‘Good boundaries are essential for young people to grow up with.’
T has been with us for about 6 months. He is 10 years old and is diagnosed with ASD though it seems quite mild. Some of his symptoms that are attributed to ASD could also be just down to the fact that T is a 10 year old boy. In general he is a very happy lad but one who has moments of anxiety and has some problems dealing with his emotions. Because of his condition he does get fixated on things so he has a strong passion for cars and certain movies and TV programmes and at the moment he has a sometimes unhealthy obsession with Loom Bands (tiny little elastic bands that the kids make into bracelets).
I am married with three children, one at home, one at University and one living just down the road, and I am the main carer as my wife has a full time job as an Assistant Principal at a Sixth Form College.
Review of the year 2014
So Christmas came and with it came the first anniversary of T’s time with us. It all began on the 14th December 2013 when I got a call about a young man who was looking for a new home. We were new to fostering and had originally put our sleeves down for short term and respite care and for kids over 11 years in age but T was 9 and was looking for a permanent home. But he sounded like someone who would really work with us so we decided that it would do no harm to meet him and see how it goes. Two days later he came for a visit, supposedly just so we could meet but I think he had other ideas because the first thing he said was “Can I see my room?”. He was very forward and easy to talk too and when he met the dog it was all we could do to stop him moving in there and then. So, on December 22nd, I picked T up from his respite centre and brought him home to his new room and his new family. The rest is, as they say, history.
And what a year! So instead of going over some of the things we have done this Christmas, which has been fun though he has been at Mum’s a lot, I thought it might be nice to look back on the year to see how far we have come and to see what has changed in our lives together. So here goes…
T is independent, that’s for sure, and he gets very used to routine so when he arrived he had quite a few things that he did not want to do and would fight with us for. For example, he was used to a bath every other day at most and so when we told him that we all have a bath or shower everyday he wasn’t happy. Now the thing with children’s baths in our house is that it is very much part of creating a bedtime routine to encourage a healthy habit; bath, story, teeth and bed, and it worked with our kids and we knew it would work with T, so we got right to it on the first night. He wasn’t happy, and he tried to put up a fight, not the first night but the next one, but he did like the story. We started reading a few simple ones but quickly got onto a little Roald Dahl and finally Lemony Snicket’s ‘A series of unfortunate events’ which he loved. We read every book and he thoroughly enjoyed them. And from then on bath-time was part of the routine that he followed because the stories were so good. A year later and we are still following the same routine (The Chronicles of Narnia are what we are reading now) though we have introduced ‘skip bath’ on special occasions, which did create an odd night when he asked for skip teeth, but generally speaking it is not a tense time any more.
Of course he will still kick off occasionally but he always succumbs in the end. And I know it must be hard for him, 9 years old, to come along and fit into a strange family where the youngest is 17, but we need to hold firm so he knows his boundaries. Some days I think he is the bravest person I know (some days he is the biggest pain I know), but I also know that good boundaries are essential for young people to grow up with, that he needs them to grow into a balanced young man. They need to know when they are pushing it too far otherwise they will keep pushing until something gives.
At first there were quite a few issues around behaviour too and especially with him doing chores. This could often end in him yelling at us and stomping off to his room, but he quickly learned that we stood by what we said. We do not ask too much of him but one thing was to help clear up after eating. At first he never liked helping clear the table and do the drying up, something our whole family does, always has, because he had only ever had to clear the table at his last foster home (and before that at Mum’s he had done nothing). Our routine was different from the last home so he would not do it but we came up with a very simple rule; help clear up and dry up and you can have pudding. Treats have always been a way to get him to do things and some may say that is unfair but treats are treats. He has all the food he can eat, and he loves to eat, but treats are a bonus and we keep to that. If he helps he gets pudding. He went quite a few times with no pudding during the first months, did I say he is also quite stubborn, but once he knew the rule was not going to change then he changed. He might still kick up a fuss but then so did my children and as long as they know the consequences then they know that their behaviour is their choice and so are the results.
But that is not to say that everything is a success. He still refuses to get dressed for breakfast on the weekend and still fights about doing his teeth. In fact, if he had a choice he would not get dressed at all which I think might be a throw-back to being with Mum and having to look after himself because Mum did not get out of bed some days. I think, and this is speculation, that he just sat in front of the TV all day eating what he could find (at 3-4 years old he was cooking his own pasta and sauces, not too well by his own admission, because Mum was not doing it) and so not dressing is a reminder of a time that he thinks is happy because he was at least with his Mum. It’s a bit sad but I suspect also true.
But I have loved having T around this year because of all the great places we have been. It’s been a bit like going through my kid’s childhoods again, but with a bit more money because we have a little more now, and returning to all the great places we visited (or wanted to visit but couldn’t because of funds). As T’s main carer I have been to every local museum, done all the dog walks again, with cameras and other cool things like metal detectors, been to LegoLand and the cinema several times and had a great time overall. As a family T has come out on meals loads of times, something that he found very hard at first because he hadn’t been to many places and so did not know what to expect, and been to a few large family gatherings which included a boat trip down the River Severn. And he has done brilliantly, especially when there have been over 50 relatives there; all I must say have been brilliant and accommodating even if I had to go through save-guarding with every single one of them. But we have also learnt that T must have regular sleep, must be roughly in bed at the same time, or the next day he can be very difficult. Thank god we put the bath routine in place right at the start though that does mean we never stay late anywhere and so have had to get used to missing out on some things.
So has T changed over the year? Well, definitely, and not always. There have been huge leaps in his behaviour, though I won’t underestimate what Secondary school could bring in the future (all his education is still a big battle), and with his engagement with us as a family. He is a member of our family now for sure. But it has also felt like on some days that we are slowly chipping away at a giant rock with a dinner knife. Progress can feel real slow and it can feel like we are getting nowhere, especially when the family peace is shattered by one of his tantrums, so as a family we sometimes have to remind ourselves to look back at the opening few months as a reference point to where we are now. We all love him dearly and are gradually getting accustomed to his sometimes odd ways and we think we are making a change but it’s going to be a long journey that’s for sure.