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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Moody

I was in a foul mood yesterday. All day.

I was grumpy and resentful with Hubby. Shouted at T when he behaved like the 7-yr-old he is. And yes, I lost my patience with Pudding when he started throwing things again.

I nursed my grievances and stoked them until late afternoon. And the last straw was T refusing to shake my hand after a game of chess which HE won. Doors were slammed and I retired to the kitchen to sulk while making dinner. Ridiculous I know, and I’m not proud of myself.

Pudding in a stripey black and white top looking directly at camera, unsmiling.Ten minutes later and there’s the thud of little feet as Pudding leaves the TV to come and see if there’s any spare food available. He looked up at me with his open face and permanently questioning eyebrows and all that anger just melted away.

I knelt down and gave him a hug, his solid little body leaning into mine as he asked ‘Ere?’ (meaning ‘where’s the food?’). He smiled and tolerated my cuddle and kisses, accepting them as his due. In that moment I understood why T always runs to Pudding for comfort when he is upset. In Pudding’s world all difficulties are over in an instant. He cannot hold a grudge. Cuddles are whole-hearted and given without prejudice (though of course, he’s just as likely to give you a whack instead). He will never answer back.

Sometimes I would love to swap places with him, and leave behind all the complicated messy details of life. Eat food, watch TV and love life. Approach the world as if everyone in it will accept you just how you are. Smile. Spread joy.

I’m not very good at those things yet, my sweet boy, but I’m trying. I’ll keep trying.

Summer

I’ve got a confession to make. I’m surviving the summer holidays. Even enjoying it quite a lot of the time. But sssshhhh! Don’t tell anyone because I don’t want to jinx it.

Some people might think we’re strange as we haven’t booked a proper holiday anywhere – only a couple of long weekends, and one of them was at the hotel of Mum and Dad. The truth is, instead of time to relax weeks away can actually be more stressful than normal life. We have to make sure everything is Pudding-proofed and then there is also the issue of getting him to sleep in a different place. This often leaves us stressed, shattered and decidedly grumpy.

My approach this year is just to make sure that we have something to do each day – even if it is just to take our football to the local playground. And with the holiday shorter than usual (we only have 5 full weeks and 2 part weeks) it seems to be flying by.

Pudding still has ERT  every Friday and is in respite for a day each week. I have Niece and Nephew here quite a lot too. More children in the house usually makes it easier as they entertain each other. (But the bickering! OMG is this what most parents of siblings have to put up with? It’s unbearable!)

Pudding in front of some greenery. He looks a little pensive or worried.

But what really makes the difference is attitude. My attitude, that is. With my improvement in mood lately, it’s so much easier to deal with Pudding-ness. I think I truly realised this the other day when he ran away with some of the washing I was trying to hang out, trailing it behind him all the way up the path. Instead of getting annoyed or upset, I laughed. And put it back in the machine once I’d chased the cheeky sausage round the garden.

I’m not saying there aren’t some more difficult days. The ‘I need to make some chocolate brownies now’ sort of days. In fact, today is one of those days because I didn’t sleep well last night and Pudding seems determined on throwing the entire contents of my bedroom down the stairs. So…I’ve given myself a break, put the TV on and am enjoying hearing his chuckles at the Twirlywoos while the others crash around my very small house playing hide and seek.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have some very important baking to attend to in the kitchen. Anyone want to lick the bowl out?

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.

Learning

Not Pudding. Me. It may be a bit of a cliche but Pudding definitely teaches me things.

He is so friendly with everyone he meets, welcoming them with an open heart and no judgement, despite often being on the receiving end of judgemental looks himself. To him, everyone is a potential playmate regardless of age, race, class or any of the other constructs that we use to measure each other against.

Today I took the boys to the playground after ERT – time to get some fresh air after all the medical stuff. When we arrived there were some older girls hanging around so I avoided them and started playing tag with T whilst also trying to make sure Pudding didn’t escape. But within 5 minutes Pudding had zoned in on the others and moved in closer.

I could hear laughter coming from the girls and my Mummy-radar was on high alert. Were they laughing at him or with him? It’s so hard to tell sometimes but I’m getting better at giving strangers the benefit of the doubt. Rather than marching in with suspicious looks, I used some Makaton to him (signalling to them that he is different) and translated what he was saying (‘Found you!’). I then backed off though I desperately wanted to stay and protect him from their potential scorn.

Two minutes later he was having the time of his life with four girls chasing him round the playground whilst they shouted ‘Found you!’, and making him screech with laughter. I was free to sit down and take it easy, smiling at their acceptance of the simple level of play he was capable of.

When they left he cried. And when they came back again a few minutes later they loved his shout of joy.

Pudding’s approach might not always work, but it certainly has more chance of winning hearts than approaching others with suspicion. I’m not sure I’m capable of just walking up to strangers to point at them and shout ‘Found you!’ but his smile is one thing I can learn from and his belief in the kindness of others. Though I definitely can’t carry it off with quite such cuteness!

 

Nativity

Ah, the school nativity play.

That time where parents struggle politely for the best vantage point to watch their sweet child parade onto the stage with all the others. The tinsel, and cobbled together costumes. The angel so busy looking out for her parents that she carries on walking and nearly trips over a shepherd. The child who says their words so quietly that no-one can hear. Another who shouts down the microphone making everyone jump. Teachers scurrying around organising everything yet trying to stay unobtrusive as this is the chance for the children to shine. It’s guaranteed to set off the happy tears in all but the grumpiest of Scrooges.

I so wanted this to be a positive post. I was looking forward to the nativity and watching Pudding join in with his peers in his own fashion. I pictured him smiling and waving, going in the wrong direction and making us laugh.

img_6929He had been cast as one of the stars and we’d agreed beforehand that his special chair would be brought in to the hall. This meant that he could be strapped in safely when waiting rather than having the danger of falling off the stage. I knew this would make it very obvious how different he is from the others but decided it was for the best. His difference was highlighted even more when he wouldn’t allow his star costume anywhere near him, so was the only one in school uniform.

It was clear from the off that he wasn’t happy. Bribery with food worked for a while as it usually does. He did enjoy ringing bells at the end, and joined in the dancing very briefly. But as I watched him pulling another star’s costume and hitting the TA behind him, I was crying and it wasn’t the happy tears. I don’t like being hit by him myself and I love him. While I sat up there in the audience powerless to do anything about it I felt worse and worse. How long would others put up with that treatment before they say ‘enough is enough’ and ask politely whether this is the right place for him?

Having a child with additional needs is full of ups and downs of course. And those moments when it is hit home to you quite how different they are from other children their age are definitely responsible for many of the down times.

Thank heavens for others who understand. Later I bumped into someone else who has a child on the school’s SEN register. I told her that I had cried at the nativity and not in a good way, and she instantly knew what I meant. Though our children’s diagnoses are not the same, we share many aspects of experiencing difference in a ‘normal’ world. It was definitely a silver lining in that cloudy day and helped me put things back in perspective.

Pudding’s TA told me the next week that it hadn’t worked out as well for him as the team had planned and how bad they had all felt. But I didn’t blame them at all. They’ve done a fantastic job at making him included – including using Makaton during the performance to wish everyone a Happy Christmas. If anyone I blame myself. He had been off school the previous two days because of a cold, but I thought he was ok that morning. Now of course I have to ask myself whether I really thought that, or whether it was just because I wanted him to be. If he’d been feeling more himself he’d probably have revelled at the chance to perform and show off to an audience, but as it was he just didn’t want to be there.

When Pudding first started school I insisted that I wasn’t sacrificing him on the altar of inclusivity. If mainstream wasn’t right for him then we’d look at other options. What I need to remember is that this applies to the little things too. Inclusion isn’t always the right thing. Not if it makes him unhappy. I have my own hopes and dreams for him, but ultimately I want him to be happy. And if he is, then I will be too.

 

The ‘new normal’

Last week I was having a conversation with someone about emotions. Of course when Pudding was diagnosed with Hunter Syndrome I went through all of them – anger, guilt, desperation. I was drowning in the strongest emotions that I’d ever felt. When you first hear that your child has a condition that may kill him, your world comes to an end.

But now? When asked how I felt now, I was at a loss. My first reaction was ‘I’m fine.’ I’ve mentioned before the ‘new normal’. It is a phrase used to describe what happens to us after diagnosis. For a while everything is rocked, and then gradually we get used to our new life – it becomes normal.

Yes, on the surface of it I am fine. Life continues with its little triumphs and annoyances. I plan meals, pretend to be a superhero on the school run, tut at clothes left on the floor. Yet that isn’t really the full answer.

mum picHunter Syndrome bubbles along under everything. Even when I think it is all is going along swimmingly, the bumps are only hidden just under the surface. It doesn’t take much to make me wobble. Sometimes just a kind act lets the tears flow. And I know that I may have to get used to a new normal many times.

There are so many worries that beat around my head. Whether I give enough time and attention to Twiglet. Whether the clinical trial will have provable benefits and whether it will be made available as a treatment on the NHS. Whether the next general anesthetic will go well. Whether gene therapy will come in good time. Whether, if Pudding reaches adulthood, there will be the support in place that he is bound to need.

And yet… and yet because of the friendships I have made and the blogs I read I know what other parents have to deal with on a daily basis. We are luckier than many.

So it is sometimes a surprise to me when mums in the playground show amazement at our new normal. A normal that now includes regular prescriptions, weekly treatments, and trips to Manchester children’s hospital every month. And these are things that I am so grateful for, though none of it is ideal.

If I stopped to think about it too much myself, I’d probably be amazed too. And overwhelmed. And when there is shopping to be done, and washing, and a family to care for, overwhelmed would not be a good thing. I just couldn’t live with such heightened emotions for month after month after month. So for now I continue on this new road and try to look out for the bumps on the way. I’m still not entirely in control but hopefully I can steer around the worst of them.

How do I feel? It’s ….complicated.