School’s out

So here we are – last day of the summer term, and Pudding has done a whole year in mainstream.

This time last year I was anxiously waiting for September and wondering how things would go. There have been a lot of emotional ups and downs since then, but right now I’m facing the future with calm.

In reading other blogs from the disability world, I’m well aware that schooling, as with many other services, is a lottery. I feel very lucky that we somehow managed to get hold of a winning ticket. So many parents face discouraging messages: ‘we don’t feel we can meet his needs’ or ‘perhaps your daughter would do better somewhere they have more experience’. Yet at our local school I have only ever heard ‘How can we make this work?’

Pudding smiling widely in his red school shirt.

For inclusion to succeed there has to be the will, throughout the school, to enter into it wholeheartedly and there are many reasons why this year has worked for Pudding. A headteacher who believes in inclusion enough to have a member of staff dedicated to SENCo (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) work three full days a week. A SENCo who holds regular coffee mornings for parents to discuss areas of concern. Teachers who welcome difference into the classroom and explain it to other children. And most of all, a teaching assistant who throws herself into learning Makaton, developing resources, teaching and caring for Pudding as if he were her own.

And I have to mention the other children – one of the benefits of mainstream which I never expected is the way Pudding has been taken to heart by the whole school community. To watch the Year 6 children scramble to give him high fives has been such a joy to me.

There have of course been some negatives. There was the nativity which didn’t go quite as I’d have liked.  On days when Pudding was in a bad mood I would dread hearing that he’d badly injured another child when throwing something. Perhaps the most difficult thing, again unexpected, has been emails from the class teacher explaining what phonics or maths the children were learning that week. I’m afraid I just stopped reading these regular reminders of how far Pudding is behind on ‘typical’ development.

Much as I have loved the positive experience we have had in reception year, I did start to worry what Year 1 would be like. Whilst his peers move towards more desk-based work, Pudding still struggles to sit and concentrate at anything for long. In an open-plan environment I had visions of him becoming more and more disruptive. We took the difficult decision to apply for a split placement – requesting that he stay in mainstream for 2 days a week but then have the other days in a special school.

I say a difficult decision: logically I felt it was the right thing to do, but emotionally it was another big step on the path of acceptance. I wanted to give him the best of both worlds – keeping him rooted in the local community, but also having the chance of more specialist teaching with other children on his own development level.

Our request was turned down, due to lack of space in the special school.

I won’t deny that this decision really upset me.

But once again, Pudding’s current school stepped up to the mark. Almost immediately I got an email from the SENCo asking how I was, and reassuring me that they would put in place whatever was needed to make things work. And they have already. The children all move up to their new class three weeks before the end of term, so Pudding has now been in Year 1 for three weeks. In consultation with the special school they have set a personalised timetable for him and found a room where he can go to do focused 1:1 work. He has regular access to play resources and plenty of interaction with his classmates. And so far the results have been really positive.

None of us know what the future holds. Even with the intervention of his trial meds, the gap between his abilities and that of his peers will continue to widen. We may need to apply for a full-time place in special school for the next year. But for now, I know he’s in a great place.

And he’s happy. At the end of the day, that’s really all that matters.

Not to you

Many times I have laid in bed listening to your nightly party time, and cursing you for my lack of sleep. Last night though I loved hearing your surprised little ‘oh’s and cackles of laughter, the shouts of ‘wha da?’ from your dark room. You see, just before I’d been watching TV and seen a hearse with a child’s coffin in it and a name spelt out in flowers. Your name.

I should have expected it, the storyline was obvious. But I didn’t expect that visceral punch to the emotions and it left me sobbing on your Daddy’s chest. When I went up to bed and closed my eyes I kept seeing it still. But your laughter wound its way around my heart and soothed my fears. Every shout and giggle sang out that this is a boy who is joyfully and wonderfully alive.

Pudding peering around a tree with a huge cheeky grin.Since Christmas I don’t think I’ve been the best mother for you. I’ve spent too long stuck in a darker place than I’d like to be. I’ve been too easily frustrated by you and your brother, and have been finding it difficult to accept life as it is now as opposed to the life I expected. Things have been turned around lately though; Martin House and the MPS Conference gave us a bit of respite, and counselling has been helping me to look at things a little differently.

I lay there and thought of that coffin and your name in flowers, and instead of falling back into the dark place I vowed that it.. Will. Not. Happen. Not to you. Not as long as I can help it.

It’s not fair that a simple mistake in your DNA has dealt you this hand. It’s not fair that it is so costly to develop drugs for conditions as rare as yours. It’s not fair that decisions have to be made on which patients are ‘worth’ saving. It’s not fair that there are parents out there having hope ripped away from them as another trial drug is withdrawn.

It is all too easy to be swamped by all these obstacles in your way. I’m not a natural campaigner – I’m too shy and introverted for that. But, my gorgeous trouble, I promise I will do what I can for you. I will fight for you.

You are most definitely worth it.

Conference

Timetable for the MPS ConferenceQuite a few people commented yesterday about the nice weather we’ve had this weekend. I know there was sunshine but I barely saw it as I was sat indoors in a dark room listening to presentation after presentation at a conference.

Not most people’s idea of fun, but I loved it. Because this was the conference organised by the MPS Society. It gathered together individuals, families, clinicians, surgeons and experts on mucopolysaccharidosis and other related conditions in the Hilton Hotel, Coventry. The whole hotel to ourselves, so no-one around to raise eyebrows at the wheelchairs dancing through reception or a child trying to make a break for freedom being chased down by a harried parent. From the moment we were greeted by the friendly MPS staff, we knew we were amongst family.

Pudding smiling up at camera before climbing into the car seat.

There is no doubt of course that living with MPS can be a stressful business, so the weekend started off with a session on mindfulness which Hubby found very useful. T and I managed to sneak in a visit to the hotel pool and then we were ready for dinner, the kid’s disco party and the chance to get to know other families. It’s a slightly surreal experience to meet people that I’ve only ever seen in photos until now, and greet them like long-lost friends. But that’s what it’s like when we’re tied together by this bond. MPS is no respecter of age, background, education or race and it forges close friendships that last through the years.

On the Friday evening we also got to meet our volunteers – wonderful wonderful people who gave up their weekend to take our children off and give them a fantastic time while we sat and listened to all the presentations.A few capsules on a ferris wheel It was a little nerve-wracking to send a challenging child like Pudding off with a complete stranger but I cannot sing their praises enough. For the brief hour that I saw T on Saturday – in between their trip to Drayton Manor and the evening entertainment – he talked non-stop about their volunteer and how great he was.

On to the main business of the conference itself – talks on all aspects of life with MPS, from cardiac complications, behavioural issues through to new treatments round the corner. Some of the presentations weren’t for the faint-hearted; Hubby had to look away when faced with slides on carpal tunnel surgery (not me, I find that sort of thing fascinating)! Some were more challenging on an emotional level – looking at Pudding’s future face-on can be a scary thing. And then there were the inspirational ones, like a teenager talking about living with MPS I (Hurler-Schie) who refuses to let it define her.

Air-con vents on the ceiling of a coachThere was more emotion at the Gala Dinner on Saturday when awards were presented to those who’ve made a difference to the MPS community. People who’ve gone above and beyond to raise money, campaign for treatment or support others. I might have cried just a smidgeon. I blame the wine. Afterwards there was time to let our hair down and have a go at some funfair games while the childcare volunteers continued their stirling work. We even got a little goody bag with items donated by a few companies.

The weekend was inspiring, disheartening, informative, tiring, relaxing and wonderful, and I can’t wait till the next one.

(The photos I have are mainly alcohol-fuelled Saturday evening ones on my phone, so I am illustrating this post with T’s slightly random pictures!)

Optimism

Two weeks ago we had a meeting in Manchester with the team that co-ordinate Pudding’s care. It was strangely relaxing in a way to drive over there outside of rush hour traffic, in beautiful sunshine, and knowing that we weren’t facing any needles or treatment that day.

We gathered in a room – me, him, the consultant, the doctor running the clinical trial and his specialist nurse – to talk through how things have been going over the last year. There are a few small concerns that we’ll look into; Pudding has been getting very tired again lately, sitting down to rest more often and having more naps. But overall, his weekly enzyme treatments seem to be doing the job of keeping his body working a little better.

We’ve had a blip with the clinical trial of course, meaning that he missed three doses of the enzyme into his brain. The operation to replace that portacath went very well though, and we are now back to the monthly routine of trips to the trial ward.

Pudding in a stripey black and white top looking directly at camera, unsmiling.Pudding is very slowly continuing to add to his vocabulary and make progress in small ways. I was able to tell them how recently he got a snack out the pantry which I’d accidentally left open and then put it back when I told him!!!! (This is huge, people!) Throughout most of the meeting, Pudding was sitting beautifully in his buggy and playing games on his tablet. The consultant commented on his concentration levels and said that in the normal course of Hunter Syndrome he would expect increased levels of hyperactivity by now. Overall therefore, he was ‘cautiously optimistic’ that the trial meds are working for him.

That’s good, right? So why do I not feel more…optimistic?

So many feelings continue to battle inside me. After the meeting I sat in the coffee shop downstairs and shared biscuits with my gorgeous boy. I watched children and their families passing by and saw PEG tubes and drip stands and monitors. And I was hit yet again by the thought that this is our reality now. The world where all these medical things have become things that I recognise and barely take a second glance at. The world that many people are blissfully unaware of.

Even if Pudding continues to do well on the IT medication it’s just the beginning. The treatment would need to get approval, we would have to fight for it to be funded. Gene therapy may become available and halt the progress of the disease even more effectively. And we continue to hope for all that. But I also have to bear in mind that Pudding will always have MPS – when looking for a new house I still need to think of future-proofing it. Would there be space for a downstairs bedroom or lift? What would wheelchair access be like?

Perhaps when it comes down to it there’s also an element of defence mechanism in my lack of optimism. If I continue to remember the worst outcome, then my world cannot crash too far.

I would so love to have a crystal ball. To look into it and take away the uncertainty. But of course we don’t. So in the meantime we continue learning to live with MPS. And we continue to love our little boy who is beating the odds and teaching us to walk through this world on a slightly different path. Despite how miserable my blog posts can sometimes be (sorry!) this path has many beautiful moments on it – smiles and laughter, wet kisses pressed onto my cheek and satisfying armfuls of chubby cuddles.

I may not be hugely optimistic about the future, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the present a lot of the time.

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