Sunday, 1 February 2015

Conversation with an Educational Psychologist

We're very lucky because our Post Adoption Team buy sessions with the local Educational Psychologists each year. I was lucky because I managed to bag one of those sessions this week to discuss some concerns with Katie that I have around her relationship with numbers and how that's impacting on maths in school; her long term education; her behaviour generally and her transition to Junior school.

Like many children who are adopted, Katie was exposed to undetermined amounts of alcohol whilst in-utero. She doesn't have any of the physical features of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, although has always had a small head circumference but we were aware that some of the cognitive issues might start to present when she started school. In Reception year she was flagged as potentially being dyslexic after the DEST (Dyslexia Early Screening Test) Test although both her Reception Year teacher and I felt that she wasn't dyslexic. Katie is actually currently one of the top readers in her current (Year 2) year. Conversely with maths she is at the opposite extreme and struggles to understand the relationship between numbers. We have been working on her number bonds to 10 for over a year now and she doesn't seem to be able to understand that e.g. 7+3 is the same as 3+7 or how they add up to 10. I'm forever trying to think of new visual ways to help her. What concerns me is that other children in her class are doing number bonds up to 100 now (anyone who can "see" number relationships will understand that 1 is effectively the same as 10) and that the gap between her and them will widen to a point that Katie won't be able to keep up. I was particularly concerned whilst completing some Education City maths homework recently when she was expected to be able to work out something like:

38+5+3 is the same as:

A) 20+8+5+10
B) 16+9+7
C) 30+9+7
D) 25+10+7

Now you've all finished working out the answer, ask yourself the route you took to get your answer. Did you add up the tens and see the relationship in the number bonds to the tens? Did the numbers and their individual values make sense to you? You'll know the answer was C. Katie just couldn't get anywhere with this homework.

TCM was attempting to do this homework with Katie whilst I bathed Pip. I listened tensely as World War 3 erupted downstairs whilst wondering if it was simply too late to be doing her homework or whether the expectation on her abilities was too great. I made an appointment to see her new teacher the next day.

I'd already asked for additional maths support at school using Pupil Premium Plus money but I'm concerned that she's now bringing home her 3 times tables yet still can't do number bonds. We are also limited with educational time at home plus Pip is always with us which makes it difficult to concentrate or spend quality time building skills. I met with her new teacher and flagged up (yet again) about Katie's difficulties with concentration in school and highlighted (again) that Katie seems to have Hyper-Vigilance which means that she is constantly checking everything going on around her so is very easily distracted. One thing that frustrates me is that I'm not convinced that school are taking my concerns seriously or really understanding the reasons for Katie's challenges. I explained to Katie's new teacher about these difficulties and the challenges we experience at home. She said that she finds it difficult to reconcile the child she knows at school and the child I was describing because they don't experience the aggressive behaviour. She was keen to know the outcome of the meeting with the Educational Psychologist though and I will be making another appointment to see her again soon as a result of the meeting.

Speaking to the EP was very helpful. To talk to someone who took what I was saying seriously was wonderful in itself. It helped that I had met this particular EP at an NVR training workshop recently and the familiarity felt comfortable. She had a trainee with her who was also incredibly insightful. We discussed at length her behaviour at home and school and my concerns I had about Katie's friendships currently.  I feel I am seeing a gap appearing in how she relates and plays with her peers and am noticing a need to control the play being described more and more in the stories and anxieties Katie is bringing home from school. I expressed my concerns about the transition to Junior School that is forthcoming this year plus the timing of this with our move back home to our (hopefully) completed house in the spring/summer. 

We talked about our ongoing difficulties getting to school on time and the EP considered whether Katie might be sabotaging going to school. We talked about the fact that her favourite TA is always waiting at the door and this was flagged that it was probably positive for Katie to have a personal greeter on arrival to support her transition from home to school. The EP queried whether Katie was also struggling with time telling. Katie has been slow to understand time concepts like tomorrow and yesterday and last week but she does seem to be remembering the basic concepts of time telling such as half past; quarter past and quarter to. We're going to be working on this more at home using the iPad and our learning clock.

One of the first things the EP highlighted was some recent reading she had done around FASD and a situation where children can excel in one area but be massively behind in another. From the reading I have done on this subject I think this relates to a type of FASD called ARND which stands for Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder see for more info. Things I've also picked up from my reading is the link with OCD which is something we're seeing more and more with Katie and the difficulties around attention span. 

When talking about Katie's aggression at home and her controlling behaviour with her friends the EP used a Russian Doll to highlight the layers of behaviour that Katie is exhibiting and how they escalate. The outer doll showing the girl who is holding it all together; the next doll is showing some anxiety by controlling things around her in play with her friends but also by being bossy or not listening; the next doll depicts angry Katie who is feeling out of control and scared by her feelings. These dolls are protecting the tiny doll inside who's scared and anxious. I had several tears when the last doll was revealed. I explained to the EP that it's hard to hear how anxious your child is feeling but also how hard it is to remain therapeutic and mindful of the origins of behaviour when being punched and kicked. I will say that the Russian Doll analogy has helped me see Katie's behaviour very differently. 

Between us we made a list of pointers to take back to Katie's current school and to flag up with her new school to aid her transition. 

A) Sensitive support around friendships and groups in school. I might suggest the Friendship Club concept that my nephew had at his school whereby the child stays in at break or lunchtime but chooses one friend to accompany them with the teacher helping them play well together and supporting any tensions that arise. The problem is that this requires teacher input and might not be achievable.

B) The transitional benefit of a personal welcome from the same adult each morning;

C) A quick connection from school to me to share any daily difficulties with me.

D) Highlighting the difficulties with our morning routine and lateness but also looking at ways we can encourage Katie's dressing independence.

E) A visual timetable if Katie is struggling with a number/time based timetable.

F) Homework and expectations: I've already flagged these difficulties with Katie's Infant School and will pass this information to her Junior School Head. We do homework where we can but, if we feel it will result in an irretrievable meltdown at home we don't do the homework. 

G) Being curious about what helps her learn and what hinders her and asking school to be creative in their teaching methods.

H) Be careful praising. I've highlighted this already with school but will be feeding this back to the teacher. This is because there is a gulf between how Katie feels inside and the quality of good work and she may be seeking to pull her work down to the level she feels inside. Praising specifics such as some nice writing or a good picture seems to work better for Katie than praising her behaviour in general. 

I) Using visual cues to support Katie's memory and learning including visual timetables.

J) Hyper vigilance. Asking questions such as : Where will she sit? Is there too much going on? Are there too many visuals in the classroom that will be distracting? Will she have her own desk to encourage a sense of security?

K) To aid Katie's transition, visit the new school after everyone has gone to help her build a sense of structure before introducing other children.

L) Highlighting Katie's fear of being sick and of others being sick and other issues relating to security/anxiety she has.

M) Highlighting that when Katie becomes controlling it's because she's anxious. 

N) Constantly reiterate with Katie the things that are staying the same and things that are changing for both school and the move back home. 

The EP is also going to email me a booklet to support Katie's transition. I suspect it might be similar to the sort of book we make for our children to support their transition to their new home during introductions. 

Both school and our Social Worker were invited to attend this meeting but neither could attend. I will admit that I was grateful to have the time alone with the EP to "chew the cud" so to speak but it does then place the emphasis back on me to disseminate the information and strategies potentially putting me back in the overly anxious parent role. I'll see how my next meeting with Katie's teacher goes and ascertain how many of these points she feels are achievable in her class.


  1. Thank you for sharing. As someone hoping to adopt in the future it is so helpful to have an honest and insighful perspective on the challenges that can surround adoption in the long term.
    I hope the school are receptive to the great suggestions and advice...

  2. Hey, thank you for sharing the details of your meeting. Found parts of it have helped me to understand two of my children a bit more and I will look into one of the links you posted and will be doing some research. Comforting to know I'm not on my own. Tiring though to think of the journey that lies ahead.