Host.

In which we commune with nature and the life scientific.

I am currently taking part in an experiment aimed at conserving some of Staffordshire Moorlands wildlife.Oh, I do love nature generally. Being an outdoor girl I love watching the changing seasons, spotting nature red in tooth and claw, even observing road kill up close on a country run interests me.

This wildlife, however I feel more ambivalent about.

Pearl goes to school over the border. Clearly The Real Housewives of Cheshire have no particular difficulties with parasitic infestations of any kind, and are far too busy being sprayed orange to give anything else headroom.

I however, as a transplanted Essex girl,have plenty of headroom and freakishly thick hair into the bargain.I  like hugging. So does Pearl. She is currently hosting  (purely for conservation purposes obviously) a herd / nest / itch/ incubation, of Staffordshire Moorlands finest head lice.They are a particularly hardy strain.It gets cold on those moors and they like nothing better than a mane of Pearl hair to snuggle into.

Despite my propensity for Toni & Guy hair colour (God bless the junior who admired my “natural”hair colour last week) I am itching. I used to think of this as a personal failing, but these days I am inured to it. I am simply a marvellous host.

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I realise you lovely people have never struggled with such base and unpleasant visitors. When I say we’ve been clear of them for six months you’ll know that’s not the case here.

At this point if you are thinking of sending in helpful tips to get rid of the little buggers please don’t. Short of dousing them in paraffin or shaving our hair off completely there is nothing I haven’t tried, including:

Derbac M. The most hideous and strongly smelling pesticide you can apply to a human. No longer available for head lice treatment it is the only lotion I  have found that truly works.

Tea Tree shampoo, to discourage them from hitching a ride. They don’t like the smell, apparently, unless they’re from Staffordshire in which case they just don’t care.

Electronic beeping combs to electrocute them. Makes you feel empowered and slightly psychopathic. The Glory is still having counselling from being held down and combed with one, while I maniacally shouted “die, die,die”. Doesn’t work though.

Nitty Gritty Combs. Now actually they really do work. I possess five. (At £10 a pop you can work it out) Can’t find any of them. Where do they go? Has the dog buried them? Are the teens hiding them? Has the Mister found a new and innovative technological use for them? When he (the writer of apps) creates one that kills head lice,then,then I’ll sit up and take notice.When I say they work, they work if you comb hair throughly and meticulously every other day.

Have you met Pearl?  She’s feisty. She has sensory issues. She’s is non verbal but by no means silent. Her screams are ear drum fracturing .Oh and she hates having her hair brushed with and ordinary brush and she’s not big on keeping still. Chasing a wobbly girl around a room with a clump of her hair in my hand wielding said comb is not one of my favourite pastimes.

So as a nature lover I have some questions for the Creator, evolution or any passing naturalist. What are head lice for?  What is a head louse’s contribution to the life cycle? What eats a head louse? What biological function do they serve? In short what does Pediculus Humanus Capitis bring to the party?

Urgent answers are required. If they are indeed worth conserving the comb goes in the bin. If as I suspect, no one really knows, stick your head out of your window, and you’ll be able to locate Cheshire from the direction of the screaming.

 

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In PODD We Trust.

In which Pearl discovers an effective way to assert herself, and considers a career in stand up.

Speech, in Pearl’s opinion is overrated , or perhaps in our house she’s just unable to get a word in edgeways.

Pearl has developmental verbal dyspraxia and it renders her non verbal.

She is extremely vocal, but in reality the 1-2 consonants and vowels she chucks around are only recognisable to her nearest and dearest.

Dyspraxia describes a difficulty coordinating voluntary movement, verbal dyspraxia relates to the muscles of speech and articulation.

Humour me for a minute. Say “buttercup, buttercup”as quickly as you can. Tricky isn’t it?  You are using the whole of your mouth from the tip to the base of your tongue, with a bit of lip action thrown in for good measure. Most of us do this merrily all day long with very little effort. Clever aren’t we?  Pearl just can’t. She has plenty to say, but lacks the articulatory dexterity to say it.

In order to get her own way Pearl shouts “ah ah ah” points, grabs us and takes to the object of desire. Nearly all children do this pre-verbally, in our house it’s been the background noise for the last 9 years.

Until now.

Gayle Porter, from Australia,developed the PODD system for children with cerebral palsy. It  is beginning to be widely used in this country. PODD counts as AAC (assistive and augmentative communication) and is low tech (it’s in a book-how very last season!)  It’s also becoming widely used on tablets.

So what does PODD mean and what does it do?  In our house it means a telephone directory sized book being thrown into your lap, followed by vigorous page turning and insistent pointing. It means during a phone conversation with my sister a child previously only able to say “eh” for yes and head shake for no, telling me to “hurry up” It means the TA at school being told in no uncertain terms to “be quiet” In essence it means communication, and proper, stroppy, nine year old communication at that.

Now for the science bit. PODD stands for Pragmatic Organisation,Dynamic Display  (no, me either and I’m a qualified Speech and Language Therapist).The child learns to use it as a communication partner, the adult uses it modelling visual language alongside verbal. I mean you point to a picture and say the word, the same as you may point to an object and say the word to your baby. It is supposed to be natural and instinctive.

In our reality we have a huge thick book.Each page is split into 12 pictures.Each picture links through an index to another page. Every PODD conversation starts with “I have more to say”  then through pointing and flicking the more, can be said.

A typical conversation in our house

“More to say” (turn page)

“It’s going to happen” (Still find that slightly sinister)  (turn page)

“go” (turn page).

“Trafford Centre”(turn page)

“People” (turn page)

“Mum” “Pearl” (turn page)

“Go” (turn page)

“Cafe Nero”(turn page)

“babycinno”

So basically a non verbal child has displayed her hand, and turns out to be a brand obsessed lady who lunches. Not sure I’m that surprised.

Joking apart it is a complete revelation, I’ve always known Pearl understands more than she says but really she understands far more than I realised. She can explain her mood, make food choices, boss us all around with decisions for days out, and join in with a lesson.

The latest and most glorious thing is using PODD for play. Quite quickly we developed a silly game. Pearl points to the weather page, I say “This is Mummy Scott’s weather channel and here is Pearl with the weather” Pearl points to a weather picture and then points outside, and cracks up laughing, because she never chooses the weather that is actually happening. It’s her first joke, and like all jokes was very funny the first time.

There is a side bar on PODD that has  “oops” to flag up making a mistake.Not for Pearl however, she fell over at school (a regular daily occurrence for a wobbly person) crawled over to PODD. Pointed at oops and fell about laughing, as did the rest of the class. There is a very real chance she’ll be the first PODD stand up.

Now  we have pretend play. Toys having a tea party will use PODD to talk to me. I must have modelled this once, now it is a regular occurrence and I love it-because it is a very normal developmental use of language.(Also Elsa doll told me she loved me).

An artificial and cumbersome communication book is leading to natural and enjoyable communication. I cannot begin to express the difference that this simple bit of “low tech” has made to our lives.

If you have a non verbal child,  PODD is worth a try, however, AAC is not an instant and easy fix to communication.

Does your child use you as a communication aid?  You spend a great deal of time with your small person, chances are you can interpret their body language, sounds and needs.It is easier and quicker for your child to allow you to anticipate needs. If you want to use AAC you need to grit your teeth and purposefully ignore some of these tells. It’s hard, but worth sticking with.

Is your school supportive?  To develop use of AAC, everybody needs to be on board and understand how to use the system and, most importantly, use it. Pearl’s school brought PODD to our attention, made the book up with our input, and use it daily. If it was just happening at home it would not be anything like as effective.

Are you prepared for people to stare at you in the street when you use the book? Oh sorry, you have a child with special needs, you are probably already all over this one. We have found Pearl’s book a talking point and helps make connections, she is an experienced food orderer with it, and it has met with lively curiosity from children her age too.

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I still wake regularly dreaming that Pearl has started to speak in sentences, but  PODD is a brilliant and viable alternative.She may yet develop some speech, or begin to use a more high tech aid, but in the meantime, the sound of laminated paper flicking over and the insistent jab of a finger on “Mum” “love you” will do just fine.

 

 

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These boots.

In which my belief that the right footwear is the answer to everything is challenged.

Previously gentle reader, you left us on the wrong side of a two way mirror, enjoying all the benefits of early intervention.

All parents of  children with additional needs will know about time management. As well as the Child Development centre, we were fielding dozens of other appointments, sometimes on the same week, by a range of services, apparently unable to communicate with each other. Over and over again, the exact same questions. Not irritating at all. As I wanted to help the youngest, and as I had been The Professional on the other side of the clip board just a few months previously, I complied with all of them.

Have you ever read The Special Parents Handbook? Go and buy a copy now. Yvonne Newbold points out that the people sending the appointment are Public Servants. We are the public. They work for us. We can choose which appointments are beneficial, change times and ensure we don’t become overwhelmed.(Two appointments in one week may be doable, two in one day. No. Just no).

The latest appointment involved feet.I love boots and am a firm believer that with the right footwear anything is possible.The Physiotherapist must have been of the same mind as she gave Pearl a pair of the sweetest little white boots with pink laces. (A school mum thought they were designer) They were Piedro boots, and as well as being cute enabled Pearl to pull herself to standing. The appointment,and the department that gave us these beauties, has proved to be the bane of my life.

It started well. A fabulous, kind and experienced man, who turned out to be an Orthotist measured Pearl, looked at her gait, and discussed planning forward with her Physio. The boots arrived. They worked. In my mind now, Orthotics was a department that believed in multidisciplinary working, was patient centred and provided killer footwear. How little I knew.

At this point, as I have found so often,there was very little explanation of the service,what it was for and what else it provided. Every eight weeks or so, we were called in, measured, and new shoes were ordered. They were different colours! They were cute! We had choice! I loved it.

Half a dozen pairs of shoes in, Orthotist and Physio exchanged glances and said Pearl would benefit from  splints. For some reason, I assumed these would give extra support, help Pearl learn to walk and then be discarded. Taking Forrest Gump as my reference (Run Pearlie, run ) I imagined one day soon she’d walk out of them and into pair of ordinary shoes. (Insert hollow laugh here)

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For the uninitiated here follows a description of fitting a child with Learning Difficulties for AFOs (splints).

Mother enters Stage Left with child in buggy. Child is interested and curious, she knows the staff and the room has toys in. She wants to crawl around and explore. A new Physio enters Stage Right. The Orthotist bends the child’s wonky foot into a right angle with her ankle. The child is not keen on this turn of events.The new Physio waves toys and books in front of child. The child is unimpressed, but happier when the Orthotist releases her foot. Unfortunately he then returns with a metal bar and wet bandages for casting. Holding her foot at the correct angle, he skilfully wraps her foot below the knee.Mother is fascinated, child less so. As the plaster sets she begins to scream,the Physio waves a book,Mother sings  Twinkle twinkle little star (!?!) with a rising tone of panic. Orthotist cuts off  set cast (more screaming, more singing) and releases the little foot.Child is now crying real fat tears, and buggy, child and mother are covered in Plaster of Paris,as is most of the room.

I would love to say that being cast for splints gets easier with familiarity. I would love to say that.

Let’s go back to the first splint experience. Following Pearl shedding enough tears to wash the Plaster right back to Paris, we got to choose a pattern for the splints.This was more like it.  Design is much more my kind of thing.

Two weeks later we return.The lovely, experienced Orthotist is poorly and someone is covering.This someone doesn’t like me and has decided  I am a flippant idiot. He is very serious. I am very nervous. He shows me how to put on the splint, and tells me to try. I am shaking slightly. He raises his voice.

“No, no,no not like that”

I am a Professional woman, a mother of three in her late thirties. I am not used to being told off like a naughty child.It makes me shake more. I can’t get the damn thing on her foot. Once it is on and I have been suitably humiliated, I am told that I will have to go and buy shoes to go over the splint. Pearl only has one splint,but she can’t weight bear in it without shoes.

I enter Clarks (other shoe shops are available) I am by now in a bit of a state.I take my ticket and wait my turn.The assistant comes to measure Pearl. I explain.The woman looks at Pearl, and  is afraid. She a grown woman is afraid of my non toddling, toddler and her splint.

“I think you will have to make an appointment and come back”

Suddenly shaken back by her reaction into a state of near aggressive assertiveness, I refind my voice .

“Look I am finding this very difficult and I am very upset.She needs shoes, you fit shoes and we will work out together how to do this.The clinic is local and she is not going to be the only child who comes in here needing splints”

Wisely the woman gets a general grip and helps. We have to buy two pairs of shoes-TWO PAIRS, because now Pearl has two different sized feet.It’s alright according to the shop,as they will give us a discount which means that the pair will ONLY come to £50.

So my lovelies what can we learn from this experience?

Mothers and Others

Carry tissues.

Wear waterproof mascara.

 Professionals

Support parents when medical equipment that visibly separates their child from their cohort is required. It may be clever scientifically, it may be part of your working life, but the fact it has a pretty pattern on it does not make it easier.

Start working on training local shoe fitters.

Advise parents on the right style of shoe to go over splints.

Tell them the why.“We are fitting splints in order to enable her to have a straight foot and a flat base for standing.They are also needed to ensure her foot does not become twisted as it grows and to encourage a good muscle stretch”

Tell them the when.”she will need refitting as she grows and may need to wear them for extra support all her adult life, we will keep reviewing and keep you informed”

Tell them the how.”When she needs new splints speak to her physio”or “we will review in 8 weeks”or “here is our number phone when she needs an appointment”

Keep your interpersonal skills honed.

Oh (and a personal bugbear) link up with a medical charity working in developing countries so that splints,shoes and gaiters that are often barely worn can be reused and not go to landfill.

Thank you.

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Note to Self.

Mornings. Generally I love them. I am the most irritating of people, a morning person.

Today however I  woke up to find depression attempting to sneak under the bedroom door and floor me before I even got started. I will be having words.

The rational, fabulous, experienced menopausal woman would like to address you, default teenager who has appeared unannounced, so sit down, shut up and listen!

You can do it!  Yes, you can write, pitch ideas, speak eloquently in public and (whisper it quietly) keep going with the novel. It’s possible you could make  fair fist of running the country given a chance, you certainly have enough opinions. You don’t however have to do it all today. Actually, just make a cup of tea and sit down. Worlds will still be there to be conquered tomorrow.

People like you. You have friends. Make time for them, they are an investment.These friends think well of you, remember you and even pray for you. If they speak about you behind your back it’s because they are concerned,or possibly because those shoes really don’t go with everything. You are actually quite likeable.

Medication. Not a sign of weakness. Yes I know you just watched the BBC programme about overprescribing but you have a sensible GP who knows you and your circumstances. Some people have not been so lucky. Some people don’t make it. Thank Science, God and Big Pharma for synthetic serotonin.

You cannot second guess what other people are thinking about you. Further, you can’t control it and it’s none of your damn business. Some people don’t like you. That’s OK. You do not  have to be universally liked. It’s life, not Miss Congeniality . What would Mrs Pankhurst say ?

Being the universal fixer is a thankless task. Think carefully before taking it on. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Remember being Chair of Governors? Just that. The immigration crisis? Probably not your problem. Brexit? Definitely not your fault. That tax return however…

Other peoples success is not a reflection on you and your ability. It does not make you an abject failure. You think this is the case because today, and only today your self esteem has dried up. Oh and you’re British you have been bred to mistrust confidence and success. Just get over it already. “Rejoice with those that rejoiceth”

The drive to be internationally recognised? May be this is slightly irrational?  Ambition is good, but  not be completely beneficial in this case.The sad truth is you will die one day. People tend to. Enjoy now. Go to galleries and auctions. Read about ceramics. Argue about politics. Run in the fields. Squeeze your children. Make improper suggestions to your husband. Smell everything especially the coffee. This is it. Now. Just this.

Laugh, laugh and laugh again. Watch a comedy a day. Meet up with people who get you. Drink coffee, eat cake and laugh some more. Try to meet up at least once a year with the geographically distant friends who make you laugh so much wine comes out of your nose. Embarrass your teenagers by mispronouncing pinterest, loudly,in public. Swear randomly at your husband, to shock him. Tickle your smallest child until she can’t breathe and then roll around on the floor laughing with her.

Truly some days will be hideous and some glorious. This sadly is the human condition, and no amount of railing  at the sky is going to change it. Roll with the punches and don’t beat yourself (or anyone else) up when you’re just not feeling it. As Mrs O’Hara said “tomorrow is another day” and you have to believe a woman who looks good in vintage curtains.

 

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Take your own advice. Take care of you. Be kind to yourself. How many people have you said that to this week? Wise words for any day of the week. Listen to them, feel them and breathe them in. You are not immune from this advice-in fact you have followed it in the past and it has worked. Remember?

Give yourself a good hard shake. Put the kettle on. Grab a book and put your feet up.

Normal service resumes after the break.

 

 

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Summertime sadness.

In which the summer seems never ending,a biddable girl shows her assertive side,and her mother fails to step up to the plate.

The six week holiday is over,  a collective sigh of relief can be heard from homes all over the country.

A summer holiday with Pearl is generally trying. We spend the first week being bad friends. Pearl expects me to provide  days full of excitement at least as interesting as school. I expect to be able to continue with work, tidying and writing in much the same way as I do in term time. We are both stubborn and unreasonable. Oh, that’s not quite all. Every holiday I have two noble aims. Firstly I will toilet train Pearl. Secondly I will teach her how to speak. Pearl has been in the school system since the age of three. Every single holiday since then I have had the same aims. I have clearly learnt nothing from this experience. Neither has Pearl.

This holiday has been particularly difficult. I ditched the goals in the first week (there was a lot of wee). In retrospect reducing my antidepressant dose was not well timed.We did however do some amazing things (In the Night Garden Live anyone? At least as enjoyable as Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet last summer. Truly) I however struggled.

I had plenty of Direct Payment money saved, for plenty of support from Pearl’s two awesome  Personal Assistants, but I struggled. I was tired, so tired. Nine and a half years of special needs tired. Mr Pearlie J and I went away together overnight, child free .Still I struggled. I just did not want to come back. Pearl went out with her PAs. I did not want her to come back.

For the first time in ages I lacked flexibility, I was tired, I hated myself, I hated my life and I struggled.

Pearl I suspect is prepubescent (Worms anyone? They’re tinned) I am well into an early menopause. This is a heady combination. Being Pearl, full of hormones, cognitively challenged, full of self esteem and non verbal, led to kicking, stamping,  shouting and biting. Independence fostered at her fantastic school resulted in tremendous attempts at achievement any time I left the room to do anything as ambitious as going for a quick wee.Things were spilt, fallen off, broken, and rooms generally trashed. I most fabulous and patient of women,  had none.

If you are possessed of an assertive young person of differing ability things cross your mind when meltdowns occur.

Is she autistic like her brother?  How do I  know?   Would knowing help?

Does she hate me?

Do I hate her?

When she is 46 will she still be doing this?

Is she in pain?

Is she regressing?

How will she cope with puberty when it properly arrives?

Will any of us survive until September?

My default response to these thoughts, which race harum scarum through my head at a mile a minute is a good healthy dose of denial. This holiday someone appears to have taken my denial, and its helpful assistant emotional resilience. I only hope  they had much joy with them.

Our holiday for me was characterised by  a beautiful picture of Pearl I shared on my Instagram page with the following post.

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“This is the proof of the lies that Instagram tells. A beautiful picture of a glorious child taken by her stylish mother. Pearl and I left the house early, dog in tow for a secret trip to Beadnell Bay. I’m such a great mum! Pearl wanted to walk from the car, despite not wearing AFOs (splints) just crocs. She feel over, screamed, I manhandled dog, buggy and screaming dervish onto beach where she continued to scream repeatedly. At this point I noticed that she had horrible dental caries on a back tooth she never lets me brush. Feeling super crap at parenting I encouraged her to play in this hole, she calmed down, I took this picture. This was followed by renewed screaming as the sand had got into the graze, which was much worse than I realised. Bundling dog, 3 wheeler and screaming childback into the car I winded myself on a kissing gate.

Tomorrow I am putting her in bed with Dad and an iPad, while I go out for a run. Alone.”

 

On the morning Pearl went back to school,my shoulders moved away from my ears a good five inches. I missed her. I loved the fact I missed her. All the guilt and anger and fear faded away. When I look back over the holiday I know I will remember the stand out parts, not just the stand out tantrums. I’m mindful of another special boy, who did not make it through the holiday, and hold my bossy, sassy, tiring girl a bit tighter.

I remind myself how far we have come. Pearl is learning. She has changed. We do love each other, oh how this child is loved! She will learn and grow and change again.She is just 9 and her body is getting used to growing into her future womanhood.

These tricky times will be got through. Like the endless holiday, this too will pass.

 

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Exchange

When I was at school it was common to have a few foreign exchange students join us for a week or two. They seemed so exotic. Their clothes were brighter, speech eccentric, even their mannerisms seemed strange and new.

I was never lucky enough to host one of these fascinating creatures, but recently have been enjoying a cultural exchange of my own.

Imagine being air-dropped in a foreign country. Totally fluent, you just fall out of the sky one day. You’re articulate, the locals treat you as one of their own. They assume you understand everything, not just the language but also cultural jokes and idioms. Facial expressions seem strange and don’t always equate to those you saw back home. Gestures you knew to mean particular things make little sense.

The initially friendly residents of this new state become short tempered with you, assuming you are ignoring them, or being rude and difficult. As well as this, all colours seem much brighter, and the volume of everything has been turned up to the very edge of bearable. Textures seem more pronounced, clothes rougher, trees pricklier and worst of all – smells are much smellier.

This is the closest I can come to imagining the world my bright, witty 15-year-old son with Asperger syndrome inhabits. I can tell you now that if I was living with that every day I would be crankier, more tired and have meltdowns on a regular basis. Wouldn’t anyone?

The family he was airdropped into was noisy, opinionated and busy. Oh, and blessed with a permanently sarcastic mother.

I had limited experience with classic autism through my work as a speech therapist – so never suspected my son could be on the spectrum. He was caring, cuddly and very verbal, fond of long complex words; this was not what autism looked like. Being busy with two other children, one of whom had significant special needs, I was quite short-tempered. This boy who didn’t listen properly, willfully misunderstood obvious situations and took everything literally.

I’m known for being perceptive, caring and empathetic (modest too!). In moments of glorious parenting these graces were not extended to the boy.

I could not believe he could not follow simple commands. ‘Your ears are big enough, use them.’ He used multisyllabic words in conversation, but would then ask for explanations of simpler words. ‘Of course you understand it,’ said the ever-loving mother. As for the ‘tantrums’ we thought he was putting them on.

Thomas in Snow

The day I saw him practicing facial expressions, I began to wonder. My guide into this new country was Tony Atwood. As I read The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome the scales fell from my eyes (metaphorically speaking). It became my anthropological guide. Chapter after chapter, another apology to my poor boy.

Attempting to understand his autism has included unpicking everything I perceived and understood to be normal. Things I assumed were right are just cultural or societal, not inherently correct.

I’ll give you an example. Someone recently told me that a member of their church was autistic and non-verbal. The church was very accepting of him even though ‘he always wears a hat, won’t take it off – and of course you can’t wear hats in church.’

I nearly choked on my tea. Who or what decided that wearing a hat in church was wrong? GOD?! This, my friends, is a cultural, not ‘normal’ expectation.

Presumably, our culture has this ‘normal’ expectation too, which allows us to happily go about our lives feeling comfortable and reassured. Now, like it or not, my son is going to have to learn some of these rules to ease his way into society, but actually as a society perhaps it’s us that need to make some adjustments of our own.

Look at our own culture. We live on a small island with a rich literary history. Fond of quotes and metaphors, big on small talk and oblique passive aggressive hints. How would anybody on cultural exchange be expected to know that the correct answer to, ‘does anybody want this last potato?’ will always be ‘no’? Why would anybody peel their eyes and if they did, how would that help them to see better? If somebody looks affronted but says they are ’just fine’, why are they angry if you switch topics?

The English place a high value on social conformity, and are just waiting to be embarrassed, hard if you are wearing the wrong clothes, tapping, flapping or smelling the items in shops.

The boy was reluctant to wear coats. I have taken ages to get my head around this. I am a chilly mortal, and have worn gloves in June before now. He, however, is not me. Also, he has sensory processing disorder. I was astonished to learn that this is really common in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). So, perhaps I needed to look at the fact that he would happily wear a hoodie. A hoodie is, after all, a coat by another name.

Wasn’t he grateful when I bought him two pairs of new jeans as he’d asked? ‘One just the same and one a different colour and cut, just to make a change,’ I assured him. ‘The horror in his eyes as I realised – rookie mistake on my part – that for many people with ASD, a change will NEVER be as good as a rest.

So, as I prepare my boy for transitioning into the wider world, where going shoeless and wearing a 4-year-old hoodie, which only reaches his elbows is frowned on, he also shows me that so many things I thought were important, are really just part of my culture. It is, indeed, possible to wear a duvet outside to keep you warm. Do this in public and the locals will stare at you. Is the staring more uncomfortable than wearing an extra layer? That’s your choice.

I’ve learnt to hold clothes to my cheek before buying, and laugh at idioms. We journey through together, picking through social etiquette, deciphering the most important rules to save, to keep the peace, while trying to keep it real.

 

First published on My Family our Needs as “Unpicking Everything That’s Normal”

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Rear Window

In which the state intervenes in the parenting process,but fails to offer any sense of direction.

Imagine this. A bright room, full of children and toys. A one to one adult to child ratio. Music. Paint. Glitter. Lovely.

At the rear of the room a large mirror. I am sitting invisibly on the other side. It’s dark. There are a lot of other parents of various shapes and sizes I’ve never met before. I can see Pearl, she can’t see me. I can’t help her. I can’t touch her.

For an hour and a half adults neither I nor Pearl know, interact with her and the other children, in a variety of ways. They play, they question and touch her. They also occasionally share knowing glances with each other. I have 18 months of experience of what Pearl can or can’t do, and how best to help. I can see through the glass when she has not understood, even see when biscuits are being given out and Pearl is asked “Do you want a biscuit?”, “eh” (yes) the reply. She is asked again,replies again.The TA looks exasperated and asks again. Finally the Occupational Therapist who was looking at another child’s hand control intervenes  “Pearl said yes”.  A beat. “Well I can’t understand what she is saying”replies the TA-who disappears mysteriously in the weeks to come. I sit on the other side of the glass, invisible and shrinking into myself. The parents of children with Down’s Syndrome have formed a group, two other parents who have loud opinions on everything are holding forth in a corner. I am slowly reducing in size, wanting to pound the window, pound the TA’s head, feeling utterly disempowered.

This may sound to you, gentle reader, like a hellish dystopian future where the state judges, you, your child and your parenting. It is in fact The Child Development Centre.

As Pearl’s difficulties became more pronounced, and as the Professionals utterly failed to recognise what a beauty and genius she was, we had somehow accessed an open play session at the CDC. We arrived once a week to play with the children, have access to therapy services to ask questions, and chat.

It was fun. Pearl and I were speedily fast tracked into the CDC proper, which is where you find us. Fun and soft observational assessment were quickly replaced by standardised tests,sessions with all the therapists and a growing sense of desperation. I have since found out that the children who attended were thought to be the ‘worst’ in the county. The one redeeming feature for me was the presence of our amazing physio, who continued to provide appropriate exercises, useful suggestions, and spoke to me like an equal. Apart from this I’m not sure what the CDC was for. I had briefly thought that Pearl would receive the golden “early intervention”that would cure her and get her back on track to join her peers, but as the months went on this seemed less and less likely.

What did I gain from this early intervention then?  Well I found out about Disability Living Allowance. Although there were in session, two specialist TA’s a Special Needs Teacher, an Occupational Therapist, a Speech Therapist-the person who told me about this was a parent behind the mirror. I met a ridiculous continence nurse,  who came to give us everyday advise on potty training, and seemed peeved, when a few of us explained that we did not see it as a priority as our children could not walk, talk or sit up on a chair let alone a potty. Later it was another parent who told me that we would be eligible for nappies-not mentioned by the continence nurse. Nobody would advise me on what would happen to Pearl as far as nursery or school was concerned-because it was not their decision. In the end another rear window parent told me about a School for Parents  in the adjoining county, which Pearl eventually went to before being accepted into the attached school.

In a sense then I did learn something about Special Needs Parenting. Firstly that no one would tell you anything, that you would have to find out for yourself. That other Special Parents could offer incredible support and point you towards resources. That some parents operate a kind of reverse competitiveness “oh she sleeps through the night, lucky you, mine doesn’t sleep AND has fits AND is autistic AND has reflux AND… but she did start walking at 18 months so I expect yours will too” Avoid these parents at all costs. In retrospect I can see this was a coping mechanism, but never let someone else’s coping mechanism interfere with yours.  Just don’t. Hopefully these parents found their tribe. I found mine and met some parents whose coping mechanisms involved coffee, cake and dark humour. I also met our current Paediatrician who is just wonderful, got Pearl and us, and begins every report with “what a delight it was to see Pearl in clinic today”.

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So Child Development Centre Professionals and your ilk, what would I say to you?

Don’t become overexcited by the assessment process and forget the child.

Don’t congratulate yourselves on providing “early intervention” if the parents don’t know the purpose or see the outcomes you are working towards.

Use your common sense about human interactions, introduce a group of parents to each other before putting them in a darkened room together, perhaps use this time to lead a group looking at resources or an introduction to Makaton.

Remember that in these early stages many parents will be in denial. Others will be overwhelmed. Do not assume that they will take everything in. Tell them your plans.Tell them again. Tell them again. Write it down. Put it in a handout.

Make sure your TA’s like children.

Explain to each parent why their child is in the group and what you hope to achieve. For example “because they are struggling in some areas we will assess and give you ideas to help at home. We aim to put together information that will form the basis of an individual plan to help them on the educational setting, we want to involve you every step of the way and help you decide what kind of a plan and setting would be most appropriate for your child”

Check that parents know all about support available, do they have a social worker? Do they receive  the relevant benefits? Are they accessing hydro therapy?  Do they have appropriate seating,  adaptations?  Do not EVER for one minute assume that these things are already in place.

Do not forget, DO NOT EVER FORGET, that parents can see EVERYTHING through that mirror. They can see if you are exasperated with their child, they can see if their child doesn’t like you. They can see and hear if you are talking over their child and ignoring them. Treat watching parents like you would an Ofsted inspector. Show them your working, planning and best practice, and then do it again the next week, and the week after that, and keep right on doing it. These parents are your partners.These children deserve it.