Monday 17 November 2014

Adoption UK Conference 2014

Last Saturday saw our first attendance at the Adoption UK Conference where Dr Bruce Perry was talking. Bruce Perry is an expert in child trauma and how this affects the brain and childhood development.

Having previously studied anatomy & physiology, I'm fascinated by how the body works especially the brain. I've also studied stress management in the past so had a brief idea how it affected the brain, but to see how trauma affects the child's brain is at a complete different level.

Throughout his time speaking, there were nods from parents who saw their child in his words.  If the lightbulb moments from us and everyone else in the room could have come to life, we could have kept the hotel lit for the rest of the day.

Here are some of the main points I took away from the conference:-

1.   The lower parts of the brain, responsible for breathing, heart rate etc, is actually where information is processed first.  But this 'dumber' part of the brain can't tell time.  It doesn't realise that the threat happened 20 years ago.  Tell that to others who think, oh, it was years ago they won't remember!

2.  Present experiences are filtered through past experience stored in the brain. The past experiences have formed a template.

3.  The child's template for their initial chaotic experience of parents/carers  might be "they don't look after me therefore I must look after myself" - hence why Daddy and I get shouted at when we offer assistance.   These templates can be altered positively over time but it will take long term, regular, predictable, consistent work.

4.  A child who has experienced trauma has a higher stress baseline.  Because their brains and bodies are subject to inconsistent, variable, unpredictable stress they become so sensitised and can get to the point where a small stress event, that previously might have resulted in a moderate reaction, might this time result in an extreme reaction. Hence why saying Good Morning often results in a growl, a scowl and an immediate stomp away from me.  Or why putting butter on toast resulted in a complete meltdown.

5.  Regulation or self-soothing.  If the child cannot self-soothe then it is the parents role to be the External Stress Responder.  But we can't regulate a child if we are not regulated ourselves.  In fact Dr Perry said if you take just one thing away from the conference it's that the most important thing is to take care of yourself, and not just once a week at the gym, every day we need to take care.  Regulate before you connect before you correct.

6.  Speaking to a child negatively results in their deregulation.

7.  To help regulate a child, stand back, speak calmly, be present, be parallel. Disengage if necessary.   The car is a great place for kids to feel regulated.  The rhythm of the engine and being parallel (or behind).  Let them control how they engage with you, let them control the timing and pacing of visiting a stressful experience.  Missy's words from the back seat make more sense now.

8.  Functioning of the brain is state dependent.  So perhaps last week in the classroom they can do maths. But this week, the child is not in the right state of mind, not in the higher thinking parts of the brain because for example, they feel a threat from someone walking into the classroom.  This week then, they can't do the work because they are operating from a state of fear from the lower parts of the brain and acting in a reactive manner.

9.  Dissociation.  We all know the 'fight or flight' response.  But a baby or toddler can't run away or put up a fight.  Think baby crying because it's hungry or needs nappy changing.  No one comes, or when they do they shout or hit, so brain says this isn't working and they shut down, they dissociate. It's an adaptive mechanism. Physiologically, the heart rate goes down, painkillers are sent out; basically the child is getting ready to be hurt.

10.  A child who dissociates internalises their feelings.  They might look like they are coping but inside they are in turmoil.  Sadly because they look like they are coping they often bypass mental health services.

11.  A child can also be a mix of hyper aroused/dissociative and could be labelled bipolar leading to a prescription of drugs which will not work.

12.  Labels such as ADHD, RAD etc may be unhelpful.  The child is probably actually 'delayed' due to earlier experiences of impoverished environment.  Also, if your child can regulate some of the time then a diagnosis of RAD is probably wrong.

There is so much more he spoke about and I highly recommend checking out Bruce Perry's Seven Slides Series on the Child Trauma Academy You Tube Channel.

So what can we do to help regulate?  I was comforted to hear that some of the things we have done are on the right lines.  Touch - so playing hairdressers is good.  Use rhythm  - music (listening to and making) dance around the living room, play pat-a-cake, go for a walk, trampoline.  Meditation (Missy and I both like using meditation). Decompression time for the child - it's OK for them to watch TV after school or play on a the DS.  It's their chance to zone out, be dissociative for a while after being hyper-aroused at school.  It's a good regulatory activity so don't use no TV as a consequence.  Sit next to them, in parallel, at the dining room table as it's less threatening.

Lots of take in, lots to reflect upon and put into practice or revisit.

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