How to Win Friends and Influence People (L.A. edition)

In which the system is broken, and no-one applies common sense to fix it.

It is a New Year, time to look forward with hope at the exciting times ahead. Much as I’m trying to move forward with a song in my heart and a spring in my step (other cliches are available) I am having some difficulty.

Is this because my youngest daughter has a myriad of health, educational and physical challenges. Not entirely.

Is it because my eldest, The Glory, is beset by mental health problems and struggling to find her way through her tricky eighteenth year? Well partly.

Is it because Aspie teen is preparing to transition from a very supportive Special provision at GCSE back into the mainstream setting that caused him pain for A Levels (his choice) Well take your pick.

But actually the thing that is causing me the most stress, chaos and down right anger is my local authority and the way they choose to implement direct payments.

Have you heard of Direct Payments? They are an excellent idea for increasing independence and inclusion. In theory.

Pearl is entitled to support in our local community by a Personal Assistant.As her needs are quite significant, we are able to access 6 hours direct payments for  support per week in term time and 14 in the holiday.

We are able to use this money in a way that  supports Pearl. Initially she attended Rainbows with a Personal Assistant, and I had someone in to help with housework and ironing too. This was recognised as freeing up my time to spend, one to one with Pearl.

As a parent, you have to be very organised to benefit from this system.You have to keep good records (we have a separate bank account) and all receipts.This is all well and good, after all this is tax payers money and an account must be given.You have to find the PA, set up their contract, submit time sheets and pay wages. In effect you have become an employer.

Every year the situation is reviewed and every year you have to submit all the paper work. Our Local Authority regularly believes that asking a parent to submit all the paper work over a half term holiday, when the child in question is at home, with a week deadline, and veiled threats that benefits will be stopped if the date isn’t met is OK. It isn’t, and also it’s unnecessary and shows bad planning on their part.This however is not the thing that has riled me so considerably today.

Last year it was recognised, that we need more hours.It does tend to benefit the system if Carers don’t break. The money immediately started to flood into the account. Marvellous. Finding a PA isn’t instant. It takes a very particular person to work with my girl.They need to know how she works, what her medical needs are, how to communicate with her, and how to administer emergency meds amongst other things.When someone has been found they need to spend time working alongside us and/or the existing PA  and getting to know Pearl, for their peace of mind and ours. As I was increasingly stressed by my caring role I thought it would help to use some of the money for help round the house while the new PA was being found. But no.The system had changed without me being told.This was now a luxury and not allowed. I was a horrible entitled middle class woman for even suggesting it.

It took 6 months to get a new PA up and running alongside our existing (and absolutely marvellous) current PA. During this time the money was beginning to back up.It is absolutely not supposed to do this, because it proves that you probably didn’t need it anyway you grubby little scrounger (sorry I mean valued Carer) The new PA was good, but has not been able to fit her hours around what we need. More money backed up. I’ve been struggling with appointments for all three children and have not had time to source another PA-there is not a one stop PA shop where you can find them.More money backed up.

Pearl attends a residential  at her school  once a week, term time.Paid for by education,it supports her statement.It is awesome (and before you envy my luck it took two years of ‘negotiation’ with the same local authority to get it put in place).One morning while pondering PAs I had a brain wave, perhaps I could use this backlog as a one off, for Pearl to attend a few extra nights at residential? She loves it.As well as working on Activities for Daily Living (washing and dressing to you and me) she has club activities and spends time with her friends. We could afford three extra nights in total.I reckon she could do two nights once a month. the backlog would have been cleared, she would have benefitted, we would have benefitted. Sorted. In principle education would be happy with this, they are not used to billing parents directly, but if my LA gave us the go ahead, as it was effectively a one off they would explore it.

Well,I have to administer the accounts, find the support,pay the wage bills, train, sort contracts, organise liabilities insurance, and keep records.I am not however allowed to come up with ideas because I’m clearly incompetent. A meeting will be held, a panel meeting where this will be proposed. I am not allowed to attend. It’s  not my job and it is likely to be rejected because it’s not usually done.

As a parent this system, designed to support Pearl,has made me feel patronised, unsupported, disempowered. Guilty. Angry. Stressed.Undervalued and misunderstood.

I have to believe this isn’t the LA intention?

So what can be done?

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Avoid isolating parents.

It  is not enough to have a ‘Parent Partnership’  in existence and then treat parents in day to day transactions like naughty children who cannot be trusted.

Give each parent written instructions of what Direct Payments can be used for.Make it the same for all parents across the county, because do you know what?  We talk to each other.

Give each parent a fixed date annually in advance to produce the paperwork.

Put the use of payments in line with the adult service users agreement.

Give family support workers a clear idea of the system and the ability to implement it.As nothing is set in stone they basically have good intentions and no idea.

Remember that many parents have not had their own business, or worked in management positions,and they are under constant stress and probably functioning in sleep deficit.Give parents support to get the system up and running.

As long as the money is being used for the benefit of the child, ethically and legally let it be used.The system has put in in place because you,LA,recognise support is needed.So support.

One last thing.We know the system is being squeezed, we recognise your jobs are tough and unrewarding, but you get to go home at the end of the day,and retire.

Some of us are in this for the long haul.

 

 

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New Year, New You!

As January draws to a close it’s possible that you have not found the right life plan to transform your mind, body and spirit.You, fellow traveller, have come to the right place!

As January draws to a close it’s possible that you have not found the right life plan to transform your mind, body and spirit. You, fellow traveller, have come to the right place!

Having problems dealing with difficult people? Struggling with your relationship with food? Finding living in the moment tricky?  This plan, based on the life experience of someone who I have studied assiduously for ten years offers you some answers, what you choose to do with them is your responsibility.

Last week while navigating my way through the endless appointments which seem to just keep landing on our door mat, I was thinking about people I admire, and what it is that makes them stand out.I realised that one young lady, who was cheerily attending the appointments and embracing all of them in a spirit of curiosity and a chance to meet new people, had a better general attitude to life than I did, and wondered what I could learn from her.

I bring you (insert fanfare)  Pearlfulness TM *

Firstly, my people, do not be held back by convention and social nicety.If something amuses you laugh.If it saddens you cry. Stoicism and English Reserve do not necessarily make you happy.Get out there, live life and engage. It’s messy, some people won’t like it, but it is a good way to remain in tune with yourself, and find out who is genuinely worth giving the time of day to.

Secondly, believe in yourself. Pearl knows that in any room she enters she is the most interesting and important thing.If people are staring at her, Pearl is not concerned, it is because she is marvellous. Someone I may consider a heartless, callous person, thinking (at best) “what is wrong with that child poor thing,” Pearl believes is waiting to be introduced. Believe me when you have been charmed by Pearl sitting next to you saying “harro”and plonking her communication book on your knee, your preconceptions about learning disability will be challenged. The moral of this tale  is believe in yourself, and if you can’t, fake it ’til you make it.

Be kind. Pearl has gaps in her understanding of grammar. The more complex a sentence, the easier it is for her to misinterpret. She has become an expert at using tells, facial expression, body language and the general aura people give off, to help her.Because of this she is very adept at spotting sadness in people, and will go out of her way to cheer people up who she considers need it.She will offer a smile, a laugh or a half eaten biscuit to those in need. Seeing the reaction she gets  I would urge you to never underestimate the power of kindness.

Love your body. Pearl’s body is a tricky and mysterious thing. Sometimes legs unexpectedly give way, tap,shake and hurt.This in no way prevents her from using it as best she can. She adores food and punishing herself by refusing cake would not begin to occur to her. In fact if there was a mantra to live by Pearl’s would likely be, Be Kind.Eat Cake. There are far worse ways to live your life.

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Pimp your hot chocolate with popcorn.

 

 

Be brave and believe in yourself.Standing behind Pearl watching her walk is a marvel. Her centre of gravity is all wrong, her gait defies convention, and her feet strike the ground in odd places and at different levels.This may put you off considering walking on a wall, trying steps, or Parkour on the sofas. This may be wise, but sometimes being sensible can seriously cramp your style. I have learnt from Pearl to give it a go, push yourself, try something tricky and new. A can do attitude could take you into a whole new area of interest.

Be determined. Pearl’s school runs on Conductive Education principles. Movements are repeated, over and over again,and reinforced by song. I have seen the look on the children’s faces as they carry out “task series” The other place I have seen this expression  is the faces of Olympic Athletes, and Wimbledon Champions.If you want to achieve something you need some of this.

Lastly, sing  everything. Conductive Education has  a ‘hello’ song,a ‘potty’ song, greetings song and standing songs. Not only is this immeasurably cheering, it will lead you to believe you too have the glamour and panache of the late, great, Debbie Reynolds. As a side  effect it seriously embarrasses any teenagers you are related to if continued in public.This is always a bonus.

Like any regime, if overdone this has drawbacks.Biting people who irritate you is never recommended and the legal liability of such actions remains yours, and not the responsibility of Pearlfulness TM. Approaching attractive strangers and stroking their legs, may increase your vulnerability to exploitation and seriously embarrass your companion.You have been warned.

The most important message of Pearlfulness TM.is enjoy life as much as you can,at whatever level you can, whenever you can.Life is not only there to be lived and grasped by  the pert,privileged,perfect, young or famous, it is for all of us, and it is short. Pearl has lost many peers in her young life and none of us know how long we have.

Her message to you in the face of political upheaval,emotional uncertainty and physical difficulty is that you, yes, YOU  are fearfully and wonderfully made, a little bit fabulous and definitely  worth it.

If all else fails Be Kind. Eat Cake.

Spectrum Sunday

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*Have I really trademarked this? Oh come on-what do you think?!

 

 

Therapy?

Did you wake up this morning to find out your life was less than perfect?

Did you wake up this morning to find you were the parent of someone with additional needs?

Has your family life taken a turn you never expected?

Never fear, The Wrong Kind of Snow is here to help you manage your expectations, embrace your new normal, and hand you a tissue, before,during,and after, the school run.

Learn from one who knows,that good hair, cake, and sarcasm, can give you a veneer of coping without touching on the real issues.

I, Mother Of Pearl,can personally offer a service to help you laugh in the face of forgotten appointments

You too can learn to kick Local Authority ass-if necessary (and believe me it will be)

I can aid you in using the right word to describe the myriad of visiting professionals (hint no matter how they behave, team although a four letter word never starts with c or ends in t)

You will feel better about your housekeeping (pop in for coffee anytime….consider my home a therapeutic installation)

You can improve your distance running with the mantra “if you turn back now you’ll have to do the parenting thing”

You are most welcome.

Todays lesson involves a gold standard of therapy “Early Intervention” This is an excellent idea in theory. Take a child with issues and through intensive therapy bring them up to speed before they hit school age.

Intensive,regular therapy is expensive and hard to come by, but if it’s efficacy is proven it can cut down on future intervention thereby saving the state money. Neat. The child can catch up with peers or narrow the gap .Fabulous idea.

Have any of you come across  Hurrah for Gin ?  She has neatly personified the guilt that comes with parenting.I urge you to check out the Shitty Guilt Fairy .Unfortunately early intervention has real life guilt fairies of it’s own-the Professionals.Don’t get me wrong, these are knowledgeable, experienced, well educated, well meaning people who each have their own version of early intervention, that will if carried out by the parent to the letter improve an aspect of the child’s (let’s call her Pearl) life.

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By the time Pearl was two, our weeks consisted of an afternoon at The Child Development Centre (you can read more about this here).A morning at School for Parents (a substantial drive across a county border). A morning of hydrotherapy. Physiotherapy and Speech Therapy programmes to carry out. A morning at the local mums and tots just to point up the difference between her and her peers.Random visits to the hospital to search for the answer of the enigma that was Pearl with Paediatricians, geneticists, neurologists and a variety of puzzled and interested student nurses and Doctors. Between this I was attempting to keep up my Speech and Language Therapy Registration and feed and parent the other two children and sustain a marriage.It was hell, but I foolishly believed I could continue at this pace in the short term as it would miraculously cure Pearl and life would return to normal. How fondly we would look back on her early difficulties as she received her Nobel prize for Literature.

Truly some of this pressure came from within, but it was unwittingly reinforced by the Professionals individually ‘supporting’ me while not seeing the wider picture.

I would love to know how models of diagnosis and therapy work in other countries.Our Western model of medicine,and our work ethic may be leading us to a mistaken belief that we can work our way out of difficulties.That proper perseverance and elbow grease can solve our problems through sheer exertion and force of will.Pearl was never going to be fixed by tonnes of early intervention.What we needed as a family was support, time to enjoy our girl’s babyhood, practical help with physiotherapy and the necessary equipment, not to become a problem that was there to be fixed.My girl has such strength of character,stubborness and determination,I wanted a professional or two to recognise that and celebrate it with me,not to point out her difficulties and attempt to eradicate them.To be fair the same medical model that wants to fix the Pearls of this world is exerting it’s own strain and pressure on the very Professionals that implement it.The system wants to see they have effectively fixed as many people in as an efficient way as possible.

All this can lead, for the best motives in the world, to a society that sees disability as a problem, and fails to see the individuals behind the case studies.

So what can be done? As parents it’s important to try to keep a sense of who your child is and who you are as a family. This is really difficult when you are going through tough issues and being asked to make tricky decisions with little support.Try to get someone on your side, perhaps a professional who knew you and your family before you became “a problem”. Organisations like The Carers Trust, Carers UK or Contact a Family often have local representatives who can help you make sense of what is beneficial and what can be left until later.

A health visitor came to visit us, and was flabbergasted at how my week was structured, and how little support I was getting.I having become sucked into the Special Needs Vortex had lost all sense of what was a reasonable expectation of family life.

As parents you may have to sit on the naughty step and refuse to do everything-I’ll warn you, you may get a black mark.

Alternatively join me and other parent carers in learning how to look as if you have carried out all the therapy, while actually you have been cuddling your child as they watch someone on youtube unwrap a giant Easter Egg.

At the end of the day your child is part of a family,not a state funded research project.

 

 

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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.

 

SwanUKMN-blognetwork-104-final       

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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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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