Foster carers, like everyone else, are probably going to be influenced by storylines in the ‘soaps’. These programmes have, at least, tremendous power to bring an issue to national prominence. They may not always do this in ways everyone is happy with, but; for a while at least the issue is on the national agenda. So whilst we are making strenuous efforts this month to recruit potential foster carers interested in looking after children with complex needs, it’s timely that characters in ‘Eastenders’ are grappling with autism.
Mick and Linda Carter have had their world shaken having received the news that their son could be exhibiting signs of autism. This follows the erratic behaviour of their four-year-old son, Ollie. The scriptwriters should cover the subject of autism effectively as The National Autistic Society is collaborating with the BBC on this storyline. It will run through the summer. The Director of external affairs at the National Autistic Society is Jane Harris. She is pleased that Autism is being given such prominence as:
“Only 16% of autistic people and their families feel the public understand autism and half of autistic people sometimes don’t leave the house because they’re afraid the public won’t understand them. “So it’s hugely encouraging to see more TV dramas representing storylines about autism in their work.”
There are in fact over 700,000 people with autism in the UK. It’s likely most people will know someone who is autistic. This could be a colleague, friend or family member. Jane Harris said:
“We jumped at the chance to be involved because we recognised that it was a fantastic opportunity to help millions of viewers understand more about the autism assessment process and what families go through in order to get a diagnosis.”
When it is considered that the highest ever rated episode for Eastenders was in 1986 and attracted an audience of 30.15 million, it can be seen in terms of reach alone, the programme had extraordinary pulling power. Things are different now. The programmes ratings are now hovering around the 4 million mark, but that’s is still an awful lot for people. And, hopefully, there will be some potential foster carers in amongst them. If only 16% of autistic people and their family members feel there is awareness amongst the general public about autism, there is a big knowledge gap. Perhaps this storyline will go some way to addressing it. Perhaps watching it will make you consider fostering an autistic child.
Offering foster care for a child with autism will mean being prepared to adapt to meet what can be quite complex needs. Foster carers need to have a resilient nature, be able to think creatively as well as being capable of adapting to situations that can be challenging. Patience will always be required – as will a sense of humour!
Looking after a child on the autism spectrum can pose unique demands. There are likely to be a wide range of emotional issues to deal with. It’s important to prepare: there are steps that can be taken to protect a placement even before an autistic child arrives at a foster carer’s home. It’s important to discover what a child’s normal routines are. What may trigger a feeling of anxiety; what are their particular likes and dislikes; what’s important to them – such as toys or objects; what are the things that make them feel calm and secure. Find out also, the things that need to be avoided. A good example of this is establishing the kind of food preferences a child or young person has. It is advisable; before the placement commences, to have been given all the information regarding their sensory needs.
To ensure that child with autism feels secure, It’s very important to manage any changes in normal routines carefully. This allows plenty of time for a child to adjust. For example, it’s not a good idea to rush out and purchase lots of new things. Also, do not remove things they may have brought with them. These might be important to them.
The creation of a sense of daily structure will help. Setting boundaries from the start is essential. Doing this will create consistency which, in turn, promotes reassurance. Children and young people with autism usually fare badly in they find themselves in situations they perceive to be unpredictable. As a foster carer it’s good to be flexible and accommodating. The anxiety levels that autistic children experience can fluctuate, so be prepared to recognise this. Some seemingly well-established behaviours can change. They might then be replaced with new patterns of behaviour which in turn will need to be fully understood.
It’s not realistic to always know what has triggered changes in a child or young person’s behaviour. and remember that they; like all of us, have good and bad days. Getting to understand the problems and specific needs of an autistic child will always demand patience and insight. It must be stated that if this is achieved and a foster carer provides a loving and stable environment, then they will be rewarded by seeing just what a rewarding and profound change they can make.
Making the right choice of school is; unsurprisingly, vital. A child that is having to move school as a result of being fostered needs their foster carer to take certain steps on their behalf. Visit the school they are currently in. Try to find out about their experiences from their class teacher. And even better, spend some time in the classroom observing them. It’s also a particularly good move to research local SEN (Special Educational Needs) schools. Their Ofsted reports can be viewed making them a valuable source of information. If possible, it’s advisable to visit them. Some may not even consider accepting a child if a visit has not been made. Remember too, it’s perfectly legitimate to make enquiries about the level of training around autism staff have been given. Remember that people from backgrounds and are affected by autism and the issues around complex needs – try visiting https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism
Are you up to the challenge of fostering a child with autism?
At Rainbow fostering we are committed to providing our foster carers with all the training and support, they need to care for a child with complex needs. We welcome all new applications from people – regardless of their ethnicity or religion. And an individual’s sexual orientation – or relationship status – will not be a bar to their becoming a foster carer. Call us on 020 8427 3355 or 0330 311 2845. There’s plenty of detailed information about fostering on our website – visit http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/becoming-a-foster-carer/
See also our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section. This covers many of the basic fostering enquiries we receive. Go to http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/frequent-asked-questions/