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Sunday, 1 March 2015

Reducing frustration, 1 ball at a time

When we adopted our son 2 1/2 years ago, at 2 years of age, he struggled with almost everthing and many of our friends and family thought of him as difficlut to love.  With severe sensory issues, autism, epilepsy and a chromosome deletion everything in his life triggered screaming, raging and head banging.  Our sons abilities were extremely delayed, he wasn't walking or standing, could only sit when propped up, he could not speak and his feeding was similar to a 6 month old.  Existing took major amounts of energy and he slept the majority of the days and nights only waking for nourishment and a limited amount of interaction before the screaming, raging and head banging returned and the need for more sleep.

This little boy only had one thing that made him the slightest bit happy, so we knew that we had to work with this interest if we ever hoped to have a happy boy.  The slightest bit happy meant he wasn't screaming, raging or banging his head for a couple minutes while we tried to interact with him.  We needed to meet our son where he was at, and progress from there.  He was able to hold a ball and enjoyed watching us play with a ball.  We would have mutliple very short sessions throughout the day playing with a ball building slowly and steadily on skills and language.


Speech increased as we described everything, starting with single words, and increasing the number of words.  Ball, roll, throw, roll the ball, etc.  We used "picture cards" and "sign language" while verbally speaking hoping to make a connection.

Strength and coordination increased as he went from holding a ball, to moving to reach for the ball, to rolling, throwing, catching and kicking the ball.

We varied the balls, shapes, sizes, weights, textures and colors which built on the strength, coordination and topics for speech.  We encouraged him to play with siblings and pets,  with the balls.  When we attended therapies we had already started developing a pathway for the therapists to reach our son which they were able to work from.


From starting with a simple ball 2 1/2 years ago he is now able to play with many other toys and work through his therapy sessions working on a variety of skills.  He is still substantially delayed but he is making huge progress from the little boy that spent the day screaming, raging and head banging.
We will still resort back to that ball whenever we are working on a particularly difficult skill.  Most recenty we took 2 soccer balls to the playground hoping to work on social skills with peers.  Today there were 3 other young children and when they saw us coming with 2 balls they came over (with their adults) wanting to play.  All the adults encouraged the children to take turns and they all enjoyed playing together.  Having 2 balls made it easier so each child had more turns so nobody lost interest too quickly and if our son decided not to have anything to do with sharing at least the other children could use the 2nd ball.

All the hard work from therapists and family, that started with a simple ball, is paying off.  People regularly comment on what a happy little boy he is and the head banging, raging and screaming has dramatically decreased.   Finding that interest to build on took time but was well worth the effort and throughout his life I believe we will be looking for more interests to build on as we develop more skills.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Substituting art for therapy

We have been working our way through the kindergarten level of the Home Art Studio.  I like when we have activities that incorporate many of  our therapy and educational goals so the kids don't realize they are working and this weeks art project fit right in (with minimal modifications).  Today's project was a Van Gogh inspired Sunflower picture.


Science
Before starting this project we went for a walk and discussed the seasons.  We made a point of noticing that spring is coming and plants are starting to sprout.  When making our picture we discussed how the sunflower seeds that we eat are actually the seeds for the plant to reproduce.




Occupational therapy
Cutting straight lines and circles
Tearing paper to make leaves
Glueing and working on hand strength by squeezing the glue
Using our pincher grasp picking up sunflower seeds and placing them in the center of the flower


Speech therapy
We worked on "prepositions" when discussing where to place the various parts of the picture - beside, next to, in front of, under, etc.
Also we worked on following directions from 1-3 steps depending on the child

Math
Shapes - circles and rectangles
Length and size (in relation to the stems and circles)
Counting (circles, flowers, stems, and sunflower seeds that we placed in the center of the flower)
Patterning when painting the background

We have really been enjoying the Home Art Studio as a way of creatively working on our goals and the kids are extremely excited whenever they see "art" listed on their daily schedule wondering what this week project will be.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Success at Swimming with Sensory Stimulation

Shopping at Costco recently I came across swimsuits that are perfect for my daughters who have sensory issues and still wear diapers.  The best part is they only cost $15, not an extreme "special needs" price.  Finding swimsuits that work for special needs can be a challenge and coming across these for such a reasonable price was enough to make me do a "happy dance".



I love these swimsuits because they are 2 piece making it easier for the girls to pull the bottoms down when we are working on toileting and the fact that the shorts style modestly covers their diaper.  The short sleeve surfer style shirts are snug and calming, stylish and also provide UV protection when in the sun, which is huge for my very fair skinned children.  The boys also wear surfer style shirts to help them with calming along with their swim shorts.

The new swimsuits got me thinking about swimming and the many challenges for children with sensory issues and other special needs.  It seems like my bunch want to make sure we experience it all when it comes to swimming challenges so I have had to come up with some ways to deal with things.

So much motor planning is required for swimming and when this is a difficulty you may need to find an instructor who can break down the strokes and teach in a way that your child learns.  Private lessons may be required as a group lesson may just be too much.  For us we have been doing weekly private lessons for the last year and a half and for some the progress is extremely slow.

I don't know about you but I find swimming pools to be extremely loud quite often and the experience can sometimes be overwhelming.  The running, squealing, splashing and the noise of all the water features can be a lot for people with auditory and visual processing challenges.  When we go swimming we try to find quiet times to avoid a lot of the additional stimulation but have found ear plugs for swimming and goggles that are tinted can also be helpful for these situations.

The temperature of the water can also be a challenge, quite often my kids are happy in the tot pool as it's warmer than the main pool which is often too cold for them.  Also getting their face wet is a big challenge for a couple of the children, so we play a lot of games working up to this and hoping to desensitize them both at the pool and in the bathtub at home.

If we are swimming anywhere but the pool, water shoes are also required, if I want the child to move at all.  I confess, for my child that is extremely busy and likes to run, it is a benefit him having these issues as it tends to slow him down.  The textures on their feet walking on sand or rocks is enough to put an end to the day for the others.

Another issue can be the chlorine that they treat the water with, the smell and the way that it effects their eyes can really make some people uncomfortable.  One solution is finding a pool that treats their water with ozone as opposed to chlorine.




Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Tonight's evening has a "Publication Ban"


The balancing act of parenting seems to take more effort for our family as the gap between ages and needs becomes more evident.  Having a large family comprised of both adoptive children with many special needs and birth children the gaps between their abilities seems to increase over the years. 

13 years ago when we adopted for the first time we had 5 biological children ranging in age from 5-12 and the 2 we adopted first were 6 and 11.  At that time both presented with delays but the 11 year old was functioning higher than our then youngest and the children and their differing abilities blended together.  As life evolved we adopted multiple times and the differing abilities tended to blend together up until we adopted our youngest 7, and around the same time that our older children were becoming adults. 

Now that some of our children have become adults the gaps have really become evident.  We have adult children that have graduated college or are attending college/university, ones living on their own, married and with children.  We also have adults that live at home, need a care provider when we are out, need reminders for....well almost everthing, have extreme behaviour challenges, developing mental health issues, etc.  We have adult children that require more supervision now than when they were adopted, due to later onset mental health issues, and they require more supervision than our 3 year old (with significant delays).  We also have our youngest sibling group which have abilities that you would expect for children 10 years old and younger. 

One challenge we have been finding lately is when we are planning an activity with the adult children, not everyone functions as an adult.  Sometimes we want a drama free adult evening or activity were we can all have fun together.  We don't always want to deal with the constant stress and mental health challenges.  Sometimes the adult kids want their Mom and Dad, sometimes they want an activity were they are the center of attention, sometimes we just all need a break.  Don't get me wrong, we truly love all of the family, and the majority of the family activities include everyone, however sometimes not everyone is invited.  We also understand that the individuals in the family with these extra challenges don't have control over some of their issues and if they thought that they are causing stress for us or that we needed a break from them it would upset them.

Recently we had a group gathering with some of the family and everyone that was attending was discrete about attending.  Everyone that attended left home at different times, with different stories about where they were going, the babysitter didn't even know that everyone was together.  We imposed a publication ban on any pictures that were taken.  We feel bad that we need to sneak out but also need to consider everyone else's feelings.  How would you handle this?  Would you have an all or none approach, risking adults refusing to attend?  Would you add further stress to the adults suffering already with special needs and mental health issues and tell them the family needs a break from them?

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Homeschool wrap up

We have been continuing along with our schooling and are wrapping up a few of our courses having completed and met the curriculum goals.  Each homeschool year we put a heavy push on the academic courses at the beginning of the school year with the goal of finishing some early so we can switch our focus throughout the year.  Language arts and math continue for the entire school year as they tend to be a challenge for some and my thought is if the kids can be stronger in these then learning in other subjects will be made easier.

We start the week with swimming lessons for some, we have 3 instructors and 1 assistant teaching 7 of the children and an added bonus they have the whole pool to themselves.  We are very fortunate to have this set up and we are seeing some nice progress.  With the more compromised children there is a heavy focus on safety which is really important as we live so close to the water.  2 of the girls have been making great progress and are now swimming lengths of the pool.

While we swim 2 of the others are focused on language arts and math with their education assistants.  The teens are also wrapping up science and car maintenance just studying for the final exams and will be so relieved when they are complete.  Car maintenance was a community class with their peers and is being replaced with interior design another community class which hopefully will be just as interesting.  The teens have also been taking a variety of one day community classes with their peers including food safe, WHMIS, science labs, snowboarding etc.

4 of the kids have been learning to sew and just finished making boxer shorts.












Tuesday is therapy day which amounts to an insane amount of therapy appointments, schooling in the vehicle, walks through the forest and playing on the playground at the park.  Each day at home we are also working on our therapy homework with the help of the kids education assistants.

We have been working on our baking skills and enjoying the added snacks we have created.



We are studying the life cycle of salmon again this year as we raise 100 salmon eggs to the fry stage.  Our salmon eggs have been hatching in the last few days and are now at the alevin stage.

For art the younger children have been working through the Home Art Studio program and thoroughly enjoying it.  They have been learning about prime colours and mixing them.  Also they have been learning how to handle a paintbrush and how to get different effects while painting - straight strokes and swirling strokes.  The art work they have been doing is also helping to reinforce some of the scissor skills that their occupational therapist has been working on with them.


All of the children have been learning sign language at varying levels dependent on their abilities.  Sign language is also very helpful for the children with speech challenges as it is another clue in trying to understand what they are saying.

The bulbs that we planted in the fall have sprouted and have encouraged us to plan our spring gardening program.  We recently bought some seeds to start inside and have ordered seed catalogs to plan our garden.  The teens will be working with Dad building more garden beds and designing a sprinkler system while the younger kids will be focusing on planting.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Creepy Crawlies, Gymnastics, Billiards and Seals

It's been non stop birthday celebrations around here with 6 birthdays in 4 weeks.  To celebrate, the birthday girls and boys, have been wanting to try something different than what they would normally do.  With so many birthdays so close together I have been trying to be creative coming up with ideas and to stay within budget as that is always an issue especially with a large family.


I was pleasantly surprised when researching a few ideas.  I found out that as a "birthday party" the admission was cheaper than the regular admission at some locations.  For example the "Bug Zoo" would have cost us $144 (regular admission) for the 18 of us, a birthday party with an extra hour in the party room for cake (that we provide) would have been $130 and we got in for $68.  Our cost covered the entrance fee and a guide for our visit.   The guide described each insect and let us hold a variety of them.  We did not require the party room as this party was our family and we planned on going for dinner later so they did not charge us for this.  After the Bug Zoo we took a walk down to Fisherman's Wharf and watched the seals being fed at the request of an adult son.  He missed out the last time we went and after seeing pictures he really wanted to go. As it was so much fun last time everyone wanted to go.




For another party we rented the local gymnastics club, gym.  For 10 people that would be on the equipment and as many support people as required (Grandparents, parents, adult friends) our admission cost was $65.  This was $65 cheaper than the full birthday party cost ($130) because we opted out of the 45 minute party room for cake.  We had free rein of the gym to play on all the equipment.  1 hour was plenty of time to exhaust everyone and was so much fun.  We have decided that we will definitely be renting the gym more often as it was something that we could do to burn off excess energy on those raining days.  Many typical family activities like swimming are a challenge for us with our children's special needs but the gym was so accessible for us.


For our teenagers party we decided a more mature outing was in line so we hired a babysitter for the youngest 7 and the rest of us hit the billiard hall.  Adult siblings, Grandparents, and friends were invited and we rented the party room at the billiards hall.  This room included 2 pool tables, ping pong, foosball, air hockey and darts for $40/hr.  This part was such a hit that Dad and a couple siblings have requested their birthday parties be held at this location.


After having these successful parties I asked if these prices were only for birthday's or if any group could book an event at these prices. I was pleasantly surprised to find that these were the prices for pre-booking and it didn't matter the reason.  This has now made me think as a large family we need to plan our outings differently in order to save money.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Together, We Make a Family!

Over the last week we have had a visitor staying with us - the former foster mom of 3 of our kids.  For these 3 kids she was/is their family, they were apprehended at birth and never had a relationship with their birth family.  The children lived with her for 2-4 years depending on their age at placement, she was their Mom.  Now referred to as "Gramma" she also has been a great friend and resource, especially when working towards a diagnosis for their many challenges as she was there for all the milestones.  For us openness in adoption varies depending on whom the important relationships for the children are with.



With our many adoptions we have formed varying relationships with members of the children's birth families and foster families.  Some of these relationships have been great from day one and others have taken a great deal of work.  Some have been completely open relationships where we have the people to our home or visit their home, some we visit in a neutral location with them not knowing where we live and others involve letters and photos being mailed through a 3rd party.

Openness can be extremely difficult as you are trying to have a forced relationship with a person you might not particularly like or be drawn too.  It may be a person that has hurt your child greatly or wasn't there for your child.  I recall meeting the birth mom to our first adoptive children and I was terrified, I had lived a very sheltered life and she was extremely rough.  For another adoption when meeting that particular birth mom she was so nervous and scared she was physically ill.  Yet another relationship, that was strongly encouraged by the social workers, turned out to be continuing the abuse that they were originally apprehended from.  We have also had our child speak highly of someone from their past and we have searched out that person and formed a relationship.

Over the years, with many experiences both good and bad, I can honestly say that openness in general has been a good thing for my children and myself.  The way we responded when negative things happened proved our commitment and love to our children, ideally the negative things wouldn't have happened.  The relationships that grew over the years have added to our family.  Being around various members of their birth families has strengthened the children's understanding of where they came from and why being placed for adoption was their path.  Time and circumstance has also changed the relationships when kids are young, the relationship tends to be what the adults make of it but as the kids become adults they have taken the lead on what they want the relationship to look like.