Ten things I wish, with hindsight, I had known

Debs writes….

As we go through the Special Needs Jungle, we pick up tips, we gain confidence and we often think “I wish I’d known …….. at the beginning”

I wanted to share with you the ten things I wish I had known (or had the confidence to believe) when we entered the Jungle.

  1. When you sit in the room with the practitioners, you are an expert too. You may not be an expert in your child’s diagnosis (yet); you may not be an expert in what services are available for your child but you are an expert in your child. You know your child better than any practitioner. So at your next appointment think “I know my child and I bring this expertise to the meeting.”
  2. 1401629_dancing_girlsIt’s okay to take a friend to an appointment. Not just for support but also to take notes. Someone who, after the meeting, can help you to remember exactly what was said. I have walked out of so many appointments and thought “what was it he said about…….”. They can also be the person who can take your child out of the room when you want to have a discussion you don’t necessarily want your child to hear. Taking a friend is not a sign of weakness or even seen as confrontational, it’s just support when you really need it. Often our friends without children with SEN wonder what they can do to help us – let them help.
  3. It’s okay to feel sorry for yourself sometimes. I really tried to bottle those feelings up and pretend that I was okay, that I was coping when inside I wanted to shout “why me, what did I do”. I would sometimes avoid my friends who didn’t have children with a diagnosis because I wanted to ask “what did you do differently, why do you not have to deal with the same things I deal with”and then I felt guilty for thinking this. But guess what? It’s normal. So many parents of children with SEN go through this, especially at the beginning when you are learning how difficult this system is, this system you are involuntarily dealing with. Don’t bottle it up. When I have a day like this (and I still occasionally do), I stay indoors, I turn off my phone and I cry. Then I get myself back up off the floor and I have stopped feeling guilty for being human.
  4. 1321733_broken_heartSometimes it is going to hurt. When you get a diagnosis, even if it is a diagnosis you have been fighting for because you know the label may help to get the support, it can still hurt. Just because you are expecting it, don’t think it will hurt less. It may not. When I got the diagnosis of hydrocephalus, it was unexpected and it hurt. However, when we went for the diagnosis of ASD, I was expecting it, I knew it was coming and I knew it would help but it still didn’t hurt less when it was confirmed. I can still remember sitting in the car on the return journey and feeling like my world had been turned upside down. I can still remember people saying “what are you upset about, you knew they were going to say this” but do you know what, even though I find this hard to admit, I wanted to be wrong. I wanted them to laugh at me and say “you silly neurotic woman, why would you think he was autistic”. But they didn’t and it really hurt. Then, years after the diagnosis, you will have reality checks and they may hurt. This morning I suddenly had this realisation that I won’t be able to just scribble a note for my son when he’s older. If I have to nip to the shop and maybe he’s in bed, I won’t be able to stick a post-it note to the door saying “nipped to the shop, back in 5”. Yes, I will be able to braille him a note but where do I leave it? I know we will come up with a solution but just this morning, I had a reality check and it hurt.
  5. It is stressful. When you are pregnant with your first child, everyone with children will take great delight in telling you how stressful it is, how this child will change your lives and you may think you understand what they mean – until your child arrives. It’s the same with the system, I can tell you it will be stressful but until you are going through it, it is difficult to understand exactly what I mean. At Kent PEPs last year, we asked parents how they dealt with stress and also, more importantly, how they knew they were stressed. We produced a leaflet for parents with advice and tips from parents in the same position. It’s our most popular download.
  6. Don’t get to crisis point before asking for help. In Kent, we have to go via our Disabled Children’s team to get direct payments and so many parents, who would benefit immensely from this service, refuse to access it because it means involving a social worker. We asked parents recently what would put them off and the main response was “fear of admitting you were finding it hard to cope”. Please don’t wait until you can’t cope before you ask for help. Admitting you are finding it hard is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  7. c&fbillimageI wish I had known more about the law or that there were statutory bodies and charities set up to help parents of children with SEN law. Several websites (including this one) and charities are there to give you advice on SEN law and your local Parent Partnership Service is there to give advice on SEN educational law. There is a huge list of Acts, Conventions and guidance out there to help protect our children but often, you only find out about them when you have already been through months of stress. Even if you do not have the time or ability to read and understand The Equality Act or the new Children and Families Bill, there are others that do. Try to think ahead and find out where you can get help before you need it. .
  8. You will get turned down. I remember the first time I was turned down after applying for support for my eldest son. I had presumed that common sense would prevail and he would get help because he needed it. When I was turned down, I was really shocked. I took it personally, I thought perhaps I hadn’t made it clear, perhaps I had offended someone, perhaps it was me they were saying no to. Having three children with SEN, I soon realised that the system can often be a case of “apply, get turned down, appeal”. I eventually stuck an A4 sheet with these words written in red, yellow and green on my fridge as a reminder that this was not my error, it was down to the system.
  9. You will meet some amazing people. I have met people who inspire me, who motivate me to carry on and people who I feel privileged to have in my life. Most of these people live this, they don’t do it for a living (but there are exceptions). A lot of the parents I know who are involved with their local parent carer forums are amazing to me. Some of these parents have found their way of dealing with the stress, they get involved and try to influence change. Not all parents are ready for this or want to be involved but I am so pleased to be part of the group.
  10. super_hero_flyingI am not Superwoman. If I had to choose one thing I had known at the beginning, this would be it. The hours I spent trying to achieve the un-achievable! Superwoman is a fictional character who does not have children – and definitely not children with SEN. Trying to be everything for everyone all the time is not possible. Spending your days thinking “I should have”, “If only I had”, “I wish” is never going to lead to a good place. Neither does comparing yourself to another parent who is perhaps involved with so many different things that they make you feel like a failure. People deal with things differently, some choose to get involved with forums, some choose to set up support groups, some want to go along to a support group and others just want to avoid support groups like the plague. Whatever works for you is the right thing – for you. You can always get involved or step down from involvement at a later date. You have to take time for you, you have to choose your battles and you have to remember there are only 24 hours in a day. Focus on what you have achieved, not just the things you believe you have failed in. Sometimes, getting through the day without breaking down is an achievement. Celebrate it. Getting dressed can be an achievement, as can making it to an appointment on time. Celebrate the achievements, no matter how small you think they may seem to others. You will know what it took for you to achieve it, so say “well done” and feel good about yourself.

What do you wish you had known? These are my ten things, they may not be yours. More importantly, what achievement are you celebrating today?

Can you help with Pathological Demand Avoidance Research?

I was checking the most frequently used search terms that brought people to my site the other day and one of the top ones was “Pathological Demand Avoidance”
I ran an article a while ago by Deborah Rourke about PDA and it still continues to be very well visited, so I know that this is an important issue for many parents who are seeking information about the condition, which is very under-recognised.
I would now like to introduce you to a mum who would like your help as she researched Pathological Demand Avoidance for her dissertation. Hannah Reynolds has a very personal reason for choosing the subject.
** Please see update at bottom**
***

Hannah Reynolds

Hi, my name is Hannah Reynolds and I am stuying for a MSc in Forensic Psychology at the University of Portsmouth. I am also mum to two daughters, one of whom I suspect may have Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome. I’m fascinated by this condition and, particularly, why some children with PDA behave very differently depending on the environment they are in – between home and school, for example (like my daughter!).

For my dissertation, I will be conducting research into this particular feature of PDA  and am currently looking for people who would like to participate in my study once it is up and running (next year).
So, if your child – with OR without an official PDA diagnosis – shows this difference in behaviour between environments, please send an email to hannah.reynolds@myport.ac.uk and I will add you to a database of participants.
I want to make this as informative a piece of research as possible so please, if this description fits you (or anyone else you know), get in touch!
Many thanks
Hannah 🙂
** Update from Hannah January 2012***
It has been necessary for me to tweak my project proposal (this is common in the early planning stages) and, though I will still be researching PDA, I will be conducting a more in-depth, qualitative study into parents’ and teachers’ experiences of a child with this syndrome. In a couple of months, I will post an update on this website (thank you very much, Tania!) to advertise for participants so please check back for this.
I am very grateful to those parents who have already emailed me and I would like to hold on to all details for any future research I might carry out in this field. Please let me know if you would like your name removed. To any parents who would like to be considered for further research on PDA, please email me – hannah.reynolds@myport.ac.uk – and I will add your name to my database.
Many thanks for your time and don’t forget to keep checking for updates!

A new SEN Advice service from Contact-a-Family

Contact  a Family, the national charity that helps support parents with disabled children has launched a new SEN National Advice Service.

This service will help families whose child may have special educational needs – we will be able to provide advice and information on any aspect of their child’s education. Help is available through their helpline 0808 808 3555, or post a query on Facebook or Twitter and a SEN adviser will get back to you. Alternatively drop us an email: helpline@cafamily.org.uk.

The service is available for anyone who thinks their child may have special educational needs – whether or not they have a disability or has already been identified as having SEN.

The Contact A Family Service can advise on:

The SEN process – including:

  • Early years
  • School Action and School Action Plus
  • Individual Education Plans (IEP’s)
  • Statutory Assessment/ Statements
  • Annual Reviews
  • Transition planning and education after 16
  • Appeals

Other general education issues as they affect children with SEN, which include:

  • Transport to school
  • Bullying
  • Exclusion
  • Medical needs in school
  • Attendance at school
  • Home Education

You can find out more about the service and Contact A Family in general here: http://www.cafamily.org.uk/families/SEN.html

The Disney Channel & Aspergers

My eldest son, who has AS, likes to watch the Disney Channel. My younger son, who also has AS, derisively calls it ‘Disney & Ketchup’, likening it to fast food that’s all the same (he has a point). But then, their AS presents very differently to each other – that’s the thing about Asperger’s – no two people have exactly the same symptoms which is why it can be so hard to diagnose.

I believe that Disney programmes such as Shake It Up, Wizards of Waverley Place, iCarly and Sonny With A Chance, can help people with AS develop their social awareness.

The Disney Channel offers very moral programmes. They teach right from wrong, model behaviours, discuss social dilemmas and show conflicts that are resolved by taking the right course of action. Most of all, they’re not subtle and are over-acted, so are easy for a child with AS to get to grips with, without confusion.

They portray young people who are integrated with the world and their surroundings, who relate well-and sometimes not so well- to others, often in an overblown way, which is good when you can miss subtle cues. They show the cool kid, the bully and the nerd and hold mirrors up to their behaviour enabling their traits to be magnified in a way that is easy for a child with poor social understanding to comprehend.Sometimes bad things happen to the central characters and we are shown how they deal with it and get through it. Sometimes, to me as an adult, it can seem puerile, but it’s that simplicity that works on a level that gets the message across.

While it wouldn’t be a great idea for a child to copy the actions of the characters exactly and over-act in real life (a danger in a child with AS), it is possible to use these programmes to discuss why certain things happened, why certain reactions were shown or why particular misunderstandings happened.  While real life isn’t as clear-cut or sugary as Disney life, I think it is possible to use the programmes as a learning tool for exploring social situations and to apply the lessons learned by the characters in the programmes to every day situations.

A Good Image for Asperger Syndrome

Cover for This Last Summer

I’m about to blow my own trumpet, so look away now if  you’re not into hearing people’s good news…

I’ve just published my novel, This Last Summer, on Amazon Kindle and it will also be available in print in a few months. I’m writing about it here because the book features a character with Asperger Syndrome. Ben Chambers isn’t the main character – that’s his TV reporter sister, Maddie, but my aim was to portray a high-functioning character with AS to show that it is perfectly possible for people with AS to live fulfilling lives, despite their difficulties.

Ben is a young man just completing his Phd, still living at home, but often underestimated, even by his own family. Sure, he has difficulties in tough situations – but he has a good support system and this makes all the difference to him.

I hope I’ve done a good job with Ben – if you get a chance to buy the download on either Kindle at Amazon UK, Kindle at Amazon US and Smashwords in all sorts of formats. It’ll also soon be available on ibook and at Barnes and Noble in the US.

Books I recommend for Special Needs

I have quite a collection of books about special needs and parenting and thought I would share some recommendations with you. I usually buy mine from amazon.co.uk, so I’ll link to each book so you can have a closer look.

1-2-3 Magic – Thomas Phelan – This is an absolute must for all parents who want to regain control of their children and their own lives. It’s slim and easy to follow and very very simple. The key is to talk to your children about this new method of discipline, and when you are counting – don’t say anything else! Both parents must buy into it and FOLLOW THROUGH. Our usual punishment is removal of computer privileges if we get to three without compliance. We don’t usually get to three. It works.

The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome – Tony Attwood. The foremost expert on AS. Great book, easy to read. I used some of this to help explain my son’s condition for his statementing process.

Kids in the Syndrome Mix of ADHD, LD, Asperger’s, Tourette’s, Bipolar, and More!: The One Stop Guide for Parents, Teachers, and Other Professionals (Paperback) -by Martin L. Kutscher; Tony Attwood; Robert R. Wolff.  – Excellent book explaining the co-morbidities and how you can take practical steps to help them.

Hot Stuff to Help Kids Chill Out: The Anger Management Book -by Jerry Wilde.  A slim volume That is written to be read alongside your child and shows that that anger actually damages themselves and helps children take responsibility for their own emotions. A great little book.

Can I Tell You About Asperger Syndrome?: A Guide for Friends and Family (Paperback) -by Jude Welton – Another slim volume written from a child’s perspective explaining his view of the world as a child with AS. Very useful for siblings, friends, teachers and grandparents. Lobvely illustrations and easy to read typeface.

If you have any recommendations of your own, please leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.

Child-Free.. as free as the wind blows..

This morning, without so much as a backwards glance, both our boys climbed on board a coach with their classmates and set off for their annual trip to PGL. For us, this means no children in the house for the next four days. We still have the dog of course, but he doesn’t put up a fight at bedtime or complain that dinner is ‘disgusting’.

At the same time as feeling ever-so-slighly elated, our hearts do go out to those brave teachers venturing forth with fifty boys aged between 7 and 11, all with some type of special need. These range from dyslexia, to speech difficulties to Asperger’s Syndrome. The teachers know only too well what puzzled faces could ensue with the saying, ‘It’s raining cats and dogs’.

Far from being tough little tykes, practically all these boys have in their backpacks their cuddly toys, blankets or other comforter, even the big strapping ones like my 11 year old. He has his old cotton cellular cot blanket, a stuffed reindeer and two stuffed Club Penguin plushies, all shoved down into his rucksack along with his tuck for the trip.

Our boys went on the trip last year and then, there were  a few tears from my youngest before he set off, but as soon as he was on the coach, he was smiling again. I shed more tears on the way home at the thought of them being away from me on a school holiday for the first time. When they returned, I was going through Son1’s bag and there was a suspicious amount of clean underwear, an untouched toothbrush and a still-neatly folded flannel. It turned out that he hadn’t washed, cleaned his teeth or changed his pants for the whole four days.

Despite this squalour, he still managed to bag himself a posh girlfriend at the end of trip disco. She rang him so often afterwards that I heard him say to her, “Can you not ring me so often, it’s getting a bit annoying.” Oh dearie me, he has a lot to learn.. but then he was only 10 at the time.

This year Son2 is determined to grab himself a girl as well. He has carefully chosen himself a pink linen shirt from Zara and refused to get his hair cut so it’s nice and long and trendy. However, after his success last year, Son1 is uber-confident that the prep school fillies will be throwing themselves at his feet again. He’s offered his brother a few pointers, but let’s hope his tips on personal hygiene aren’t among them..

See my other blog – Not As Advertised

I’ve decided to start a second blog. I know, that’s just greedy but there are plenty of them to go round if you want your own. It’s called “Not As Advertised” and it’s for all those posts that I don’t want to put on here because this site focuses on special needs.

Not As Advertised - Try it and see!

Not As Advertised - Try it and see!

It’s about how the life you expected to have never turns out as you expected -hence the title,  Not As Advertised. If you like these blogs, please take a look at Not As Advertised and I’d be very pleased if you followed it..

The latest blog is entitled ‘It’s my birthday’ because it is. My birthday. I’m double 21. How on earth did that happen?