Power to the People!

I have a bucket load of experience in hospitals, many of us do. I love the NHS, but it can be easy to feel disempowered and remember what to say in appointments.

Top tips from me, top tee from Mutha.Hood​.Originally posted on firefly

 

A close relative who is also an Occupational Therapist has recently found herself on the Special Needs journey. She works in hospitals four days a week. People consult her for advice and opinions.

On her other days in hospitals for appointments, with her Mum hat on, she has noticed something strange.

Her opinions are an afterthought.

“We’ll do this and this and this. Alright Mum?”

Opinions and appointments are offered as a foregone conclusion.

If she knows an investigation is available or helpful, she has to repeat herself.

Again. AND again. She has to employ more assertiveness and determination her mum role than she does in her professional one. There is an imbalance of power.

 

I am not offering this as an example of how bad professional are. She is one, I was one.

 

Only a generation ago Doctors and Health Care Workers weren’t

required to work collaboratively, they were Consultants, the ones with the answers.

Naturally good doctors always have been great communicators, but if they weren’t it was rarely questioned. You had less choice in who you saw, and knowing a Medics first name, much less using it was a very rare thing. This is the medical model-you see a medic they fix you.

 

Things have changed a great deal, and some have stayed the same

The Medical Model continues to haunt the NHS-and let’s be honest as users it is what we would really like. Imagine if I took my nonverbal girlie to the Paediatrician and she was given a pill and came out talking!
In the beginning of the Special Needs journey this is what most of us want and expect.

There must be an answer, mustn’t there?

 

So, the imbalance of power is partly historical, partly to do with a Western idea of medicine, and partly handed to the professional by us. (Think “my child is broken please fix it”)

 

There is are other reasons though that we find ourselves disempowered as parents.

One is very simple. We are in crisis. A situation has occurred that we have not encountered, most of our friends and family haven’t experienced and we are not taught about at antenatal. We have a child who is different, and we don’t know what it means, for us for them or for the future.

 

When I was working as a Speech and Language Therapist, I had loads of experience of Speech and Language problems. None of this experience was personal.

I had met and become close to lots of clients with language issues, but I had not lived with them.

The Hospital I worked in was my place of work-for the community it was a place of crisis.

Friends and relatives had experienced the worst moments of their lives there, and some had lost their nearest and dearest.

My friends worked there with me, shared coffees and lunches. The work was emotionally taxing (health professionals are generally an empathetic bunch who experience some degree of vocational calling) BUT at the end of the day I went home.

 

I offer this as an explanation not as a solution.

 

Professionals can become excited by new therapeutic solutions that won’t work for you, for your child or family-so how can you come to hospital meetings and not be overwhelmed or feel confused or railroaded into plans you are not happy with?

 

Feeling emotional, confused and vulnerable is normal. You are in an unusual situation. In the early days try not to go to appointments alone. If you don’t have friends or family able to come, local parent support groups should be able to offer you an advocate. This is great as along with having another person on your side of the table they can debrief you afterwards.it is entirely possible to go in to an appointment and feel you’ve understood everything only to immediately forget it all.

Trust me I’ve done it!

 

Think of what you want of the appointment. Write it down before you go in and try to get your questions answered.

 

If somebody says something you don’t understand ask. You are not being stupid; they may be using language they take for granted in work life that normal mortals just don’t speak.

 

Try to summarize what has been said in the meeting to check you both understand

“So, you’ll make an appointment and I’ll get it in the post?”

 

You may not get on with every Professional you meet. That is OK they are not your friends. If, however you think they are not working in your best interest, despise you or seeing them makes you feel physically sick you should probably talk to someone, because that is NOT alright.

 

Finally treat yourself! If the idea of appointments and the amount of emotional strength you need to get through them makes you anxious try to trick yourself with the promise of coffee cake or McDonalds on the way home. It works for my 13-year-old, and frankly me too!

 

The dream is meeting Professionals who you get to know, form a good working relationship with and who you look forward to seeing. It will happen and when it does, when they understand you and your child that is momentous. Cherish those people and reward them with chocolate if necessary, they are worth it!

 

 

The Best Laid Plans.. I

This post originally appeared on Firefly.

My mum has always said that nobody should ever have a first baby. Much better to start with a second when you have all the relevant experience.

In a similar spirit of helpful but impossible advice I offer you a planning schedule recommended to be in place before giving birth to a child with Additional Needs.

 

You are most welcome.

 

Do not have a prior history of depression, or any health needs physical or mental of your own.

You won’t have time for them. No professionals will ever think of asking after your health, so really there’s no point.

 

Knowledge of law or education, preferably to degree level is highly advised. Without these the Local Authority may attempt to tell you that you are not entitled to expensive things, that you really need and actually are.

 

Career ambition for yourself is not necessary, you will be required to cancel meetings, work days and other plans at the drop of hat to fit in appointments, which mysteriously seem to congregate together within a fortnight. You can of course cancel and rebook, but that risks being labelled a difficult parent. It won’t be written anywhere, but everyone will know you are.

 

Ambition generally is a dangerous thing, imagining you could go out alone or with a partner is optimistic, on some days going to the toilet alone will be completely beyond your capability. Believing your child deserves a place in society is also problematic. Being prepared to settle for less can lead to reduced emotional stress and, therefore, peace.

 

An independent income, preferably from a Trust Fund or inherited wealth will make your life easier and less of a drain on the state. It also ensures that you don’t have to discuss your family’s difficulties or finances with well-intentioned Charities. Think of the time you could save writing crowd funding requests!

 

Ensure that you are a very young parent, in peak physical condition and that this is your only child.

 

Be certain that you are an older parent that cares less and that this is at least your second child.

 

Be in an extremely stable relationship with a healthy, resourceful and emotionally aware partner.

 

Be a single parent with an incredibly supportive family and friends, you don’t have time for a relationship anyway.

 

Ensure your house is on one level with total accessibility to all rooms and hoists. You may not need them now but plan ahead.

 

Nurture friendships with young, fun but responsible people who can drive, and display a maturity beyond their years, not for themselves, you understand, but they have Personal Assistant potential.

 

Test your remaining friends by constantly cancelling plans at the last minute and taking weeks to respond to their texts. If they don’t like it, you may as well ditch them now.

 

 

 

This then is my recommendation to you. I myself have opted for the all the gear and no idea approach to special needs parenting. On most days I actually seem like I know what I’m doing, on others-well there’s always cake and cynicism.

 

To finish I’ll share another gem from the mothership. She has always maintained that no matter how you parent, or what mistakes you make, as long as there is love in your home everything else will smooth itself out. And, in this at least, I think she’s right

 

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Goodbye to All That..

This post originally appeared on Firefly at the beginning of the new school term.

 

Hello and congratulations!

Made it through the school holiday?

Feeling smug?

Or, like me utterly exhausted and considering out sourcing your parenting to someone more qualified and altogether calmer?

Is the undoubted joy of handing your child over to someone else, tempered by fear of the consequences?

Then you are probably the parent of a child with additional needs.

Perhaps you love someone spectrumy who is managing in mainstream, but struggles with change and has to enter a new class, with a new time table, and new teachers?

Maybe your small significant other has complex needs and you have to trust someone to keep them safe, well, clean and alive, along with the curriculum?

Do you love someone moving from Mainstream into Special Education, and fear that there will be associated stigma?

Or is your small special person moving into Mainstream?

How do you balance the relief at having time to go to the toilet alone, with the concern that someone else who doesn’t have a parent’s eye is caring for them?

How do you relinquish control?

Pearl is now 11 and has left her beloved Primary School and is heading off somewhere new.

To be honest Pearl, although apprehensive, is excited and looking forward to making friends.

I do however, expect an increase in challenging behaviour and mood swings over the next fortnight.

And Pearl may have some too!

There is always a wistfulness to this time of year.

Taking the dogs out early this morning mist hung in tunnels over the fields.

The blackberries are going over (they have, “the devil’s claw”, an old term I particularly like for the fusty, past their best ones).

There is a feeling of change in the air.

Change of weather, change of season.

Shortening days and cooler nights.

I have been involved in the education system for 45 years, pupil, student, school therapist and mother.

Autumn is intertwined so tightly with the new school year it’s impossible for me to extricate my emotions from the season.

Tomorrow when Pearl puts on her new uniform and gets on a new taxi, to go to a new school I will be tense.

Will they understand her?

Will she fit in?

Will they see how wonderful she is?

Did we choose the right school?

I know I’m not alone.

From experience, I know this season will be replaced by the next, routines will be reestablished, and life will go on.

So fellow travellers, let them leave, take a deep breath, put the kettle on.

 

 

 

 

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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Also Known As..

In which the Glory enters the hallowed halls of Horton, and leaves me with a lasting impression.

As the Glory, back from University pads into the kitchen to make a cup of tea I complain.

“Now I’ve got to write another blog and schedule it for tomorrow ‘cos I’ll be too busy”

“Write one about me!” she exclaims.

During Year 9 all students have to do work experience. Anxiety was beginning to bite The Glory of the Clan, and she was quite unable to decide what to do. As she was considering Medicine or something related at the time, I suggested Horton, as long as she was not in the same class as Pearl.

A week with the Early Years followed.

“What did you do today?” I asked.

“Oh something really excellent, with the sensory group. They lay down and we played chimes music, and touched them with feathers and stroked them, and did some massage too-they loved it, it was called TacPac”

“What does that stand for” asked the ever curious parent.

“I don’t know”

I’ll just explain, that we have always played word games, in our family, making up phrases from number plates or abbreviations.

“Probably Tap a Child Poke a Child” says she.

And in our house that’s what it has been ever since.

I leave you with some incredible art work, from my talented daughter-sorry Oh Glorious One, but it is Pearl’s blog really.

 

 

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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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Kiplings

In which Pearl packs up her troubles in an overnight bag and smile, smile, smiles.

Horton Lodge Community Special School is adjacent to Rudyard Lake. If the name Rudyard sounds familiar, it is because two day trippers, John Lockwood Kipling and Alice McDonald, visited and liked it so much when they later married, they named their son for it.

Attached to Horton Lodge  then, is Kiplings, a part of Horton but slightly apart from it too. It offers overnight provision. Horton is not a boarding school, and nobody stays there full time. If Kiplings supports the EHCP of a child, then with the agreement of a panel they can go for one to two nights a week, reviewable every six months. I cannot begin to express how rare this provision is.

I will not go into detail how long it took to get our LA to agree to fund Pearl staying there one night a week, but it was worth the battle.

(For anyone else battling for provision some  phrases such as “equality of opportunity'” and “equality of provision”can be quite useful.  Make sure you support your requests with arguments aimed at the right department, Social Care and Education have separate budgets. Swap the request “I need respite”-not education’s problem – with “she would benefit educationally from…”)

Anyway I digress. Pearl loves Kiplings,they have worked hard on her activities of daily living (much easier in a residential setting) and her independence skills. Also my early concern that she would get out if her bed and try to get in with someone else, was fortunately incorrect..

At Kiplings they have a club, they can choose their own activities, and hang out with their friends. Horton children come school from far and wide and  the chance to go for tea or  have sleepovers with medically complex children just doesn’t arise. (Hence “equality of opportunity”). It is very, very, VERY hard to trust someone with your best beloved (no Rab, no Glory you are ALL my favourites – it’s a nifty little Rudyard Kipling reference) and the chance to be away from a child with additional needs is so very rare, many parents never get it.

Imagine then a child given fantastic care and having fun, in a setting they go to daily, with staff they know and love. Of course Pearl gets educational benefit, of course it supports her  EHCP, but also it gives her the opportunity to do something different without her family, that we can then chat about with the home school book and PODD.

Lastly it helps us. For one night, we can turn our attention to family life, Pearl’s sibs get a look in and I can switch off my hyper vigilance.

On Wednesday, for the very last time Pearl, will set off with her overnight bag for a stay in Kips.

Three cheers then for Kiplings, you know Pearl loves you because she sometimes tries to come across when it’s not her night, you know we appreciate you because we trust you with our precious Pearl, and I know we’ll miss you, because Mr PJ and I are hotfooting  off for the day and staying in a hotel overnight as the chance may never come again ( I do hope I’m joking)

 

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