The Kindness of Strangers

In which we meet an unexpected angel, unawares.

 

This post originally appeared on Firefly Community and you can find the original here

Christmas this year was a bit of a wash out.

In the seven-week run up, our house had become a breeding ground for all kind of viruses.

All of us (bar Pearl) had flu, colds, infections and stomach bugs, with hardly a day off in between.

I couldn’t exercise and found (who knew?) that if you eat more than usual, while doing precisely nothing your clothes inexplicably shrink.

It was with some relief that January and better health rolled round. The first hospital appointment of the year, on the second of January, seemed like a return to normality.

 

As Pearl grows older it seems likely that she has a degree of ASD in with the mix of physical, cognitive and sensory problems. She is very routine dependent and her understanding is very experienced based.

We are well used to seeing Pearl’s marvellous orthopaedic surgeon, and Pearl is usually very cooperative. We park up, she gets into her wheelchair (it’s a long walk from the car park to outpatients).

 

The first working day of 2018 was different. Pearl’s kaye walker (a kind of a walking frame on wheels) was just visible in the back of the car. On the hour-long journey, she insistently pointed at it and shouted.

“Do you want to walk when we get there?”

She deploys her only recognizable word.

“Yeah”

“OK. We’ll see if we have time.”

How blithely I make this throw away comment.

 

We arrived. There was time. Pearl was insistent.

 

Now usually when I say Pearl goes in the wheelchair, actually we go straight to the shop and buy fruit and a biscuit for distraction purposes.

 

Pearl set off in her walker. I hadn’t realized how much she’d grown over Christmas and it wasn’t providing her with much support. At some points she was carrying it around her. It was frankly not ideal.

 

 

 

After getting to the front of the hospital with some difficulty she stopped and signed biscuit. We still had at least another 5 minutes before even entering the hospital, let alone booking in and getting to the clinic. I looked at my watch.

 

“I have some biscuits with me” (I was a Girl Guide and the motto, “Be Prepared” is engraved on my heart)

“We’ll have them when we get to the waiting room”

This is clearly not the right answer. Screaming, suddenly and out of nowhere, starts. Proper blood curdling, being murdered screaming, emanating from my usually biddable and cheerful child.

 

Now I’m in trouble.

 

Is she in pain? It is a long walk,the walker isn’t supporting her.

Is she expecting the biscuit we usually buy?

Is she suffering sensory overload? A lot of people are leaving the hospital and streaming past us. It is very noisy.

 

Or is she just in a bad mood?

 

I have no idea, I can’t use her PODD communication book because my hands are full of the stuff we might need for any and every eventuality. I can’t take her back to the car for her chair, it’s too far and we’ll be late. Pearl will not move an inch forward and now she is grabbing random passing strangers.

 

It had all been going so well.

 

Suddenly a woman with blue hair, piercings and fabulous boots walks straight towards us. I get ready to stop Pearl grabbing her, when this stylish angel looks straight at me and says

“Can I help?”

 

This is only the second time this has only happened to me in eleven years and thousands of meltdowns, so I’m a little nonplussed.

 

My immediate, and rather pathetic response.

 

“I don’t know. I’d love some help, but I don’t knowvwhat’s wrong, I don’t know what you could do”

Resourceful. I know.

 

Then the inner Girl Guide kicks in. I have an idea.

 

This amazing stranger agrees to stand with a completely hysterical child while I run back to the car, at some speed, for the wheelchair. I explain all this to Pearl, who is really beyond hearing at this point. I check again with this magical apparition.

“Are you sure?”

She is!

I leave them with the the emergency biscuits and make a run for it.,

In the distance I can hear her, gently explaining.

 

“Mum will be back in a minute. Would you like a biscuit? No? You want a hug?”

I turn to see Pearl fling herself into this persons arms and sob messily on her shoulder.

 

When I return, she is still cuddling a calmed Pearl and speaking to her with great gentleness.

 

This extraordinary individual then proceeds to apologize for not knowing how to help Pearl into her chair, which is really not a problem at all, and suggests she stays with her while I take the walker back to the car. She does.

 

By the time I return, everything has returned to normal.

 

Biscuits have been consumed, legs are rested. All is well

 

So, when a blue haired angel appears on the front drive of Stoke City University Hospital, how do you show your appreciation?

 

She deserved an Oscar, a Damehood, at the very least a cup of coffee, but we had an appointment to attend.

 

Instead I touch her arm look her in the eye, and say.

 

“You have no idea how grateful I am for your help”

 

“S’alright, no bother”

 

She smiles, turns and fades into the crowd.

 

So, oh stylish one, wherever you are, whatever your experience that led you to help this child, on this day, I thank you from the bottom of my tired, overwrought mothers heart.

 

You saw through all the screaming to exactly the wonderful  person my small girl is.

 

Saw through all my attempts to remain calm and capable to exactly where I was.

 

For this I salute you, and will never forget you.

 

Thank you.

 

 

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Giving Me The PIP. The Politics of Disability

Politics.It’s everywhere.You wait around for a General Election and then two come along in quick succession.

So how do you vote? Follow your family, stick with your tribe? is anything that goes on in Westminster relevant to the daily grind anyway?

Yesterday I was minding my own business, parenting and such like, when politics came up and slapped me hard across the face. I took my son to an assessment to see if he qualifies for PIP.

I’ll explain.Once there was a boy who was little eccentric and rather old fashioned. He muddled along with friends in the school system until Secondary School, or “living hell” as he preferred to call it. Becoming extremely angry with violent outbursts in school, he would tear his clothes swear at teachers and have to be physically restrained.My boy became suicidal, self harming and desperately,desperately sad. Eventually he was removed from school, provided with a tutor for 18 months, and placed in a Special School for children with autistic spectrum disorders.

The boy had secretly been harbouring Asperger’s, and his otherwise remarkable (and modest) mother simply hadn’t noticed it.

The care needs at the time, related to the Asperger’s and his depression,were significant. As a result we received Disability Living Allowance. This was easy to apply for (hollow laugh) and only required the filling in of a colossal form with appended information from all his healthcare team and his educational statement.

When politicians get a bit bored, they look around for something to fix.When they want to impress the voters, they like to show you they are saving you money

For this reason (Insert Fanfare) The PIP or Personal Independence Payment was born! See how it removes the word ‘disability’ from its title replacing it with the hipper “independence’. Marvel as all the disabled people who we all know are ruthlessly draining the countries finances (unlike for example, large coffee chains or internet delivery warehouses) are sorted into “properly disabled” and “scroungers”

Anybody needing assessment will now be assessed by form, frequently followed by a one to one assessment in person, carried out by ATOS. At 16 all current recipients of DLA are also reassessed.

I find myself then, far from home with a young adult on the autistic spectrum, who fears change, gets stressed about meeting new people and has significant sensory issues, related to noise,crowded areas and being assessed.

I have never been anywhere quite like this centre. It is large and clean, and that is truly the only positive thing I can give you.

The chairs are in rows in front of a screen displaying colourful, friendly logos about what the assessment will contain. Despite all this there is the same smell of fear and despair you find in a vets waiting room.

Periodically someone comes and calls out a name, very quietly from the back of the room. It is packed with people waiting with ‘companions’ and we wait for 45 minutes for our turn, at which point we are taken upstairs to a room. There is a stairlift, but we are told that we need to be able to get down the stairs independently in case of fire.

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Access wise so far then, we have the difficulty of getting there, the strain of hearing or understanding your name, and the inaccessibility of fire exits. Forgive me if that seems a little peculiar for a place likely to be assessing people with needs, but it is what it is.

Upstairs we meet a perfectly pleasant Health Professional. I do not know what her specialism is, but I suspect it has something to do with form filling and typing. In 45 minutes she questions Aspie boy who is by now, in an extremely agitated state, takes most questions literally and looks more distressed than I have seen him in some time. I have to discuss in front of my mentally fragile young person, the suicidal ideation he suffered, the lack of school support, the Psychiatric input, my locking away of knives and drugs. All this to a stranger we had just met. This does not appear to aid his mental state.

The assessor is supportive and impressed with how far he has come, but has no idea if he will be eligible, having to send the report to the DWP to use as an assessment tool. We have leave to appeal if it doesn’t go our way.

You may glean that I have some problems with this process, how astute of you!

I absolutely believe that governments should be held accountable for how tax payers money is spent. I do think we should minimise fraudulent claims, and encourage independence as far as possible.I suspect that there may be better ways of doing this.

For example, what if the DWP used medical information provided by medics who know the person well? How about school or Psychiatric reports? Does reinventing the wheel and adding another layer of assessment really save money? How much do the centres cost to run, clean, heat staff and light?Is this money offset against the colossal savings made by removing the fraudulent claimsters? Should centres be accessible? Do the Authorities realise that being disabled is not a choice? It does not discriminate. It could be YOU!

I found the whole situation shocking. It felt like a processing plant. It was dehumanising, to see people coming in with crutches and walking frames ready to be assessed to see if they really needed them. It infantilises people, and discredits the existing medical and social care professionals. It breeds the idea of disabled scroungers living off the stage in the public mind, and discourages inclusion as a result.

I want to believe this was not the intention of Government when it was introduced.I truly want to believe that everyone in our society is valued equally. I strongly advice you not to become sick or carelessly acquire a disability.

Please consider this when you vote, but most of all, please vote!

 

 

Zen and the Art of Extreme Parenting.

In which I wake up crying, and try to put it into words.

As you have been graciously following the inane ramblings of a parent carer, I thought you may like to join me on the next stage – how to stay calm while dealing with extreme  pressure to parent fully and effectively.

I have recently become interested in extreme sports and have been considering amazing feats of daring-do and endurance. Maybe this is an age thing (46 as our local paper was keen to pointlessly share) or maybe it’s a growing awareness that life is short.

I suspect it is more to do with the fact that jumping off the side of a bridge attached to an elastic seems a great deal easier than parenting my three children.

Before I start, can I just say that parenting is difficult. All parenting is difficult. Childcare is difficult. It can be tricky, keeping small people safe let alone moulding them into useful and delightful members of society. It can be boring. Anybody who has watched  a friend who is a party loving wild child turn into an exhausted zombie, unable to stay awake after 7.30pm, will know what a baby can do to a person.

My personal view is that if you get to the end of a day, haven’t killed,maimed or lost anyone and  you’ve all been fed, you are a successful parent. If the house is clean and tidy that’s a bonus. If you have completed an improving craft activity with child/children you deserve a medal. If you have managed to arrange some lemons in a ceramic dish, photograph it and put it on Instagram, you probably need professional help.

Let me tell you what parenting in extremis looks like. In my case, qualifying as an extreme parent, includes a preexisting tendency to depression, which is largely managed with careful monitoring. Add a lack of sleep, and constant physical exertion, so that you no longer have the mental resources to carry that monitoring out.

You will be responsible for a small non verbal person, with physical and some health and behavioural issues. (Let’s call her Pearl) She will be prepubescent and in thrall to hormones that she cannot understand or explain. As well as this you will have a filing cabinet (or two) of information on her to keep up to date and in order. Somehow you will also have the role of coordinating all her care, and communicating across disciplines.You may have a Family Support Worker who has roles that don’t appear to match her title, and both she and you are not certain of what they are. Social care ‘support’ will make you want to cry. You will have to travel across counties and sometimes at short notice to a vast array of appointments. You will absolutely not be able to keep up your professional role, and end up doing your husbands admin with a very bad grace.

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You will also be responsible for a 15 year old male of the species. He will cleverly have been harbouring Asperger’s Syndrome until the age of 11. There will have been many signs of this scattered liberally through his life, but as you are busy  extreme parenting the small person, you haven’t noticed. You will continue not noticing until he becomes suicidal at the age of 11, and is advised to leave school at the age of thirteen. You will be expected to deal with having a very sad stressed person at home for 18 months while receiving minimal support. You will lock up all the knives and medication,and live in a state of hypervigilism, realising that the one thing you want for your children, that they would be happy, is not under your control. You,my friend will have to deal with an extraordinarily unhelpful and overstretched CAMHS department, find a new school and ask for  one of the first EHC in the LA (and country). You will learn about autism, watch him become well adjusted and in tune with himself, and try to hold your nerve while he wants to move back into the very mainstream setting which caused him pain, for his A levels.

You now have to guide an 18 year old female, who has taken it upon herself to be The Glory of the clan, through extreme social anxiety, watch as she refuses all help and begins to spiral downwards into depression. At this stage base jumping looks like a walk in the park. Offering support while also giving her room to make her own choices, pushing her academically while recognising that her mental health being stable is so much more important, will be the most difficult balancing act you have embarked on. Her school will be limited in the support it can offer, counselling will be in short supply and variable, and CAMHS, well you have seen the help they offer already.

When you wake up in the morning wanting to cry, out of touch with your own needs and feeling that you, and you alone have caused this myriad of difficulties take heart. In your dreams you may have been a more, Little House on the Prairie type parent. Remember Laura Ingalls running through a sunny field? Do you also remember the lack of running water, decent sanitation and washing machine?

I see you, fellow extreme parents. I see you and weep for you, for your situation, and for the poor and patchy support you are receiving in your taxing, thankless dirty, painful jobs. I have had coffee with some of you, and railed against the system and your situations. I have lost sleep over a country that prioritises academic achievement over the good mental health of its children, and who makes accessing support so difficult that some of you just give up asking.

An older woman of my aquaintance told me that love covers everything, and smooths out any parenting mistakes you may make. I hope she’s right.

So, if you like me have accidentally become an extreme parent what do you do? I expect you are waiting for the Zen moment? I’ll let you know.In the meantime I’ll try to practice Pearlfulness TM and be grateful for Gilmour Girls on Netflix.

 

SwanUK        MN-blognetwork-104-final

 

If like me you are struggling with extreme parenting take a look at this graphic from Carer’s UK.