Children love books. The exciting pictures! The imaginative stories! The interactive tabs and hidden illustrations! The textures of a touch and feel! Typically, books allow a child to peek into an alternate reality filled with adventure but books can also be used as a tool to help guide a child through their own adventure.
My husband, Ben, and I adopted our daughter in May 2015 from China. Our attachment difficulties were few and far between. We functioned as a typical family with minimal hiccups and very typical 2 ½ year old behavior. So, when the chance came for me to participate in a medical mission trip to Guatemala in October 2015, I prayed about it, then, hesitantly said, “Yes.” I called our post-adoption team, talked to many adoptive moms, and prayed more. I felt a peace regarding my decision and gradually allowed myself to become more excited about this trip. I began to think of ways to help our daughter’s attachment remain strong and to reassure her that Mama would be coming home.
One of the ways I did this was to create a social story. (This might be a good time to mention I am also an occupational therapist.) Our daughter loves to read at bedtime and I thought that if I could create a book she could read each night, maybe it would help reassure and orient her to when Mama was coming home. I used real pictures of those who would take care of her, fun illustrations, and an interactive calendar in the back. Each night, she would move the picture of a plane one space closer to the picture of our house. When the plane reached the house, Mama would be home.
She loved this book. She had little to no struggles with attachment when I returned from the trip and she requested we read it each night for about a month after I returned.
Fast forward a few months…
Our friends, Mandy and Bryson, were preparing to travel to China to adopt their son, Barrett. They already had a daughter adopted from China and I had witnessed some of her transition into their family and the challenges. I knew from my friendship with them that transitions, hotel stays and being away from home, and navigating a new relationship with her brother might be challenging. Mandy and Bryson did so much for us leading up to our adoption I felt a deep desire to reciprocate their support.
I made their daughter a book to help with some of the challenges of going to China and growing their family through adoption. Using Mandy’s detailed itinerary and my extra special Facebook stalking skills, I was able to make a personalized book for their daughter.
Their daughter is very spunky and pulls lots of fabulous faces which allowed me to use many of her pictures to portray and describe positive emotions associated with adopting a new sibling. I also included a coloring page of the Chinese flag and, of course, an interactive calendar to help her orient to all of the crazy events packed into the two weeks you travel when finalizing an adoption.
Each morning they were able to refer to the book to discuss the next day’s plans and see how many more days were left until they got home.
Please note this is not an official social story. There are specific guidelines for how therapeutic social stories are to be written. I wanted this book to be something fun for the child to read, not like a list of “To-Dos”. But, I did want it to be very personal, tell the sequence of events to help transitions, pair positive emotions with the new sibling, reassure the child that the family unit was still intact and, definitely, still included them, and give an interactive component to help engage with the schedule, help with anticipation of events, and give a definitive timeline for returning home.
Additionally, Mandy was able to give me very specific fears and anxieties her daughter was expressing so I could help ease her mind about those topics within the story, such as leaving family pets.
The book was so easy and fun to make! I set my margins to fit half sheet clear sleeves and placed the sleeves into a mini three ring binder. It was pretty durable and easy to edit if needed. On the last page, I cut small pieces of Velcro to fit in each calendar square and the opposing Velcro on a picture of the child. I would recommend, if your child is traveling with the book, make extra tiny pictures of the child. They may get lost in the hustle and bustle of your luggage and travel.
Kelly and her husband, Ben, have been married for 10 years and are now living in Arkansas where Kelly is a occupational therapist. Kelly has travelled abroad to work children in Guatemala, Rwanda, Ukraine, and China. In May of 2015 they traveled to China to adopt their daughter, Stella.
They are constantly in awe of the plan that God has for them and can’t wait to see what He has in store for their future as a family of three or, potentially, more. If you have questions, please feel free to email Kelly here.