Interview with an MPS sibling

Most people will know that #MyMPSHero is a chubby little boy with a big smile and an impressive head of curls. But of course there are many heroes in my MPS world and today I’m handing over to one of them. MPS siblings put up with a lot and my biggest boy, T, is no exception to that. We’ve always tried to be open and honest with him about Pudding’s condition but sometimes I do wonder what he makes of it all. T agreed to be interviewed by me for this blog post and I’ll leave his words to speak for him:

Boy wearing #MPSday t-shirt with a blue paper bow-tie and moustacheHow would you explain Mucopolysaccharidosis to someone who has never heard of it?

It’s a disease that not many people get so it’s very rare. It makes lots of the parts of your body not work very well.

How does it affect your brother?

It’s stopped him from talking and he doesn’t really understand very much of what we’re saying. He never actually goes by rules of games because he doesn’t understand. I don’t like thinking about the bad bits because it’s too upsetting.

What’s the best thing about living with Pudding?

Cos of MPS that’s made him look really cute, so that’s nice. He also gives really good cuddles and kisses.

And what’s the worst thing?

That’s easy to say – he always hits us and throws books at us. Other things as well as books.

What is he good at?

He’s good at throwing things! And as I already said he’s good at doing cuddles and kisses. He’s also really good at football.

What do you think he’ll be like in the future?

I don’t really know. I’ve got an idea that some time there might be an antidote to MPS. But I don’t want it to stop him being cute though.

Do you have any advice to give other children who have a brother or sister like Pudding?

You’d better get good at dodging things. But try not to get angry when they do throw things because then that encourages them to do it again.

I know you didn’t like it when he moved away from the school you go to. Why was that?

I liked him being at school because he would roam around a lot, and sometimes he would come and invade our classroom and give me a cuddle. But I’ve got used to him not being there now.

Can you imagine what it would be like to have a brother more like you?

Yup.

Do you think you’d prefer that?

Not really, because I like Pudding. He’s cute.

So do you think he’s the best brother you could possibly have? (incredibly leading question from the interviewer!)

Yes!!

Escaping the dark tunnel

The last few weeks I’ve felt a bit like I’ve walked out into a wide green meadow after a long dark tunnel. Whilst I was in the tunnel it didn’t seem too bad – I was coping with it – but it’s only once I’ve left it that I realised what I was missing.

As a SEND parent or carer it’s easy to neglect one’s own mental health. You spend so much time focusing on all the things that have to be done right now, and the worrying about the future, that you never realise that somewhere along the way you have lost yourself.

Pudding wearing a felt toy shopping basket on his head.Lately I’ve been trying to work out what’s changed to make me feel different. After all, Pudding is the same gorgeous trouble he always is. His diagnosis hasn’t changed. The future is still uncertain. It’s just my own attitude that has changed. Some of it has been down to things that I’ve been able to control, and some of it has been external factors.

I know I won’t always maintain this improvement so here’s my own personal ‘How To’ guide on how to escape that tunnel!

Sunshine: Obviously I’m not ominpotent and so this is a commodity that’s been in short supply lately! But there’s no denying that the weather makes a big difference to my mood. So when the sunshine appears make the most of it, even if it’s only to step outside the door for a moment, turn your face up to those magical rays, close your eyes and breathe.

Music: Music can have such power to move us, to trigger tears or uplift us. My new car has a working radio and CD player and I hadn’t realised how much I had missed this. Now I am rediscovering the joy of staying sat in the car once I reach my destination just because Ravel’s Bolero is too damn brilliant to turn off. (Obviously this only happens when I’m alone because otherwise…well…kids!). Whatever floats your boat – classical, show tunes, R ‘n’ B – indulge yourself.

Friends: A good laugh and chat with friends just can’t be beat.

Good food: Let’s face it, kid-friendly food is boring. A beetroot and mackerel salad, dark salted caramel chocolate, a special meal out – they can delight the senses and make me think life is worth living rather than just enduring.

Clearing out: Ticking things off the To Do list, clearing out a cupboard or divesting yourself of a responsibility that is stressing you out really can feel like a weight is lifted. Lately I’ve finally been getting round to doing some much-needed decluttering in order to eventually sell the house. The more I get done the better I feel.

Of course, the problem is that none of this really works when I’m in the depths of the tunnel. Music makes me cry, the thought of getting anything done sends me into a spiral of anxiety and I am so good at convincing myself that no-one could possibly want to spend time with me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo how to get past it? One thing at the MPS conference this weekend really helped to clarify my thinking about how things have been in the last few months. My favourite psychologist showed this diagram (and sorry, I don’t know who should be credited!). Essentially it shows that what you think about something affects how you feel which in turn informs behaviour, and so on. Round and round. Negative thoughts lead to negative feelings and behaviour that doesn’t help the situation. This was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me as it is so true: now something has happened to interrupt that cycle.

When Pudding starts throwing, instead of getting frustrated I have re-framed it in my mind, recognise it as communicating his need for attention, and can deal with it calmly. When we’re out and someone gives us ‘that look’, I can choose to think of it as the reaction of ignorance and prejudice rather than a comment on my parenting, not let it hurt me and continue enjoying our day. Of course, I ain’t going to be perfect at this all the time, but who is?!

But (and it is a big but) when you are stuck in that long dark tunnel none of this common sense advice actually makes a difference. If it’s so dark that you can’t even see your hands in front of you, it is unbelievably hard to step forwards.

In which case it is ok to ask for help. Whether that is medication, counselling, respite or even just a shoulder to cry on, anything that can help break that cycle of negativity will simply make you a better parent.

Life is hard enough, parenting is hard enough, let alone adding in all the extra complications of a SEND life. Asking for help is not an admission of failure.

So next time I hit a dip I will try to come back and read this. Perhaps it will help.

Inclusion

I’ve still got a rather warm, fuzzy feeling going on today. Why? Because of the weekend that Pudding and I have had.

Weekends when Hubby and T went up to visit the in-laws used to feel really LONG. But this time I think we had it sussed. Saturday was a respite morning and we’d cunningly planned good weather in the afternoon so Pudding alternated watching TV with coming out and helping me in the garden (by making me play football). After a miserable few months of rain and cold he is really enjoying the freedom of being able to bob in and out whenever he wants. And what is more I had such fun with him too – his enjoyment allowed us to have that lovely connection and appreciation of the moment.

But Sunday was even better because of the time spent with others. One of Pudding’s classmates from mainstream was having a science party and he was included in the best possible way, that is, on his own terms. The party started at 11am but as we were welcome to turn up for any or all of it (Pudding and chemical ingredients don’t mix all that well!) we arrived just in time for his favourite bit – food! The birthday girl and a friend immediately ran up to show him the slime that they had made, and another girl helped encourage him to finish his lunch and saved him a cake. When we went outside afterwards to set off rockets, Pudding loved joining the others to chase the lemonade bottles that had been launched into the air. Then he proudly showed the one he was carrying to all the adults inside.

Often encounters outside the house can be fraught with my worries of Pudding’s behaviour being judged and that makes it difficult to let go and relax. But yesterday so many of the children and adults engaged with him, treating him as just a normal part of their lives that I can safely say I’ve never enjoyed a children’s party more.

There was a slight low point in the day when Pudding escaped out the gate that I hadn’t closed properly and ran off down the road. But hey, even that has a silver lining – he actually stayed on the pavement and didn’t run straight into the road – so we’ll skim over that episode, eh?!

Pudding and me running along track through green spaceEarlier in the morning we didn’t have any particular plans but at the last minute I decided we’d go to the Parkrun. For those of you who haven’t heard of this (where have you been?) these are free weekly runs organised by volunteers. The adult one is 5km but locally we also have a junior version the next day which is only 2km. The fantastic thing about parkrun is that it truly is open to everyone, regardless of ability. Everyone is welcomed, supported and included. We’ve been a few times before and Pudding has never made it anywhere near the whole distance – true to form his instinct is to veer off in the opposite direction to everyone else and we use various tricks and encouragements to keep him on the right track. But that simply doesn’t matter at all; the volunteers celebrate each little inchstone with us, offering high-fives and cheers. This time we got further than ever before, probably still less than 1km, but it felt almost as much of an achievement as those running the London Marathon on the same day. (Almost!)

Pudding thrives on the company of others. He runs in his own peculiar gait with a massive grin on his face. And it puts a big grin on my face too. This really is inclusion at its best.

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!

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…