Thursday 11 June 2020

My working week: 'Lockdown has shattered my autistic foster child's world'

Life during Covid-19 is challenging for foster carers but our children’s ability to relearn trust is a beacon of hope

How do I know it is Monday in this current hazy blur of uncertainty? My quirky eight-year-old foster child’s pants – that is my cue for deciphering the days of the week currently. She is routine-obsessed with an enthusiasm for days and dates, and her passion for her underwear to match the correct day of the week is more helpful than my 2020 planner at present.

As a varied family of five, we’ve finally managed to carve out a system in lockdown that works for us regarding home schooling. 

It’s been a particularly difficult process for my foster child, who’s already carrying the long-term effects of previous neglect in addition to autism and learning difficulties. Her world has been shattered by an invisible threat that is so hard for her to understand. 
Foster children are already survival experts, but the coronavirus crisis is testing everyone’s limits. Photograph: LightField Studios Inc./Alamy Stock Photo
I’m woken at 2am by my 10-year-old, who has had a bad dream about coronavirus. We cuddle and I try to soothe her as she drifts off to sleep again. 

In the morning I absent-mindedly cut my eight-year-old’s toast in triangles, not squares … it should always be squares. Autism is rigid and a non-forgiving condition, and this hiccup causes a one-hour meltdown. 

I take a phone call from my 14-year-old’s head of year, who is ringing to congratulate her for her commitment to Google classroom lessons. As the house mood has been wobbly, today we have a family movie afternoon with cuddles and popcorn. 

We’re halfway through the week. I say good morning to my teenager, who promptly bites my head off, but my other two children are full of the joys of spring. I wonder if, by the end of lockdown, we could coordinate to all having a great day at the same time.

Our saving grace during the crisis has been our garden. It is the one place that has consistently improved our collective mental health. A huge part of fostering is emotional regulation, for myself and the children entrusted in my care. 

Two children have just gone to bed when our supervising social worker rings to do our monthly supervision. It is a valuable time to reflect on the month’s fostering challenges and achievements.

It’s Thursday, or “clapping day” as it was known until the clap for carers stopped. We manage a successful home school session followed by cosmic kids yoga. While playing in the garden this afternoon, my 10-year-old is stung by a wasp. She screams and cries and the understandable reaction causes my eight-year-old to go into meltdown. For children with adverse childhood experiences, seeing others in pain can trigger a flashback of their unresolved pain. Both children require different types of tender loving care. For my 10-year-old, that’s first aid, Calpol and a cuddle; for my eight-year-old, it’s a deep pressure sensory wrap cuddle in a blanket and breathing exercises to bring her back to the present, and gentle but constant reassurance of her safety. Attuning to the needs of all my family members is a critical element of fostering.

The last session of home school takes place without any tantrums. Lockdown is easing but not over, which is sad but necessary, so our weekends aren’t the same as before Covid-19 came along.

I recognise our foster children are already survival experts by sad default of their previous harmful experiences, but their ability to relearn trust and allow themselves to be loved and cared for is a beacon of hope in uncertain times. 

(Source: The Guardian)

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