Friday, September 14, 2012

Learning - Older Adopted Children - Part 6

This is my sixth post on learning-related issues of older adopted children.  In case you are looking for the other posts, here are the links to them:

Learning - Older Adopted Children - Part 5

One of the things that Seth seems to have a real need to know is the plan is for the day.  More so than either of my other kids, more fervently than any other kid I know, he loves (needs) to know what we're doing in a day.  I admit that I often get tired of answering his questions about it.

It's been hard to know how to handle his repeated questions about scheduling.  For quite a while, I would tell the kids over breakfast what we were going to do that day (often in great detail) and I hoped that this would meet Seth's need for knowing 'the plan.'  The problem was that (perhaps because of some of his memory gaps) he would forget the plan, often within seconds of being told what it was.  So I would be fielding repeat questions all day long about "what are we doing now, Mommy?" or "what are we doing next, Mommy?" or "what's the plan, Mommy?"  These weren't I'm-bored-what-can-I-do questions; they were coming from a genuine place of needing to know what the plan was and a simultaneous inability to bring it to mind.

For another several weeks, I tried simply not telling the kids the plans for the day, and just let the day evolve.  That was actually less stressful for me because at least then when Seth asked throughout the day, I didn't feel frustrated about having already gone through all of the detail with him and still having to repeat myself over and over.  But still...I could see that it was stressful for Seth not having at least a general outline of what was going to happen throughout the day.

Then I started working with Seth on the Smart Start program that I purchased out of New York to help (hopefully) with his language and learning issues.  One of the first few activities that the program suggested was oriented around helping a child learn to look, listen, touch and be aware of his surroundings.  As a result, Seth and I drew pictures, and cut photos out of magazines, around activities such as getting up, using the toilet, dressing, making the bed, eating breakfast, etc etc etc.  We hung the pictures in an order that seemed fairly typical for the start of our day, and the idea was to help provide him with a sense of structure that would enable him to relax.  Given that most orphanages are structured fairly rigidly, having structure and rituals may lead to a sense of security and also assist in building vocabulary around basic functions.

He liked that morning sequencing quite a lot and it did seem to relax him.  He didn't have to rely on his memory to know what to do next and there was comfort to be found in that, it seemed.

Then one morning, while getting frustrated about Seth's repeated questions about the coming day's activities, I suddenly realized that I could also pictograph our general agenda for a day.  I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner, but I didn't.  So I tried it.  Below is a picture of the first agenda that I drew.  Now, cut me some slack here - I know my drawing sucks!  But the kids were fascinated by what I was doing and Seth's face lit up when I told him what it was.  I told them that there were other things that we would likely be doing that wouldn't be pictured, and that the order of things might change, but that this was the basic plan for the day.

Over the next hour, Seth ran to me his usual five or six times to ask what we were going to do that day and each time I directed him to the picture agenda that I'd left on the kitchen table.  Finally he began running up to the table to take a look, and it was ultimately a more relaxing day than usual because I didn't have to answer the same question over and over.  He stressed out a little when I changed the order of two things, but basically the picture agenda was a big success.

I don't do this every day, but I draw picture agendas several times a week, and there is no doubt that they have made a difference for Seth.

I have also taped hand-drawn pictures to the boys' bedroom door so that after breakfast, Seth (and Matthew and Lizzie) can run upstairs and complete a to-do list based on the pictures on his door:  brush teeth; wash face; wipe counter; make bed; tidy room; put pajamas onto a hook or into the laundry; look to see if there are clothes on the hook from yesterday that could be worn or find clean clothes in the closet.  You get the idea.  Seth is almost always the first person through his list and he runs back and forth to his bedroom door to make sure he's following along.  It's made a difference in both of our levels of frustration and in his ability to complete routine tasks.

I'm not sure what it is precisely that creates anxiety for Seth in this area.  Is it a control issue?  Does he feel more secure knowing that someone (else) is in charge of things and has a plan and will take care of him so that he doesn't have to worry about what's going to be required/expected of him?  There's something here.

What I do know is that when he's anxious it's much harder for him to learn things - whether language or letters or numbers or whatever.  Come to think of it, the same truth could be said of me.


  1. I have read in numerous places, including writings from Dr. Neufeld that children need a lot of orienting, especially if they come from hard places. What we do with T at school (and I REALLY need to start at home), is that they make a velcro picture strip. That way we can change it daily, and even throughout the day if needed, quickly and easily.

    The fun starts when T decides to rearrange the picture strips more to his liking :)

  2. My oldest liked when I laminated our lists so she could cross the drawings off as she completed them, then erase and use again for another day.

  3. Those are both GREAT ideas guys - thanks!


  4. I had to post a schedule for my first graders and I used the velcro type of thing. And speaking as a born "anxious" person, some of us are just like that and we do better with a visual schedule. Lots of my students would study the schedule several times a day and some never glanced at it. I loved getting to know my little community of learners.

  5. Thought of you when I saw these: