The rewards of fostering: a child with Aspergers
Teresa, 36, and her partner Tracy, 33, have been foster parents for Orange Grove Fostercare for three years. The organisation specialises in long-term placements of young people. Finding out that their foster son had Asperger syndrome was at first challenging, but once Teresa and Tracy understood his condition they saw him flourish
With a troubled past and having been without a family herself as a young woman, Teresa understands first-hand the challenges faced by some of the children in care and strongly believes that fostering can make such a huge difference in a young person’s life.
“At first I thought that my sexuality may count against me in fostering a child, but the reality is that it takes all types of people, from all walks of life; single, divorced, young, old, gay or lesbian, to care for a child. Fostering can be a fulfilling career and you will make a real difference to a young person who needs it. After-all, the ability to offer a child a loving and stable home life is the main criteria.
Four years ago they fostered Tom*, a 13-year-old who had been in care for 10 years.
“Tom came to us lacking confidence with very low self-esteem. He told us he ‘felt worthless’ and had no dreams or ambitions,” Teresa recalled. “It was one of our most challenging placements in the first 12 months; he was so arrogant, knew it all, wasn’t listening – you could say this is all typical teenage behaviour. I often thought he was just this arrogant brat. But pretty quickly I knew there was something else going on.”
Tom was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome shortly after being placed with the couple.
“They’re so very intelligent. You have to be very factual with him. One evening I asked if he’d like to dry-up. He said ‘No’. I took offence to that but he explained ‘you asked if I‘d like to dry up. Why would I like to?’ I didn’t realise the social etiquette he wasn’t getting. This was before we understood what was going on.”
Teresa read up on the condition and gained more understanding of how to deal with it.
“You don’t need to be trained necessarily but you do need to have a certain emotional intelligence. We had to decipher what is Asperger behaviour, what is teenage behaviour and what is from neglect.”
“We’ve taught him empathy and how to love. It’s been good to have Tom in our family because families need routine and structure. Having an Aspergers young person around helps you really think about what you’re saying!”
A few years on and Tom’s flourishing; he’s starting to understand his condition and learn how to adapt, and is currently studying a BTEC after achieving 10 GCSEs.
“We’ve had to work hard and it is still on-going, but it’s a different type of work now. Through offering support, stability and a happy, loving home, he’s gained so much confidence and belief in himself. When you see a change like that you know exactly why you do it.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities