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…

Moving on

In amongst all the negative stuff about antibodies, trial and so on, it is a pleasure to have some good news for a change.

Way back in September 2015, Hubby and I were looking at schools for Pudding and trying to work out what would be best for him. It was hard making a decision because of course we couldn’t see into the future. We had no idea what the next few years were going to bring. We didn’t know whether he had the severe version of Hunter Syndrome that affects the brain (he does), whether he would get onto the clinical trial that might help his development (he did), whether he might improve enough to start catching up his peers a little (he hasn’t).

Pudding smiling widely in his red school shirt.We already knew what the local primary (which T attends) was like, and we also went to look round the nearest specialist provision. (The term ‘special school’ still makes me wince a little, though there isn’t really an easily understood alternative.) It was lovely there but in the end we chose mainstream. I thought it would be good for him to be rooted in the local community and good for others too, to have some understanding and acceptance of those who are a little different to them.

I will never regret that decision as there have been many positive aspects to Pudding’s time in mainstream. However, going into Year 1, I knew that the challenges for everyone would get greater. Whilst his peers were all learning to sit nicely and be taught more formally, that was never going to be easy for my little whirlwind. We tried, and failed, to get a split place between the mainstream and special schools. I had found reaching that choice a very emotional journey, and even harder to then be turned down.

But a place has now come available and Pudding will be starting at the special school after Easter.

I know he will be missed in mainstream – for a start there were three devastated faces when I sat T, Niece and Nephew down to tell them the ‘good’ news! His TA will have significantly less bruises but will miss him awfully. And the rest of the school will probably seem oddly quiet for a bit.

One thing I hadn’t expected was the reaction of our SENco. She was quite emotional when she told me how hard she had found it to paint a less than positive picture on Pudding’s EHCP – that it made her feel that she had somehow not done her best for him. Yet this couldn’t be further from the truth.  In fact, by being honest about the limitations we were working under in mainstream she has helped him find a place where I hope he will be able to flourish. I would hate her to think she has failed in any way as she has done so much to support both Pudding and I while he has been at the school. She has coordinated people, resources and reams of paperwork. As well as catching up at her SEND coffee mornings and at formal meetings, she has also been known to email me out of hours when I’ve had bad news. I’ve read so many accounts from other people who have never had anywhere near this level of commitment from their SENco, so I hope she knows she is one in a million.

I know I’ll be an emotional wreck on Pudding’s last day in mainstream but I am truly excited to watch this next stage of his life. Onward and upward!

Halloween

Tis the season of spooks and sickness bugs, nights drawing in and Halloween.

Hubby is still recovering from the bug that Pudding and I both had so he wasn’t up to coming out with us. It was glorious weather yesterday but sometimes I find it downright scary to take both the boys out by myself. I gritted my teeth and headed off to Lotherton Hall. They always go all out for Halloween there and T was really keen to do the spooky scarecrow trail.

I was all geared up for the more terrifying aspects – stares from other children, chasing Pudding when he makes a bid for freedom, struggling to push the buggy over uneven surfaces, the nightmare of finding a suitable place to change his nappy…

After a morning of losing my temper, shouting and generally being a grumpy Mummy from Hell, I was NOT looking forward to it.

But…

It all went rather well. T was brilliantly helpful pushing the buggy while I chased Pudding, helping me with the lift and generally being patient. We found all the scarecrows. Pudding looked rather fetching in his new hi-vis jacket. I didn’t get any officious persons objecting to us taking the buggy into the house (yes, some people in other places REALLY want to make it difficult). And best of all was the loo!

Normally, I just find a discrete corner out of the way to do a nappy change al fresco – much nicer than lying him down on a toilet floor. But not in this weather. I thought the disabled loo would probably have the best chance of having a large enough, clean enough floor space, so tracked down the key from the cafe.

I opened the door, and was delighted to find a full-sized adult changing bench with hoist above it (not that we need that bit). I simply hadn’t realised that the facilities there were a proper Changing Places toilet – the gold standard for those who can’t use the usual toilet facilities. T didn’t quite share my vocal enthusiasm and chose to wait outside while I changed Pudding in glorious comfort, not having to bend over him on the floor or worry about the hygiene.

Only problem is, I could come to expect this standard, and there simply aren’t enough of them out there….

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.

Kindness

So you may have gathered that the last few weeks haven’t been the easiest – sickness bugs, half term, surgery, virtual house arrest after surgery (and don’t even mention politics!). But I’ve been carried through by the kindness of … well, almost everyone.

Of course, there will always be the exceptions, the ones who judge or who don’t make the effort to consider that not all children come from the same mould. We had one of those in half term when we visited a cathedral. I approached the information desk to ask for the disabled exit (because yes, Pudding was not happy, and yes, he was making sure everyone knew about it). The lady turned round from a conversation with a smile that didn’t reach her eyes and told him to ‘Shush. Please!’ before waving us to a lift which wasn’t what we wanted.

But I won’t waste my ire on people like her. This post is about the good ones, the people who show their kindness through everyday actions. Like the other staff there who went out of their way to try and engage Pudding in activities despite his difficult behaviour. Maybe a job to them but welcome inclusion to me.

The very next day the boys and I were in the playground at a stately home. After spending ten minutes trying to escape, of course Pudding didn’t want to leave when the transport came. When he decides against something it is becoming more and more difficult for me to manage him physically. He is now half my weight and very strong. I was rescued by a complete stranger who offered to take the buggy while I persuaded /coerced Pudding to move. Such a little thing for someone to do, but such a help to me.

Pudding in a check shirt frowning slightly at the camera.We met another friend there and while we followed a trail around the gardens, she said to me, ‘I’ll push the buggy for a bit’. Such a little thing for someone to do, but a welcome rest for me. (He’s heavy!)

One of the added problems about Pudding’s appointments in Manchester is having to work out what happens with T while we’re away. The day of surgery, a friend offered to pick him up from school, take him to the earlier gym class her son goes to, and then wait around until T’s class had finished. Yet another friend picked him up from school the next day and held onto him for an extra hour when we were delayed getting back. A short(ish) time for them, but a release from worry for me.

MPS has brought us so many trials and tribulations, and a world that I wish I had never heard about. But it has also brought the ability to see a side of people that I might not really have been aware of otherwise. My everyday heroes. Not just family or long-term friends who are bound to us with ties of blood and years of shared experience, but people who’ve got to know us since Pudding’s diagnosis and who haven’t run a mile at the sight of an unconventional set-up. Not forgetting the kindness of strangers.

Kindness matters. It really does make a difference. Next time you see someone struggling and wonder whether you should intervene, just offer that help. It might be a small inconvenience to you, but could mean the world to them.