Help?!

In which help is required, and two schools take very different approaches to providing it.

We don’t do neurotypical in my family. As well as Pearl, we also have a son with Aspergers. It’s fair to say our school experiences with him have not always been positive.

Differences were apparent throughout Primary school, but as he hit year 6 and the pointless SATs, his stress levels began to rise exponentially.

His school had just been through a particularly unpleasant Ofsted inspection, and as a result staff stress was high, and the pressure to ensure all achieved, made the tests much more of a focus than they had previously been.

Rab (as he is known in the blogosphere) was having ‘tantrums’ (yes, before diagnosis we thought he was acting up) and was becoming very sad and withdrawn. He also experienced frequent stomach aches.

Busy with Pearl I had put Rab’s previous anxieties down to being a sensitive soul and mildly eccentric (oh my boy I’m sorry) I had not realized that the daily trauma of trying to fit into a neurototypical world, was frazzling his autistic sensibilities.

Finally as depression began to bite him and suicidal ideas were voiced I took him to the GP.  Twice. And was told twice, that I was overmedicalising the situation.

I do hope the fact that I’m known to live with depression did not cause our splendid GPs to feel I was over reacting. I do hope so. They told me he could be refereed to CAMHS but the service was so busy I probably wouldn’t get an appointment, and that the referral needed to come via school.

Some background. At this point I had had children at this excellent primary for 9 years. I loved it. I had been Chair of Governors and knew the staff. School had participated in a study Rab had been part of when he had been diagnosed with anxiety disorder. I asked his class teacher if she would refer to CAMHS with the help of the school nurse.Transition to High School was approaching. The holidays were looming and I was very, very concerned. I needed help.

On the very last day of school, having heard nothing, and assuming it was all in hand,  I asked the class teacher,

“have you heard anything from CAMHS?”

“I’ve discussed it with the Head who feels it would be better coming from his High School”

The High School that hadn’t met him, that did not know his peculiarities and strengths had not seen his ‘tantrums’ in action.

I share this, not to shame the school. It was otherwise excellent. I think in retrospect, Ofsted stress and end of term frenzy all played a part. I also think they had a lot of work to do on training and awareness of Special Needs in  general and Autism in particular, which I’m sure has since happened,  as they have an experienced  Governing Body and a new Senior Leadership Team.

No. I share this in order to show you what busy, overstretched schools are often like, taken up by all the gubbins that Government throws at them, and the admin required more related to school performance than pupil (and teacher) satisfaction.

And now I give you the alternative.

This Monday we had an excellent morning in Horton watching Pearl and her class mates swim, before witnessing the opening of the new school swimming hoist! (Things are a little different in Special Ed! ).

As I left I was grabbed by one of the staff, not Pearl’s teacher, and who in fact has never taught Pearl, although she enjoyed a weeks residential at an outward bound centre (more of this tomorrow!). Pearl is an experienced user of the PODD communication system.

 

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In PODD we trust.

“Jane”

Said this astute individual.

“I’ve been watching Pearl use PODD and I think she is ready for a more high tech version-what do you think?”

Chat followed, and we both agreed.

“Well then, I’ll refer her on to the Specialist Centre, we’ll do it now because we have all the information from knowing Pearl. It  will take High School a while to see how she communicates, but we already know”

Two schools both excellent.

One with Classe of 30 +  can’t take the extra work and hasn’t spotted an issue.

Another with high staff to pupil ratio, and freed  to think inventively about achieving curriculum  goals has volunteered information based on  pupil observation, and initiated extra work under pressure at a busy time.

All I can say is that if I was a teacher, given the choice, I’d work in Special Ed.

If I ran the Government (and frankly I’m a little too busy to take it on)  all schools would have a diversified curriculum and measuring and testing would have low priority at Primary level.

I suspect that pupil mental health would be positively impacted, and teacher burn out greatly reduced.

But what do I know? I’m only a mother.

Come on Secretary of State for Education, lets all #bemorehorton.

 

This is part of a blog a day for Horton.Any opinions are the authors  and does not necessarily reflect those of the school.

Help Pearl leave Horton Lodge PFSA a huge thank you, here.

 

 

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A blog a day for Horton

 

Omm….

In which a group of over excited children fail to spot the difference between yoga and sardines.

Yoga, once a spiritual exercise, has been widely embraced for its calming and mindful effects.

Horton Lodge has a simple but very effective way of communicating what happens in the day, a home school book. Filled in daily by the teaching and support staff, and also used by school nurses and therapists, it is pounced on daily in our house. Pearl is non verbal, so when I have read it we can talk about the day, with the help of the excellent PODD.

I have had a few favourite entries, but by far the most hilarious read:

“Today we started our yoga sessions.We spent the first remembering to stay in our own space on the mat”

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Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

 

Maybe it’s having worked in schools, perhaps it’s because Pearl is my third, but I could hear a world of patience, pain,and mild hysteria emanating from this simple sentence.

The next day was parents evening.

“So” I said.

“How was yoga, did they stay on the mats?”

The class teacher grinned broadly.

“Well we are using a DVD and the whole class (about 8 children of varying physical ability) made for the mat nearest the DVD and lay on top of each other in a big pile”

Now I go to a restorative yoga session every Friday. It calms me, grounds me,and helps me prepare for the whirlwind that is Pearl being home at the weekend. Because of this diary entry,dear reader, at the beginning of my weekly session,as I start to relax I hear in my head “remember to stay in your own place on the mat” and shake silently at the mental image it conjures up.

Namaste.

 

This is part of a blog a day for Horton.You can find out more about the school here .and help Pearl show her appreciation with a donation here.

 

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A blog a day for Horton

 

Society.

In which I propose we all be more Horton.

So here we are a bunch of sentient animals muddling along on a small blue planet. To help us pass the time, we make rules, create leaders and invent cultures.

After countless centuries of development what have we achieved on our small island?(The UK to you and me).

Fire.

The wheel.

Art, written language, the printing press, literature, public sanitation; these are all great things.

Public services, the NHS,  free education. Simply splendid.

Democracy, Government, local and national, to help manage the money system we created. Generally these things should enable us to live comfortably and safely with our neighbours. On the whole they do.

Inequality still exists on a huge scale, and without becoming too political is largely the result of the capitalist system we’ve chosen to live by. (Which is remember only a concept we invented).

As a model of where our values should lie I give you…

Horton Lodge Community Special School!

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Achievements are celebrated.

People help each other.

Elders impart knowledge to the next generation, keep them safe from harm and teach them the right way to be part of a wider group.

The more vulnerable are given extra help, but are also helped to use everything they have to give back to the community in whatever way they can.

Individuals within the community have a clear sense of their own self worth and how they fit into the wider community.

And when children leave education….

I fear they come up against historic prejudices about disability and cognitive difference.

They may hear labels used to describe them that are not life affirming.

As they are often unable to earn, they are often treated like a burden to the wider community and State.

They are treated like second class citizens.

There is no public moral outrage when they die in care or in the Health Service, their needs are sidelined because their own intrinsic worth to all of us is not recognized by the “Big Society”

They can’t use toilet facilities as they are not routinely provided for those who need Changing Places.

Poor access on public transport and in towns limits and isolates.

People do not help each other.

In short they are disabled by society.

Shame on us. Shame on our leaders. Shame on us all for allowing this to happen.

Being encouraged, helping each other, being kind, making paths straight for the road ahead, these are the basic requirements of a fair and just society.  If they are not followed we all suffer.

Tell them. Tell our leaders, tell each other.

Be kind.

Value peoples talents.

Do not judge an individuals worth on ability to earn.

Practice Pearlfulness be kind eat cake.

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Be more Horton.

This blog is part of  blog a day for Horton. You can donate here.

 

 

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A blog a day for Horton

 

Questions. Questions?

In which we impart the amazing truth that SEND children do receive an education!

When you fall pregnant, people ask you extraordinary questions. “Was it planned?” was perhaps the most insensitive, but if that baby has a disability or other needs peoples self monitoring really takes your breath away.

Thus, on a weekday in term time I am regularly asked “where’s Pearl?”

I know I’m not alone in this, and I can’t quite work out why.

Perhaps the wider public only see SEND children “in extremis”on DIY SOS or Children in Need. Maybe they think that these children are ill, lying in invalid chairs, and being kept out of the sun? Or are they permanently hospitalized? Seems unlikely that they believe that Pearl is at home with me, while I home educate her, as it must be obvious I have the patience of a dead hedgehog.

I’ll let you all in to a little secret, you may not see Pearl in the local primary, but that is because  she is busy honing her leadership skills at her excellent special school Horton Lodge.

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Children with additional needs are in fact children too! Who knew ? They laugh, cry and demand attention just like their  neurotypical friends, and like them, they mainly go to school! They may miss more lessons because of medical appointments, they may fall ill more often, and more severely. When they are well, off to school they go. It is (as I told my older two when they didn’t want to go in) the law of the land.

Historically Special Schools kept children occupied during the day, the best obviously achieved more, but expectations were not high.

Several decades ago, during my SALT training, schools were separated into Moderate Learning  Difficulties, Severe Learning Difficulties and Physically Handicapped.

Shortly after this integration became the gold standard and many specialist special schools were closed to allow people to be taught together in mainstream. Unfortunately integration without extra money or training often led to lip service being given to integration, while pupils were isolated in a separate room with a TA. Generic special schools began to cater for the more complex children,and now specialist provision for autism is also on the rise.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

What does this tell us about Special Education? Well, like general educational provision it is ruled by the will and whim of the political elite, and similarly affected by lack of resources. Special Schools require Ofsted reports and a Governing Body. They too can become Academies, and also follow the National Curriculum.

BUT, and here’s the thing, they follow a diversified, enriched curriculum.The subject headings are the same, but the means of covering them, and the level at which they are covered, is guided by the individual learners ability and style of learning.

It could be argued that all teachers should be able to do this, and that education should be an enjoyable, enriching path to a lifetimes learning, but that dear reader is to underestimate the vital necessity of league tables, marks and passing and failing  to our daily lives. Well quite.

SEND children are educated in mainstream with TA support, at home by parents with more patience than this one, or Special School with intervention from various therapies and School Nurses alongside the teaching staff.They will learn in a variety of ways, some passing exams and going onto further study, some following a sensory curriculum and learning to react and express themselves in different ways.

A few really lucky ones will end up at Horton Lodge Community Special School,where they will leave with amazing self esteem, a can do attitude and a general belief that they are the equal of anyone. Shouldn’t that be the aim of education?

Does this approach prepare them for the real world? More on that tomorrow…..

This blog is part of a blog a day for Horton.If you’ve enjoyed it a donation to the PFSA can be made here.To find out more about Conductive Education in action check here.

 

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 A blog a day for Horton

 

 

 

Thought for the Day

In which I review my favourite inspirational messages-and a fair few that just don’t make the grade.

This post originally appeared on Firefly Community and can be viewed here 

Inspirational quotes, you know the ones. They pop up on your face book feed with a beautiful picture of a sunset, someone climbing a mountain, or jumping in the air with pure joy. They are a mixed blessing. Some can really resonate, a quote from an author, a word of scripture from a holy book. Some can irritate. Some are just plain wrong, I’m pretty sure that Winnie the Pooh didn’t make the “I have a dream” speech, and the things that Oscar Wilde reportedly said, well just don’t get me started.

Hand in hand with this come the helpful little phrases people choose to share with parents of children with additional needs. Most of this comes from the right place, although “God only gives special children to special parents” should be shoved somewhere else altogether.

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I have compiled, for your reading pleasure a short summary of some of the most common. You probably have some favourites of your own. If any come to mind that help you/make you want to punch somebody please share with the community below the line!

Don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff.

In parenting a child with disabilities, as in life generally, this is not entirely true.

We brush up against mortality, severe illness, pain and struggle on a regular basis, plus the big questions of faith, meaning, love and loss. It’s not all small stuff.

Whether you have enough likes on your Facebook Page, if you have sent a birthday card a bit late, if your house is a bit untidy this my friend is the small stuff. You have my permission not to sweat it.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

This has always been one of my favourites. However now I wonder whether to replace it with

“what doesn’t kill you makes you exhausted, sleep deprived, Clinically Depressed, the possessor of a fierce and dark humour, snappy and reliant on alcohol”

Self-care suggests the first reading is preferable. On the days where the second is more accurate be kind to yourself.

Which brings us neatly to

Be kind for everyone is fighting a hard battle.

You my fellow parent, if you care for a child with additional needs you are fighting a hard battle. The person who has parked in a disabled space with no badge, I have less sympathy for.

The Local Authority responsible for providing care and support for you, your family and your child? Well they are paid, and should be working on your behalf.

For most special parents this could be adapted to Be Kind for everybody is fighting a hard battle with the Local Authority. It shouldn’t be accurate but there we are.

What cannot be cured must be endured

Must it? Well in reality yes, and emotional resilience, the ability to bounce back and keep on keeping on is useful tool in the special parents armour. I would argue however that you need to find people who get you, family friends, parents in the same position, so you can endure it with a better grace together. It may be that you can (whisper it quietly) even enjoy it!

I will leave you with my current personal favourite, which happens to be biblical but I think describes us, our children and our struggles well no matter what beliefs we do or do not have.

 But we have this treasure in jars of clay

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken, struck down, but not destroyed.

As I frequently find myself perplexed, despairing and feeling forsaken this curiously helps me. Despite all this I am a treasure in my 47 year old body, as is my beauteous daughter in her tricky, muscle weakend, wobbly, treacherous, one.

We are all the same no matter what our abilities or disabilities and that,to me is rather wonderful..

Wonky Genes. Rare Disease Day 2018

Eleven years ago an event occurred that made me Mother of Pearl.

A home birth, relatively easy, despite traffic problems meaning no pain relief at all.(Pause for standing ovation)

This beautiful third baby took us on a journey of discovery, to see if we had what it takes to join the Special Parents club. Fortunately it appears we did, which is just as well.

Nine and a half years of alternative reality later we finally had a diagnosis.

Join me on a normal morning in our household.

Six a.m. the alarm goes off. Father of Pearl is in Barcelona,with work. (Having had a full week of half term already, I was delighted to receive pictures of Gaudi’s world famous architecture while child wrangling)

Pearl is already awake and shouting loudly (she is non verbal-but vociferous).

I change her wet nappy, bung her a breakfast biscuit and an iPad,jump in the car to take her older brother to the bus station for college. (Before you phone social services her older sister is home from Uni and holds the fort.)

Back home, up date the Home School diary with the events of the half term week-forgetting to include the fact that she fell once or twice a day over the holiday, explaining the purple bruise on her behind. I should have mentioned the scratch on her tummy too, but forgot until now. I daresay there’ll be a note.

Pearl proceeds to climb into my bed with iPad (other tablets are available)  as I explain that it is no longer the holiday and she has to get dressed.

Pearl is famously bad at transitions and despises having clothes put on.The tights are OK, but something is very bothersome about the jumper and it leads her to throw herself on the floor and weep big fat, slightly over dramatic tears. After a debrief, several cuddles and a face wash we go slowly down the stairs. Slowly because as she gets taller (about 5ft now) her legs are becoming less and less predictable. I have to go down in front of her backwards. Also slowly as somehow we have got into the unwise habit of her throwing herself into my arms and biting my left shoulder, before signing sorry and cuddling and kissing my right shoulder. I do not know how I allowed this to develop,  but it has and it is what it is.

We have by this stage, left a trail of pyjamas, unmade beds, dirty nappies and breakfast biscuit wrappers behind us.We have ten minutes until school taxi arrival time. Fortunately she has got out of the right side of the bed, and sloughed of the dreadful dressing experience and allows me to brush her hair, without the need for us both to have counseling (this is remarkable)

Five minutes to get her into splints and shoes-and she doesn’t kick me in the face today-bonus!

A big kiss and she lets me put on her coat, and makes no fuss at all about leaving the house for the taxi. It is a good day indeed.

 

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Despite the relative ease of the morning as I’m clearing up I reflect on rare diseases and how this one effects our family.

Pearl has a novo mutation on GNA01. This was discovered by the Deciphering Developmental Delay study, which we took part in as a result of SWAN UK.

SWAN (syndromes without a name) is part of the Genetic Alliance, and provides support to families with children who despite a myriad of difficulties have no known diagnosis.

GNA01 does not describe Pearl’s difficulties but the gene change that produced them. It is a novo mutation, as it is new, and happened by chance during her development in utero.We did not pass it on, and statistically Pearl’s siblings are no more likely to pass it on than we were. Her geneticist did not spot it as Pearl was not particularly similar to the wider cohort of children with it.

Pearl’s difficulties, include epileptic seizures. These are rare for her and well controlled by a vary low dose of medication. Not so in the wider cohort, where seizures can be frequent and hard to tame. She does not display the uncontrolled and random moment disorder displayed by the majority of the group.She has an ataxic gait, walking  (as one Orthopedic Surgeon who went to the Bernard Manning school of tact) like a drunken sailor. Her centre of gravity is all over the place and her muscles are unpredictable, increasing in tone when she grows, while also unexpectedly giving out and causing falls. She has no recognizable speech, although she uses yes and a head shake, plus her wonderful PODD communication book. Severe learning difficulties, double incontinence, global developmental delay, poor fine and gross motor skills and a bit of autism complete the picture.

Luckily neither this list, or her diagnosis define her.

She is observant, funny, loving, thoughtful, stubborn, self possessed, strong willed and has a ridiculous sense of humour.

So what has Rare Disease diagnosis meant for us? If it isn’t who she is what its the point?

Well it has given our children peace of mind about the chances of passing it on.

We are now part of an online community of parents with children with the same condition, we can ask questions, share stories and see what the future may look like.

Most importantly we are taking part in fact gathering for the next generation of geneticists, parents and Pearls about how the disease can look.

There are thousands of children out there with Rare Diseases and no easy answers, further research is needed to smooth the way, provide evidence for therapeutic intervention.give support to families and arm the professionals with information to pass on.

It’s Rare Disease Day. I love someone rare and she is quite magnificent.

 

 

 

 

 

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Me.

 

I’m not sure this was exactly what Mum on a Mission had in mind when she set day 2 of #30daySEND bloggers challenge. I know she has an excellent campaigning blog in mind, but I’m feeling egocentric-so settle down, or switch off as the mood takes you. If you find you already did know them, consider yourself one of the inner circle. Welcome to my world.

1. I  judge people on coffee. I’m very polite, you’d never know. Instant coffee is NOT coffee. Similarly decaffienated-what’s that all about then?

2.  I love antique and vintage things. Before blogging I had a little Vintage business Pearlie Queen Collectables (that child gets everywhere) selling homewares and decorative glass and ceramics.(Oh and owls.That is a whole other story) My eldest used to help and we sold at fairs and markets always dressed up vintagely.

3.  I was a committed Christian. I think I still might be. Since Pearl, I have had a real struggle over faith, meaning and the purpose of life. It all appears to me to be very random, and some of the things said to me about healing, strength and being a special parent really haven’t helped. Still on a bit of a journey of discovery on this one. Suspect most of us are.

4. I worry. All the time

About money. We are in a very fortunate position, but are both employed by my husbands business. What if it fails?

About health. What if I die or become really ill? What if the Mister does? Who will care for a small special Pearl?

About the future, do I have the stamina to care in the long term?

About Pearl’s health, what if the epilepsy gets worse? What if her mobility deteriorates?

5. I can’t bear people making assumptions about me based on my appearance, gender,accent, politics or beliefs. I can become quite aggressive if I see someone doing this to someone else too. I try very hard to rein in my own assumptions when meeting others, and make every effort to notice those I do make. Unless I see someone drinking decaf   instant coffee, then all bets are off.

6. I have a tendency towarsds depression. It’s hideous when it’s here, but it is possible to live with it, and I have had plenty of practice. I believe in Citalopram, exercise and occasional hibernation.You absolutely do not have to be afraid of me because of this, I am a master of disguise, with a well chosen outfit, the right amount of slap, and an impressive smile you would be none the wiser.

7. I am a little bit obsessed with clothes. And styling. And design. And handbags. Oh and shoes. It’s getting worse as I get older. If I see a stylish soul out and about I compliment them. Complete strangers. Mainly people are delighted, except my teenage daughter, who if with me, is mortified especially when it’s her friends I’m complimenting.

8. I am tired and emotionally wrung out much of the time.

Tired of fighting the system for provision that is necessity not luxury.

Tired of wrangling a small girl who can’t bear the ordinary routine of dressing, tooth brushing, and washing.

Tired of the smell of nappies in the house.

Tired of handling people’s stares going out.

Tired most of all of being patient, understanding and reasonable. Surely  it is my turn to have a meltdown in public?

I am basically tired of being the grown up and would like someone else to take a shift.

 

9. I  love to laugh. Generally,despite everything  I find life to be lovely, people to be fabulous and nearly every situation potentially hilarious. Unless the black dog is visiting obviously and then-well more if that on a future blog.

10. I hate waste. Medicines that have not been opened or used have to be thrown away?Really? Splints that have been grown out of into landfill? In ‘Austerity Britain’? This does not sit well with me.

10.5 ( Oh go on, humour me) I think T.K.Maxx should be offered on prescription:

“take 2 hours browsing at least once a month. In  emergency cases of extreme fed-upness  enter immediately and do not leave without an unnecessary tea towel or mug.”

True Story.

I leave you with a picture of a Radley Handbag I bought from a charity shop, neatly encapsulating points seven and ten.

 

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You are most welcome.

 

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