Self-harm, autism, and the desperate need to be understood

hard to reach children

The heartbreaking motivation that compelled Åse Brunnström to find a way to help carers communicate visually with hard to reach children.

One day in 2009 sparked the inspiration for Åse and led her to investigate the different ways in which visual communication could be approached to help hard to reach children, dedicating her time to creating a universally accessible resource for the professionals, teachers and parents who would need it. The result was Robin and the White Rabbit, illustrated by Emma Lindström, a vital tool that helps children express and understand their thoughts and feelings through the use of visual communication cards.


Continue reading

“Why Bother? Does it Even Matter?” Read an exclusive extract from Treating Body and Soul

In Peter Wells’ new book, Treating Body and Soul, various healthcare professionals reveal how they meet patients’ spiritual needs in medical settings.

Patients who are facing illness and uncertainty often find themselves reflecting on the bigger questions in life, and the core beliefs or principles they live by. These convictions, religious or otherwise, are integral to a patient’s identity, and consequently to their most fundamental emotional and spiritual needs. Perceptive clinicians have proved that, by recognising and working with their patients’ spiritual requirements, they have been able to significantly improve their patients’ experience in the medical setting.

In this extract, Peter Wells questions why we need to address the needs of the body and the soul in healthcare settings and why this shouldn’t just be the role of the hospital chaplain. He also explains how best to use this book.

Read the exclusive extract from Peter Wells here

For more information on this book, or to buy a copy, please follow this link.

Strategies in Supporting Children with Special Needs around Death and Dying

“My grandma isn’t a dinosaur. Why are the dinosaurs in this book teaching about death?”

“My dad’s not a leaf. I don’t understand what falling leaves have to do with him dying.”

“My aunt died. Why is everyone saying she’s in a better place?”

Metaphors, symbolic language, euphemisms. These all present challenges for many children with special needs who process information in a concrete manner. The quotes above encapsulate some of the feedback we have heard during our work in hospice care and in special education, as parents describe their struggle with explaining death and dying to their children. We wrote I Have a Question about Death: A Book for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Other Special Needs to address these challenges, and to create a book that parents and caregivers can read with all children.

Complicated subjects like death and dying can be particularly daunting to discuss with children, and even more so when those children have special learning needs; there is often no easy answer to difficult questions. The following strategies provide guidance on supporting a child with special needs around death and dying. Remember, every child processes information in a unique manner; consider which approach will work best for the children in your life based on strategies that have been successful in other scenarios. For instance, consider if the child learns best through visual cues, or through repetition. Do he/she process information best in short spurts? Does he/she have auditory processing or sensory-based challenges? Most of all, remember that special education is just good education! These strategies can work for all children.

  1. Straight Talk:

Though one might be tempted to “soften” the topic with “gentle” language, it can be more helpful to use the actual words, like “death” or “died” when talking with a child. Use concrete language and avoid euphemisms. Phrases like, “they are in a better place” or “they have passed” can lead to more confusion and anxiety.

  1. Preparation:

Consider using a short picture story, or checklist, to help provide a framework for next steps, especially if preparing them to attend a funeral or memorial service. Pictures, repetition, and perhaps even doing a “practice drive” to the funeral home, church or synagogue can help the child understand what to expect. Have a trusted adult on hand to be with the child if they need a break during the service.

  1. Emotions:

Many children with special needs have difficulty reading the emotional cues of other people. Preparing them for emotions they and others might experience can be helpful. Let them know some people may be sad and crying, and it’s ok if they feel the same way. Preparing for the emotional aspects of the experience with pictures or images, such as those provided by Symbol Stix (www.n2y.com), can be particularly useful.

  1. Sensory Processing:

After someone dies, disruptions in routines are common. Many more people may be in the child’s home, and there are likely new sounds, more hugs, and other changes that can challenge a child’s sense of order. Consider what sensory-based strategies have been helpful for the child in the past, and utilize those during this experience. Perhaps the child might need to take a break in a quiet room, hold a comforting toy, crash into a pile of pillows, or swing outside.

  1. Remembrance:

Support the child in remembering the person who died in meaningful and accessible ways. Ideas include creating a memory box filled with pictures or other mementos; helping to make connections for the child as to the impact of this person on their lives (i.e. if riding a train together, remembering a trip they took in the past with the person who died); or creating a short picture story about the person and their death, and ways they remember him/her.

  1. A New Normal:

When possible, try to maintain routines, as they are likely comforting to the child. However, do expect the possibility of regression, as the child may turn to self-soothing behaviors or show traits of an earlier developmental phase. Lean on your existing team of supporters, including teachers, school counselors, therapists, and friends.

  1. Communication:

If the child can communicate verbally, through assisted communication devices or in other ways, continue to encourage questions, even if the questions have no easy answer. We received much feedback about this issue when researching our book, as parents shared how difficult it had been to support a child around the questions that do not have a clear answer (“Why does someone die?” and “What happens to someone after they die?”). Continue to keep the lines of communication open, and acknowledge the frustration around not having a concrete answer to difficult questions.

Death and dying brings up myriad emotions for each of us, which certainly affects how we help our children cope. Keep in mind that you are already an expert when it comes to your child.  Relying on previously established strategies and support systems will go a long way in helping your child process this change in a healthy and developmentally appropriate way. This will lay the foundation for coping with other unexpected events and challenges throughout his/her life.

Arlen Grad Gaines, LCSW-C, ACHP-SW is a licensed clinical social worker with an advanced certification in hospice and palliative care based in Bethesda, Maryland. She is co-author of I Have a Question about Death: A Book for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Other Special Needs (Jessica Kingsley Publishers).

Meredith Englander Polsky, MSW, MS Special Education, founded Matan (www.matankids.org) in 2000, and has helped improve Jewish education for thousands of children with special needs. She co-authored  I Have a Question about Death: A Book for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Other Special Needs (Jessica Kingsley Publishers).

Please visit their website at www.ihaveaquestionbook.com for more information.

What are the different forms of bullying and what strategies can be used to overcome the problem?

bullyingMichael Panckridge, co-author of Be Bully Free, takes a look at the different forms that bullying can take and suggests strategies that victims of bullying can adopt to overcome the problem.

Bullying is about power and the perceived need to gain dominance over another person either physically, intellectually, socially or emotionally. Research into the effect of bullying behaviour indicates that not only does it produce negative short-term psychological problems, but can also affect a person well into their adult life and even lay the foundations for significant and ongoing emotional health problems. Sometimes the bullying is overt and immediate. However, in many cases, the bullying is low-key and ‘hidden’, and the recipient may not be aware of it immediately.  Initially the recipient may think it is their own behaviour that is causing the bullying – that there is something wrong with them or what they do. When this happens, the recipient of the bullying tends to avoid being with other people and they use strategies to escape. This may include avoiding school, which can signal the start of school refusal. Continue reading

Counsellors working with young people often find it can feel like messy, complex work. What helps when counsellors are stuck?

counsellorNick Luxmoore, author of Practical Supervision for Counsellors who Work with Young People, explores the positive impact that good supervision sessions can have on counsellors who are struggling to break down barriers with young people in their care.

It’s Nikki’s first day as a counsellor and she’s about to see four young people. “Help!” she says, panicking. “What am I supposed to do?” Elsewhere, the girl Stephanie’s been seeing for counselling has ripped up a box of tissues and stormed out of the room, Marvin’s complaining that his counselling waiting list is getting longer and longer, and all the young people at Maggie’s school appear to be cutting themselves or feeling suicidal….

However experienced or inexperienced they may be, all professional counsellors are obliged to have regular meetings with a supervisor: someone with whom they can untangle the “stuckness” that develops in their thinking and relationships. Most are only too glad of the facility and most counsellors are able to choose their supervisor, someone who may or may not already have experience of working with young people. Continue reading

How to compile a life story book for an adopted or fostered child

life story booksJoy Rees, author of Life Story Books for Adopted and Fostered Children, gives her advice on how best to compile a life story book for an adopted or fostered child.  Working chronologically backwards rather than forwards, she explains how such a format reinforces the child’s sense of security and promotes attachment.

A Life Story Book tells the story of the child’s life and is often described as an ‘essential tool’ to help the child gain a sense of identity and an understanding of his or her history. This was the emphasis when I wrote the first edition of this book, Life Story Books for Adopted Children, – A Family Friendly Approach, some 10 years ago.

This approach evolved from my work with adoptive families, and from a growing awareness that most of the books I read at that time were simply not ‘fit for purpose’. The language used and the details given about the birth parents’ history was generally not appropriate or helpful. The books were just not child friendly. At best many of them were complex and confusing and it was difficult to follow the child’s story in them. At worse, some books inadvertently fed into the child’s sense of self-blame and shame about their early experiences. Others risked adversely affecting placement stability by impeding the vital claiming and belonging stages of the attachment process.

My approach to life story books had a different prospective.  They aimed to raise self-esteem and to promote trust and attachments with the primary carers, and emphasised the importance of incorporating plenty of positive subliminal messages, i.e. that the child is lovable, loved and valued, before helping him or her to understand and process the early history.

These key messages are reinforced in the updated book, Life Story Books for Adopted and Fostered Children. As the title reflects, the approach has been expanded and contains links to sample books not only for children who are adopted (into a range of different circumstances such as transnational adoption), but also for those in long term foster placements or living with kinship carers or Special Guardians. The suggested format, present – past – present – future, is appropriate for all of these children.

Here are some tips for compiling a life story book:

  • It must to be an honest account but ‘child-friendly’ – social work jargon should be avoided.
  • It should be appealing and colourful and contain scanned photographs and clip-art
  • It can be divided into short sections so that it can be shared in ‘bite-sizes’
  • It should engage the child by gently and playfully inviting him or her into their story
  • Writing in the 3rd person is generally more appropriate for young children
  • Positive subliminal messages should be threaded throughout the story
  • It should be a celebration of the child’s life and leave him or her with a sense of a positive future

Suggested format:

Present:

The book should not start with the child’s birth and the birth family. It should begin with the child now and the current primary attachment figures – adopter, permanent foster carer or Special Guardian. Information should be fun and non-threatening. Include details of child’s hobbies, interest, talents, the current home and family, friends, pets, nursery or school before moving into the child’s early history.

Past:

Begin this section with factual details of the child’s birth: date, place, time, day, weight, length, origins of name, if known. With increased use of social networking sites be wary of including surnames or previous addresses. Consider the risks. This information can be given at a later stage, when then child is considered mature enough to make a more informed decision about tracing and contact.

Introduce the birth mother and birth father if known, and again, if the book is for an adopted child, it is best to use the first names only, with age, description, ethnic origin, religion, health, interests and employment. Details of siblings and any other significant family member would also be included here.

Remember, the book is the story of the child’s life, and not the birth parent’s lives, so do not overwhelm them with too many details. The child should not have to own the birth parents’ troubled history.

There should be an accurate but simple account of events leading to the placement in foster care. The underlying message for the child needs to be that ‘None of this was your fault!’. Give details of foster carers. If a child has gone through more than one placement, provide an explanation for each move, emphasising that this was not because the child was ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’.

A simple account of the decisions made by the social workers, police or judge should be given. There is no need to list all of the conferences and meetings or give dates. This is too confusing for a young child and could detract from their understanding of their story.

Present:

The book should bring the child back to present with meeting their permanent family, and moving into their current home. Include Court Hearings and details of the Care Order, Special Guardianship Order and, if applicable, Adoption Order and Celebratory Hearing. A sense of permanency or ‘the forever family’ could now be reinforced.

But do not end the book here.

Future:

Give the child a sense of a hopeful future. Mentioning family rituals, familiar routines and adding more family photographs are grounding and can strengthen the child’s sense of belonging. Include family plans, perhaps a holiday or the child’s hopes and aspirations. End on a positive note and by reminding the child that wherever they go and whatever they do they will always be loved, are part of this family and will always be in the adopters’ or carers’ thoughts.

Having a sense of one’s history is important, but to enable children to move forward to the positive futures they deserve, this alone is not enough. A sensitively written book can lay the foundation for healthy attachments with the primary carers and can reinforce a sense of belonging and security. It can raise self-esteem and help the child to feel loveable, loved and valued.

These are the aspects that truly make a Life Story Book a powerful and ‘essential tool’.

If you would like to read more articles like Joy’s and  hear the latest news and offers on our Adoption and Fostering books, why not join our mailing list or like our Adoption and Fostering Facebook page? We can send information by email or post as you prefer, and please also tell us about your areas of interest so we can send the most relevant information. You can unsubscribe at any time.

No matter how young the child, honesty is the best way…


That is according to Nathalie Slosse, author of Big Tree is Sick, who tells the story of how the book came to be, as well as laying out her case for complete honesty as the best way to engage with children when helping them to understand serious illness.

In surveys on what values ​​we consider important, honesty is always highly rated, usually even as the most important quality. However, when it comes to honestly confiding something serious to our children, we often want to spare them the grief that the harsh truth can bring. It is a dilemma I struggled with when I was treated for breast cancer, and it’s why I want to provide a resource to others in the same situation today.

Sometimes people ask me “Did breast cancer change your way of life?” I wish I could reply that this was not the case; it’s true that prior to my diagnosis I followed my heart when it came to important life choices. But if I’m honest, I must admit that without the painful episode in 2007, I would not be doing what I do now. The battle I had with breast cancer as a mum of a two year old boy helped me discover that I can help people find happiness in difficult circumstances. In 2010 I founded the association Talismanneke to further explore that path.

But let’s start at the beginning.

Continue reading

What is attachment and attachment disorder?

Attachment disorderClinical psychologist Colby Pearce provides a concise and easy to understand introduction to what ‘attachment’ means, how to recognise attachment disorders and how to help children who have an attachment disorder. This extract is taken from his new book A Short Introduction to Attachment and Attachment Disorder, Second Edition which offers a comprehensive set of tried-and-tested practical strategies that can be used in the home, school and consulting room with children affected by an attachment disorder. Colby is also the author of A Short Introduction to Promoting Resilience in Children.

Download the extract

If you would like to read more articles like Colby’s and hear the latest news and offers on our Adoption and Fostering books, why not join our mailing list? We can send information by email or post as you prefer, and please also tell us about your areas of interest so we can send the most relevant information. You can unsubscribe at any time.

That’s So Gay! Tackling homophobic bullying in schools

homophobia schoolsJonathan Charlesworth, author of That’s So Gay!, discusses the concerted effort by the government and anti-bullying organisations to tackle homophobia in schools but admits that there is progress still to be made. Observing that it is very important just to be yourself in life, he asserts that, in order to be so, restraints such as homophobia need to be removed. 

Are you a secondary school teacher or college tutor keen to help a student who’s questioning their sexual orientation and would welcome some guidance? Perhaps you’re a primary school teacher eager to challenge homophobic name-calling or bullying?

In the modern day, civil partnerships are legally recognised throughout the United Kingdom and same-sex marriages are similarly conducted everywhere except North Ireland. It’s an offence to incite or commit a homophobic or transphobic crime. Meanwhile, all our schools and colleges are bound by a Duty of Care to ensure their pupils or students are safeguarded against homophobic, biphobic or transphobic (HBT) bullying. Add to this the finding from a YouGov survey that 49% of young people aged between 18 and 24 define themselves as something other than heterosexual (1) and you would think we wouldn’t have any problem with homophobic bullying in or out of our schools and colleges.

Yet lesbian, gay or bisexual young people including those questioning their sexuality remain vulnerable to harassment and far too many are still experiencing bullying in our schools. Continue reading

Adopting older children; transformations of all kinds can and do take place

Adopting older childrenIn these stories taken from Ann Morris’s new book Adopting: Real Life Stories, parents who have chosen to adopt an older child reveal the challenges they have faced of accepting a child into their family who is more aware than any baby or toddler of their past. Admitting that the road can often be tough and that many placements do break down, they nonetheless give examples of remarkable transformative journeys.

Click here to download the extract

With more than 70 real life stories, revealing moments of vulnerability and moments of joy, this book provides an authentic insight into adoption. These stories take the reader on a journey through every stage of the adoption process, from making the initial decision to adopt to hearing from adoptees, and offer an informative and emotive account of the reality of families’ experiences along the way. It includes chapters on adopting children of all ages as well as sibling groups; adopting as a single parent; adopting as a same sex couple; adopting emotionally and physically abused children; the nightmare of adoption breaking down; contact with birth parents; tracing and social media and more.

If you would like to read more articles like Ann’s and hear the latest news and offers on our Adoption books, why not join our mailing list? We can send information by email or post as you prefer, and please also tell us about your areas of interest so we can send the most relevant information. You can unsubscribe at any time.