Someone asked me about how we create safety nets for Emelie. The first thing to know is they are different for each need. We also want to stress what is a safety net for some, won’t help others. It takes time to weave the fabric of the net and in some cases it can take years to develop. Don’t lose heart though; some of the netting also can be set up quickly. This is a breakdown of some of the things we do for Em to catch her when and if she needs it.
We have several levels but many of them promote her independence. There are some set up for when we are at home, some for when we are out, some for school, some for social situations, and all of them work together to better her life. She doesn’t know about all the safety nets in place, but that’s how we challenge her to strive to be her best all the time and garner confidence in her abilities.
We started by setting up boundaries and insisting she followed them. They were loose and she had a lot of control over them. It started with serious elopement issues and we live near a lot of water. She was told she couldn’t leave the house if she was upset. Her choices were that she could go up to her room and shut the door (not slam, but close the door) or she could go to the any other room in the house. If she needed us to leave her alone for her to regroup, then she needed to tell us that she needs time and space. If she was in a extreme meltdown, we’d tell her to go to her “safe” spot in the house but she needs to leave the door open so we can observe her to ensure there was no “self harming” going on. It doesn’t always work but like a net, she sometimes falls through those holes.
By doing those things, she quickly found it was better for everyone and herself if she followed these rules. The escalations were fewer and when they did happen the coming down period usually took less than twenty to thirty minutes. We weren’t there aggravating an overload and she was able to come down without the worries of someone insisting on pressing the issue until she was ready. After that she has to come down and we will talk quietly about the situation. Taking turns explaining what we saw happening versus what had happened. Em sometimes can’t explain why she had to take that route but at least she gets to see it from the other side.
When we explain these things to her, we have found that to explain how it was without the blaming or casting her as doing something “wrong” we talk about it objectively. Then we address how it could have been handled differently. This is used both at home and in school. Safe places and conversations. In school, she can remove herself elsewhere in the room away from her peers and focus on what she can. If it’s bad, she can relocate to the special ed. room. We do stress that she should stay in the classroom IF she can but we also understand that it’s not always possible.
Part of her safety net at school is her IEP. Not all children are eligible for them and there may come a day when Em isn’t either. However, then we have the option of a 504 plan. She will always have something available due to her high anxiety. We address concerns like overstimulation and how it affects her ability to stay in a classroom. We have fidgets available for her to use and this also helps designate people to talk to about concerns that come up. Last year she had so many teachers that she trusted that when the bullying came up, she told them all at one point in time. How we need to fix this is have one person she tells things of this nature and that way it can be tracked better.
For school we also keep the lines of communication open. We email her resource/special ed. teacher in the mornings if we notice she is having a rough go of things. That helps them prepare for a “worst case scenario” and if it doesn’t pan out, at least all her teachers know what’s up and it’s all planned out if she does struggle.
On the flip side, her resource teacher will email or call me if she’s had a rough day. To prepare us for how to move forward with the evening and have to shift gears to keep it lower key. Much of our life revolves around pushing Em to go a little further but knowing when we have to pull back. It’s a balancing act and often I feel like we are on a death defying high wire act juggling knives while trying to keep the unicycle on the wire with three monkeys on our shoulders and head.
The hardest safety net to set up though has been the social one. There are two sides of it. The ones we use when we are out and about with her. The other side is recruiting older kids to mentor and look out for her. It takes time and a lot of observing and listening. Living in a smaller community though also affords us the opportunity to get to know the kids. Also having the middle and high school share a core building space and being so small means a lot of Christian’s friends also look after Em as another little sister or tolerate her because it’s the norm here.
It’s the norm because we live in a rural community. Kids tagalong and hang out with their siblings. Either they are really close or the infamous “I have to watch my sister/brother”. Very few though gripe about Em tagging along. In fact, the all adore her. One of them told me once, “Why wouldn’t we? She loves us all equally and unconditionally. There is only love from her and joy.” She then went on to say how they all thought they got more from Em than they could ever give her.
The kids know us. They know each other. They know who may need just a little more “watching”. They can police themselves if given an opportunity. So by asking and entrusting them to keep an eye for bullying or situations that may upset Emelie, and knowing who they can tell and go to protects Em and gives them joy in seeing her happy.
This is only some of the nets we’ve placed. I’d be typing forever if I put them all out there. We continuously change and improve some of the nets and sometimes just let others fall away. We keep lines of communication open with Emelie and those around her. One of the biggest things we have done is to empower her, help her find her voice (any way possible) and instead of focusing on can’ts we focus on the cans. Instead of focusing on failures, we focus on how to make it better if we can and if now how to keep it from happening again. We focus on the positives.
The best way to look at this is this way. We need to give her opportunities to fly. She may soar. She may flutter up and fall down. She may flutter about and soar. Or she just may fall. We’ll never know if we don’t give her those opportunities. And the joyous part about falling is teaching them to pick themselves up and try again. Like a bird, eventually she may learn how to fly where she used to fall. The hardest part about it all, letting her fall and not rescuing her as she falls. Waiting to see how she handles the next step. If we rescue her every time it gets hard, she will never learn to soar because it’ll be easier to not try at all.
Communication. Empowerment. Choices. Networking. Success. Failures. Balance. It’s all part of life. And we all know, life is not easy. So to prepare them, we find what it takes and push them a little bit harder and further out every time. Catching them when we can and embracing them every step of the way.