The Way We Were

A stream of Horton consciousness .

Change occurring always opens up a stream of memories of places, people and things.

Today I bring you a stream of Horton consciousness.

The School trip to the Snow Dome in early years. Pearl and I traveled together and arrived early. As we waited she grinned at me and signed vigorously. Although I wasn’t very familiar with Makaton at that stage I knew exactly what it was.

“Yes” I grinned back

“I’m excited too!”

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The Horton fundraising triathlon. All the children swam ,wheeled, walked, stepped. Those who could rode bikes, while others pressed buttons to move a cyclist on the computer. It was done in class teams and while it was another teams turn they were supported with whoops shouts and shakers for encouragement.

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Watch out world,she’s on her way.

 

School plays. This years nativity in which I, Mother of Pearl, was the proud Mama of the Mother of God.

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The environmentalist one about polar bears (!?) where 4 wheelchair users bedecked in Christmas tree lights were by danced by TAs in formation while “Northern Lights” played in the background.I’ve seen some world class theatre and contemporary dance but watching this was right up there.

The fortitude the staff showed one dreadful year when  Horton lost three children with life limiting conditions in two terms.The way they continued while supporting parents and children and managing their own mourning was commendable and impressive.

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A visit from Paralympian Ellie Simmonds,when Pearl was reluctant to return the Olympic gold she’d been allowed to hold.

 

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Thank you Ellie,you don’t want it back do you?

 

The Oscars when children are presented with Oscars for proper achievements like fabulous community spirit and great communication aid use while dressed up for the occasion.

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Oh and the leavers assemblies when the handful of leavers a year are remembered,teased,and commended for simply being who they are, part of Horton family. Huge apologies to the friends whose children left in the last couple of years, I just couldn’t bear to see them go so stayed at home.

I would go on, but now it’s time to go to a leavers assembly I also feel emotional about, although this time staying at home isn’t really an option.

This post is part of a blog a day for Horton.You can donate to help us say thank you here

 

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A blog a day for Horton

 

Ch – ch – ch – ch – Changes.

Time may change me, but I can’t trace time.

Pearl is currently in transition. In non jargon she has spent half a day at her new school, and today is spending the whole day. The rest of the week, it’s back to Horton for goodbyes, parties and general end of term shenanigans.

I too am in transition.The new school seems really promising, a new start is quite exciting. The holidays are coming, there are still house moving boxes to be unpacked, Pearl has a new set of wheels from wheelchair services.

Last night I dreamt someone told us we couldn’t live in our lovely new house anymore. We went back to the old one, and the new owners had spoilt it, and wouldn’t let us have it back. Then a variety of people I love and respect appeared and told me they hated me. It was one of those nights when I may as well have stayed awake.

When I am very stressed, I get busy. (At one point I was doing three part time jobs and caring for two children with additional needs, plus one with mental health issues) at others I’ll set myself challenges, or overcommit to volunteering.

It works well as a distraction strategy, but it doesn’t actually make the stressful situation go away. If I allow it to, I become totally overstretched and have to drop everything.

It is just possible I am writing a blog a day, to distract myself from the very purpose of writing it.

 

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All the feels, just all of them.

Pearl is leaving Horton. All the people who have known her for the past 8 years, watched her grow, faciliated her development gone. The staff who encouraged me when I was wrangling with the LA for a place at Kiplings, the people at Kiplings who have washed her, put her in her PJs and tucked her in, will all fade into memory and no longer be part of daily life. Pearl’s marvelous Paediatrician, who has been with us even longer, now works for Staffordshire and has a clinic in Horton. She has listened to me whinge and rail against injustice, provision and NHS shortcomings, and celebrated with me when Horton turned out to be the place, the very place for Pearl. She too will be replaced by someone from our Cheshire, because it makes logistical sense.

I am not good at goodbyes, not good at all, and leaving all these people will be a tremendous wrench.

When my children stay away overnight, I have always put a lipstick kiss on a post it, and written ‘a good night kiss from mummy’.

Just in case I become emotional and rush off on Friday, here Horton is one for you all.

 

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A thank you kiss from Mother of Pearl

 

 

 

This blog is part of a blog a day for Horton.So far we have raised, through your generosity £390 for the Parent, Friends and Staff Association.To add to the pot and help them provide some extras that make a real difference to the friends of Pearl donate here.

 

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A blog a day for Horton. 

 

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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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

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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Pearls of wisdom

In which singing and dancing saves the day.

This post was written for Firefly Community,the original can be found here

 

I have long thought that life could only be improved by spontaneous bouts of dancing and singing.

I mainly blame my mother for this tendency. I was exposed at a tender age to every Hollywood musical known to man.

 

Family members were routinely subjected to yearly attendance at a 3 hour pantomime.

 

My dancing teacher was a huge believer in inclusion. Ability and talent mattered not a jot. Everyone should have a chance to shine. Everyone. It was quite a large dancing school. She was not gifted with editing or quality control skills.

 

Apart from giving me a lifelong fear of amateur dramatics, because of resurfacing guilt, it has only reinforced the feeling that singing everything is definitely the way forward.

 

Fortunately, my family tend to agree (the slow drip approach of brain washing works well I find).

 

Pearl’s school is run on Conductive Education principles, which rely on repetitive movements paired with simple repetitive songs. The die is cast. Entering our house is like a second class, badly written version of Calamity Jane (which is, incidentally, also what I’m considering changing my name to)

 

On the naming front, I can highly recommend calling your child Pearl. It is relatively unusual, meaning naming labels don’t require a surname. Pearl is remembered and her record easily traced by all hospital departments, as they don’t tend to have another under the age of 80.

Most importantly Pearl  is easily replaced in songs.

 

“I kissed a Pearl and I liked it”

 

“My Pearl’s mad at me”

 

You get the picture.

 

And then courtesy of Elkie Brooks she has a song of her very own. (“Pearl’s a Singer” for anybody under 40). Pearl does indeed often “stand up when she plays the piano”

 

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The lyrics can be changed on uncooperative days to

 

“Pearls a whinger”

 

I hope this is character building, it usually distracts her and makes her laugh. Whatever gets you through the day.

 

I have recently been ‘enjoying’ a particularly long-lasting flu virus with a very bad grace. In the middle of this a cock up from our Local Authority, landed me with a call suggesting that my nonverbal, doubly incontinent child could have her secondary education effectively provided at our local High School. The same High School that had been unable to cope with our articulate, high functioning, academically able, son with Asperger’s. It seemed unlikely (yes really!) for this placement to be successful. I had in fact attended a two hour meeting a fortnight previously where I had discussed and agreed the perfect setting with a Local Authority staff member. I was not happy.

 

Incandescent rage goes some way to describing the way I reacted to the news,

and was apparently a good negotiating tool, the problem was quickly resolved.

 

Entering Pearl’s bedroom the day after this fiasco, and still feeling lousy I was greeted with charm, panache and a cheery hello (one of two of her recognizable words) She was warm, giggly and cuddly the perfect, cheering, combination.

 

As I began the usual, dressing and washing procedure, which is not without its challenges, all I could hear in my head was a paraphrased JayZee.

 

“I’ve got 99 problems but my Pearl ain’t one”

 

Life with a disability can be a struggle, but it is often the environment the lack of support, and the daily grind that is disabling. Filing cabinets of admin and frequent appointments can really leech the joy out of your life.

 

A friend of mine not in the Special Need Parents Club, looked in fear at the severe and complex disability and health needs of a mutual friends disabled child.

“But what does she think when she looks at him?”

She asked.

 

I thought of the Mother/Carers face when she looked at her son, full of love, knowing, and shared stories.

I think she usually thinks “That’s my boy” I replied.

 

And on days when love isn’t enough and the physical and emotional strain and reality of Caring is overwhelming, there’s always song.

 

I’ll see you Somewhere over the Rainbow, the skies there, well you know the rest.

 

Until then So Long, Farewell, Auf Weidersehn, goodbye.

 

 

 

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