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…

Clouds

Do you ever have one of those days where clouds hang over you and your bad mood just infects everything? Where you spend hours feeling angry/anxious/miserable for no very good reason? One of those days when you wish you’d just given up and gone back to bed?

Yesterday was a bit like that. By the afternoon, lack of sleep caught up with me and everything just became a bit too much.

I got irritated when Hubby bonded with T over computer games rather than getting him to do guitar practice or tidy his room.

I snapped when Pudding ran away with my phone. Again.

I wanted to cry when faced with another load of washing up.

I felt horribly guilty when snatching the rolling pin away from Pudding (again) that I accidentally banged his head with it.

I lost it completely when T refused to eat his dinner ‘because the pastry fell apart’.

I felt sick to my stomach when thinking of potential reactions to a tweet that I never even wrote (yes, I’m expert at catastrophising over hypothetical things!).

And any number of other ridiculous little nothings. By the evening I was a seething mass of bleak negativity. It got to the stage where I was putting off going to bed as I knew that I would only lie there replaying everything over and over which would stop me getting to sleep.

And then just before I went upstairs, something on the kitchen wall at eye level caught my gaze. A bit of wilted spinach that I’d pulled out of Mr Fusspot’s dinner and flung at the bin in a rage. Was my aim really THAT bad?

I’ll have to admit, it made me giggle. And everything suddenly seemed a lot better.

Moral of the story?

Every cloud has a spinach lining!

(I should have taken a picture of the spinach stuck to the wall, but I didn’t think of that. So here’s a picture of the leftover tortellini pie that I spent a significant amount of time making before watching both boys reject it. It was rather tasty!)

Tortellini pie (pasta in a white sauce, layered with tomato sauce and spinach)

Looking back

I’ve been avoiding writing another blog post and it took me a while to work out why. With the New Year comes the time to be making resolutions and looking forward. Yet with so much uncertainty around Pudding’s future at the moment, I don’t think I want to…

So, in order to make myself feel a bit better I have decided to look back instead and focus on some of our achievements instead.  Three from Pudding and three from me:

 

Pudding wearing a felt toy shopping basket on his head.

Pudding’s achievements

I do sometimes find it hard to stay positive about how Pudding is doing, particularly when his speech seems to be declining, but when we look back there are definite improvements in some areas.

  • His ability to focus has got so much better…when he wants! From standing in line in a PE class to knowing that he has to tidy up first before getting TV, it shows not just focus but understanding.
  • School only introduced PECS part way through last term, and none of us expected him to do so well. He grasped the concept of Phase 1 really quickly – learning that if he gives someone working with him the picture of sweets for instance, he will get those sweets. (If I remember, I may do a longer blog to explain all about it – you lucky, lucky people!)
  • We’ve discovered that he loves having little jobs to do and seems to get such pleasure in completing these routines. Putting his socks in the washing machine, delivering the register at school, sorting the cutlery into the drawer and ‘helping’ with the washing up, all bring a big smile to his face and to ours.

My achievements

  • Top of the list – I’m a much better driver than I was 2.5 years ago. I’ve never been that keen on driving and would always do my best to avoid long trips. One MPS diagnosis and countless trips on the M62 later, and I’m a pro.
  • Historically I’ve also not been much of an active person. But I can now go from 0-60 in about two seconds flat when Pudding makes a break for it. And my weightlifting capacity is increasing at almost the same rate as his size.
  • As my third I was going to put that I’ve learnt to be more patient, but I’m not sure that’s actually true. Perhaps I can at least say that I’m still trying, despite the odds! It’s definitely easier simply to put the TV on given the constant demands, and sometimes I do just give in. But sometimes…I don’t. Sounds ridiculous but I consider it a major achievement that this afternoon I actually got Pudding to do a few jigsaw pieces first.

Hubby and T have had their successes too of course. And whatever happens going forward, I know we’ll all continue making those baby-step achievements. But of course the best thing about looking back or forward is this gorgeous face. The face that can turn my rainy day to sunshine even when I’ve had not enough sleep and am grumpy as hell…

Smiling Pudding in profile with blurred greenery in the background.

Happy 2018, everyone!

Getting Christmas right

Peace on earth and goodwill to all men….

Not always true at Christmas! Close proximity to relatives, too much food and over-excited children can be a recipe for disaster in any family. Then you add into the mix a child with special educational needs, and BOOM!

But, this year Hubby and I are quietly congratulating ourselves on getting it right.

Pudding wearing a Christmas hat surrounded by books.

In the run-up to Christmas my Facebook and Twitter feeds were full of other SEND parents dealing with anxious or autistic children finding it hard to deal with the change in routine. Most children love the release from lessons for nativity plays, Christmas crafts and so on, but for some it is an incredibly difficult time. Thankfully, this is not an issue for us – all the excitement just passes Pudding by. When other adults ask ‘Is he looking forward to Christmas?’ the simple answer is  – he doesn’t have a clue. I recently wrote about him being cognitively around the level of a two year old. But how many two year olds don’t understand about Santa and presents?

I’m glad that we could still enjoy all the Christmas preparations with T (any reservations he had about Santa’s existence disappeared when December came!), but this year I let go of the need to include Pudding. It’s not fair to ask him to help put out mince pies for Santa when he’ll just want to eat them himself.

It’s not worth buying him lots of presents when he still hasn’t played with many that he got last year.

There’s no point wrapping presents when he doesn’t want to open any. (Endearingly, he looked so happy when given a wrapped parcel, and did wave it around happily showing everyone, but then wandered off.) I just put his things in one big gift bag that he then tried to stuff Hubby’s slippers into as well.

Pudding watching a film on his tabletOn Christmas Day itself, he woke up a bit later than usual so T’s stocking was already open and I was free to get Pudding’s breakfast – definitely more important than presents in his view! Later he did his usual thorough job of pulling all the books off the shelf while we opened our presents. We had a lovely walk in the woods with Sister and family, where he could chase around with his brother and cousins. Then he pretty much watched films on his tablet for the rest of the day while we relaxed*, chatted, played games and drank.

So we might not have given him the perfect picture-book Christmas, but we gave him the perfect Christmas Day for him. And to top it all, at dinner we discovered that he loves roast parsnip – what a day!

 

(*  Special shout-out to Sister and her partner for sterling work in the kitchen to allow this. I made the vegan main, and the Christmas cake but that was about it.)

Paperwork and assessments

Paperwork. Every SEND parent’s favourite thing. NOT!

Endless pages of assessments that never really become easier. The joys of having to answer ‘No’ to question after question about everyday skills that any unaffected five-year-old could do with ease.

When Pudding first entered the clinical trial his DQ (development quotient) score was 56 (so 56% of what another child his age would get). That put his abilities at around half his actual age. Two years later I don’t know what it would be now. He’s nearly six and I often describe him as functioning like a two year old, but although that’s true in some respects it is way off in others.

The last few weeks I’ve been filling in information for the Imagine ID project. This large-scale study aims to collect data from families on how genetic conditions affect development in children. I’m not complaining really, because it is something I have chosen to do – research is important. But I must admit it doesn’t always put me in the best of moods having to face up to the realities of Pudding’s abilities.

Some of it was pretty straight-forward – other questions not so much. For instance, it’s pretty difficult answering a question like ‘Does he blurt out answers in class more or less than other children his age?’ when he is non-verbal! And I’m not quite sure it’s worth getting him to do the ‘fun drawing task’ as it will just be a scribble.

Anyway, I’ve now had the report through and it confirms (if I didn’t know already!) that he scores high for troublesome behaviour, attention difficulties and sleep.

And then we have also had the review meeting for Pudding’s EHCP (Education and Health Care Plan). This is a document that sets down what a child needs to have put in place to help them succeed at school. It is certainly more positive than some forms (yes, DLA form, I’m looking at you!) as it looks at what he has achieved alongside setting targets for the next year. For instance, this time we were able to put a tick next to ‘Can take his coat off’!

But again, it can be a bit brutal facing reality. The educational psychologist had been in to assess him and I was asked for permission to change the way Pudding is described from ‘moderate learning difficulty’ to ‘severe learning difficulty’. The teachers did apologise when asking this, as they were concerned about how I would feel. Looking at the descriptions though, I know it makes sense. When Pudding was first diagnosed he was at playgroup and his differences weren’t quite so obvious. As time goes on, he is progressing but at a far slower rate than his peers, and that gap is widening and widening. So that’s another label he’s acquired.

And on Tuesday it’s our next trip to Manchester with …guess what… the psychological assessments again!

But of course, none of these assessments will ever truly give a picture of Pudding is like. They can tell someone that he is non-verbal, prone to violent outbursts or that his DQ is hitting new depths. But they can’t tell anyone how gorgeous his smile is. Or how he does a funny little dance when he’s excited. Or how much we love him.

Which is why I’m getting better at looking past those forms and reports. And instead I keep in my mind pictures and memories like this morning when T went upstairs to get Pudding up. I watched on the monitor as my big boy sat on his brother’s pillow and gently stroked his head, telling him that he’d put his cereal out ready. I watched him bend down and kiss Pudding and help him turn the duvet down. And I knew that these little moments are what life is really about.

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Old Age

I often feel old these days.

Let’s face it, I’ve always been a bit of an old fuddy-duddy, but lately it seems to be catching up with me physically. I’m not as flexible as I used to be. Hubby laughs at me when I get up off the sofa and have to hobble for a few paces before I can straighten up fully.

Pudding looking back at the camera whilst he heads out of a ruined castle archwayI can still race after Pudding when I need to. Other parents will attest to that after seeing me go from 0-60 in two seconds when he’s about to head out the playground gate. But some days it’s an effort.

I turned 40 while I was pregnant with Pudding, and do wonder if I’d find it easier in a younger body. Lack of sleep really does me in – even nights when I’m only vaguely aware of him chatting can leave me exhausted the next day. And bruises I get from him last for weeks.

You might think that with age comes more experience, conferring an advantage in the particular battles involved in raising a child with special needs. But I’m privileged to know a number of younger MPS mums who are doing a bloody marvellous job at just that (waves hello – you know who you are!).

Of course I’ve often wondered if my age is actually the reason for Pudding having MPS. Hunter Syndrome is the only x-linked version of MPS. This means it is passed down on the ‘x’ chromosone from the mother only. I don’t have the gene deletion on my own DNA so Pudding’s case is from a spontaneous mutuation.

Of course I was aware as my single, non-childbearing years continued to pass that my fertility was declining. The ‘cliff-edge’ diagrams and comments about ‘selfish women wanting to delay children due to their careers’ are thrown at you by the media. The link between older mothers and increased likelihood of having a child with Downs Syndrome is well documented and I was prepared for that outcome when I was pregnant. But I’ve never actually dared to ask the question about a similar link in MPS – whether a spontaneous mutation is more likely as the mother’s age increases. I don’t think I really want to know the answer. It’s done now. I can’t change what’s happened. I always expected to have children much earlier but never met the right man until Hubby.

My worry now is for the future. As we age, what will happen to Pudding? Who will care for him and see that he is well looked after? With new treatments becoming available maybe he will beat the odds and kick MPS in the butt. But if he makes it to 30 years old, I’ll be 70. Current attitudes to disability and long-term care available in this country don’t exactly fill me with optimism.

Sometimes the thought of losing him earlier is less scary.

Lucky

Well, what a hectic half-term that was. We headed to the wilds of a Yorkshire forest for 4 nights with my parents, Sister and family. Then it was back home for Pudding’s ERT, straight off to Leicester, via Martin House, and back just in time to drop both boys off at school yesterday morning! Hubby and I were both fairly sleep deprived and loved having our own bed  last night, but the week has helped me realise again how lucky we are.

Yes, I know how strange that might sound to some people. And I certainly couldn’t have imagined saying it two years ago when we first got Pudding’s diagnosis, but lucky we are.

Pudding in red waterproofs running away along a forest path.

The Forest Holiday (which could have been a disaster if I hadn’t realised we’d booked for a completely different site to Sister) was a superb family break. Having other adults around to help supervise Pudding takes the pressure off us, and Pudding always laps up the extra attention. Although we wouldn’t let him try the zipwire, pumpkin carving or outdoor hot-tub, he did come on some beautiful walks in the November sunshine and there was always the TV. I am so grateful that I have family living nearby who also don’t mind sharing their holidays with us.

I wrote about Martin House on our first wonderfully relaxing visit. This time was a bit different as we decided to leave Pudding there after our first night, and head off for a trip to the National Space Centre. It meant that T had undivided parental attention for 30 hours which he certainly appreciated. I also noticed how much more we could enjoy him without having to negotiate the sometimes difficult interactions between the boys. And although I thought about Pudding often and worried about things like bedtimes, I had complete confidence that he would be very well looked after. Yet again, I felt lucky that we have access to this resource.

We have a stable family life, a roof over our heads and enough money to live comfortably. We are lucky to have one gorgeous son with no medical issues and despite his MPS, Pudding thankfully has very little in the way of day-to-day health needs.

During the time that we were at Martin House, we did of course see children who are far more poorly than Pudding. It’s a hospice after all. But despite this, it is not a sad place. And in fact, talking to other parents and seeing the matter-of-fact dealings of suction tubes and peg feeds is sort of reassuring. It helps me think I could deal with that if I need to.

Unlike many families we haven’t had to fight. So many others – not just those with MPS – struggle to get diagnosis, struggle for access to services, have to fight for school provision, fight for EHCPs, DLA and Blue Badges (see glossary). Although the forms and medical stuff still take it out of me, I feel lucky that our path is easier than some.

Of course, it isn’t always easy to focus on the positives. But I know things could be so much worse for us, so right now I’m living in Luckyville.