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An Introduction to Autism for Adoptive and Foster Families: Book Review

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From the Cover of An Introduction to Autism for Adoptive and Foster Families: How to Understand and Help Your Child by Katie Hunt and Helen Rodwell:

“Written for busy foster carers and adoptive parents, this book provides a concise introduction to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and how to support a child with a diagnosis. It emphasizes the common strengths children with ASD have, as well as offering strategies for any behavioral issues that are likely to arise, highlighting how these can be exacerbated by the care system and adoption process. The strategies include social scripts, reduction of sensory input in a child’s environment and encouraging parents to think about self-care.”


Grade:

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Transfiguring Adoption awarded this book 4 Hoots out of 5 based on how useful it will be for a foster/adoptive family. [Learn more about our Hoot grading system here]


What Our Family Thought:

The target audience for this book is foster and adoptive families with children who are autistic, who may be receiving placement of a child with autism, or who have a reason to suspect a child in their home may be autistic. As the title suggests, this book provides an introduction to what autism is, how it is assessed, and challenges in assessing foster and adopted children. The book also provides a primer in attachment and belonging, how attachment and belonging can be damaged in foster and adopted children, and how attachment and belonging look different in autistic children. They discuss managing everyday transitions, placement transitions, and visits with birth family and how to minimize negative impacts of these transitions on autistic children. Furthermore, they provide insight into doing life story work with children who have autism and helping them with their loss and trauma. The authors share ways for caregivers to look after themselves while parenting a child with autism.

Chapter 9 in the book lists many resources for seeking information or finding professionals best suited to help. The appendix, entitled “Getting to Know my Child,” provides a detailed checklist about a child’s social communication; anxiety and feelings; social interaction; rigid and inflexible interests, behavior, and routines; everyday transitions; and sensory needs. It is really quite applicable to any child and can help caregivers in multiple ways. A prospective parent can ask current caregivers or professionals to fill it out before the child moves in so they can better prepare. A current caregiver can pass it on to a new caregiver if the child moves or to a birthparent with whom the child is reunifying. It can also be useful for a caregiver to give to teachers or other professionals who work with their child to enable them to better understand and work with the child.

The strategies and principles in this book will help any foster or adoptive parent who is parenting an autistic child, and they really apply as well to parenting any child through foster care or adoption. The book does not list a lot of specific actions to take, as the authors emphasize the fact that every child and family is different, but rather they outline seven overriding principles to guide caregivers of children with autism.

Overall, this is an insightful and informative book for caregivers who do not have a good understanding of the aforementioned topics. For those well-versed in autism and parenting children who have experienced trauma, it may provide good reminders to return to as needed over time.

*Note: The authors are from the UK, so certain foster and adoption processes or health or governmental agencies will vary for readers in other countries, but the overall principles and strategies are applicable anywhere.


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It’s Your Turn:

  1. What did you find most helpful or eye opening in this book?
  2. What changes will you make as a result of reading this book?

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Creatures of Habit: The Importance of Routine in Foster and Adoptive Homes

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A Lesson From the Birds

Last summer, my daughter, Jasmine, and I had the privilege of running an exhibitor table at the National Foster Parent Association’s annual conference. Each day for three days, we got up, packed up the car, and left the house around the same time for our drive across the city. Each of those mornings, as we drove by a nearby pond, the same bird stood atop the same bench in the exact same position, with wings extended. At different times of the day, the bird is either absent from the area or is in another area nearby. At certain times of the day, we know to look for the bird to be standing atop the back of a fake, floating goose in the pond. Why? I do not know, but I recognize that members of most species, including humans, are “creatures of habit.”

People Are Creatures of Habit, Too

Doctors encourage parents to put their children to bed at the same time each night, to wake them at the same time, to provide meals at roughly the same time daily, and so on. And we are told we should do the same for ourselves as adults. All kids seem to thrive with established routines, but foster and adopted children even more so.

Over the years, there have been so many times when we opted out of an activity because we knew it would greatly upset the routines of children in our home, and the fallout would not be worth it. Friends would question us or comment that their children would be staying up late or missing nap or [insert other routine break] as well, so what was the big deal?

Envision a lake with a dam which prevents it from overflowing onto the town below. Heavy rainstorms come and fill the lake. Think of the rainstorms as stressors and the height and strength of the dam as your tolerance for stress. The typical person has coping mechanisms as stressors come. Their tolerance to the stress, the height and strength of the dam, is quite high. These coping mechanisms let little bits of the rainwater through the dam, preventing a catastrophic flood. It takes immense storms to bring them to the breaking point. Children who have experienced trauma have a high need for predictability in their daily life. Trauma results in a very low stress tolerance. The height of the dams on their lakes is very low. Typical, daily stressors in these children’s lives cause overflows. A break in routine can cause breaks in the dam from the smallest of storms.

So what can you do to prevent catastrophic breaks?

Make the child’s life as predictable as possible. Simple, visual schedules of routines, menus, chore charts, and so on increase a child’s sense of control and felt safety.” Let foster and adoptive kids know what plans are as much as possible. For a period of time, especially early on in a foster or adoptive placement, you may have to simplify life to help children settle into simple, daily routines.

Inevitably, breaks in routine will come. What can you to prepare yourself and your child for those breaks?

  • Insert “wild cards” into visual schedules to allow for unexpected interruptions in routine.
    Write down coping skills on the wild cards and practice them with children during calm moments (not during a meltdown!).
  • Expect and prepare yourself for negative behaviors.
    Brainstorm potential behaviors, and plan for how you will respond.
  • Give less notice about a preplanned break in routine.
    Many children do better WITHOUT a long period of anticipation of a break in routine, such as a vacation. Knowing weeks or months in advance that a trip is coming can create anxiety and negative behaviors.
  • Talk about the kids’ expectations of what is to come.
    This allows you to hear if the child has any incorrect or unrealistic expectations and discuss them.
  • Practice and discuss beforehand how to appropriately handle changes in plans.
    Help the child learn ways to cope with disappointment, anxiety, and other negative emotions.
  • Create early exit strategies for those moments when you realize you or your child is absolutely done with an activity.
  • Also, prioritize which activities you and your child absolutely want to do most, and do those first to help quell disappointment when you aren’t able to do everything you had planned.
  • Take frequent sensory, hydration and snack (with protein) breaks to physically and mentally refuel your child.
    This should happen ideally every two hours. Water bottles and snack bags are handy and are great at calming melt-downs.
  • Keep coping tools on hand.
    Keep items such as fidgets, calm-down boxes, or noise-reducing headphones to help children cope.

We can help children feel safe and secure by making their lives predictable. With forethought and preparation, we can model for our children how to handle breaks in routine. Remember, the best way to handle negative behavior is to prevent it! You may have to sacrifice certain activities and events in order to help your child. Remember, as your child grows and develops coping skills, you will likely be able to enjoy those events and activities again, and it is important to manage your own disappointment so that you do not feel resentment that eeks out in negative ways toward your child.


Now it’s your Turn:

  1. What types of breaks in routine are most upsetting to your child?
  2. What have you found helps your child to handle changes in their schedules?
  3. What have you found helpful in terms of keeping your family on a predictable schedule?
  4. What types of activities have you had to put on hold in your life in order to give your child predictability? What do you do to keep yourself from feeling disappointed or resentful if you have had to give up things like large family gatherings or late night activities?

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The Importance of a Foster Care and Adoption Tribe

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I was relatively unemotional, a bit to my own surprise, during our move to Florida this year, I guess because I was just really excited about it, but I had intense moments of realizing what an amazing group of people we were leaving. It took years to develop our “tribe” or “village.” It was not immediate. We moved to Florida not REALLY knowing anyone. We knew of a few foster and adoptive families. We have some acquaintances because of our frequent trips to Orlando in the past several years. We have people here who love what we do with Transfiguring Adoption. We have people who are eager to volunteer for us, but it is going to take a while to establish a tribe. Over the last six months, I have definitely experienced waves of grief and sadness over what we left, and so have our kids.

What We Left and Why It’s So Important

“For caregivers to ‘keep their mind and heart open to the child so that they can remain engaged’ (Hughes et al. 2012, p. 23), they need others who engage with them whom they trust to be empathic, who understand the challenges they have endured over months or years, and who can appreciate why they have lost hope, warmth, compassion and joy and that caring for the child may have just become a job.”

~ Janet Smith in Creative Therapies for Complex Trauma

There is something to be said about having people around you that “get you,” people you don’t have to explain yourself to or give long backstories. I love this quote from Janet Smith. It communicates a need for a tribe of people around foster and adoptive parents who speak the same language and have compassion and empathy for their whole family. We left a host of people whom I miss so dearly, who knew us and our kids, who journeyed through the good and the bad with us (listed here in alphabetical order…not necessarily importance).


  • Adults who have been in our children’s shoes
    We had a group of people in our lives who had been in foster care or who had been adopted. These individuals help us understand our kids at times when they cannot verbalize their feelings or they do not understand themselves, and they provide modeling for our children of what they can do in life or overcome their trauma. When we had two foster kids last year, one neighbor who had been in foster care as a child and who had also fostered in the past, was a safe place for our teen to land when the stuff really “hit the fan.”
  • Church and pastor
    We had a wonderful little church family in Tennessee with other adoptive parents and professionals in the congregation. They understood and loved our kids and us. While we were only in Tennessee for about five and a half years, we have known our former pastor, Phil, and his family for almost two decades. He was our pastor in Illinois before we were even married, he performed our wedding, and our families were often substitute extended families when our families were far away. They were some of the first folks our kids met and connected with after moving into our home. Our youngest, who was really into superheroes, somehow started calling him “Captain Phil,” and the name lovingly stuck. They were with us from the decisions made about foster care and adoption to finalization and all the highs and lows during and after.
  • Doctors
    While I wasn’t fond of every single one of the specialists who cared for our children, we had a wonderful PCP who was proactive in getting care for our kids (and us as well). Most specialists were within a 20-30 minute drive. They knew our kids’ histories and were able to quickly ascertain medical needs.
  • Neighborhood
    We had some fabulous neighbors in Tennessee. We lived on a cul-de-sac in a very small subdivision, and most folks helped each other when it came to keeping an eye out for the neighborhood kids.
  • Network of professionals and therapists
    We found a new therapist last week, but it is going to take a long time to build what we had in Tennessee. We had a network of post-adoption therapists and service providers around us. Our family was able to grow and thrive through groups, adoptive family camps, home therapists, equine therapy, attachment therapy, and so on provided by these amazing people at places like Harmony Family Center, Shining Light Equestrian, the office of Helen Lyle-Joiner, and Built2Bond Attachment Institute. Even after our kids were discharged from these places, we knew we could call on them in a crisis and go back when needed. They could quickly answer questions and give suggestions having knowledge of our kids’ stories and needs.
  • Other foster and adoptive families
    Over our time in Tennessee, we were surrounded by a great group of foster and adoptive families who were on the journey together, fighting for our kids, fighting for healing, fighting for attachment. They spoke our language and shared our struggles. I always had people to call upon for advice, practical needs, or a group of ladies to go grab some time away with. I was able to be on the receiving end of desperate phone calls from other parents in the trenches. For me, it gave purpose to our struggles as we learned and were able to help others. It helped us all to know we were not alone and to have better outcomes for our kids.
  • School nurse
    Oh, how we miss our “Nurse Ashley.” As Dalton was leaving elementary school, we would have moved on from her care anyways, but we love her. As a foster adoptive parent herself, she understood Dalton and us. Her office became his safe place during difficult times. She provided the same for our elementary-aged foster child last year. She was priceless to our family.
  • Schools
    Our kids were enrolled in some amazing schools with great staff who helped to meet the kids’ needs at school. It wasn’t always easy, and in the beginning, they didn’t always “get us,” but by the time we left, we knew they had our backs and our kids’ backs.

We have floundered a bit over the last six months trying to get established here and find a similar system of support, like when one child had to go a few months without much needed meds because of issues getting a psychiatric provider. For now, I am thankful for the caregivers we have connected with through Transfiguring Adoption. We just found a therapist that two of our kids spoke with for intake and loved. We are starting to get plugged in to groups of caregivers. I know it takes far longer than we would hope, but I’m looking forward to building a new tribe here as it is a vital part of the life of a foster or adoptive family.


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