic child like Seth, who has a great deal of compassion for animals and children suffering or in need and is always so apologetic if he accidentally hurts somebody, can show little remorse for some of his actions and how they affect others.

I was glad the teacher (his classroom teacher thankfully, the only authority at the school who Seth responds well to) had dealt with the incident in a low key manner, as blustering and punishing would simply have set up Seth for defensiveness and anger and caused behavioural difficulties with further repercussions.  She later told me Seth’s response to being withdrawn from class and spoken to was quite appropriate, and he was quite ok with the kid who had “dobbed” them in, understanding that it was the right thing to do.  He admitted that stealing was wrong, but didn’t really indicate why he thought so.  She certainly didn’t feel that it had kept him awake at night as it had done the other little boy who didn’t even take the money!

Seth’s been going well these last few weeks since school resumed after the term break but, with the school production and a two day camp coming up, there will be breaks to his routine and extra unstructured time so I hope he manages to keep on track through all these changes.  I’ll keep you posted.