Same but different….rare as Unicorn 💩???

Rare disease G&A Photo 2018This year 28th February 2018 is the worldwide celebration of Rare Disease Day. 

The very first ever Rare Disease Day was held in 2008 –  a leap year so the perfect occasion for the initial 18 countries that signed up to celebrate.

Every year since, countries across the world have united to raise awareness of all things rare in terms of disease.

Last year 94 countries highlighted their commitment and support to raising rare awareness which is a pretty fantastic achievement.  In fact that’s an increase in ‘productivity’  of 422.2222% for want of a better way of describing it!!! (I had to ask my eldest son taking A-level maths to work that out so if the stats are not right, don’t blame me!!)  So it isn’t surprising that highlighting all things rare is close to the hearts and minds of those who live with a rare disease or have family members affected by a rare disease.

What does ‘rare’ mean to you? I googled the word rare in the Oxford English Dictionary and the top definition that came up as an adjective was this-  “RARE:  – of an event, situation, or condition not occurring very often. ‘a rare genetic disorder’,”

After that it went on to talk about rare steaks, uncommon birds and such like. Interesting I thought however that the very first sentence used to define ‘rare’ was in the context of genetic disorders!

Actually I think the use of the word ‘rare’ in the context of rare diseases is a bit of a misnomer. Why? Because at any given point 1 in 17 of us will be affected by a rare disease! Surprised? Think about this number in terms of the day to day and see how it relates to your experiences.

If you used public transport today (probably a bad example since much of the country seems to be under snow!) was it crowded? More than 17 of you on board? Probably. Bought a coffee in one of the many high street chains? Hopefully not 17 of you in the queue at any one time but probably more on the premises tucking into a hot drink or waiting anxiously for their turn.

17 is lucky in some countries, unlucky in Italy. 17 is the number of muscles it takes to form a smile, 17 syllables in a haiku poem. 17 is the least random number in a study conducted by MIT asking people to choose a number between 1 and 20. So again, not that rare.

A rare disease/condition in Europe is classified as affecting 1 in 2000; in the US fewer than 1 in 200,000. 80% of rare diseases are genetic in origin whilst others are as a result of infections (bacterial or viral) allergies, environmental factors, degenerative or  known as proliferative eg cancers.

Of those diagnosed with a rare disorder a staggering 75% will be children.  In fact, many of these children are a whole new breed of rare. So rare that their medical/physical and or cognitive difficulties don’t actually have a name!

Presently we know that there are approximately 6000 children born each year in the UK  alone who have an UNDIAGNOSED condition. Of those, only 50% undergoing genetic testing on the NHS will ever get a diagnosis. And this is something very close to my heart because 2 of my children are undiagnosed.

Whilst we can indeed be enormously thankful that medical science is evolving and improving so rapidly –  approximately 5 new rare diseases per week are described in medical literature  – organisations like provide essential support and a voice for those affected by a rare condition.

For those of us still in unknown murky waters, studies such as  DDD – Deciphering Developmental Disorder  or the 100,000 genomes project /  offer families like mine the best chance of getting an answer as to why our children experience various difficulties and potentially the best way to manage their conditions, obtain treatment or assistance and potentially connect with families in a similar situation.

Families such as mine with children who are undiagnosed and/or ultra rare can often feel alone. SWAN UK provide the only dedicated support network for families of undiagnosed children and young adults affected by a genetic condition. Hand on heart I can say that the support I have received by being a member (and now a volunteer parent rep) has been a veritable life-line.

Although my youngest 2 children have a myriad of medical terms/symptoms and diagnoses, to date we have no unifying “umbrella” that explains why they are affected. Their medical notes are vast. Between them they have confounded some of the brightest and most well respected specialists across the country. If I had a £ for every time I had heard the words ‘rare’ ‘atypical’  ‘uncommon’, ‘complex (the list could go on for a while, you get my gist) I would be a very rich woman.

If a part of the human body or a specific organ is supposed to work a particular way, you can pretty much guarantee with my kids that it won’t. If unusual presentations or the extraordinary were olympic sports, my kids would be gold medalists. Several times over.

So over the years, being able to talk to those who understand what we are going through, who have felt left out, different or isolated has been incredibly important and helpful.

If one in 17 of us will be affected by a rare disease in some way, IT COULD BE YOU

Please click on some of the links above to find out more and if you can, please consider fundraising or donating:






Tonight Matthew I’m going to be……

An adult!

Strictly speaking I ‘adult’ every day, albeit some days more successfully than others.

Yesterday however, I ‘adulted’ myself to the nines.

So that you can feel comfortable continuing to read and for the avoidance of any misunderstandings, I should reassure you that this post is perfectly respectable and I won’t be revealing anything x-rated or of a delicate nature. You can all breathe a sigh of relief and resist the notion of poking out your own eye-balls/resorting to mind bleach for fear of dodgy pictures and such like!

I don’t know about you dear reader but the majority of the time I don’t feel old enough, responsible enough or even qualified enough to do the “adulting” parts of life. Certainly not with success and authenticity in any event.

Apparently however, being married having children, dog ownership (he might dispute that as pretty sure Milo thinks he owns me) a mortgage and all the other infinitesimal accoutrements of life plus being over a certain age means I automatically qualify as an adult… and there’s no resignation option (well unless you ‘check out’ entirely but that’s generally speaking a bit drastic)

Over the last year particularly, “adulting” has been a part of my life I’d quite like to have run away from.

Somehow wherever I hide, no matter how precisely I have chosen the deepest, darkest recess or how carefully I stick my fingers in my ears and shout la-la-la, the necessity for “adulting” always has a way of finding me….darn it.

And even before last years ‘annus horribilis’ I must confess that I had very often felt like a player in that game “Hedbandz” rather than a real adult.

For the uninitiated, the game compromises of a plastic head band device with a slot in which you stick a card in which states the object/word/profession and the wearer has to ask a series of questions to try & work out what or who they are.

For added ‘fun’ you can do a timed session so they have to guess in a specific time period or a specific number of questions. Adding alcohol into the equation for the ‘Adulty’ version I’m sure can only enhance the fun 🙄 But never in a million years would any card ever depict me as an adult; in fact I think I’m possibly only marginally up from a lemming….

Anyway, what I mean by my ramblings above is, in theory I suppose I should know I’m an adult but the actuality is very different and frankly I really don’t feel I’m quite mature enough to make life or death (somewhat over dramatic!) decisions on a day to day basis when I can barely decide what to cook for dinner!

So now I’ve long-windedly explained that, I’ll get to why I ‘adulted’ properly yesterday.

For those of you who have followed my blog for a while or who know me in the ‘real world’ you are probably familiar with my involvement in SWAN UK.

SWAN stands for syndromes without a name and it is the only specialist support network in the UK dedicated to families of children and young people affected by a syndrome without a name.

Having 2 children who are classified as SWANS – they are both medically complex and although they have multiple diagnosed difficulties/needs, we don’t have an over-arching diagnosis that draws everything together – getting support from SWAN UK over 5 years ago made a huge difference to myself and the whole family. In fact, if we had not joined SWAN UK (its free!) we would have had no idea where to even begin to think of living when we moved to the UK some 4 years ago.

Mr Def Not The W’s was allocated Leeds as a base when he joined his new airline but we knew nothing about the area, about hospitals, schools, housing and services and so it was to my trusty network of online friends that I turned to to seek advice and guidance in helping us formulate a plan.

Of course SWAN UK’s services go far beyond the things I mention above. You can read more about the vital support they provide here:

Over the years, the advice, reassurance, sense of belonging and community not to mention the family days out, coffee mornings and get togethers have been a huge source of comfort, support and a wealth of experience for me.

Back in 2013 it became apparent that holding down a job, even working from home as I had done since 2008, in a role that I could fit around my children, was no longer viable.

I eventually found that in order to keep on top of work I was in a seemingly endless cycle of being up very early, going to bed very late and working all the hours in between that weren’t occupied with the needs of the family including weekends. Something had to give. It was *almost* my sanity.

Although I don’t miss the crazy relentlessness of those days and we are fortunate in that we can (just about) manage for me not to work (and are hugely grateful at times to our parents for stepping in when an unexpected bill/costs rears their ugly head) I do miss that feeling of achievement and accomplishment.

So in September 2015 I decided I would like to try and do something useful with my life and if possible, give a little something back.

I recognised that combining this with (at the time) 3 children with extra needs was going to potentially be problematic. (Turns out we now have 4 children with additional needs, although our eldest is almost 18 and would revolt against the use of the word child!)

I decided to volunteer to be a SWAN UK parent representative for North Yorkshire…. if they would have me! And they did.

In fact, this was absolutely perfect because recognising that caring for medically/physically and or cognitively complicated children can mean life doesn’t follow the best, most carefully laid plans, SWAN UK are happy for parent representatives to volunteer as much or as little of our time as we are able to give. They also understand that sometimes we have to drop everything with little to no notice and have always made it clear that the needs/demands of our children, wider family and ourselves are paramount.

Over the years of being a SWAN UK parent representative, I have spoken at a Rare Disease conference about my experience of being a parent of undiagnosed children; I have contacted my MP about being part of an APPG (all party parliamentary group) to discuss and raise awareness of being undiagnosed and the implications that has on families as a whole, not just the affected individual. I have visited Parliament and spoken to a wide variety of professionals about the difficulties of living with the unknown and unexpected as well as assisted in organising days out to celebrate Undiagnosed Children’s Day (last Friday in every April) arranged coffee mornings and fund-raising events.

I don’t want to come across as holier than thou but aside from (hopefully) raising awareness and sign posting SWAN UK, it did make me feel useful and purposeful again.

It gave me an opportunity to step outside the role of parenting my own children’s medical management and hopefully gave a voice to others in a similar situation.

Anyway back to the reason behind the recent adulting: after something of a hiatus in 2017, I attended a professionals meeting at our local hospital.

Having contacted the Harrogate and District Hospital administrative team (via FB messenger no less!) I pretty much threw myself on their mercy. They kindly directed me to the Head of Paediatric Nursing and The Head of Paediatrics and we set up an appointment Gulp.😳

The fact that the head of paediatrics is also my children’s consultant was not lost on me and was more than slightly daunting.

Somehow, seeing me in a different role to G Man or Minx’s Mum felt strangely discombobulating; at least in the run up to the meeting itself and I was plagued with disconcerting dreams that I would somehow disgrace both myself and SWAN UK.

Nonetheless, I asked SWAN HQ to send me some literature and armed with this, my trusty, very bright pink SWAN UK bag, business cards (get me! I’m posh!!) and a lanyard, I put my big girl pants on (erm figuratively you understand, I haven’t gone totally Bridget Jones yet) and my “grown up” clothes on.

Being only 5ft almost 3 inches, adulting clothes usually involve heels for me. Fretting that I didn’t want to look like I was trying too hard or heading out for a slap up meal, I opted for heeled boots, a patterned skirt & top, with a bit of jewellery and a swish of eyeliner & lippy.

On the inside I may have felt about 5 and was quaking like a jelly but externally I *hopefully* projected confidant, knowledgeable and approachable….

Obviously I couldn’t really ask those present at the meeting if I had successfully captured that but my audience were enthusiastic and receptive. They were keen to read and then display the literature I provided and told me that they would be disseminating the information to fellow colleagues, the Paediatric ward, Child Development Centre, Parents Room and Paediatric clinics. I also got agreement to have a stand in the foyer of the hospital to coincide with Undiagnosed Children’s Day in April. So all in all, I think it went well.

I came away feeling positive and uplifted and like a real-life proper grown up for the first time in a very long time. I’m pretty sure I didn’t have my skirt tucked into my knickers at any point or commit any other embarrassing epic social faux pas’s so all in all winner winner… I hope…. 😊

When is an EHCP not an EHCP?

For the avoidance of doubt or for those who may be unfamiliar with the UK and it’s education system in general, I will outline what an EHCP is supposed to do.

All children and young people who have a learning difficulty/disability which makes it difficult for them to access education and need more specialist help than a typical child or a child with educational needs over and above that which the school/college is usually expected to provide from their nominal budget, should be assessed for an EHCP.

As it stands, if a child has a relatively low-level learning based difficulty/disability/need, their school would be expected to fund specialist support out of their own budget before making an application to their local authority for additional top up funding.

The Governments own website outlines the EHCP in more detail:


Rather succinctly this little gem  sums it all up in a very appropriate nutshell:

The EHCP should identify, as detailed on the UK governments own website:

educational, health and social needs and set out the additional support to meet those needs

So there you have it!

Hopefully this makes things clearer to you than mud (please read that in an ironic tone) but the whole EHCP process is such a lengthy, demoralising fiasco, so forgive me if it’s still murky. Anyway, I digress….

EHCP stands for Education and health care plan. I’ll say it again and in bold, just in case and for the avoidance of doubt:


Let’s take a moment for that to sink in.

Okay then. Got it?

If you saw those words at the top of an important document, with your child’s picture beaming out at you from the front page, what do you think you might expect to find reading on?

I may not be the sharpest tool in the box, no contender for Mastermind or MENSA but even I don’t need a dictionary or google translate to understand those 3 little but ever so important words.

I would expect a to-the-point, concise yet detailed report outlining what and how all my child’s EDUCATION, HEALTH and CARE needs could be best met.

I would assume (& yes my dad did teach me the adage about assume making an ass out of you and me) that such a document would clearly state what steps/methods/therapy or such like would be put in place to accomplish this and help the child achieve the best possible outcomes, uniquely tailored to their own specific requirements.

There would be bullet points stating  identified needs. And to each of these there would be a response detailing how those needs can be met, who would provide the support and how. Quantifiable, specific. Defined.

As you may have guessed by now and if you have read my previous blog posts: ( and😡😡 we lost our educational tribunal case as the judge decided after hearing the evidence that we couldn’t prove a waking day curriculum (residential school mon-fri) was solely necessary on educational grounds, which is the ONLY aspect of the case he could rule on.

The judge however did stipulate verbally on the day of the tribunal hearing itself and in his subsequent summation that there is a clear, identified need for both the bodies representing children’s social care and health (ie CAMHS) to step up to the plate and that a tri-funded agreement would have been in our son’s best interests.

Regrettably because the latter 2 aspects are not enshrined under current legislation and despite the overhaul of the whole statementing process which took place in 2014, leading to the creation of EHCP’s, the judge was not able to rule on any other factor than education and he also had to balance his judgement with the best use of public funds.

We found all this out last October but there has been so much other assorted 💩going on in our lives that I’ve needed time to step back, lick my wounds, retreat, repair and decide what to do next. It is still an ongoing process.

So as it stands, it turns out I really should have listened to dear old Dad because assuming anything positive about the EHCP process really did make me an ass.

I naively thought the 3 very specific words of education, health and care would formulate the basis of MY child’s frame work of specialised education.

That those in authority and tasked with facilitating the EHCP would recognise not just his needs but his fundamental RIGHTS to access appropriate care and support to his emotional, social and educational needs as an entirety. Ha!

Essentially it seems MY child’s needs are pretty much irrelevant in the document that stands as HIS EHCP. Furthermore how his needs interplay and merge with those of ours as a family – because we are a functioning (debatable!) unit – seem totally irrelevant.

How egotistical of me to think all these things should be reflected and factored in as a holistic approach in his plan?! I think wishing for unicorns and rocking horse sh%t would have been more achievable.

As I was succinctly reminded the local authority do not have a duty to provide the best possible outcome for our son or our family, just an outcome. So let’s disregard what could have been a fantastic opportunity; a way forward that would promote his independence, resilience, friendships and enhance every aspect of his life.

Let’s ignore the fact he’s bright and potentially capable of achieving highly academically (as stated by an independent professional) Lets disregard the lack of ‘real’ life contemporaries, social skills and tasks pertaining to daily living that would best be achieved by supporting him in a residential school placement. In fact let’s knee cap him before we even start.

Because what we wanted for our son costs too much… and shame on me for appealing to the powers that be that providing the best possible support in EDUCATION HEALTH and CARE right now would reap dividends in the future.

I was told by “management” that long term goals/achievements aren’t even considered when looking at the costs right now!! So what the bloody hell is even the point????

Silly, silly old me! Bottom of the class for me. Do not pass go, do not collect £200 and straight to the jail!

Only we are not playing a fun game of Monoply (if the way you play Monoply is anything like the way my lot do, I accept I might be playing fast and loose with the word fun) I suppose if we are using paradigms as an example, we should choose The Game Of Life as a better synonym.

Forgive me if I’m coming across a little over zealous with the italic button. But the unhappy little fact is, we aren’t playing games and our story isn’t unique.

We are talking about REAL life, REAL children, REAL families being put through the mill and being spat back out again. Crushed, devastated, lost.

In fact those 3 words above would far better sum up the plan that is now recognised as the official EHCP document, prescriptive and responsible for shaping my child’s future.

Our legal representation has reviewed the decision made in law and reluctantly concluded there have been no errors in interpretation of the legal aspect. And just because we don’t like the decision, it doesn’t give us the right to appeal.

I’m still deciding what to do next and how best to proceed but in the interim if we refuse to accept and send him to the school stated in the plan, then we are in breach of the law and could face a fine and/or prison sentence. It saddens me beyond belief that legally I cannot do anything other than comply obediently in the interim.

The irony is not lost on me that on 24th October 2017, the Minister of State for Education department in the UK – Robert Goodwill – issued a statement advising that with effect from March 2018, every local authority in the county should ensure that all EHCP’s encompass the health and social care needs of the child in addition to those of education.

Whilst this is not mandated in law, a previously trialled scheme of 17 local authorities demonstrated an overwhelmingly positive response and therefore Robert Goodwill has announced that it should be adopted as best practice on a trial basis going forward for the next 2 years.

So, I can tell you and more importantly, the bean counters in their ivory towers: I won’t retreat, withdraw or go quietly. Of that you can be sure. One way or another I’m coming for you.


Somewhere over the rainbow… 🌈🌈❣️

Hello my hooomannn’s!

Mum, its been over 6 weeks now so I thought it was time I brought you a ‘pup’-date from over the rainbow bridge.

I know you have been so sad about my passing. I have watched you feeling down, seen you wracked with guilt, doubts and worries, especially over the last few days of our time together.

I wish you wouldn’t dwell so much on those sad times nor second guess the decisions you made before I had to leave you. It wasn’t your fault, you couldn’t know I was poorly and we dogs love to please so much, I hid it well, I always tried to keep my best brave snout on for you, no matter what.

Even when I wasn’t feeling my best in those last few days, I did enjoy our walks. Honest. Well I suppose if I’m strictly honest, I enjoyed you and the rest of my hoomann families company… and not forgetting the sausages you brought me when we went to the cafe by the river; especially the sausages!

I thought you might want to know a little about where I’ve been, what I’ve seen and what I’ve been up to.

Well first things first, I don’t hurt anymore and I don’t feel tired! In fact I feel like a puppy again. Boundless energy, everything is so exciting and needs exploring! And the smells – wow – I don’t even know where to begin in describing those!! It’s like every amazing, delicious, fantastic thing you could ever wish for: cheese, carrots, steak, sausages, newly moan grass, crispy leaves, Fox poo and all my hooman family smells rolled in together!! Yum! Absolute paw-fection.

There are so many other animals here to play with and lots have similar stories to mine!

Here no one here is scared or lonely, no one is hurting; no one feels tired or has any cares. No one is old or unwanted. In fact, most importantly all any of us know is love and happiness.

Our bellies never feel empty yet there is always room for more. I only have to think about a nice, sizzling sausage or bit of crunchy carrot and suddenly I can taste it!

There are balls and plenty of squishy toys everywhere and even if I chew the flip-flops no one minds and I don’t get a bellyache! That’s a definite plus.

Did you know Mum, some of the other souls here previously lived with bad hoomans who only caused them pain and fear? The ‘tails’ they tell me are horrible. Fortunately they are now but distant memories and those of us who want to, can watch over our loved ones whenever we choose.

I look in on you all often and it’s been lovely to see you this last week with the new addition to the family: little Milo. What a cracking young pup he is!

I know you think that I might feel betrayed – too quickly replaced – but Mum, he was my gift to you all! I knew you needed him. I opened your hearts you see.

When you were first thinking about a dog and you got me, after so many years of ‘Pawcrastinating’ I knew I needed to guide you in the ways of all things canine. Although you had researched a lot and borrowed other people’s dogs, it’s a bit like what you told your hoooman friends about having children: until you have your own, you just aren’t prepared, no matter how many books you read or how many pooches you ‘pup-sit.’ But like you also said, it brings you far more laughter, fun and happiness… albeit with a fair amount of 💩💩 thrown in!! 😆

So I went as easy on you, my Martin Dad and your other less furry children – my bros and sis – as I could; although I do know that when I had to leave, it almost broke you 😢

We won’t dwell on that though. Because I want you to know I’m happy and that means you have to be too.

My gift to you all was empowerment and knowledge that our family NEEDED another dog, to give a happy home, needed a dog to keep up your usual level of functionally dysfunctional chaos! So now you know.

I see already that young master Milo has been well indoctrinated in the ways of mischief. Hiding your dad’s slippers was very clever. But a stroke of genius to divide and conquer: 1 in the crate and 1 secreted away in his bed! Clever pup. The force is strong in this one.

I see he shares my love of blueberries, carrots & the odd crumble of cheese. Positively discriminatory on the cucumber I note but you can’t have everything… and anyway he seems partial to celery … which frankly I agree with Martin- Dad on: it tastes of welly boots… and not in a good way!

He’s starting to master the cava-tilt head pose and cottoned on to staring up at you beseechingly whilst you prepare food at the kitchen island. Smart move… took me much longer to suss that one out.

So Mum, when you think about me now, please know that I’m well looked after. Please reflect on the fabulous times we shared, the wind in my fur and running free through the nearby park. Know that I’m watching over you all and if you catch a glimpse out the corner of your eye of me, you didn’t imagine it; I’m just checking in on you all.

It’s almost 2018. You can leave the last year where it belongs: in the past. Look to the future. Teach Milo well – I think he could master some of my old tricks quite soon… oh and mum, go easy on dressing him up in the jumpers…. yes yes, it’s all very cute and I guess quite needed whilst it’s a tad on the chilly side… but a dog does need some dignity you know!

So from my furry little heart to you and yours, I wish you peace, happiness and good memories. Embrace it Mum! ❣️🌈😍🌈


“There are known knowns”…

There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know. ” 

Credit: Secretary of Defence Feb 2002 – Donald Rumsfeld 

Why the above quip which I’ve shortened to meet my own needs? Well as a very different Donald (to the tangoed-recently US elected one) said it so well…. I’ll explain further down…. hopefully I’ve peaked your intrigue and you will keep reading! 

Friday 28th April 2017 is a day to celebrate for Undiagnosed Children in association with SWAN UK who fall under the umbrella group of the Genetic Alliance.

Not only is this a fabulous day to celebrate all things unknown, rare, unique and downright puzzling, (with our children, not all the wonders of the world!!)  it’s a day to raise awareness amongst friends, family, professionals in any area of the medical field and wider still. 

Most importantly: our big ambition this year – to raise awareness, provide support and a place to feel at home for all those parents/Carers who are bringing up a child without a medical diagnosis. 

To quote directly from SWAN UK:

Our Big Ambition is that all families who have a child affected by a syndrome without a name get the support they need, when they need it. We want it recognised that being ‘undiagnosed’ is not always a temporary stage; the genetic cause of some conditions may never be known. We want every child and young adult with a syndrome without a name to receive high-quality coordinated care and support both in hospital and at home.

Surprisingly and sadly, there are still families out there who aren’t aware of the invaluable work and support that SWAN UK can offer them. 

In some cases, SWAN UK has literally thrown out a lifeline to desparately tired, lonely, scared and isolated people who feel they have nowhere else to turn. And of note, SWAN UK is the only support group in the UK dedicated to families raising children without a diagnosis – we can offer 24 hour support (give or take) since whilst all our SWAN children have varying difficulties and concerns, a large majority seem to share the view that sleep is the work of the devil so you can often find a parent on line offering or asking for support or just catching up on info they haven’t had time to digest during the day!  

Of course, raising funds to support the emmense work load of SWAN UK is also really important but I’ll get on to that in a bit.

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while will probably be able to quote back many of the statistics I’m about to blurt out; & yes I may have banged on about this one way or another every year for the past few in connection with celebrating Undiagnosed Day (and often times between) but you dear reader, even if you are personally unaffected will likely know a family with an undiagnosed child or will come across one (or more!) in the future. 

Just maybe you can be the one to offer someone out there light in the darkness and point them in the right direction to access the crucial support and signposting they need and deserve, particularly in the early days of their journey be that before birth when pre-natal scans pick up on possible genetic issues, those early days post birth when it becomes obvious that something is not quite right with their much longed for, hugely anticipated tiny baby or as in other cases when a seemingly typically developing child begins to fall behind their peers or shows regressive behaviour.  

From personal experience I know how tumultuous those feelings can be; how overwhelming. Just like the (approximately) 6000 children born in the U.K. each year, our daughter has a Syndrome Without A Name. 

My little Minx (not so little now, a whole 8 years old!) was born almost at term and despite a complicated pregnancy, seemed utterly perfect to us in every way. She passed her paediatric discharge – if awards were given, hers would have been gold (proudly boasting mother) but she really was the cherry on top of our cake. 

A little girl after our amazing 3 boys (not one of which we would have changed at all; we were never “trying” for a girl and personally, unless there is a very good genetic reason for sex selection, it’s a step too far for me) but it was so exciting to experience, even from the very first day, the differences of having a bundle of the female persuasion – nappy changing = no peeing in the eye moments as my dear boys got me so many times over the years for a start… although cleaning poop out the girly bits was…. daunting…. I’ll stop there rather than make anyone think too vividly. 

Our first few weeks in amongst the haze of feeding, washing, attempting to sleep when the baby slept – (i.e. never) and generally fight our way through the sea of all things pink that friends & family far and wide sent to us (yes I know it’s a stereotype and girls, for that matter boys, can wear any colour but did you really think with Minx being the first great/gran/daughter after 3 boys she wasn’t going to be in dresses and frills and shades of pale pink, lilac and basically looking like an explosion in a pink workshop?!) 

However, as a 4th time Mum I had a serious case of “the niggles” even in the very early days of the Minx having been brought home….she cried virtually constantly (but not like a collicy baby, I’d had 2 of those) she started feeding well but would then cough, choke, delatch and occasionally snort milk out of her nose (very different to her greedy brothers who had trouble latching initially but would soon settle into rhythmical suckling until they had refuelled) and she held her head/neck/arms so awkwardly.

I’ll spare you the VERY long story that brought me to this part of our journey as best I can (if you would like to, you can read some of my earlier blog posts and discover more about our journey to date).

Suffice to say mother’s intuition is a powerful thing and over the years we have collected a myriad of teams, specialists, equipment and partial labels to encapture Minx’s difficulties but like that dastardly elusive last piece of the jigsaw puzzle, we don’t have the complete picture. In fact as it stands at the moment we don’t even have the picture on the box – frustrating & like working in the dark. 

I can give you some examples of her varying issues:

  1. Upper limb arthrogryposis
  2. Lower limb hypermobility
  3. Blood sugar instability
  4. Possible growth issues
  5. Gastro esophogeal reflux disease
  6. Dysmotility of the entire gut/colon/bowel
  7. Low heart rate when sleeping
  8. Pain (in the gut & bowel
  9. Chronic constipation requiring stoma use to manage
  10. Congenital myopathy
  11. Neurogenic issues
  12. Severe feeding difficulties necessitating gastrostomy feeding tube to give specialised milk during the day & overnight
  13. Swallowing difficulties
  14. Muscle weakness and fatigue
  15. Food allergies….

Have I forgotten anything? More than likely! We see that many specialists and consultants in 3 different hospitals and use multiple pieces of medical equipment, aides, pharmaceuticals and so on; sometimes it’s hard to keep track!

Minx has a wheelchair, a stair lift and  bath lift for when she’s too tired/unable to get in/up/out or mobilise for herself. And who could forget the amazing self-cleaning toilet with padded seat and washer/dryer function, complete with arm rests, feet support and a medical pillow for comfort whilst “performing”. Honestly, it truly is a marvel to behold… and I’m told in Japan, it’s particularly de rigeur to own a similar commode, albeit not usually for medical purposes.

So back to Donald Rumsfeld’s now infamous quote, which yes, I’ll admit I have chopped up a bit to suit my own purposes, there are lots of things we know about the Minx but there are equally lots of things that we know we don’t know. The unknown unknowns if you will.

So many of her issues fit neatly together and others frustratingly don’t. As has been much muttered by her neuromuscular consult (complete with wringing of hands) “but we just don’t SEE this presentation of neurogenic and myopathic symptoms and difficulties”

Except of course you do, because Minx presents with them. So it’s back to the drawing board, tearing up the medical text books and much head scratching – although these days it’s a bit more technical than that and there are some fantastic genetic studies that we have been invited to take part in. Largely, down to information provided by SWAN UK, I knew which ones might help us get some answers and who to approach to see if we could get on to them too. If you want, you can learn more here: 

Also: the 100,000 genome project

Minx has been tested over the years for various myasthenia genes, myopathies and so on but the above 2 studies give us our best shot of learning what Minx’s overall condition is. 

To some extent, it’s unlikely that having a formal diagnosis will change much in terms of treating Amelia and her difficulties. Unless it’s something that a very specific medication or therapy can improve, then it’s extremely unlikely that what she has is curable – in our life time and maybe even hers. But it does give hope for the future, for gene therapy, for others following our pathway and for siblings to make informed choices in deciding whether they want to know if they are carriers or affected by the particular genetic fault. It offers hope, choices, plans and preparation. Maybe far off for now but gaining ground every day. 

It should be noted that our family wouldn’t change a thing about our feisty little Minx (except maybe her stealing my MAC lip gloss & suede boots) Whilst we all wish she didn’t have pain, surgeries, physical weakness and so on, some of those exact difficulties have helped shape the amazing, bright, sparky and self assured young lady she is becoming, not to mention the dab hand she is becoming on using technology to help her in every day life – I-pads, tablets, lap tops and PC’s are increasingly being utilised to assist her at school and in daily life. 

Maybe my point about not changing her sounds odd? Most assuredly, I wish she and many of her SWAN UK comrades didn’t have to go through the dark, trying, and in too many cases, tragic outcomes I have witnessed over the years. 

There is something fundamentally, inherently wrong about a parent out living their child. It is not the natural order or design of this world and is beyond cruel to far too many of my contemporaries, friends, people I have formed and shared extra special bonds with over the years. Some I have only ever had the pleasure of meeting virtually through our SWAN UK on line community, others at the plethora of events that SWAN UK hold every year to give a glow to our special needs kids, their oft neglected siblings and exhausted but exultant parents who meet for regular coffees or stay and play type events. 

Please do go and have a look at our website for more info about the group and what we can offer

So what can you personally do you may wander? Well, you could share this blog post on various forms of social media, change your profile picture like I have done to raise awareness of SWAN UK and Undiagnosed Children’s Day – I’m happy for my profile picture to be shared but please check with other people before sharing their stories or pics. Get tweeting far and wide – celebs, politicians, the rich and famous to raise awareness (and maybe even ask them ever so cheekily for some cold hard cash!) 

Get Undiagnosed Day trending (I’ll pretend I vaguely understand all these terms in connection with social media) because I know that one is important on twitter but I’m not too hot on all things tech. To those of you who are, I salute you – help this Luddite out and get sharing far and wide.

As well as raising awareness, WE WANT YOUR MONEY!! 

For more info, ways to donate etc go to the SWAN UK page or public face book page. You can donate via text/post/online or even fund raise for us directly! 

If you would like to make a one off donation you can also do this via Just Giving or Virgin Money Giving or text SWAN11 plus the amount (up to £10) to 70070

Online Donations You can donate through our page on Virgin Giving or Just Giving. If you are a UK tax payer don’t forget to tick ‘Gift Aid’ as this scheme allows us to claim tax back on your donation, making every £1 you donate worth £1.25.

Little heroes can fulfill big dreams and ambitions with your support! 

Thank you 😘


Once Upon a Time….

IMG_0186Let me tell you a story. Are you sitting comfortable? Then I’ll begin…

Once upon a time there was a (relatively) normal family. Let’s call them the Jones’s, although I don’t think may people will be aiming to “keep up with the Jones’s”  once they have read this. In fact perhaps, it’s more a nightmare, horror type story rather than a settle-you-off-to-sleep bed time type of thing?

So the Jones’s live in a lovely but ordinary house in an ordinary part of the world and are distinctly unremarkable. Perhaps they break slightly away from the norm in that instead of the requisite 2.4 children per family, they have 4 (these days I hear that 3 is the new 2.4 anyway).

Not only do they have 4 children of varying ages but they in fact have 3 with special needs. In spite of some trials and tribulations along the way and more than a few bumps in the road over recent years, the Jones family are a happy bunch, very grateful for what they have and definitely appreciative of all the best things in life. They closely adhere to my own motto: the glass is half full – therefore more room for wine!

Nonetheless, at times things have been a bit sticky and the Jones family have often wondered whether they accidentally broke a lot of mirrors, spilt salt or walked under too many ladders for the gods of luck and chance to ignore. Perhaps they had poked the evil eye with a very sharp stick?!

When you have one child with a medical/phsyical or cognitive difficulties it can be tricky for the whole family. Add in 3, top that with children who don’t fit nicely into a tick box, one size fits all diagnosis, it becomes like doing a rubix cube – & Mrs Jones would freely admit that the only way she ever successfully completed one of those was by peeling the stickers off and rearranging them to fit the colour order…

However, the Jones’s have an extra dirty little secret;  it shouldn’t be such a stigma but it still is, even in this day and age:  one of their children has a significant mental health issue triggered by his diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)  – aspergers with sensory processing disorder.

Since Christmas last year, the Jones have witnessed a steady decline in their son’s mental health. He has become increasingly unhappy, rebellious, not eating or sleeping well, absenting from class, leaving home, even jumping off the first floor roof in the middle of the night and self harming frequently. The Jones’s have had to call the police on more than one occasion to enlist their help in finding their son and getting him safely home.

The Jones’s suspect that the combination of puberty, hormones and aspergers plus main stream secondary school education is over-whelming for their son. School, to their credit, have been on board and supportive, despite what must be a very frustrating and difficult time for them too, especially considering the sheer volume of pupils in the school. The Jones boy –  we’ll call him James – has a cracking sense of humour when on top form but can be exhausting in the extreme, demanding of time, attention and support, and exhibit behaviour not dissimilar to that of a tantrum-ing toddler, only with a much more inventive vocabulary!!

One of the problems with a main stream school is that unless the teachers themselves decide to read up in their “free” time on subjects like autism, they will have had the very bare minimum input and training for special needs children. In spite of the huge rise in cases of autism being diagnosed, trainee teachers are given a mere glance at the SEN world and may encounter their first autistic child when he/she presents in the classroom as disruptive, disobedient, likely  in their mind set, a right little sh*t, a product of questionable parenting. You might want to take a look at the vey interesting article:

Anyone who has dealt with a high functioning autistic adult or child will be familiar with the rigidity of mind set and literal thinking that encapsulates ASD. Over the years Mrs J has been on the brunt of many a sharply retorted, brusk response that wasn’t quite in keeping with her expectations. She has learned not to use phrases such as “Would you like to help me unload the dishwasher/tidy your room etc?” She will be met with a re-sounding “NO!!”

To neuro-typical persons, (as those with aspergers or aspies like to call us) this response is cheeky, rude and impudent in the extreme;  que explosion from Mrs J, meltdown from James and all hell breaking loose Chez Jones. In the world of ASD however, Mrs J has merely worded the question wrongly and it’s taken quite a long time for her and the rest of the family to adjust their ways and rethink what they are ultimately trying to achieve.

If Mrs J was to turn to her son and phrase her request in a far less excruciatingly polite British fashion “Please can you help me unload the dishwasher,” she might have been met with a grumble or two but ultimately, James’s reply would generally have been far more acquiescent. You see, those with ASD hear the word “LIKE” in the request and assume it literally and therefore that they have an option in the matter. When you are cognisant of how important your phrasing is, you will realise those with ASD are merely being honest in telling you, no they would NOT LIKE to do the aforementioned chores.

It is perhaps something James’s maths teacher could have done well to remember. James came home from school only recently telling his parents he no longer needed to attend maths classes and what great news this was! Suspecting that somewhere along the lines, things might have been lost in translation, Mr and Mrs Jones quizzed him further.

It turns out that James’s maths teacher had told him, he didn’t care whether or not James attended his lesson since it was ultimately wasting his own time and the teacher would teach the rest of the class come what may. Not quite the you don’t need to come any more that James interpreted.

Similarly,  the cookery teacher having told James to bring in ingredients to make a sandwich that he would eat. Since James doesn’t eat sandwiches in any shape or form, he was not to be persuaded that he needed to take in balanced portions of protein, carbs, etc etc. In his view, he didn’t need to take in anything and it didn’t apply to him. Mrs Jones tried to reason with him and explain what the teacher had really meant but James had clearly heard the teachers instruction and was not to be dissuaded. James’s sense of injustice at the detention that followed was magnitude and I can’t say I blame him really.

Of course it goes without saying that meeting one person with autism doesn’t mean you have met them all; very far from it but there are key, recognised difficulties that cause a variety of difficulties for those with such a diagnosis.  Although those of us who are neurotypical can struggle to understand and see things from the point of view of someone on the spectrum, imagine how much more difficult it must be to live in a world that favours the neurotypical? Since ASD is a social communication disorder, body language, facial expressions, tones of voice, nuances and social niceties are things that often go over the heads of those individuals with aspergers and the like.

Additionally, sensory issues are extremely common for those on the spectrum. Noise, colours, lights, the environment, textures, tastes and smells can all be much more vivid or paradoxically dimmed necessitating those experiencing difficulties to crave further or seek to repress the influx and assaults on their sense.

James needs high and intense stimulation in most areas. He has always liked to push himself to extremes. Many a time the rest of the Jones family have looked on in horror as James scuttles up the nearest tree, climbing to the highest, most unstable branch, calling triumphantly from the top.

The faster, higher more exhilarating the roller coaster, the more James wants to ride it. Which likely explains why in younger years Mrs Jones found herself riding, unaccompanied, the most vomit inducing rides known to man. James having queued only to be disappointed and turned away from the ride due to his lack of height would beg and plead a reluctant parent to go on his behalf and feed back on the ride experience. Mr Jones would sensibly plead a bad back and leave Mrs J to take one for the team as it were….

In the winter James likes to sleep with PJ’s, a onesie, fluffy slipper socks, woolly hat and cocooned in  the highest tog duvet that can be found. Squished in like a sausage roll, surrounded by teddies and all things fluffy is his happy place. Little changes in the summer and it’s rare to see James without his trade mark hoody, firmly pulled over his head. Shorts are greeted with a look of disgust even if the fickle British summer busts the 30 degrees C mark (that’s 86 F my US friends.)

Noise is a problem. On his terms, James loves his music loud and pulsating. The Jones house reverberates with Back In Black and similar on a regular basis but James cannot tolerate his younger siblings playing or crying. Noises like the water heater springing to life, the background hum of a restaurant or kitchens in the distance, seem physically painful to him.

As for food. Mrs Jones will roll her eyes at you and clutch her hands to her head woebegone. It is a well known fact that children can be notoriously fussy but it is well documented that those with ASD find food particularly challenging. It presents numerous sensory issues – from texture, shape, size and smell. James can’t sit at a table with cheese, his food can’t touch any other item on a plate, his toast – plain, no topping, cannot be cut in half with a knife that has so much as touched anything else and the thing that was his most favourite thing EVER, that Mrs J bulk bought in a fit of jubilation will be consigned to the back of the cupboard only days later with rallying shrieks of disgust and a hearty “I HAVE NEVER EATEN THAT SO WHY DID YOU BUY IT!!!!” tirade. Unless of course it’s tomato ketchup, in which case, only the most expensive brand that will do, splodged liberally over everything and anything….it may be that Mrs Jones has found that a certain supermarket rhyming with ‘piddle’ do a brand that is just as good and as long as she decants  it in to the pricier named brand bottle without anyone seeing, nobody knows, but that would be telling.

So where does this leave the Jones family right now? Well they remain on quite a learning curve since their son was only formally diagnosed 3 years ago despite frequent presentations from the age of 4 to the Gp, Health visitor and eventually a CAMHS (Children and adolescent mental health) referral  requesting help, detailing their son’s extreme behaviours, anger, aggression, rigidity of thinking. It took from the age of 4 to almost 11 to get the diagnosis despite what in hindsight appear to be a glaringly obvious, one could say neon sign pointing to ASD.

Whilst the Jones’s would agree that labelling a child unnecessarily is never a good thing, it left them wondering in the wilderness feeling like terrible parents for far too many years. It dented their confidence and self belief and did unquestionable damage to their other children who were both witness and victim of their siblings extreme behaviours.

And yet, even now, with a diagnosis on board, the Jones family find themselves once again in a time of crisis. Where James’s self harm and suicidal tendencies, his violence, aggression and extreme mood swings are wreaking their chaos on the family as a whole. It’s devastating to see their child experience this; to watch him helpless in the grip of the disorder that causes such extreme anxiety and stress. He is convinced that he is fat, ugly, worthless and useless; that he has no redeeming qualities and is stupid, unteachable, unreachable.

He is none of these things but cannot see other. He cannot find a way through. In his darker moments, he really does want to end it all and terrifyingly in the moment is unable to see any other way out. His parents want to simultaneously hug him so tight they will never let go and yet shake him to wake up and fight. They also feel guilt that they sometimes intensely dislike the havoc that is being wreaked on them, their other children, their home. It was bad enough when unidentified numbers only meant calls from hospitals or consultants, now  seeing  No Caller ID flash up on their mobiles often heralds a phone call from school detailing that James has gone awol, insulted a teacher or got into a fight.

The Jones’s were forced to admit their son to hospital recently following a profound escalation in his risky behaviours and concerns that they were unable to keep him or their other children safe. Multiple agencies are involved in trying to support the Jones family and CAMHS wanted to help, they really did. But the family had presented at 10am on a Thursday night to A&E and CAMHS work 9-5 Monday to Friday.

At the mercy of numerous professionals the Jones prepare to keep fighting the good fight. Surely with a diagnosis on board, accessing support will be so much easier than dealing with their other conundrum children who remain undiagnosed? And there’s the rub – government funding and cut backs to mental health services in the UK are well known and so the whole process is just as daunting, just as lacking in cohesion and perhaps even just as time consuming from a co-ordinated care approach?

Mental health services for children and young people in England were cut by £35million last year, whilst mental health beds have been reduced by 8 per cent since 2010. (Source: The Independent, January 2016)

34 out of 51 (Two-thirds) of local authorities in England have reduced their CAMHS budget since 2010. One council reported to YoungMinds a drop of 41% in their CAMHS budget from 2010. 

YoungMinds are the UK’s leading charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people. They campaign, research and influence policy and practice as well as providing expert knowledge to professionals, parents and young people. For more info:

So where are the Jones family now? Despite James stating quite clearly that he fully intended to try and take his life again, that he could see no reason for living, Mrs James was told that the paediatric ward was not the right place for him, that there were no inpatient beds unless to quote “he was dying of an eating disorder or in the hold of a psychotic episode”.

School have been crying out for more advice, more planning, more assistance going forward. They too have to examine the purse strings, magic up funds and resources to keep James safe and in statutory education until the lengthy process of an Education & Health Care plan, which there are no guarantee James will qualify for, have been decided.

The Children’s Prevention Team want to help but they need more information from CAMHS who need more information from school who need more information from CAMHS who need input from Children’s Services and Social Services. And then there’s the paperwork. This family in time of dire need and desperate help: well they can’t get that till the paperworks done so round and round it goes. It would almost be funny if it wasn’t so serious. Will the Jones family story end with “and they all lived happily ever after?” I really don’t know….