Friday, 3 March 2017

There's a hole in my bucket. My take on resilience.


the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
"the often remarkable resilience of so many British institutions"

Resilience is something we hear a lot about. And quite rightly too, resilience in my opinion is what leads us to sink or swim.

Healthy levels of resilience mean we are buoyant when up against life's irritants and challenges, we are able to tough it out, sometimes a little war torn, but able to fix ourselves up again without too much effort.

Not enough resilience means we are vulnerable to even tiny stressors, means we are constantly teetering on the edge of being able to cope.

When it comes to developing and hanging on to resilience there are clashes of opinion.

Most of us will have heard the analogy of a bucket when it comes to stress levels. Water in the bucket represents the pressure we are under. If you can start the day with the bucket relatively empty, and are able to take opportunities throughout the day to empty the bucket, your stress levels will remain manageable and are unlikely to cause a problem.
If when you start the day the bucket is nearly full, and you don't have the chance to empty it out, and not only that but more and more water is added throughout the day, at some point the bucket will overflow. If this is long term, there are likely to be consequences, mental health problems, meltdowns and other ailments which will also add to already high stress levels.

A resilience bucket is the opposite. A bucket in good working order means that it can carry a full load of water, there may be knocks along the way, which may tip out some of the water, but this can be refilled easily enough.
If the bucket is knocked too much it may develop holes. A leaky bucket drains water out, and is more difficult to refill, and with more knocks the holes will get larger.

When we have low resilience, it means that we can't take quick and easy steps to recover, we must take time to fix the holes.

PDA boy and his older brother Brian (also PDA) are both out of school now, neither could cope. Whilst they were still on the school register, but not able to go in every day, we were often told that they needed to be resilient. We needed to ensure that they were in school so they could realise that everything was ok and they could become mentally healthy and resilient.

I believe this advice was wrong.

Adults are able to work in various environments. Hopefully for them they will be able to search through many careers and find one that suits them. They might choose to work in an office, making telephone calls all day, they might work on a farm and be outdoors driving tractors or working with animals. Of course some people have to choose a job that doesn't suit them, but on the whole, as an adult, there are options.

As a child, your options are limited.
Private schools are valid choices to those who can afford it, and to some extent it is possible to find a school to suit individual children, some schools focus more on the academic side of things, some focus on sports and keeping their pupils busy and active. This is not a financial possibility for most families though.

If the child's needs can be proven, it might be possible for them to,attend a special school, where (I have been told), there are more experienced staff on hand to help children and support them appropriately.

In our case the option (until we jumped ship) was mainstream school. A one size fits all system which recently has lost most practical options in order to push all students down an academic route, a system not renowned for supporting autistic pupils.

Far from the, frankly bizarre, idea that being in school would keep them resilient, being in that environment alone was enough for my boys' buckets to be damaged so much that no water could be held in it at all.
Banter, bullying, not understanding lessons, endless demands, sensory overload, homework, uncomfortable clothes, no support, detentions, reading and writing difficulties, all joined together to guarantee that every last drop of resilience drained out, and the buckets were so damaged that they couldn't possibly be refilled no matter how much water was thrown at them.

In order to fill the bucket up, first it must be fixed.

It can be fixed in a number of ways.

For my boys, we felt our only choice was to remove them from school. This is an option for anyone who feels their child would benefit from being educated at home, but it can be looked on as controversial. So many people feel that our children must be in school in order to learn how to be sociable, in order to know how to interact with others, even though for some children socialising in school will never be anything but negative.

If support that works for the individual child can be put in place, this can build up resilience. It may mean a school move if staff in one school are resistant to change, but there are many cases where a child blossoms once they're in an environment that suits them.

Self care is very important. Identifying methods to help fix the damage and help the child feel good about themselves is vital. For Brian this means working in his engines, spending time alone and with animals. For PDA boy this means chopping wood, digging, energetic jobs that go some way to restore his sense of wellbeing.

My own bucket is very leaky at the moment, something I must sort out, as I am particularly frazzled right now, and barely able to cope with tiny setbacks, let alone manage day to day interactions with others. A week of computer troubles and iTunes screwy upedness (yes, I made a word up there) has me on my knees. I know I need time alone to be able to get by, and that is something I'm very short of at the minute, I'm trying to teach myself to take calm in little moments. I try to have short breaks throughout the day, usually by pretending I need the loo, or by listening to music or putting earplugs in for a few minutes. Right now I'm feeling a small peace because PDA boy is in bed reading a book. Reading A Book! (I literally can't remember the last time he willingly picked up a book, yet he's up there enjoying Stig of the Dump!).

We're generally going in the right direction, but I fully believe that for some children resilience cannot be found in a school, just like for some people job satisfaction cannot be found in an office. We are all individuals and we must realise that our strengths and weaknesses lie in different areas. One person's happiness is another's misery.
We must understand that some children need a different approach in order for them to be fulfilled, rather than trying to fit all of them into a neat little box.

My children are not neat little box shaped, and I owe it to them to allow them the freedom to build up their reserves and learn what shape they are, where they fit into the world, and to ensure they are mentally healthy and have the resilience to bounce back from whatever life throws at them along the way.


  1. The assumption in so many schools is that there is a 'default' level of resilience, which all children should be encouraged to attain.

    Of course, developing resilience entails applying stress in order to strengthen.

    But if the 'material' is already vulnerable, stress will destroy it, not strengthen it. (What happens to a metal coat hanger which is gently, but repeatedly, bent out of shape and back?)

    This simple concept seems beyond the grasp of many..

    1. Very good point about needing stress to strengthen resilience, I think we lost sight of this rather, from the constant bombardment of stress for so long which knocked both boys lower and lower.

  2. I liken it to we need to strethc our kids gently to build resilience, rather than pull so far they snap. You adn your boys eneded the down time to fix the holes before putting the stress back in the bcuket :-)