How can we help children to understand Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple SclerosisMeet Maria – a woman with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Maria tells the story of her family holiday which was interrupted when she began to feel dizzy, exhausted and weak. She explains how this led to her diagnosis and describes what MS is, how it affects her daily life and what others can do to help. Her story is taken from Can I tell you about Multiple Sclerosis? and is an ideal introduction to MS for children aged 7 +, as well as older readers. It will help family, friends and carers to better understand and explain MS and is an excellent starting point for group discussions.

Click here to download the extract

Can I tell you about Multiple Sclerosis? is part of the Can I tell you about…? series which offers simple introductions to a range of limiting conditions and other issues that affect our lives. Friendly characters invite readers to learn about their experiences, the challenges they face and how they would like to be helped and supported. These books serve as excellent starting points for family and classroom discussions.

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What is death? And how can we help children understand it? – Marian Carter

bereavementIn this extract from Helping Children and Adolescents Think about Death, Dying and Bereavement, Marian Carter draws upon her experience as a chaplain who has worked in hospital and hospice settings to suggest ways that we can help children come to terms with death. She questions ‘What is death?’ and goes on to describe the different experiences that children have with it, and how we can reflect upon these experiences to improve our emotional support. The book, which looks at how children comprehend the death of a loved one, pet, or even their own death, places a particular emphasis on the importance of listening to the child or adolescent, and adapting your approach based on their responses.

>>Click here to download the extract<<

Pooky Knightsmith: Three good reasons to write bad poetry

You don’t need tKnightsmith_Using-Poetry-to_978-1-78592-053-0_colourjpg-printo be a poet to write poetry, and you don’t need to write ‘good’ poetry to get a lot out of it.  I’ve found that the very act of writing and reviewing poetry can be incredibly therapeutic regardless of what we might produce.  Letting go of the idea that we need to be in some way talented with words to write poetry can open the door to a truly engaging, interesting and meaningful way to explore and express how we’re feeling.

In this blog post I’m exploring three key reasons why I’m an advocate of writing even the most terrible poetry – I hope it inspires you to give it a go (if so, you may find the fifty poetry writing prompts in my new book, Using Poetry to Promote Talking and Healing a good starting point).  Continue reading

10 years on Jeanette Purkis remembers finding her different kind of normal

Jeanette PurkisTo mark the 10th anniversary of Finding a Different Kind of Normal Jeanette Purkis recalls the events surrounding its publication and the extraordinary effect it has had on her life.

Continue reading

The Making of ‘Dad’s Not All There Any More – A comic about dementia’.

Alex Demetris is an illustrator, cartoonist and maker of comics. He completed an MA in Illustration in 2012, which resulted in a comic based on his family’s experience of coping with his father’s dementia: Dad’s Not All There Any More – A comic about dementia. Here he shares a little about the process of creating the comic and some of his pre-publication sketches (click to enlarge the images).
Alex also co-authored Grandma’s Box of Memories: Helping Grandma to Remember.

The idea for Dad’s Not All There Any More came to me whilst I was studying for an MA in illustration at Camberwell College of Art.  I had been making comics and drawing cartoons as a hobby for a number of years, and decided to enrol on the MA to see how good I could get by focusing on my hobby full time. Continue reading

Fight, flight or freeze; your body’s alarm system – author interview

K. L. Aspden has worked as a therapist with both children and adults since 1998. She has particular interest in the areas of trauma and anxiety, and she has experience working in both mainstream and special schools. She currently works in a school for children with emotional and behavioural difficulty, and is the author of Help! I’ve Got an Alarm Bell Going Off in My Head!: How Panic, Anxiety and Stress Affect Your Body.

1) What inspired you to write this book?
I work with some amazing children and teenagers, many of whom are frequently triggered into the fight/flight/freeze response. This can result in upsetting behaviours such as shouting, crying, hitting etc. They have no idea what is happening in their bodies and often feel too ashamed to talk about it, even when they are calmer. This is very sad. Having seen and heard what they go through, I wanted to write something to assure them that it is not their fault. I wanted to teach them about the physiology behind their feelings and show that there are things we can do to help ourselves.Aspden_Help-Ive-Got-an_978-1-84905-704-2_colourjpg-print
Above all I wanted to normalise this experience. Whilst we may not all react with the same intensity, everyone has an in-built ‘alarm bell’ (known as the amygdala) which can trigger powerful responses. An understanding of this can help anyone when they are going through periods of stress or anxiety.

2) Why did you decide to use the metaphor of an alarm bell?
I heard the panic response described as a ‘false alarm’ and decided to develop the idea. Alarms are so intrusive and distressing when they go off too frequently and at the wrong times – just like the overpowering feelings that can take over our bodies, minds and emotions when we are stressed. I wanted to communicate something of the jarring and disruptive effect of this through the alarm bell metaphor. I also thought it would be a non- threatening way to approach this tricky subject with my young clients.

3) You have worked as a therapist and at schools with children who have emotional and behavioural difficulties. What insight has that given you into how different people’s alarm bells work?
I think the alarm bell works in the same way for all of us, though it may affect us in different ways – could be trembling, feeling sick, withdrawing, tears, swearing…
For some people the alarm bell is set off more frequently because there are more triggers; this is especially true when trauma has occurred early in life or someone has high anxiety (for example, in autism). Children who have emotional/behavioural issues often live in a state of hyper-arousal – the alarm system is on red alert. In addition to this, they may lack the maturity or capacity to process their emotions which makes life even harder.
Those who have a stable background and an ability to reflect, often find it easier to learn to manage their responses. However, even the most vulnerable can benefit from being understood and supported by people who have an appreciation of the alarm system .

4) What triggers your alarm bell, and how do you take control back when you are feeling anxious or stressed?
Aspden - help i've got an alarm bell - pg 23 -imageOver the years I have carefully considered my own triggers and where they come from.
When I was a teenager life was much harder than it is now. Like many young people I wanted to be liked and didn’t understand that sometimes others can put you down to make themselves feel better. I was often bullied. This affected my confidence and I became reluctant to speak in groups, preferring not to be noticed. When put on the spot in a group setting, my internal alarm bell would ring loudly and I would experience a sense of wanting to disappear; lots of thoughts would rush round my head about how bad the situation was, and of course, this made me feel worse. There are occasions even now when I can revisit those feelings, but I am much more equipped to deal with them.
The thing that most often sets my alarm ringing these days is ‘technology’ – when my laptop goes wrong or I don’t know how to do something because everything changes so fast and it’s hard to keep up.
If this happens, I remind myself that I am having a ‘false alarm’. It is not a real emergency.
I also use two suggestions from the book that work quickly in any situation:

  • breathing more slowly
  •  doing a simple exercise like counting things to turn the thinking part of my brain back on.

In addition, I use Mindfulness in my everyday life (a discipline which helps to bring us back to the present moment), as well as a variety of creative activities. I find these tools are very soothing for the nervous system especially in times of stress or busyness.

5) Finally, what is the most important thing you would like readers to take away from your book?
I hope that an understanding of ‘the alarm system’ will help readers to feel more in control and more able to ask for help if they need it, without feeling embarrassed. I think a lot of people struggle because they don’’t know their difficulties are physiological.
Perhaps some readers will go further and become motivated to learn more about themselves. I would be especially pleased if they were to find the benefits of creativity in calming the nervous system, but that may be a subject for a whole new book.

You can find out more about the book, read reviews or order your copy here.

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Young People and Drugs – What can adoptive parents do?

Julian Cohen, author of All About Drugs and Young People, is a writer, educator, counsellor and consultant who has specialised in drug and sex education work with children, young people, parents, carers and professionals for nearly 30 years. In this blog post he covers tips and advice for adoptive parents who may be concerned about their child and drugs, and there is a free extract from the book for you to read at the end of the post. 

National Adoption Week is highlighting the fact that over 4,000 children in England are waiting for adoptive parents. A significant number of these children are older, have had particularly distressing childhood experiences and have additional and complex needs. They need adoptive parents who will help them overcome their troubled backgrounds. This means consistently sticking by them through the good times and the bad, helping them to make sense of who they are and to grow up feeling safe and secure.
These children may use a range of drugs not just to have fun but in an attempt to escape from unpleasant feelings they have about themselves, past experiences and anxieties about their futures.
Adoptive parents need to be drug aware and sensitive and relaxed about how they deal with young people’s involvement with drugs. How can they go about doing this? Here are 10 suggestions to help you be prepared.

1. Be aware that we are all drug users and have a lifetime drug career. If we think of drugs as mood altering substances they include alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and medicines, as well as illegal drugs, ‘legal highs’ and other socially taboo substances such as solvents. We all self- medicate throughout our lives. The key is to promote a relatively healthy and safe drug career, rather than a damaging one. Cohen_All-About-Drugs_978-1-84905-427-0_colourjpg-web

2. Be informed – learn about drugs and their use. You don’t need an encyclopedic knowledge but you do need to know something about various drugs, the different ways they are used, possible effects and dangers. At the same time you need to avoid the many myths that often surround discussion of drugs. Read books, look on the internet and talk to other adults and to young people.

3. Be aware of your own use of drugs, both past and current, and your particular feelings about drug use. What messages is your use giving your child, why do you feel as you do and how do your views compare with and other adults you know and with young people?

4. Be realistic. Be clear about what you can expect of children of a particular age, development and background. Drug use can be dangerous but avoid exaggerating the risks. Going over the top about dangers is a sure way of closing down communication with young people. And don’t think that they always will be deterred by risky behaviours. Risk can be attractive to them. Rather than expecting they will never use drugs adopt a harm reduction approach where you can have an honest dialogue with them about what they are up to and help to ensure their safety.

5. Talk with young people and make drug use a normal topic of conversation. Use opportunities that arise from watching TV and films. Don’t rush in and tell them what to feel, think or do. Take it gently and listen to what they have to say. You may sometimes need to bite your tongue and agree to disagree.

6. Know how to assess the risks involved with young people using drugs. Take into account the particular drug they may be using, how much and how often, how they are feeling in themslef and also who they may be using with, when and where. Don’t assume the worst and be aware that heavy, regular drug use is often motivated by a desire to blank out painful emotions.

7. Negotiate sensible, age appropriate drug rules. Rather than impose rules discuss with young people what they think might be best. Start with alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine and medicines. If, what, how much and often, when, where and who with can be discussed. You can consider sanctions for breaking the rules and might also put the spotlight on your own drug use as well as theirs.

8. Educate young people about drugs. Learn together by talking and looking at drug pamphlets, books and the internet. Include learning about basic first aid so they can help other people in any emergency situations. Support their school to deliver relevant drug education.

9. Respond to situations where young people become involved with drugs without panicking, being aggressive or overly draconian. Rather than rushing to act, whenever possible create time to think carefully and find out more before responding.

10. Know where to get help, if needed. The Frank website – www.talktofrank.com – can point you to local drug services that offer information, advice and support for young people and for yourself. They also have a telephone helpline on 0300 123 6600. If you need help or advice also consider talking to your local adoption support groups and workers, other adoptive parents and your family and friends.

Remember, most young people who use drugs, including illegal and other socially taboo substances, do so without getting into serious problems. And many of those who do have problems with drugs will, in time, grow out of it. Supportive parenting can make a huge and positive difference to young people’s drug careers and their lives.

Julian Cohen

Read a free extract from Julian’s book here.

Find out more in Julian’s book All About Drugs & Young People – Essential Information and Advice for Parents and Professionals. Julian can also be contacted via his website www.juliancohen.org.uk

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First Hand Experience: Good and bad responses to self-harm from health professionals

In this frank and open post, Dr Pooky Knightsmith talks about self-harm and shares her own experiences, both good and bad, of responses from health professionals.

This post was originally shared on Pooky’s blog, here

 

Whilst it’s beyond horrible going through what I’m going through at the moment, I am learning a huge amount that will inform and motivate my work when I am better. Today I have been learning, first hand, about the stigma that surrounds self-harm. I have one very negative and one very positive story to tell.

I had an appointment with my psychologist yesterday, and he was concerned about my self-harm. Things have spiraled this week and he was concerned by the extent of some of my injuries. He felt they needed suturing and asked that I seek medical advice. I was not keen, but agreed to go.

I attended a local walk-in clinic today.   The experience was not good. On arrival, I was asked, in front of a busy room full of people, my reason for attending. I spoke quietly and was made to speak up and repeat myself more than once. The receptionist was harsh and cold, compounding every fear I had had before turning up that I may be met with stigma by health professionals (I hear stories of such stigma often in my work with young people). I sat, on the verge of panic, for 45 minutes before it became too much and I decided to go elsewhere. The receptionist questioned me loudly again as I left about why I was there, and when I asked for advice about a better time to return she was unhelpful and cold.

Unsurprisingly, the whole situation left me very, very upset, angry and ashamed; the urge to self-harm was still incredibly strong.   Thankfully, my husband (Tom) supported me through it. He suggested we go elsewhere as he knew I wanted to keep my promise to my psychologist, so I went to the GP surgery and was able to book an emergency appointment.

This experience was 100% different. The receptionist was kind and understanding. She dealt with my request matter-of-factly but also swiftly, sympathetically and quietly. She remembered me when I returned an hour later for my appointment looking worried and shaky, and she checked me in and pointed me to the waiting area (you usually check yourself in).

Already things were better. The receptionist told me exactly how long I’d be waiting, which wasn’t long. The GP was hugely understanding; she remembered me from the week before and asked after my grandfather, whose appointment she’d remembered me from. She recalled that he had just moved in with me and I was leading on his care, and she suggested a need for me to care for myself first. She looked at my injuries and discussed them with me without judgement, only with care. She explained which ones should have had sutures, but also told me that it was too late. She told me what to do differently next time so as to access the care that my wounds needed, and reminded me (as my psychologist had) that, whilst I felt I deserved to scar and was not motivated to aid healing now,  I needed to accept that this might change and a little more care with any future wounds would leave me with more options.

She also noted that I was shaky, and that this was because she thought I was developing an infection in some of my wounds. She prescribed antibiotics which I must take four times a day with no food for 45 minutes before or after. She noted my anorexia and spoke with me matter-of-factly about whether the antibiotic regime was likely to be harmful to my meal planning. We discussed how it might work. At no point did I feel ashamed or embarrassed, or that I needed to hide anything.

The GP was kind, caring, reassuring and direct. I felt looked after. I was not made to feel ashamed and I understood for the first time the extent of my injuries, which was a bit of a wakeup call.

So, a good experience and a bad experience.

But imagine that I was not me. Imagine I had not been stubborn in seeking help because I had promised Tom and my psychologist. Imagine I had not had the relentless support of my caring husband and wider support network. Imagine I was a scared child. What are the chances I would have tried again when the help was not appropriate the first time? I think the chances are very slim. I think I would have walked away and never returned. I would have walked away with infections developing and no insight into how to better care for myself in future.

So, what next… I have given Tom my blades. He is keeping them, and if I need them he will give them to me if he is not able to help me work through the situation. I feel confident that he will always be able to help me – and could have helped me in the past, save that I did not have the wherewithal to ask in those very difficult moments. Now I will have a motivation to ask and to accept his amazing support. It is a lot to ask of a husband, but he does it willingly. I do not underestimate how lucky I am.

Today has taught me first-hand just how much difference our experiences with healthcare professionals can make to our willingness and ability to access care. This is not a job I am well enough to tackle right now, but you can bet your bottom dollar it is going on my to-do list for when I am feeling better. Improving awareness and understanding of self-harm is one of the jobs I have done most often and most successfully in the last 24 months, but I now need to think how best to reach as many health professionals as possible. All suggestions gladly accepted…

As you’ll have noted, I’m working hard to be open and honest about my current battles with my mental health. I hope that this will prove a helpful insight for my network and, whilst I am regretfully too unwell to fulfill many of the engagements in my diary, I hope that you will support me on my journey back to health and help me to learn lessons along the way which will inform my future mental health work.

 

Dr Pooky Knightsmith completed her PhD in child and adolescent mental health at the Institute of Psychiatry, London, where she specialised in developing practical strategies for supporting self-harm and eating disorders in schools and other non-clinical settings. The strategies that Pooky advocates through her freelance work are all developed as a result of direct consultation with school staff and students, and she also seeks inspiration from her clinical colleagues at the world famous Maudsley Hospital, adapting and simplifying evidence based approaches for use by non-specialists. In addition to freelance training, speaking and writing, Pooky is currently the mental health and emotional wellbeing advisor at the PSHE Association, an associate trainer for the Charlie Waller Memorial trust, a trustee of Beat, the eating disorders charity and a trustee of the Kidstime Foundation which supports children of parents with mental health issues.

You can find out about Pooky’s book Self-Harm and Eating Disorders in Schools here

Or to find out more about Pooky’s work, visit her blog here