First week

I know there is some controversy over the term ‘special school’ and so far when referring to Pudding’s new school I’ve been careful to use the official term specialist provision instead. But do you know what? After his first week there I’d like to say it IS special.

To be fair, most schools are special places, full of amazing teachers and hope for the future. (When they are not being destroyed by funding cuts, the need to teach irrelevant grammar, endless curriculum changes, etc, etc, but I won’t go off on a rant about that. Promise!)

But this place feels even more special to me. As I’ve said many times before, I’ve been so happy with the way Pudding’s mainstream school has done their best for him, welcoming him and all his ways into the school community. Yet, now I feel he’s in a place where he truly fits in. At mainstream, he would always stand out as being different and be treated as … well… a special case. But now, he’s with other children who have the same or similar needs.

Pudding in white school topIt is hard to describe the relief I felt on getting the first letter home describing what his class was going to get up to this half term. I no longer have to deal with the heart-sink of reading ‘this week we’re going to be looking at number bonds to twenty’ when my son can’t even count to two. Instead I read about an emphasis on mark-making, sensory play and grouping objects. They work on self-care and regulating emotions, do dance and explore stories in amazing interactive ways. It’s exciting watching this new future unfold in front of him.

His first day was unsettling of course – waving him off in a taxi and knowing that I wouldn’t get to speak to his teacher directly at pick-up like I’m used to. But as the week went on, we got into routine. Pudding happily looked out for the taxi each morning, and climbed into it looking very proud of himself. And in the afternoon his welcoming committee (me, T, Niece and Nephew) waited impatiently at the window for the first glimpse of his smiling face. We have a home-school communication book to pass messages back and forth. And pictures are regularly added to an online account so that I can see what they’ve been up to in class.

school

One of the biggest changes for me is the school run. I’m used to looking out the window first thing to check the weather, decide if we need the buggy cover. I’m used to getting boiling hot with the effort of pushing the buggy and stripping off layers by the time we reach school. Yet now, T and I saunter along and I could even have the luxury of an umbrella if it’s pouring. But oddly, I miss it. I miss other kids saying hello to him as they head to the nearby secondary. And I miss Pudding – even though I only see him for about an hour less each day. But it makes his greeting when he does get home even more special.

Apart from that, I literally couldn’t be happier. And Pudding seems pretty happy too, so win-win all round.

 

Photos

I love looking through baby photos, don’t you?

Those sweet little expressions they used to pull, the chubby cheeks, the memories they bring back…

And there’s the rub. Because the memories can be bitter sweet.

Whilst I enjoy Facebook’s On This Day feature – laughing at the funny things T used to say, or reminders of days out we enjoyed – sometimes it punches me with what could have been.

I might see a photo of the panto we went to a few years ago and realise that Pudding never says anything as clearly now as when he asked ‘Where de moo?’

A photo will come up of a hospital bed, and I’ll be transported right back to those terrible first few months where the only thing that seemed real was the knowledge that I couldn’t escape this nightmare.

Pudding aged 3Sometimes though the hardest photos of all are those from before diagnosis. When I had never heard the initials MPS. Photos from more innocent days. I look at his so-obviously-Hunters face and think ‘How could I not have known? Why didn’t I fight harder to get his delays looked into? Why did I let the professionals’ dismissals over-ride my concerns over the way he looked and acted? How could I have missed what is so obvious to me now?’

Pudding aged 2

But of course I couldn’t have known. I’d never seen a boy with Hunter Syndrome before. I didn’t know what that baby face with its broad nose and big forehead meant. I didn’t know what all the niggling little symptoms added up to. How could I have done? That’s the problem with rare diseases like mucopolysaccharidosis. You rarely see them.

And that’s why I keep on blogging and sharing pictures of Pudding. In the hope that one day, somebody somewhere will recognise these features in their own child and press for a diagnosis.

I can’t stop them feeling all that pain, but hopefully in the future they won’t be the one looking at happy memories and wondering why they didn’t know.

Joy

With World Down Syndrome Day coming up (21st March – I’ll be wearing my odd socks!) I’ve been reading some lovely posts from parents about their children with Down Syndrome. And of course there’s the beautiful carpool karaoke video that has gone viral – have tissues to hand when watching!

Together they have reminded me of something important.

Being an older mum, I always knew that my chance of having a baby with Down Syndrome was higher. (And yes, I use the word ‘chance’, not risk.) I knew I would love my baby no matter what and having known a number of people with Down Syndrome, was not scared about the prospect of this new addition to our lives. I knew that there would be challenges along the way, but these would be outweighed by the positives.Research shows that the overwhelming majority of parents surveyed described their children with DS as great sources of love and pride.

At birth nothing appeared out of the ordinary and I thought nothing more of it. Fast forward three years and Pudding was diagnosed with Mucopolysaccharidosis, something I’d never been prepared for. Over the nearly three years since then, I have blogged about the ups and downs of living with this diagnosis.

Any regular readers will know there have been a lot of downs and I’ve always tried to be honest about how I’m feeling. And yet…and yet…writing about the negatives sometimes pushes out the positive. With Pudding, despite the challenging behaviour, stress over hospital visits and fears for the future, the positives are definitely there too.

I regularly post cute photos and little updates on Facebook but when blogging it always seems easier to put the hard stuff into words. The good stuff is so much more difficult to describe.

Pudding peering around a tree with a huge cheeky grin.How can I put into words the joy on his face this morning as he leapt onto the bed shouting, ‘Daaaddeee!’? How can I adequately get across what a cute little beetle he is as he lies back and waves his foot at me for his sock to be put on? The softness of his hand as he yanks it towards his tablet insisting that I help him? The funny little stampy dance that he does when he is excited by the attention he’s getting?

The low-points are mainly to do with external worries and my attitude to them but the high points are in my heart.

A number of Down Syndrome posts this week have emphasised the joy that comes with this life. Celebrating that joy, as many families will be on 21st March and throughout the year, is what our children deserve.

Screen time – how much is too much?

There was a post in a Facebook group recently from a mum looking for some reassurance. She was concerned about the amount of screen time that her SEND child was getting and wondering how others dealt with the same issue.

There were lots of helpful/non-judgemental replies (social media CAN be good!) and mine was as follows:

    ‘If I had my way, my kids would only have 2 hrs max during a day. But Pudding didn’t get that memo. He had about 8 hrs today. So hard to get him to engage with anything else, and certainly I couldn’t get anything else done when he’s around otherwise.’

That earnt me some grateful reactions from other parents. And of course there were many others who said similar things. It’s always good to know that your child is not the only one

It’s a subject so tied up in Mummy guilt even with children who don’t have any issues. Am I doing enough for my child? Am I teaching him/her the right skills? Will he/she become addicted to games/be able to interact with others/learn to cope with boredom/get enough exercise. The ramifications are endless and I’ve had more than my fair share of anxiety over it in the past. But lately I’ve just gone with the flow.

Pudding watching a film on his tablet

If screen-time for Pudding is what makes life easier – for all of us – then that is what we do. We work hard to engage him with other things when we can and sometimes we even get to celebrate not putting on the TV until 2pm! (Usually only if we have made it out the house on an outing.) But other days…? Well, if we want to get any washing up done, or prevent T getting hit or have 5 minutes to ourselves, then screens are our friend…

Some of his time is spent playing on his tablet which at least is slightly more educational. Pudding has learnt to do some of the simple jigsaws and can even spell ‘bus’ and ‘egg’ on the Alphablocks app. But he won’t tolerate the tablet for too long. Once he has tired of it, that will get launched at us too. And tablets are quite heavy! So mostly it is TV. And if that is all day, then so be it. It’s easy enough to stop T from over-indulging as well – he has so many other interests so we can read together or play a game or he’ll go and play Lego.

That was all this blog-post was going to be about: a statement that no amount of screen time is too much. But I’ve realised that’s not actually true. For me.

I spend far too long on a screen lately. It’s crept up on me. More and more time scrolling endlessly through social media, falling into that trap of worrying that I’ll miss something, wanting to feel connected. And when I’m not on the computer, any spare 5 minutes I have I’ll pick up my phone to play a game (I’ll not tell you which as I don’t want to be responsible for getting you addicted as well!). More often than not, the 5 minutes stretches to 10 and then 15…

I thought it was an escape from everything else when I couldn’t face the To Do list, but it doesn’t really work like that. Maybe for the 5 minutes/half an hour/two hours that I’m staring at the screen, I stop thinking about stuff for a bit. But it’s still there when I look up again. Only it’s a little bit worse because weeks or months later I still haven’t tackled any of it.

When we were in hospital earlier in the week for two overnight stays (routine blood samples) I bought a magazine called Psychologies. Although part of me laughed a little at the article formats that encourage you to change your life in easy-to-follow steps, I guess somehow it has worked. This morning I woke up determined to be better.

I have done two coats of paint in a cupboard upstairs. And at least three times when that game was calling me, I ignored it and chose to do something more useful instead. My world will not implode if I have less screen time. And I could become a heck of a lot more productive.

I hope I can keep it up. Wish me luck!

Rare Disease Day

Today it’s Rare Disease Day and the focus this year is on research. As some of you will know, rare diseases aren’t actually that rare. One in every 17 people will be affected by a rare disease at some point in their life. Every treatment that has ever been made available for any disease is as a result of medical research. Yet for those living with rare diseases (sometimes known as orphan diseases) treatments just aren’t as easily found as research is more costly when it can’t be offset against a large patient base. On the other hand, research into rare diseases is a real trailblazer and can bring about new options for other conditions too.

clinic-doctor-health-hospital.jpg

Some rare diseases are wildly different to Pudding’s diagnosis of Mucopolysaccharidosis (Type II – Hunter Syndrome) and some are much closer. Today I want to tell you about Batten Disease – one very similar to MPS. You’re probably wondering why. After all, this is a blog about Hunter Syndrome and how we’re living with it on a day to day basis.

Well, there was a family on This Morning the other week, and they are living our future right now. Watch it, and you will see so many similarities with our situation: like MPS, Batten Disease is a genetic condition caused by a missing enzyme; children seem healthy at first and are often not diagnosed till around the age of 3; they slowly lose skills such as the ability to talk, walk or swallow; and parents face the agonising fate of watching their children die too early. Way too early.

Like us, this family managed to get their children onto a clinical trial and have seen the drug stabilise their loved ones and even allow a little progress. Unlike others now and in the past who have not received this treatment, these children have a chance at life. Yet NICE have now decided not to make this treatment available in the UK. And there is no way that any individual could afford a drug like this.

This could be us in a few months time.

I know people will, and do, say things like ‘The NHS doesn’t have unlimited funds’, and I understand that. I really do. (Maybe I’ll address those sort of arguments in a future blog.)

But this is the reality of Ultra-Rare Disease. Research is needed so badly, but it is a double-edged sword.

Just imagine it, if you can. Your lovely son or daughter is diagnosed with a life-limiting disorder. You deal with this devastating news however you can. Then you are given some hope – a research trial results in a treatment that is keeping children alive. Yet, because of the country you live in, your child will not continue to receive it. There is a treatment available. But not for your child.

How would you feel?

You can help them by signing a petition asking for this drug to be made available. Please do. You can also follow their journey on Facebook at ‘Ollie’s Army Battling Against Battens’.

Birthdays

It’s birthday season and I find it hard to believe that my little Pudding will soon be six years old. I look back on pictures of him as a baby and it’s like looking back on a different world. One in which he had so much potential, so many possibilities in front of him.

However, this is our world now and as with Christmas I think we’re going to get it right. Pudding loves birthday cake and being the centre of attention, but otherwise doesn’t really ‘get it’. Give him a wrapped present and he’ll grin widely and then chuck it away. So, we’ll do things the Pudding way.

Pudding holding a wrapped present and smiling.I’m not planning a proper party where he’ll be expected to do things properly. Instead we’ll just be going to our local soft play centre and suggesting to a few friends that they join us there if they’re free. And I know he’ll have a lovely time running around and playing football and building with the bricks. And I’ll have a slightly less lovely time running after him and trying to distract him from the cafe counter and the ball pit (his aim when throwing balls at other kids’ heads is devastating!).

Part of me feels a little bit guilty for taking the easy option, but truth is that the easy option really is better for both of us. Some day I just need to let go of the idea that ‘normal’ is the only way.

Of course, ‘normal’ is still what I’d like quite a bit of the time. I’d love my child to welcome other children to his birthday party and go to theirs. I’d love him to help me pick out the right presents for his friends and get excited that there’s only one sleep to go before a party. But we don’t get all that.

Pudding has only been invited to one party so far this school year.

Of course, he doesn’t know or care, which makes it easier certainly. There are other children out there though who do know. Children who see everyone else in their class getting invites or talking about the fab time they had. Children who want to have friends and don’t understand why they get sidelined. It is heartbreakingly common for children with learning difficulties or other disabilities that set them apart from the crowd.

Which made it all the more lovely to hear a positive birthday story recently. One lady in a Facebook group I belong to for parents of children with SEND sent out a message to all those children who never got invites. She wanted them to feel included for once so offered an open invitation to her son’s birthday party. Even people she had never met were welcome to come and join in the fun. How wonderful is that?

Of course I don’t expect everyone to do that (and I’m also not angling for loads of invites to land on our doorstep!) but wouldn’t it be nice if children with SEND were included, properly included in all areas of life. We can’t force children to be friends with someone, but I suppose what we can do is take the time to encourage them to think of others. To reach out to someone who seems lonely. To see that someone who acts a bit differently to them is just different, not wrong.

It feels like I’ve moved off topic a bit, but I guess what I’m saying is that special occasions such as birthdays often serve to highlight how different life is for us than how I expected it to be.

Different, but not wrong…

Audiology (sort of)

Those of you who follow us on Facebook will know that we ended up in A&E on Monday night – nothing serious – just being checked out when Pudding started vomiting following a head bump. Both the doctor and I thought it was unrelated but we had to be sure because of course he couldn’t tell us how he was feeling. It got me thinking about what Pudding’s learning disability actually means for him and his future.

Many studies have shown that people with a learning difficulty often have worse health than those in the general population. Sometimes that is due to an underlying health condition that also causes their learning difficulty (for instance, Pudding’s diagnosis of MPS). But this is not always the case. When premature deaths are analysed, apparently 38% of people with a learning disability died from an avoidable cause, compared to 9% of those without a learning disability.

I’ll just give you a moment to read that again. 38% of premature deaths in those with a learning disability could have been avoided. 

The reasons of course are varied and complicated, but can often be put down to a series of misunderstandings or miscommunications or plain indifference. Take for example, the case of Richard Handley (related here in a slightly sweary way) from a bowel problem. Or that of Connor Sparrowhawk  an autistic man with epilepsy who drowned in a bath unsupervised.

All (well, almost all) our interactions with health professionals so far have been exemplary. Take audiology a few weeks ago. Pudding isn’t always very cooperative at appointments but they took their time and didn’t rush us. One lady did a marvellous job of distracting him with toys but at the same time allowing him to listen and react to the sounds.

First she tried getting him to jump the little wooden men into the boat each time he heard a noise but that didn’t work. Pudding just wanted to jump them all in straight away – why bother waiting?! So next, they used the test for much younger children where some puppets light up and start dancing whenever the sound plays. He soon learns that when he hears a sound he can look at the puppet and it will start.

Pudding watching TV in the hospital playroomThe lovely audiologist in the other room had the difficult task of trying to work out whether his reactions were genuine or whether he was anticipating the stimulus. The results agreed with the last hearing test he had, showing moderate hearing loss. But she wasn’t prepared to just accept that. She wants to be sure it’s a genuine result rather than just the difficulty of testing someone who doesn’t understand why we’re getting him to do this. So we’re going to try again another time, and also have someone observing him in school to see what he is like in a functional situation.

The pediatric specialists we have seen work hard to engage with Pudding and listen to my parental expertise. And I wonder whether part of that is that they are used to dealing with a wide range of ages and abilities. Therefore children with a learning disability don’t really phase them.

But of course, once that child gets bigger and less cute and moves up to adult services, parents sometimes have less involvement in daily support and health issues. The parents’ expertise in their child can be sidelined. Little health problems can be missed and worsen. Not everyone will care enough to worry about every little symptom that appears and look into potential causes.

I will always want to look out for Pudding and keep him safe and happy, but I won’t be able to for ever.

Sometimes I would love for time to simply…..stop.