Fostering a child with a disability

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We need full time and part-time foster carers to care for a child or young person with a disability. Many of our children have additional needs such as autism and learning disabilities and carers will be provided with support and training to be able to communicate and understand a particular child’s needs.

Part time foster carers can provide the main foster carer and birth families with a much-needed break. Getting a break gives the main foster carer or family the chance to spend time with others and recharge their batteries. Having a break also gives the child new opportunities, to do different things and make new friends. Part time care could be for short breaks such as: daytime, overnight, weekend or school holidays.

What’s involved?

You will be managing a child’s varying health needs so you should feel comfortable with this responsibility and be able to drive a mobility vehicle to attend regular health appointments. Your home should be accessible by wheelchair and have extra space for equipment if needed.

If the child is non- verbal or has limited communication, you will be learning how to communicate using symbols. And you will also need physical stamina for moving and handling. It’s not easy but you will be part of the team working closely with the child. You will be fully supported and given lots of training from the multi- agency health team.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental condition that involves persistent challenges in social interaction, speech and nonverbal communication, and restricted/repetitive behaviours. These 'core features' are persistent throughout an individual’s life but will differ in severity according to various factors, including age or the presence of a learning disability.

You can help by organising the physical environment to adapt to the sensory needs of each child, for example reducing too much visual stimulation (bright lights, screen lights) or auditory stimulation (loud noise). You can provide opportunities for stimulation such as, running, jumping, weightbearing or resistance activities and if you can provide consistency in the environment and predictable routines the child or young person will be able to manage daily living better.

This is Jack’s carer’s experience:

“I’ve learnt to think like Jack and learn his traits. Jack needs to have tasks broken down into smaller chunks e.g. you can’t say go and get a shower, get your PJ’s on and brush your teeth. This would be overwhelming so you ask Jack to do one thing and then after this is done you would prompt him to do the next.

Jack is very loving but gets on better with younger children or adults as they accept his style of communication more easily. You must have loads pf patience and be one step ahead all the time and be flexible, adjusting the day as it goes along. Jack is a lovely wee boy and we love him to bits. I have a team of health professionals to work with and this has been invaluable.”

A learning disability affects the way a person learns new things throughout their lifetime. It affects the way a person understands information and how they communicate. This means they can have difficulty understanding new or complex information, learning new skills and coping independently.

A learning disability can be mild, moderate or severe. Some people with a mild learning disability can talk easily and look after themselves but may need a bit longer than usual to learn new skills. Other people may not be able to communicate at all and have other disabilities as well.

Some learning disabilities are diagnosed at birth, such as Down's syndrome. Others might not be discovered until the child is old enough to talk or walk.

Once a child is diagnosed with a learning disability, their GP can refer them for any specialist support they may need. As a carer you will begin to get to know the team of professionals who will be involved in your child's care.

The right support from professionals – such as GPs, paediatricians, speech and language therapists, physiotherapists, educational and clinical psychologists all help children with a learning disability to reach their full potential.

This is Susan’s carer’s experience:

“Susan had lost the power of speech due to neglect at home and I took her back through all the baby stages of language development and singing nursery rhymes to her. When my granddaughter came round, Susan would join in and sing with her and so we discovered that Susan loves music and it helps her relax.

As a carer you need a lot of patience as you must repeat instructions many times. It’s helpful to use visual aids as a reminder about routines and tasks. Susan had specialised support and was given sessions in play therapy. She has come on leaps and bounds, is talking and most of all is happy and trusts us. Susan gives so much back, and we are so proud of her, and she is a total joy. We work with many health professionals and are part of the team.”

People with FAS can have problems a range of problems such as:

  • Issues with their central nervous system,
  • Minor facial features,
  • Growth problems,
  • Learning,
  • Memory,
  • Attention span,
  • Communication,
  • Vision and hearing

They might have a mix of these problems. People with FAS can have a hard time in school and trouble getting along with others.

People with ARND might have intellectual disabilities and problems with behaviour and learning. They might do poorly in school and have difficulties with maths, memory, attention, judgment, and poor impulse control.

This is Tracy’s carer’s experience:

“I’m still learning about Tracy and getting to know her ways. She loves drawing and colouring in and likes to repeat the same pictures over again. I think she sometimes struggles to know the difference between what is real and what is fiction, but I just try to explain things very slowly and clearly. Tracy is good at listening but is forgetful so you have to say the same things a few times until it stays in her memory. She makes us smile with her funny wee ways like looking over her glasses and pretending to be cheeky. We have a close relationship with school, so we know how to support her with her schoolwork. She finds it hard to play with her children her own age but is getting more confident day by day. As a carer you must have lots of patience and flexibility and be willing to put yourself in her shoes, understand her thinking and how her brain works and then you are halfway there. We can’t imagine life now without her!”

There are many physical disabilities that can affect children, such as delayed walking, deafness or visual impairment. Cerebral palsy is umbrella term for a broad group of non-progressive motor impairment and is the most common physical disability in childhood.

Adaptive equipment, such as powered mobility, sign language and picture boards, can have impressive and widespread impact on social skills, language and play skills as well as encouraging independent movement.