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: http://www.undiagnosed.org.uk/

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…. 😊

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Dear Mr President…&… you too Mr Hunt

I don’t suppose either of you will ever read this because if I may borrow a phrase from the pop group Journey: “I’m just a small town girl”… and thereby vastly unimportant in the stratosphere’s you preside in.

Strictly speaking President T, I guess you would classify my proclamation as ‘fake news’ since being the wrong side of 40, I’m playing a little fast and loose with the use of the word ‘girl’ but I digress.

So what’s the point of this post if you won’t ever get to read it or even be aware of it on the most peripheral of levels? Honestly, I don’t know but what I do know is if I sit back, say nothing and just let the world continue turning without speaking my mind, then I’m just as complicit and negligent as so many of those who DO hold positions of authority and have the real power to effect change – notably the policy makers and advisers to you important people. Call me naive but surely even they have to report back on the dissension of the people, even though it’s not necessarily what you want to hear?

I’m equally sure the voice of the collective masses can’t have escaped your notice when we annoyingly clamour so loudly. In fact I know you are at least partially aware given some of your recent tweets but more on that later.

What did you do on Saturday night Messrs Trump and Hunt? I don’t see either of you as being of the Netflix and chill persuasion and I assume there are only so many important dinners, galas, schmoozing and events that you have to attend. Surely even you get the occasional Saturday nights to hang out?

If the (un)popular press are to be believed, at least one of you is partial to a Maccie D’s so perhaps you put your stretchy waste band joggers/onesie one and indulged in fries and made friends with Ben & Jerry’s… In any event, I bet you didn’t do this: That’s what my Saturday night looked like – preparing medications and feed for a 24 hour period for 2 medically complex children.

Please know I don’t post these pictures for the sympathy vote; it’s not a pity party for one but as I see it, a picture (or 3) paints a thousand words and sometimes replaces the needs for words entirely. Sorry though, you don’t get that lucky just yet. I’m not done with the rhetoric.

You see as I hummed my away around the kitchen opening and sorting various medical supplies, Dua Lipa on loud, (music concentrates the mind!) I had a mini, well actually fairly major epiphany.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m so incredibly grateful to our amazing NHS that all these items my children need, depend upon to LIVE are “free.”

I am lucky, for want of a better word, that my children can presently receive urgent care and treatment as well as day-to-day management of their various issues as and when they need it; that I don’t have to choose between putting food on the table or trying to scrape together the funds to pay for specialist equipment, feeds, even consultations with healthcare professionals. But how long will that be the case?

Never was I more aware of how precious such services are as when I had a conversation with one of Minx’s community nurses last week. One of her pesky stoma’s that was surgically resected in December last year (yet more free care) has unfortunately prolapsed again.

This is problematic for numerous reasons: pain, bleeding and the fact that the prolapse occurring even as a first incidence had the medical bods scratching their heads, let alone for a second time. In fact in all the years our community nurse has been in practice and with her vast case load, she’s never had this happen to even one of her patients 🙄

I suppose it’s just another part of Minx’s foibles uniqueness but it’s really time-consuming and causing her distress to have to change dressings (& clothes at times) and clean up several times a day.

Although we have reassured her this is in no way her fault and clothes can be washed, it’s not ideal. As she gets older and more body aware, she is cognisant of the fact this is not something her contemporaries face and her worry and distress increases. We take great pains to build her self-esteem and celebrate how well she is doing but it’s a fine balancing act not to minimise her day-to-day difficulties and yet promote her ‘ordinariness’ – something key to her in wanting to be the same as everyone else. So we need to manage this the best we can.

Our trusty nurse assessed how we should proceed for now before our next trip to Great Ormond Street and set about contacting our GP to get prescriptions for various lotions and potions, dressings and even support garments. Again free.

I assured her I had a stash of dressings at home from past dabblings in stoma management and reeled off a list of supplies that would make a Casualty (TV show) prop-dresser weep.

It’s always advisable to have supplies in hand. Despite our best endeavours to keep both her stomas clean and infection free, by virtue of the fact that it’s a non sterile opening into (& out) of the body and that the body sees it as a foreign object, it’s likely that infections or skin/tissue difficulties will tear their ugly heads at some point in time, especially post-operatively.

Only for one tiny moment did I hear the tiny but sharp intake of breath she gave. And if I hadn’t questioned the community nurse on it further, I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have said a word.

Her almost imperceptible gasp related to the dressings. These babies on the left to be precise:

You see we have a stash of the foam pad dressings on the left which are used predominantly when a wound/stoma site is infected or particularly (watch out for technical word) “manky.”

These rather innocuous looking, individually sealed dressings are impregnated with an anti-microbial property which helps speed healing, prevent colonisation of bacteria and generally fend off/clear all sorts of overall nasties.

Because I pushed, the community nurse explained they come with a price tag of £2.50 … per dressing… and we have 2 boxes of them, approx 20 per box if I recall correctly. And guess what? I got those “free” from our pharmacy too. Prescribed “free” via our GP.

The dressings on the right of the picture do a similar job at the cost of 9p per dressing so it was more than understandable and acceptable to me when the nurse asked if I would mind utilising those in the first instance.

She stressed that if acceptable progress wasn’t made quickly we should have no qualms switching to the other kind and if I hadn’t questioned her, I’m pretty darn sure she wouldn’t have said anything else on the subject. At no point was I made to feel any kind of guilt or justification for utilising such extensive and expensive resources.

I’m sure those far more worldly than I will point out how in reality none of the aforementioned items or services are “free” and yes, yes I’m well aware that as tax payers, we pay in towards a system that (partially) funds all this but for all intents and purposes, at the point of service delivery, my children can utilise what they need with out exception, without paying and are thriving as a result. Again how much longer will we have this assurity?

Quite frankly Big D, I don’t profess to fully understand all the ins and outs of your heath-care system in the US. But I know enough to be afraid and I dread to think what would happen to my children and for that matter, to my entire family if we lived in the US. I’m pretty sure that at least some of the family would be uninsurable.

What I do know from my friends across the pond are their concerns over yout 2 tier system that favours the wealthy and knee caps the poor; the eye watering medical costs, deductibles, exclusions and/or restrictions on cover that penalises an aging population or those who are medically and physically complex. The demand to know even before treatment can commence as to who provides your medical insurance and what level of cover you have scares the living daylights out of me!

The Affordable Care Act ‘- Obamacare’ – certainly rung the changes and whilst far from perfect, seems to have provided a more level playing field for all walks of life. That you seem hell-bent on repealing it come hell or high water is almost certainly a retrograde step that disincentives healthy individuals from paying into the system, thereby ensuring rising costs for those most in need of protection.

The furore and uproar from us Brits in response to your recent declarations regarding our much-loved NHS may have come as something of a surprise to you. You caused ructions when you dared to criticise our beloved universal health care system and you crossed that uniquely British line that allows us to be both hyper critical and yet extremely proud of British institutions all at the same time.

I think you neglected to bear in mind the fundamental point of the NHS when you tweeted about our front line medical personnel and equally incensed members of the public who recently marched in protest with the “Fix it Now” campaign –  the sheer and utter outrage at the lack of funding for services.

The NHS was created out of the ideal that good healthcare should be available to all, regardless of wealth. When launched by Aneurin Bevan on July 5 1948 its three core principles were:

• that it meet the needs of everyone

• that it be free at the point of delivery

• that it be based on clinical need, not ability to pay

Of course it is only right that those core guiding principle are still held true and dear.

That at present our health system is in crisis is not in dispute. The year on year lack of real term funding, the austerity measures, closures, cuts and the insidious but increasingly louder suggestions of privatisation lurking in the wings are of grave concern to anyone with a modicum of sense and compassion.

Whilst you Mr Hunt publicly denounced The Donald’s tweets and are “proud of the country that invented universal health coverage” regardless of bank balance, I think it’s fair to say those on the front lines and those of us trying to read behind them are all sceptical that you intend to maintain such partisan beliefs when it comes to delivering what the NHS really needs.

I guess it’s even harder to believe you will abide by its guiding principles given that you apparently co-authored a policy book back in 2005 called Direct Democracy: An Agenda For A New Model Party.

It is only fair to point out that I suppose this was part of a collection of writings by a group of Tory MP’s and the book was presented as a whole; chapters are not marked with individual authors; nonetheless it stated:

We should fund patients, either through the tax system or by way of universal insurance, to purchase health care from the provider of their choice”

Whilst this ‘gem’ was amongst many varied ideas, the policy pamphlet called for the NHS to be replaced by an insurance market style system and even went so far as to outline how this could be achieved, stating that the private sector should be brought in:

Our ambition should be to break down the barriers between private and public provision, in effect denationalising the provision of health care in Britain.”

So you will forgive myself and my contemporaries if we are more than a tad sceptical of your motivations and your purported promises to main the core principles that the NHS was built on.

It was widely reported in early January that Chris Hopson  (chief executive of NHS Providers,  the go between between health trusts and the Department of Health) wrote to you calling for extra investment on a long-term basis to address the “fragility of the wider NHS”.

Mr Hopson’s  three-page letter requested a commitment to increase the NHS budget to £153bn by 2022/23 – the sum that the Office for Budget Responsibility said is needed, given the projected increased demand for services.

His letter went on to state “The NHS is no longer able to deliver the constitutional standards to which it is committed. We need to be realistic about what we can provide on the funding available.”

You agreed that funding has to be increased….but how this will be achieved still remains a closely guarded secret. Whilst researching facts for this blog piece, I found scores of references, much hyperbole and conjecture but no real concrete plans. Everything seems to be up in the air and awaiting clarification. Smoke and mirrors. Maybe even our own British take on “fake news?”

Certainly a lot of your past ‘promises’ on how services have improved, how more positions have been created with a larger workforce in place don’t stand up to scrutiny when you dig a little deeper.

Perhaps unsurprisingly but extremely scary, when typing your name into google Mr Hunt, plus the words NHS, the most popular ‘hit’ that came up was privatisation….

Considering your much waited plans are going to be the biggest and most encompassing strategy for the NHS since the early 2000’s, I won’t be alone waiting with baited breath…and fear….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are my salad days….

Once upon a time there was a person called Mum. Mum originally had a name but Mum had ended up having so many children that she was now just known as Mum or for a spot of variety: G-Man’s Mum, Minx’s Mum, eldest teenager who must not be named’s Mum, Famalam (a whole new level of confusion brought about by the “yoof of today’s” obsession with roadman speak) and other variations on a similar theme.

Mum suspects that her local authority may also have some pretty choice names for Mum but they are unlikely to be printable (or provable!) here and that is a story for another day.

Before Mum actually had her own children, she was actually a very good mum even though strictly speaking she didn’t qualify for the title role. At that point in her life she only had 2 tri-coloured cats so unless you considered the phrase “who do you think you are, the cat’s mother?!” applicable, she was reaching somewhat.

It turns out it’s much easier to be a brilliant Mum when you have imaginary children (and real cats) and only occasionally baby-sit other people’s or smirk at other parents whose children are having a public meltdown, smug in the knowledge that you could do the job SOOOOO much better.

However, Mum knows that she was indeed a very good mother pre children because in those halcyon days she spouted such wisdom’s as “There’s no reason at all that ANY child should have a crusty/snotty note when its so easy to wipe with a tissue” or “my child will eat all the things we eat, just in smaller, less seasoned versions.” She also proclaimed  sagely to her fellow thinking- about-becoming- Mum friends that children wouldn’t really change her life as it was so important that children learnt to be adaptable and behave in all manner of situations, accompanied by a tinkly little laugh. Mummy was indeed the epitome of smug…

Then Mummy went ahead and had THE CHILDREN. Mummy wasn’t entirely daft/(un)lucky to have 4 little darlings all at once. No, she thought she would spread the misery joy over a period of years. And then they all lived happily ever after. 

So child number 1 was born and Mummy spent her days between feeding/crying/elation and exhaustion with her head buried in such bibles of wisdom as Annabel Karmel, Penelope Leach, What To Expect the 1st year, Toddler Taming and other such patronising fabulous tomes of parental guidance (no I don’t mean the film category) so that she could qualify as The BEST Mum EVER.

Since I don’t want this to be a bedtime story that bores you to sleep, I’ll spare you the blow-by-blow account of children 1 through 4’s every waking moment as it goes on for many (many, many, many) years but one skill that Mummy found accompanied her through the early childhood years and surprisingly still lingers today is something called THE GUILT.

Guilt was and is her ever-present ‘frenemy.’ It’s amazing just how guilt can raise it’s cocky little head at any given moment and Mummy feels sure that if universities offered degree courses in it, she would have more than qualified for not just a BA (hons) but probably an MA and possibly even a PHD too!

Mummy you see very early on discovered that guilt was there to keep her occupied in the small hours of the night (why does this child never stop crying/screaming…have I broken it?? Did I actually want a child/ren after all?? ) and was especially good at loudly shouting when she pontificated if her children had an off button once they had found their annoying dear little voices that she had waited so patiently for to utter their first babble.

Guilt was there when Mummy went back to work for the first time and everyone else she knew was a stay at home Mummy. Guilt joined her when she resorted to controlled crying. It sat heavily on her left shoulder (I’m pretty sure that’s the explanation for all the pain in her neck anyway) as she sat with her fingers in her ears when at her wit’s end she decided to try controlled crying in sheer, utter desperation. That didn’t go very well to start with as Mummy was unable to control HER crying and it very nearly became competition as to who would tire out first…..

Over the years Mummy learned that THE GUILT had an uncanny talent for sneaking up on her at times she would least expect it. Mummy thinks back and wonders if THE GUILT is what is responsible for driving her to wine every night…then she remembers an interview on early morning television that suggested that if you have a glass of wine every night – even if it is only the one – that you are actually an alcoholic and THE GUILT laps it up. It has a very good appetite does guilt and it isn’t picky what it feeds off.  Mummy tries not to let it be an appetite for destruction and I am pretty sure she isn’t referring to the Guns ‘N’ Roses album of the same name…..

One of the things THE GUILT has an extra special relationship with and most likes to taunt Mummy with is THE FOOD; specifically feeding THE CHILDREN.

Mum studied the various Anabel Karmel books from cover to cover and invested in more ice-cube trays that you can possibly imagine  – originally for the purposes of storing and freezing micro amounts of home-made, pureed baby food in but now mostly used for the ice in a gin and tonic.

Over the advancing years she resorted to google too. Technology being handily available at all hours meant she could consult this oracle getting tips on baby led weaning et al and make notes about delicious recipes even in the middle of the night!

Nonetheless, it appears that Mummy’s precious darlings weren’t reading the books and despite being capable of reprogramming the Sky box/DVD recorder etc (something Mummy still struggles with today) definitely didn’t seem to understand the guiding principles and ethos of those internet articles showing happy, smiley pictures of  babies/toddlers eagerly scoffing down quinoa and edamame dip, chia and lingonberry smoothies and that piled on the guilt still further.

Mum is pretty certain even over 10 years on G-Man still hasn’t forgiven her for the polenta/spinach loaf she lovingly created (what was she thinking?!) When served he deigned to take the teeniest of mouthfuls, then threw it disgustedly as the freshly painted wall. Mum watched in dismay as it “walked” itself over and over like a possessed rubber man toy down the wall to land with a splat forlornly on the wooden flooring. G clapped delightedly at the ensuing greasy slime mark.

You see, back in her earliest (judgemental) Mum days, Mummy made a solemn vow to promote healthy eating choices and to cook all organic, exciting, varied meals with plenty of vegetables from scratch! She thought that manufactured baby foods were the devil’s spawn.

Mummy didn’t quite think this through however with baby number 1 as she had gone back to work near enough full-time, was still having to get up for feeds in the small hours and was pretty much totally exhausted after a day at work away from her precious one (child, not wine for the avoidance of doubt).

Very quickly Mummy discovered that if she spent all her waking hours peeling/chopping/boiling/mashing and pureeing, it left very little time for doing anything else, especially playing/reading and interacting with her dearest first born…and that made Mummy feel MORE GUILTY than ever.

So Mummy got the stick out of her ass  relented and decided to buy some JAR FOOD thus freeing up some of her time and hoped that it would assuage some of THE GUILT. Surprisingly at times, this seemed to quite nicely pile on THE GUILT and Mummy may or may not have decanted jar food into baby bowls and sprinkled a few cubed bits of veg on to the top when she took it to nursery in keeping with the (myth) homemade baby food plan that she had…

Child number 2 helped Mummy on her journey with THE GUILT by being sensitized to dairy proteins once she had given up feeding herself  and put him on formula. This took the form of eczema so horrific that child 2’s back would weep open sores which made him very sad and cranky and the stealer of all the sleep for months at a time. He also started with asthma at the same time. Co-incidence? Possibly but it accompanied her special friend, guilt, very nicely.

Mummy subsequently found that an extraordinary number of every day items contain milk or dairy in some form or another and therefore spent a great deal of time of her time reading labels in supermarkets and working out how she could make alternative versions of favourite pasta sauces that Child 1 would also eat so that she wasn’t cooking herself into the ground and could at some point attempt the art of conversation with The Daddy. Mummy is pretty sure that at some point the art of conversation led to child number 3 but at that place in time she was so sleep deprived she can hardly recall.

Child number 3  – G-Man – had extremely horrible, painful reflux. Mummy knew this by the high-pitched screaming and the contorting and jerking of his back that exhausted his poor little body. He was also able to vomit at will, projectile and prolifically, even hours after a feed.

The Daddy didn’t really believe the Mummy at first when she insisted it was more than a bit of baby puke until he witnessed with his own eyes the baby upchucking so violently it hit 4 separate walls, the floor and the ceiling all in one go. Mummy was just waiting for his head to start spinning in the style of The Exorcist but at that point the Daddy had seen enough and agreed baby G should see the Doctor.

After several bumps in the road, poor baby G was hospitalised as his blood tests showed his chemical balances were completely out of whack and the medical bods suspected a condition called pyloric stenosis.

A few days of tests and investigations disproved this and thus began the ‘interesting’ journey of trying to get infant Gaviscon powder into a breast-fed baby.  This was not in reality a very fun game and by the time The Mummy and The Daddy had actually mixed it up, spooned it in, chased it back into the mouth from the drooly-chinned screaming baby, he had cried so much and gulped down so much wind, it all seemed pretty much pointless anyway.

Mum and Dad were assured he would grow out of it and that moving onto solid food would be the making of him. He didn’t and it wasn’t. There isn’t a single baby picture of him for the first 3 years of his life without a bib in situ.

Fast forward many years to present day, reflux is still hideous and painful and despite the maximum doses of antacid medications and motility speeding drugs, G Man has ended up being fed by a naso-gastric feeding tube since last October and no one is quite sure where this is going….Certainly the last 3 months of paediatrics appointments have shown he has lost weight, albeit very small amounts, and the medical bods are again scratching their heads as to the best way forward.

Child 4  – Minx – for a variety of reasons was born at a time that had been accompanied by much stress and worry. In her early weeks of life when her numerous difficulties and quite significant medical issues became apparent, Mummy was pretty sure that THE GUILT was responsible for what had happened and that made her feel it even more which was a bit counter productive in the end.

Minx’s first foray into actual food rather than breast-feeding definitely didn’t go to plan.  Frequent chest infections, coughing and choking during feeding, poor weight gain and a seeming inability to maintain a good suck reflex meant she had been assessed by a speech and language therapist (SALT) by the age of 4 months.

After listening to her feed via a stethoscope, the SALT was concerned enough to ask for a video fluoroscopy to be carried out. A video fluoroscopy is a form of x-ray imaging which examines the mechanism of chewing and swallowing using barium sulphate and this is  added to a variety of foods and drinks. Tasty… Whilst eating/drinking occurs, a series of images are taken at different stages and the barium makes it easy for the radiographer and SALT to view what is happening and pin point any areas of concern or difficulty.

Although the test is not in any way painful or invasive as such, since the body is exposed to radiation, it is not something that is undertaken lightly, especially in very young children.

Since Mum and Dad were very new to the world of special needs, they hadn’t really absorbed the ins and outs of it all and were most definitely in a haze of unaware, uninitiated denial. They certainly hadn’t thought through the why’s and wherefores of how this test would be carried out. In fact, since it was scheduled at short notice, they hadn’t even been given a leaflet or chance to look it up on-line.

On the day itself, it became apparent that getting barium liquid into a child who was solely breastfed, had never taken a bottle in her life and had no experience of “eating” not even a taste off a spoon was going to be interesting problematic.

Fortunately as both parents were present, The Dad was promptly dispatched to the nearby pharmacy to pick up a ready sterilised bottle, formula and jar of pureed baby food so that the procedure could get underway.

For many parents, no matter what number baby you are on, their first foray into tasting food off a spoon is a moment to be cherished, photographed and exclaimed over delightedly.  Watching a baby’s varying expressions of suspicion, doubt, grimace and/or delight is usually a fairly monumental occasion.

This first tasting experience in a freezing cold, sterile in more than one sense of the word, environment was somewhat marred; a most inauspicious start.  Suffice to say it didn’t go well on multiple levels; not the least of which were exacerbated by the SALT and locum radiographer having a bit of a barney difference of opinion about whether it was acceptable to expose such a small baby to radiation from the procedure.

I think I did promise further up that it wouldn’t be a blow-by-blow account of each child’s developmental journey…. I seem to have spectacularly failed on that front as this piece is already much longer than I had anticipated when the mood to put pen to paper or rather finger to keyboard originally struck me, so I’ll try to get to the point of why inspiration struck to write the dang thing anyway.

Mum remains nagged insistently by THE GUILT and despite all the reasons she should know better has endeavoured to continue making as many delicious,  varied home-cooked  meals as she can possibly muster….that of course is between the myriad of appointments/admin/general assorted crappery that comes from managing 4 children with additional needs and the day-to-day running of the house.

Contrary to at least half of the children’s falsely held beliefs that Mum spends ALL DAY every day on Facebook, Mum was inspired watching Gino D’Acampo on a well-known known morning TV show (whilst doing the ironing honestly and not at all checking out she of the Willoughboobby’s fame fabulous wardrobe – total lust envy ) talking about a family favourite meal from his childhood which was so easy and so delicious and could be made up from leftovers too AND incorporate all sorts of hidden veg! Genius!

Mum watched Gino and crew waxing lyrical over various stages of the preparation and thought to herself how quick and easy, cheap and HEALTHY it all looked.  Indeed her own mouth was watering and discovering that she had near enough all of the ingredient already in, save some courgettes and the conghiglione (that’s large pasta shells for the likes of you and I) Mum vowed to pick up the extra bits for dinner. *

Several shops later, Mum had scoured the local area for the blasted conchiglione without success. Waitrose had a blank space on the shelf as did M&S (although a price tag revealed that the shells were over £3 for a mere few hundred grams!!) and Ocado had plenty of alternative suggestions but nothing useful. If Mum had stopped to think for a moment, she should have realised that this was a SIGN and stopped right there and just served up some chicken nuggets goujons with nutritious vegetables chips.

Mum however was still lost in a thought- haze of smiling, pink-cheeked grateful children thanking her for such degustation and how the dinner time conversation would flow with abandon about all the new and varied food stuffs they would try together.

So Mum went to the overpriced deli and purchased the conghiglione then set about this veritable feast of gastronomy. About 2 hours into the process Mum reflected that the ba**arding recipe hadn’t looked nearly so time-consuming and complicated on the TV, forgetting of course that Gino had one of those handy “here’s one I made earlier” bods for at least 3 stages of the process that had been condensed down to a 10 min slot on TV.  Nor had Gino used every single item in the kitchen as she appeared to have done. Mum surveyed the unholy mess surrounding her with gritted teeth but glibly anticipated the raptures of delight from her children and knew it would all be worth the end result. She did however decide at that point if she was ever going to make this again she was bloody well going to buy béchamel sauce rather than make it from scratch!!

Fast-forward to dinner time, and the family gathered expectantly round the table, Mum anticipated their reactions excitedly. It certainly looked fantastic and smelled amazing! Plates were piled high and for good measure Mum had made a large salad and served some garlic dough balls on the side as an extra treat.

Child 1 promptly reminded Mum that he didn’t eat pasta (except on camping trips with friends as a “necessity”) and mooched off to make himself scrambled eggs. Child 2 wasn’t home and child 3 point-blank refused to eat anything. Sigh. All hopes pinned on child 4, she did at least raise a spoon to her mouth….then informed Mum that actually she “wasn’t a big fan of this muck” and would just stick to the dough balls, salad oh and the shop bought orzo pasta ready salad in the fridge

Mum could have just put her head in her hands and sobbed but she was far too busy shovelling in mouthfuls of the food to care at this point and The Dad seemed to be enjoying it anyway.

The dog put his paw lovingly on her knee with big, pleading mournful eyes and told her without the need of words that he would happily scarf down any portion she was willing to give him.

Although Mum has a STRICT(ish) ban on feeding the dog from the table, she did briefly contemplate putting something on his own special plate….and then she remembered it contained onions which are very BAAAADDD for doggies and cheese which was the equivalent of about 5 hamburgers or something  so she had read in the vet, so that was that.

Mum has learned many a valuable lesson from that last venture into making meals off the tele…..and she won’t attempt it again for a while….but she might just tell the guilt to do one…at least temporarily….

*in case like Mum you fancy trying the recipe it’s this one: https://www.itv.com/thismorning/food/conchiglioni-pasta-bake-gino-dacampo-recip

Mum made the largest quantity using the vegetarian option and also used up some smoked salmon & sauce in some of the other shells. Note if you are serving strict veggies or those with dietary restrictions eg Kosher/Halal, you will need to substitute the pecorino or find a vegetarian version.

(Wo)Man’s best friend ❣️

This is a post I didn’t think I’d write for many years to come. One I shouldn’t even be thinking of composing. It’s not right. It’s not fair but here it is.

I am also acutely aware that this ramble may be perceived as very self-indulgent. Far too many of my good friends have lost their children. I would not dream for one moment of comparing my grief to theirs. But nonetheless the sudden and very unexpected loss of our much loved dog burns white hot and I am hollowed out with sadness. For all intents and purposes, our pup was a fully paid up 7th member of the family. Well technically 8th I guess if you count the cat. (We do love her too!)

If you have read any of my past blogs, you will know some of the difficulties and battles our family has faced over the last few years.

Whilst it’s not a competition, no top-trumps fest, the day to day demands of medically complex children, the amazing quirks but also relentlessness of autism, endless appointments, clinics, surgeries, battles for and with various agencies and services takes its toll. You Buddy (or Sir Budston of Burnarrrr as we sometimes referred to you!) my wonderful little dog, helped alleviate some of those burdens.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I recognise there are many people, probably some of them reading this, who would give everything they have and then some to be facing those same fights and difficulties I mentioned, having lost their precious loved ones far too prematurely; but oh my boy, I thought we had so many long and happy years ahead; wondrous walks to stroll/pad through, delightful or disgusting (depending on your perspective) smells to sniff and cuddles on the sofa to sneak in at any and every opportunity.

Buddy, much admired by all who met you, faithful four legged companion. How can we only have celebrated your birthday a month ago? How can it be that we never even made it to a whole year of you being in our lives, in our home?

You were my birthday present almost one year ago. We had talked about having a dog for over 5 years before taking the plunge. A bit like having a child, it was never quite the right time to introduce a dog to our chaotic lives.

Enlarging the family, moving house, redundancies, working abroad, relocating and leaving the island of my birth and the only home our children had ever known followed by house rentals before finally having a settled(ish) house of our own.

Quite out of the blue and having been a steadfast, most resistant party, I’ll never forget the day my hubby, Martin, turned to me and asked if I wanted a puppy for my birthday!

Minx was about to go into theatre for surgery number whatever and was giggling woozily from the pre-op medication. I recall being so taken aback I asked him if he had actually downed the pre-med instead! I was ecstatic and not about to give him time to change his mind.

Although it had been a long time coming, I knew exactly what kind of dog would suit our family, our crazy-hectic-bonkers lives and had done quite a bit of research in the hope that one day… maybe…just maybe… we would be lucky enough to have a pooch of our own.

We saw your picture first and a flurry of emails were exchanged before THE BIG DAY: your homecoming; my 40 something birthday. The moment I picked you up, cuddled you to me and laughed at the thought of putting you in the enormous crate in the back of the car, you filled our hearts so entirely. The void you leave behind is a chasm of epic proportions. I don’t know how or if ever it can be filled.

It doesn’t seem possible that I’m writing about your passing over the rainbow bridge when we should be looking forward to so many more years of mischief and mayhem. More days fretting about what you might have managed to scarf down if one of us wasn’t quick enough to stop you – I lost count the amount of Lego I scooped up just in time; how many bits of this and that I retrieved from your doggy jaws. Your quivering nose whiffling along always seeking out, questing and foraging. You could smell a dropped blueberry from a 100 paces and hear the rustling of the treats bag in the kitchen no matter where you were in the house or garden; a pretty useful tactic when you were being cheeky and not wanting to come to us when called!

You brought so much happiness. Joy, laughter, giggles and fun. And so much poop too! Martin tells me he cleaned up 12 doggy bags worth yesterday. Considering I last did it on Saturday morning and yesterday was only Wednesday, that’s quite an achievement. Especially since you were nil by mouth from Monday night on. And you were at the vets all day Tuesday….

We joked it didn’t feel right to get rid of all the 💩; perhaps we should create some poo-based monstrosity altar dedicated to you? Your legendary pooping out an entire, intact nerf bullet still makes me smile now. (NB definitely not to be encouraged responsible readers/dog owners – the children learnt the hard way that I meant what I said if they left things like Lego/nerf bullets lying around = bin)

A lot of expectation on such stumpy little legs. Not just the 6 people in your immediate family cuddling you, loving, and petting you. So many people that had the pleasure to meet you – our favourite coffee shop by the river and all the employees therein, our lovely groomer and her dog Poppy, friends and family and the seemingly never ending stream of delivery people with medical supplies or equipment, Amazon deliveries and so forth. Always an action packed day in this wonky-old household and you always ready to greet them with a deep woof, occasional bark and a wave of your magnificent plume of a tail. We often remarked your tail was bigger than you! It looked like it should sit in pride of place on a hat worn by one of the 3 Muskateers. And now I have a small piece of it saved in a memory box to remember you by. It smells still of the grooming, pamper session you had just last Friday. I’m glad it is of that and not the clinical smells of the veterinary practice, their kindness not withstanding. Your grooming sessions over the year cost more than my haircuts!

You were my secret keeper extraordinaire. Too many nights I muttered oaths into the top of your sweetly curling fur when dealing with the latest co*k-up from various services, be they special needs, medical bods or utility companies. So many times I poured out my heart and soul to you, you listening attentively with your head on one side, adopting the classic cava tilt that all other cavachon owners will recognise in its uniqueness. When I was saddest you snuggled that bit closer. When I was happy you were delighted that there were extra treats and cuddles and when it was all just a bit too much, you expected nothing but ensured your presence was always felt.

We joked often that you were not so much a dog – more part goat, part sloth. Your dislike of vigorous, brisk walks was the cause of much frivolity and it was remarked upon more than once that you were the perfect companion for a fair-weather not terribly exercise motivated owner such as myself. Too many times at the site of your harness and lead you would feign sleep or rush back to your bed refusing to come out, especially if it was cold. and dark. and raining. and there was a ‘Y’ in the day…..

Of course now I know my darling boy, you weren’t just faking it; you weren’t trying to make me feel better about the dislike of walking in the 4-seasons-in-1-day climate of Yorkshire. You were tired. Your little body was constantly battling a build up of toxins that in the end would be your downfall.

I try to take comfort from the fact that you are no longer suffering. That we could afford you the peace and dignity that is so often missing when our human loved ones are terminally ill. It makes a small dint in my grief.

At the moment there is too much sadness in this household. Too many reminders everywhere we look: your water bowl empty, toy box neat and tidy, not strewn all over the kitchen. Your place on the sofa vacant. I think even Tilly the Cat in her own feline way misses you; after all she can no longer take a swift munch out of your breakfast or dinner when she thinks none of us are looking.

Members on a wonderful Facebook web site I belong to for cavachon lovers have provided me with enormous support. An out pouring of love, empathy and sympathy. A stunning bouquet of flowers was delivered from them to me today. It made me cry again. But the tears were underscored by gratitude too. After all as Alfred Lord Tennyson said it best: “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”Buddy 04/10/2016 – 14/11/2017 🌈❣️

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….