6 Go Crazy On A Socially Distanced Adventure…*

* a very dreadful homage to all things Enid Blyton to hopefully offer some light-relief in these challenging times….

The 6 DNTW’s have been holed up together under one roof for less than 72 hours and the wholesome, ruddy-cheeked (feckless) children are clearly feeling the strain. As are their parents.

After a mere 2 & 1/2 days of home schooling, Mr DNTW’s could be heard enquiring at what age teachers are legally allowed to retire and Mrs DNTW’s is contemplating ingesting the hand sanitiser that her very lovely, witty and glamorous (also childless therefore explaining the non-haggard visage and aforementioned glamour!) friend sent her in the post because she has read they contain alcohol.

In a time of national emergency surely it is obvious that both should be drunk not rubbed on one’s hands?! (In the interests of health and safety please don’t!)

Mrs DNTW’s knows she should be very grateful that she has thoughtful and lovely friends who think of sending her such precious things like alcohol flavoured hand-gel in these desperate times but right now she is wondering if she can drink the contents as they do in fact contain actual, REAL alcohol. She also feels it desperately unfair that Mr DNTW’s has refuted her suggestion of sacrifice that she consumes hard liquor and remains 70% proof at all times because apparently an alcohol content above 66% is necessary to effectively kill off bacteria and she is trying to protect herself from the dreaded “C” word so in turn she can nurture her family.

Unusually given the vocabulary of child number 2, it is not that ‘c’ word that she is worrying about for the time being, nor is it the BIG C but it is definitely a very unpleasant C which shall not be mentioned herewith 🦠

It is likely that Mr DNTW’s is not thinking of the health and well-being of his wife in pouring scorn on her proposal but is rather more concerned he will be asked to aid in the SPAG (spelling punctuation and grammar for those not in the know) work that has been set as part of the home-schooling curriculum by actual teachers who are laughing delightedly and rubbing their hands with glee hand-gel at those contemptuous parents who spout such nonsense as:

“huh! 6 weeks off in the summer! They should know what hard work is really like!”

In her defence, Mrs DNTW’s would very much like it to be known that she has never been one of those smug and belittling folk. In fact she thinks that anyone who has voluntarily and willingly decided, (not to mention paid out horrifyingly large sums of money for the privilege of doing so) to nurture and cherish young mind’s – other people’s children (Sartre’s quote “Hell is….?!”) – should probably be sectioned canonised.

Mrs DNTW’s has tried to instill a respect for authority, foster a love of learning and an oasis of peace and tranquility in the classroom that was once her dining room.

In truth she wasn’t very successful imparting these qualities to her older children in the past so it is unsurprising that the younger ones reject her request to answer the register, greet her politely with “Good morning Mrs Definitely Not The Walton’s” and yell “Oi Karen and BOOMER” at her periodically. Mrs DNTW’s wonders whether telling her precious off-spring that they will enjoy working in 45 minute blocks with 15 minute movement and snack breaks might have been a tad ambitious and perhaps it should have been the other way around.

After Mrs DNTW’s has spent 20 minutes surreptitiously consulting her phone for an explanation of fronted adverbials, preposition and sub-clauses, she wonders whether she ever learned anything at school all those years ago.

She and child number 4 finally crack on with the questions relating to the Harry Potter themed English work and she has been designated scribe because Minx’s hands are tired, despite the fact she has only held the pen doodling. Mrs DNTW’s is dismayed to find that they are only on question 4 and they have already spent an hour arguing over whether Hermione would have had an easier time at school if she had learned early on about the beneficial properties of argan oil and serum for frizz-prone hair.

Child 3 has left the room and embarked on his designated movement break, disparagingly retorting that it is his right to leave after 45 minutes whether he has finished his French set piece or not.

His movement break seems to have incorporated a trip back to the bedroom on to his X-box and when subsequently summoned to return, his dulcet bellows of “I just need 5 more minutes to finish this match” ricochet off the walls from the 3rd floor all the way down.

This prompts Child 2 who is “self-studying” in his room to angrily fling open the bedroom door, music blaring from the dark, fetid cave-like dwelling to announce he cannot possibly get anything done with such inconsiderate shouting around him and he needs to assume a horizontal position on his bed, encased in a furry dressing gown until at least an hour of order and tranquility has been restored. Fortunately Mrs DNTW’s is wise enough not to engage in that battle and beats a hasty retreat.

Child Number 1 who actually left school several years ago and under usual circumstances would be at work, is also now confined to barracks until further notice. He chooses this time to grace us all with his presence and wonders down to the kitchen, bleary eyed, whereupon he opens the fridge door and gazes in forlornly until the beepy noise kicks in. With much dramatic sighing on his part, there is opening of multiple cupboard doors, also the freezer and trips back and forth to the garage for essential supplies. Mrs DNTW’s informs him that “no we don’t happen to have any lovely part-baked rolls, fluffy pancakes, nor lashings of beer, ginger or otherwise” to meet his brunch criteria.

Children 3 and 4 return to the dining room class-room and survey the bits of paper, pencil sharpernings and crumbly bits of broken rubber that seem to be peppered about the place despite Mrs DNTW’s not having witnessed any usage of items that would give rise to these annoyances. Mrs DNTW’s sighs and wonders weather by some form of stealth osmosis her dining room is absorbing waste matter from the many dormant class rooms scattered over the UK, indeed the rest of the world as the “C” word holds us all in captivity. In fact come to think of it, she notices that the room seems to be giving off an aroma most usually associated with the lingering scent of school dinners, pine disinfectant, sports lockers, lynx and farting. She makes a mental note to add Febreeze to her online shopping order which is scheduled in the earliest available slot, 9 week ahead.

Perhaps Child 1 is responsible for the odours as whatever he is doing in the adjacent kitchen (the door between is firmly closed) requires a lot of banging of saucepans, running of taps and occasional expletives.

This reminds Mrs DNTW’s that she has not time-tabled any musical activities for her sweet darlings and after briefly contemplating hunting down the old recorders and music books, she gives her head a wobble and reminds herself why she hid them in the first place. She decides that an afternoon of listening to Billie Eilish over and over again with a running commentary from the Minx detailing the video montage and seven gazillion You-Tube quips will serve this purpose perfectly. Child 3 can make do with revising his spotify play list.

After what seems an age but in reality is only another 45 minutes, the children are getting fractious and Mrs DNTW’s is feeling mutinous as she made the rooky mistake of opening the door to let the scrabbling dogs into the class-room – (what fun my darlings, we can do a live biology/veterinary course!) and caught the scene of utter carnage and devastation that was once her kitchen but is now a scourge of dirty cups, burnt bits on the hob, crumbs everywhere and judging by the greasy paw prints on various surfaces, Child 1 has left the butter out which the bl**dy cat has taken advantage of.

Dismissing the class, she briefly contemplates hauling Child 1 back downstairs and bludgeoning him with a rolling pin until the sanctity of her once pristine kitchen is restored but decides actually that some TIME OUT from her children and some vigorous scrubbing might be good for her blood pressure and rising feelings of wanting to puncture things (including people) with sharp objects.

Verily as she has cleaned down the last surface and re-stacked the dishwasher so that it contains more than one awkwardly loaded frying pan, 27,000 cups and glasses (so the off-spring had indeed previously been hoarding them in their bedrooms after all!!) and single spoon, her little urchins meander their way back into view and piteous cries of “we are starving/going to faint with hunger and die of thirst” reach a crescendo.

Equilibrium restored, Mrs DNTW’s tells her children she is just putting the finishing touches to home-made chicken noodle soup which WILL BE DELICIOUS and nutritious.

The steely glint in her eye almost but not quite convinces the heckling mob not to argue with her on this matter. Protestations are stared down (Paddington would have been impressed at the hardness of stare) and Child 1 dishes out Tiger Bread with lashings of dairy free spread that should have fed the family for a week and been usable to rustle up a couple of cakes (for the home economic lessons naturally!) but apparently merely only feeds a man-child in the last month of his teens. This causes such a cacophony of noise and uproar that Mr DNTW’s appears from the garden looking concerned, holding something that looks suspiciously like it should have belonged in the clean laundry cupboard and possibly masqueraded as Mrs DNTW’s favourite face muslin.

At this point of reappearance, Mrs DNTW’s suddenly realises that Mr DNTW’s has been suspiciously absent for his part of the educational responsibilities of the morning and her voice reaches that steely tone when you are not quite sure if she is spitting a bit whilst talking (Mr DNTW’s is standing the requisite 2 metre distance to comply with BoJo’s social distancing policy so can’t be certain) Mr DNTW’s acts afronted and tells her he has been cleaning up the garden doing vitally important repairs and necessities that form MEN’s WORK and in fact she should be responding with gratitude and affection. Oh and could she possibly wash his trousers because he had forgotten when he embarked on the pressure washing etc that he was still in his favourite ones and not his old man’s saggy bum, paint-stained jeans. Even the children realise this was a mistake of epic proportions given her current frame of mind.

Lunch is served, after hands have been scrubbed red raw for the umpteenth time, in something of an orderly fashion. Perhaps the jewels of her eyes are cognisant that Mum is not to be trifled with for now. There is the merry clinking of spoons in bowls and Mum tries not to think too hard about her lovingly purchased-month-by-month flatware, in terms of economic-chippings-to bowl- basis for it is not really the children’s fault, she supposes, that she seems to have raised a gaggle of baboons. Clearly it is their Father’s.

The lively chatter around the table turns to afternoon activities. Mum thinks that it will be delightful and heart-warming to get out for a family walk, thus sticking to the new government rules of one daily activity in the open air, en famille and exercising the pooches all in one fell-swoop!

Mum is proud of her genius and plans to allow electronics to be used for the purpose of identifying flora and fauna in the fresh, sun-light filled air, thereby covering science AND exercise in one. Whilst mentally patting herself on the back, she cajoles the children to find suitable foot-wear and coats. The children are stunned that Mum has agreed that electronics can be taken on the trip and haven’t yet figured out that Mum has no intention of letting them listen to music with gratuitous swear-words and You-Tube clips of Yoda from Star Wars giving advice on sticks, bushes of love and Sea Gulls Stop It Now! (If you have a moment look up Bad Lip Reading quips like the gem below;it’s worth a giggle in these troublesome times)

Child 4 notes that it is sunny and despite living in Northern England and there having been a hard frost on the ground when they awoke in the morning, appears in Daisy Duke style shorts, flip flops and a crop top. Mum manages not to swear and instructs child to return to bedroom and re don the sensible leggings she had on earlier. They compromise on the crop top under a wooly jumper and weekend trainers.

Child 2 appears in joggers, 7 layers of tops, winter coat with a furry lined hood and furry boot style slippers. Mum asks him to take at least 2 layers off and put on sensible foot wear.

Child 3 is nowhere to be found and when roared for, appears from the back of the car where he has been patiently sitting, wobbly of lip and wild of eye given the baying mob that are his family yelling in such unbecoming tones. Meanwhile the neighbours are wondering if contacting the police on 101 for an ASBO constitutes a genuine emergency in the grand scheme of things, especially given the “C” word crisis.

Child 1, in spite of being the oldest, is rushing around the house, whipping the dogs into a frenzy of excitement by hurling various toys at speed and excitedly yelling for them to retrieve. The dogs are delighted that FINALLY they are being given the attention they deserve and that everyone else seems to be joining in with the shenanigans, given the through traffic that is going on with various children traipsing up and down the stairs. The cat merely narrows her eyes witheringly and hopes they will all leave very soon so she can regurgitate the grass she has eaten on the parents bed. She is feeling a tad queasy since ingesting the butter.

Mr DNTW’s is BUSY doing things that involve removing all the shopping bags from the car, re-configuring seats to get the wheelchair, dog-crate and all children ensconced within. Not for the first time he reflects that he could have had a rather nice sports car for far less aggro & probably money too. He reminds himself that he is #truly blessed# & living his #bestlife though.

Everyone is now settled in the car. Although there were fisticuffs over the calling of shotgun, Mrs DNTW’s resisted clipping child number 2 round the side of the head (what would the neighbours think?!) and fought her corner so he resorts to sitting in the back, flicking his siblings randomly to annoy them and plotting 17 different ways to disembowel his mother.

Mr DNTW’s goes to start the car. However in a bid to be more ‘eco aware’ the family have recently purchased a hybrid vehicle which is still plugged into the outdoor charge point so is going nowhere. Frankly perhaps their green credentials might have been more impressive if they had resisted the urge to procreate all together but as Mrs DNTW’s is fond of saying “that ship has long since sailed!”

Sighing with effort and exhaustion from his earlier MEN’s work and the ear-splitting levels of bickering about who is breathing whose air, who has more leg room and other such scintillating snippets of conversation, MR DNTW’s climbs out of the car & disengages the charger. Having returned, clicked the seat-belt & started the engine, Mr DNTW’s is alarmed by the frantic arm waving exhibited by his good-lady wife (she is now on her mobile phone) and wonders whether she is demonstrating one of the latest on-trend dance crazes or having a fit of the vapours, when he realises she is indicating that he has left the hatch open on the side of the car where the charger had been connected. With bad grace he exits the car again to close the hatch.

Sarcastically asking the tribe if we can go now, Mr DNTW’s realises he has left the dog poo bags in the kitchen drawer so bad-temperdly goes back into the house to retrieve. When he returns, the car smells of farts which all are blaming on the poor dogs whilst Child Number 2 sniggers.

The engine is once again switched on and the family car begins creeping down the drive. Mum has now finished her phone call and asks if anyone brought the dog lead. There is an awkward silence. Mr DNTW’s is muttering viciously & attempts to re-enter the house, having forgotten the house alarm has been set. He finally emerges complete with lead, muzzle, dog-treats, gaffer tape, rope, Stanley knife and vaguely serial killer-esque grimace.

The DNTW’s collective make it onto the road and drive to the very beautiful, natural park for their uplifting outing and commune with nature. By the time they arrive, one of the dogs has been car-sick and 2 of the children are no longer speaking. At least this means it is relatively serene…. for the time being.

The dogs are let loose from the lead & promptly spot a RIVER. This is indeed a most excellent adventure and before Mrs DNTW’s has time to enquire whether anyone remembered to pack a towel, the dogs are happily wading in the shallows, ignoring the human’s instructions and proving that the doggy obedience training classes they attended really were a waste of time. Mum is reminded that there is NO SUCH thing as a BAD DOG only a BAD OWNER. She also reminds herself that since she failed dismally to train the children, it is hardly surprising that the dogs are feral and witless too.

Not THE river but a fab great big puddle anyway!

After 5 minutes of walking, child number 2 moans that he has had too much fresh air, he is hungry, he is thirsty, he is tired and he doesn’t understand why he had to leave all his bl**dy gadgets in the car, especially as all of nature is just 💩.

Child number 1 is as excitable as the throughly bedraggled and soaking dogs and has been reminded by his father that if he too enters the river, he will have to walk home. In his underpants.

Child 3 steps in something unpleasant. So does Child 4. There is much wailing; not just by Mum. The wheelchair wheels are also covered. Dad begins to wonder if nature is taking the proverbial. The dogs, now muddy as well as wet, debate rolling in the thing that their humans seem to be covered in. It might be fox 💩 which is definitely a favourite.

Child 2 asks whether he can buy a drink at the shops. And an ice-cream. Mum tuts and reminds him they are “socially distancing” and will not be frequenting the shops, especially as this does not constitute essential supplies. She retreats when he withers her with laser-eyes.

Child 2 asks if they have at least bought a picnic with jam sandwiches and slabs of cake, plus fizzy pop since this is what all good books detail as “essential” picnic food stuffs. He is unamused when Mum explains that the daily exercise allowance rules expressly forbids such tomfoolery in the time’s of the “C” apocalypse 🦠

The walk continues, punctuated by Mum’s squeals of delight that she has spotted a white flower, a yellow one & a big, twiggy-blossom-covered bush. Unfortunately, despite balancing on one leg, leaning precariously at an angle and dancing widdershins round a fallen log, she has no internet coverage and is therefore unable to identify any of the pretty flora.

It is fast becoming apparent that the children are merely a hares-breath from shoving one another & possibly their parents as well, into the river. The lovely walk turns into a break-neck speed hike back to the car in an effort to get the whole farcical adventure over as quickly as possible.

All breath a sigh of relief when the car is in sight, apart from Mr DNTW’s who realises that transporting this motley crew home, will render the previous days car-valeting that he spent many hours performing and perfecting, null and void. Ah well, when he gets home, as Mrs DNTW’s has had a lovely afternoon off, she can resume educating their precious darlings whilst he gets out his stellar assortment of cleaning products and cloths, especially the very nice, soft one he found in the clean laundry pile …..

How do you sleep at night… part 2 😡😡

I’m a bit less ranty today but no less passionate so let’s get this done and written before I lose my impetus… never mind the will to live. 

I like to think I’m currently  channeling my inner Taylor Swift and her pals in the Bad Blood music video: 

(*above image may be subject to copy-right) 

But in reality I should be so lucky. I’ve spent far too much of the day with my youngest son on a hospital ward, wallowing, sat on my butt, scrolling social media and eating chocolate. Less Swift, more sloth;  I can feel the helplessness wanting to swallow me up; shut me down again. 

(sorry sloths everywhere who are probably outraged at the comparison) 

I’ve been extremely touched how many people have commented/got in touch or shared my previous post. Thank you. 

I wish what I had written didn’t resonate with so many but I am also grateful for the support and the sense of solidarity. 

I recognise the issues facing my family are far from unique. Judging by support groups I belong to, friends, social media and so forth, this utterly deplorable battle for services to provide and protect those most in need, those who don’t have a voice of their own, those with the least ability and energy to fight are being waged up and down the county. 

Whilst the difficulties faced may be slightly different, they all share a common denominator: the vulnerable, those in crisis, those society should be protecting and empowering. 

Forgive my Whitney Houston moment but our children ARE the future and if we don’t invest in them and secure the best possible pathway, what hope is there for society moving forward? 

I also know the elderly, infirm, mentally unwell and so on deserve their cause being championed in the same way. 

I recognise on a deeper level my attitude is simplistic and that something policy-wise, fiscally, has to give or change dramatically going forward. 

How do we achieve this? I don’t know; I never professed to have the answers as to what this should look like in terms of the bigger picture. 

All I do know is a seismic shift is necessary, society is screaming out for it. How we approach this, how we can achieve it is for somebody/ies far more qualified than I. (Otherwise I probably should be standing for government….🤔) 

The demands of a large, aging population who are living longer, the epidemic of obesity, drugs/alcohol/cigarettes, the advances in medical science meaning those who once would have met their maker because of cancers, heart disease, prematurity of birth and the terrifying increase in the so far unstoppable dementia are well documented. There can be no escaping the fact that expectations and demands for provision will increase year on year. 

All the while the funding for front line services is being reduced or in some cases done away with all together. Departments asked to find millions in cost savings, balance the books and yet still pull it out of the bag, somehow. 

Morale is at an all time low as evidenced by the mass exodus of Doctors, nurses, emergency services and so forth. 

I’m not naive. I know the country is on its knees financially and floundering in uncertain times: Brexit, the future of the NHS and government but the refusal to engage, instead throwing up wall after wall, challenge after challenge means there’s less money in the pot to provide even the most basic of services. 

Is it just me and people like me that can see the irony in money being spent on disputing and denying care instead of the care itself? 

We are informed of cuts to services/benefits/ grants every time we switch on the tv, open a news paper.  The effects of austerity on all aspects of social care, health and education (and of course the ripple effect on our police force, armed forces and such like) have been hiding in plain sight for many, many years

Why is it that the major political parties seem far more invested in scoring points at each other’s expense and plotting a coup to oust their leaders than implementing change and securing services for the greater good? 

I want to believe the bean counters genuinely care, that there is an appetite for change but they have become so blinded in covering their backs, their departments and their funds, (actually the tax payers funds) they have forgotten their original purpose. The other alternative: that they enjoy the power trip, playing god and causing abject misery has to be some dystopian fantasy…. doesn’t it?…

I do know that continuing with this ostrich style approach, riding rough-shod over those of us trying to cope day in, day out and strangling us in a bureaucratic nightmare, (presumably in the hope that parents/Carers will give up) ISN’T helping. 

If as much effort and emphasis was put into providing and fulfilling services, identifying and enabling children, parents and the wider family before they reached crisis point a great deal more would be achieved. 

I can’t help thinking that in fact the overall financial outlay would ultimately be a lot less, nevermind the impact and fallout on the family which ultimately add to the spiralling costs. 

How much do local authorities spend on retaining expensive legal council, defending cases and when challenged by parents on the attack, concede a case with moments to spare? The costs in such situations are not merely financial.

Whilst I cannot go into the ins and outs of our case in detail at the moment (until we receive the decision of the SEND tribunal I don’t want to prejudice any outcome) I can relate some of the damage and the wider implications the delays have caused us so far: 

  • Inability for autistic child to access mainstream education since March 2016 resulting in high levels of anxiety, depression leading to self harm and suicidal idealisations necessitating multiple in patient/out-patient hospital stays
  • Provision of interim specialised education package with 1:1 staff ratio/on occasion 2:1 to provide up to 2 hours study per day (where possible round child’s anxiety) 
  • Child unable to access GCSE subjects/make option choices
  • Involvement of multiple agencies on numerous occasions – police, accident & emergency, CAMHS, children’s social care, Young Carers, autism out reach, fostering team and foster carers
  • Local authority (LA) assessment and review officers to prepare EHCP, take information to specialist information panel on multiple occasions, liaise between relevant parties, issue consultation paperwork to potential schools 
  • Assessment of child by educational psychologist for local authority 
  • School transport (single occupant) with escort to ensure autistic child safely taken to and from school
  • Maternal mental health crisis triggered, medical intervention required,  inpatient psychiatric care for 3 months, multiple medications and therapies
  • Community care package to support maternal mental health, crisis team management, out of hours services 
  • Care package from disabled children’s team to provide direct payments in support of care for medically complex child thus enabling sole breadwinner to continue to work 
  • Emotional support to other children in the family necessitating pastoral support, teachers from 2 separate schools reporting back on children’s well-being and attending looked after children’s (LAC) team  meetings, approximately every 6 weeks
  • All children in family requiring support and intervention by CAMHS  to address trauma and ongoing psychological fall-out
  • Family engaging professional legal team and independent educational psychologist to prepare case for tribunal
  • LA engaging in-house legal advice and support
  • LA acquiring professional legal counsel to present at tribunal
  • Convening of independent tribunal and panel member(s) in official court to hear evidence from family and LA surrounding case 

How much does all of this add up to? This is not an exhaustive list and no doubt  there are things I have unintentionally missed/forgotten but I think it is a fair representation. It’s pretty depressing reading isn’t it?  

Has what I’ve detailed shocked you? We are just one family in a cast of thousands, dare I even say millions. 

Unless you or a loved one need to avail yourself of services, you assume it happens to others; not to people like us. 

We are now the others. 

How do you sleep at night?… part 1…

Heads up, a warning: I am enraged. White hot, scalding anger that is making me vitriolic and bitter. 

I know it’s doing me no good and I should channel some inner zen but there’s no yin in my yang and frankly I need something else to focus on; some kind of drive to power forward instead of zoning out passively. Time to create a stink. 

I don’t as a rule swear very much. Mainly because I have spent and continue to spend a great deal of time round small folk, be they my own or other people’s and the fact that mummy has a potty mouth is not the kind of accolade I want to be renowned for.  It doesn’t mean I don’t think in creative Anglo-Saxon oaths but I try to restrain myself from actually launching into a tirade that would make a sailor blush. 

Over the years, it’s been quite amusing to find substitute words for the things that have nearly slipped out & turn them into something socially acceptable before the offspring absorbed it as their latest word du jour. 

Try to teach them please/thank you/hello/goodbye in polite company, you would think I was attempting to teach them the full works of William Shakespeare… in Flemish. Yet one *almost* expletive of a wangdoodling, cowbunkerling f-bomb amd such like and they have absorbed it by osmosis. 🙄

Tonight however. I make an exception. I am angry. So fucking angry. The fact that fucking just autocorrected to ducking as I typed it, has incensed me further still. 😡😡

I feel sweary. I feel ranty and shouty and full of words my Dad would get cross with me for using (even though he taught me most of them) I’m even tempted to use the ‘c’ one (& I don’t meant Christmas) – sharp intake of breath.

But I can’t have a good shout, unleash a stream of invective because yet again we are in-patient on Hotel NHS and there are a lot of very small people around whose parents would quite understandably be distinctly unimpressed.

So I’ll do my ranting, raving and effing and jeffing here on my blog; after all I did start my musings some years back in an effort to make sense of it all. Life that is. It’s been cathartic to brain fart away.  Download and dump the crap (d’ya see what I did there?!) 

Half the time I start a blog post with some vague notion of what I want to write about but no idea what will spout forth. I usually feel better by the end. I’d love to be all coy and twee and say I don’t care if people read it or not but actually that would be a lie. I do care. I suppose I need some validation. 

Tonight however I REALLY need you to read it, share it, spread the word. Because I’m sick of the powers that be getting away with it. Letting down vulnerable children. Leaving families in crisis, drowning in despair and fracturing already fraught and taut relationships. 

3 weeks ago today we took our local authority (LA) to a special educational needs tribunal in an effort to secure an appropriate, residential school placement for our high-functioning autistic son.

This was a culmination of 18 months of fighting and battling and relentlessly dealing with the stalling, the hoop jumping bureaucratic, bean-counting process. 

Our 14 year old who should have chosen his GCSE options last school year and commenced this September term on the pathway forward to achieve his future potential has been entirely let down and cast aside by THE SYSTEM.

Would it shock and surprise you to learn he’s received less than 2 hours education per day since March 2016? I know it does me. 

I also know if we personally elected he only attend school for this woefully inadequate amount of time, over such a long period, we would have been threatened with fines and imprisonment by the education department. But this situation is not of our making so apparently that makes it legal, ok, just tickety-boo and we can all smile sweetly, nod and wave because they are trying THEIR BEST. Except they are not. 

The powers that be are far more concerned with covering their departments backside, zealously guarding their pot of funds so they don’t actually have to put it towards what’s in the best interests of the child. 

 I hasten to add this is NOT the fault of his current school who have done everything and then some to support him and us as a family in providing him with a suitable education whilst time ticks on relentlessly. But they don’t have the resources or specialist autism knowledge to support the style of learning and can’t provide the low-sensory low-stimulating environment he needs to facilitate his learning.

Even so his mainstream school have strived to do all they can; he has 1:1, sometimes even 2:1 sessions in an area well away from the hustle and bustle of the main school. They have come up with creative and thoughtful ways to stimulate him;  to forge a kinesthetic approach that captures his imagination where they can. But it’s not working. 

On that at least the LA are in agreement on. But that’s pretty much where it ends. 

I knew I should have smelled a stinking, great dirty rat when the  placement panel convened in October last year and agreed that our son did indeed require a specialised educational establishment. 

Not for us the refusal to assess for an education health care plan (EHCP), not for us the refusal to grant such a plan and not for us the dispute over main stream or specialist placement. So I should have known. It had all come to us far too easily.

Having had the benefit and heartbreak of reading other parents accounts of the lengths they have had to go to even just to get their  LA to agree to assess, I knew we had been extremely, for want of a better word, ‘lucky’ 

But really that’s where our luck ran out. It’s much harder than you think to find appropriate, specialist education. There are a myriad of schools out there meeting complex and varied needs but how do you narrow it down?

In actuality your LA are supposed to help you with this too. They paid lip service to it so I ended up resorting to google and a pick and mix approach, narrowed down by area of expertise and geographical location. 

I’ll spare you the laborious ins and outs of the very lengthy and exhausting process. Suffice to say, after panel sat in January 2017, they decided they didn’t have enough information on our case to make a decision. Sigh.

In February 2017, although all the information from the 3 schools we had received provisional offers of placement from (we had approached more than 12 by this point who couldn’t meet our son’s needs) the panel asked to consult with yet another 3 schools. Of course if they had read the case notes properly they would have seen that 2 out of the 3 had already been approached by us and felt unable to offer a place. The remaining school was full and wasn’t suitable for reasons I’m not at liberty to go into. It would be an understatement to say I was fuming.

The assessment and review officer (ARO) acting for the LA tried her best and wanted to expedite matters instead of making us wait till the March sitting. She was new and fed duff information from people higher up the food chain who left her carrying the can after dangling false promises.

The people with THE POWER don’t like taking your phone calls. They are it seems unable to respond to email, even when you have their direct email address. Their phones must also be unable to make out going calls as they never call back and mysteriously all voicemails go awol. Or something. 

Apparently they can reply to your local MP if he/she gets in touch after you have involved them and made them aware of your dissatisfaction  but only with vague promises that matters are in hand and will be dealt with. A word to the wise: don’t hold your breath. 

So March 2017: to our dismay,  panel named a wholly inappropriate day-placement school some hour or so away from our home which they expected our son to travel to and fro on a twice daily basis.  

Having previously viewed this particular school, I had submitted a lengthy explanation highlighting why the establishment, the cohort of students, the academic remit (or lack thereof) and lack of opportunity to promote our son’s social/emotional development in a holistic over-arching approach to his education were not just incompatible but potentially very damaging and in the worst case scenario likely to exacerbate his anxiety, self harm tendencies, suicidal idealisations and more extreme behavioural difficulties. These concerns were also backed up by his psychiatrist and psychologist from CAMHS (child adolescent mental health) in 2 separate letters. 

It will hardly comes as a surprise that the school the LA had selected was the cheapest option. 

I was swiftly reminded that the LA only have a duty to provide an education for my child and if they can prove that is enough, it doesn’t matter what we know to be in his best interest, what has already proved dividends in students with a similar make up, what’s in the best interest of society over the long term in aiding him to achieve his potential, thus ensuring he contributes economically, socially and attains independence; to negate relying on the state for benefits, or support services. The school we have found and the costs associated with it are ‘incompatible with the public purse’ and therefore they can refuse to provide it. 

They accepted the school we had found is superior in every way; they accepted it could meet need and that  like on like it would (based on past performance of students very like our son) offer him the best opportunity and chance of success going forward. Indeed The Judge at tribunal was very clear on all these points.

Yet the LA refused to concede. They have played dirty; suggested we have stalled the case by refusing to ask for an earlier tribunal date – although fully aware that the independent educational psychologist we had asked for input from couldn’t assess until the end of June. Paradoxically, once the extremely enlightening report had been shared with the LA and we suggested moving up court proceedings, they couldn’t accede to our request. 

Although the statutory dates for submission of evidence were clearly set out in writing and which both parties agree to abide by, the LA suddenly found a pressing need for their own educational psychologist to assess our son, although they hadn’t deemed it necessary since the previous visit a year ago. Funnily enough they then asked for the revised report be admitted into late evidence.  

Surprisingly they also suddenly discovered a letter that had been ‘misplaced’ from our son’s psychiatrist (and which we had never been party to even though we have always been copied into all other correspondence to date) which were counter to 2 previous letters she had written supporting the need for a residential specialist school and expressing her grave concerns to him being placed in an environment such as that outlined in the LA’s chosen school. How very curious indeed that all this information had only just come to light…..

To be continued…. 

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: http://www.autism.org.uk/get-involved/media-centre/news/2016-03-21-teacher-training.aspx

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:  http://www.youngminds.org.uk/about/what_we_do

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….