Tag Archives: SEN education

Targets and other Torments

I’ve written on the blog many times before about the sense of weight and guilt that comes with Boo’s enormous long list of therapy goals. We have targets for physio, SALT, and OT not to mention our own private goals for Boo.

The lists are huge. Not metaphorically. I mean very literally. They are huge! They live on our fridge. Don’t use these as a diet aid, by the way. Seeing them on the fridge door makes me want to eat my body weight in cheese and double cream whenever I look at them.

I’m a list kind of person. I am what the self-help industry would call goal-oriented in my personal life. I have a long-term plan. I break it down into steps. I do my best to stick to the plan. And will usually flog myself until I have achieved what I set out to do.

But I can only help and encourage Boo. I can’t make his body do things it struggles with. And I have no interest in making his life any more difficult than it already is.

One of the biggest mental adjustments I have had to make since having Boo is letting go of goal-oriented me. For ages I tormented myself with the ‘will he walk’ question. No one knew, of course, whether this would happen or not, but most thought it unlikely based on the extent and nature of his brain damage. But then someone gave me a glimmer of hope. ‘If a child sits unaided by two there is a very good chance they will walk (maybe with a walking frame) by the time they are five.’

I wish they had never told me. Hope can very quickly turn into a stick to beat yourself with in this here life of ours.

I crippled my back trying to get Boo to sit before his second birthday. I was fixated on this happening before he hit 24 months uncorrected. When that was clearly not going to happen, I counted every darn day of his eleven weeks of prematurity and went for 24 months corrected. That date passed too.

Boo is now over 3. He still can’t sit unaided for more than a few seconds and cannot be left alone in this position. But we have just tried a new walker which we are hoping to buy and he steps in it in a way that makes the Grand Old Duke of York look like a complete amateur. Like all the amazing kids I have met since Boo’s birth, he just does things in his own way, on his own schedule. This is goal orientation Boo style and it is beautiful to watch.

There was a time when I felt the fading prospect of independent sitting with great sadness. Now I’ve adjusted. My sense of time is much more elastic now. I worry less about where Boo is relative to others. Frankly, that way madness lies and we celebrate each and every inchstone Boo meets whenever is the right time for him.

But of course, sometimes, I have a wobble and forget all I’ve learned. Children’s parties are a particular trigger (if he gets invited to them at all). Lugging Boo round a soft play for an hour the other week so he could join in while all the other kids ran hysterically like puffed out beetroots who had had a week’s sugar intake in a minute while their parents drank coffee and talked about the inequities of catchment areas was a weak point for me, and meant I couldn’t walk with a straight back for 48 hours. Sissyboo’s sports day last week was another.

And then there’s the biggy on the horizon. The milestone we can’t dodge or avoid. It will just have to be met by hook or by crook and whether he or we are ready or not.

School.

Next September Boo will start school. That may be 15 months from now. That may seem like an age. In special needs elastic time, though, it really isn’t. It really, really isn’t when you consider all the things that we would like to have set Boo up to be able to do before he starts school. There’s joystick control so he can (please, please let this happen) learn one day to move himself around. There’s potty training, so important for his dignity and for others’ perceptions of him (which will in turn, of course, affect him). There’s his ability to use an AAC device because he will never be able to write. And then there’s the four pages of A4 targets on the fridge.

It feels totally overwhelming. Impossible. Even with 15 months.

But it also feels imperative. We have to set him up as best we can. We just have to try our best to achieve these things with him. But we also have to let him be a toddler who can’t toddle, a little boy whose life can’t just be about goals, but has to be about living. About play. About fun.

I don’t know how to square this circle. I know that school doesn’t mean the therapy train stops (more’s the pity). I know that Boo will continue to learn (that’s the point of school, right?). I know (I hope) we have time to help him. But I also feel totally suffocated by the prospect of the next 15 months.

Have we made the right choice of school? Will we get that choice without a battle? Will our LA get their act together enough even to transition him to an EHCP before he gets there? Will we have done all we can to ensure he has the smoothest transition to school possible? Will it be enough?

I just don’t know. And that’s hard to deal with. Really hard.

Advertisements

Today…

Today we have our first visit to a local school (our daughter’s) to talk about Boo and whether they could accommodate him or not when he starts reception in two years time.

Boo is two. Yep: two.

This feels wrong. He is so young. But we have been asked to start this process now, because we live in a LA that says in hushed tones and not to be repeated words, ‘we just don’t have schools for kids like him here’. ‘They might have to build stuff for him.’ ‘It’s going to take time to work out what to do with him.’ My lovely little boy is reduced to the status of a problem in a matter of sentence.

Today, I wish my crystal ball was working, so when the inevitable questions arise – will he be able to hold a pen, walk, or use the toilet independently – I will know for sure what to say. (I think I know, but can’t say for definite.)

Today I feel a little bit sick because I know this school, a lovely, 3 minutes away, small, modern flat-level, high-achieving, nurturing school is not right for him. I know we are just playing a game. Having to look at schools so we can say to an unsympathetic LA that will likely try to push us to conclusions we don’t agree with, ‘No: we looked there. It isn’t right for him.’

But where is right? Are we chasing something that doesn’t exist?

Increasingly our options seem to be out of county. That involves travel for Boo and tribunals for us. Battles I can’t face. Not today anyway.

Today, just today, I would like to just be able to exist in the now. Not have to think about the past or worry about the future.

I wish today was tomorrow. And then it would be done. Until the next visit, that is.

Right on TAC

It’s been a while, I know. I’ve had a few days away with work. Exhausting and busy and hard work at that, but good and a much-needed break, if you can call a four-day 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. work trip on another continent a break. Well in our world, you can. No therapy and no appointments (although there were a few groggily answered transatlantic wake-up calls from people in the UK trying to book appointments with me for Boo at 5 a.m. local time). And it presented a much-needed opportunity to mainline black coffee (while hot, people!) and catch up with some of my closest friends, who I first met through work. It was good and it was fun, although I missed the Boos terribly, and I’ll admit that I have rarely been as tired since I came back. I’ll write more about that soon.

For now I wanted to let all the lovely folks who have asked on Twitter or email about our TAC meeting last week know how it went. There’s a short and a long answer. (Isn’t there always?…)

The short answer is: good. Better than we’d hoped. The long is: good. Better than we’d hoped. But crickey, we have a lot to do.

In short, then, it was a very positive atmosphere. Everyone clearly cares a good deal about our little boy and sees in him many of the things we do. Everyone praised his determination. He was called a ‘therapist’s dream’ on more than one occasion. Because you see, he so wants to learn; he so wants to impress. You do, Boo. You do. Trust me. 

It was also good to see people we see often and who work in the same building but rarely pass by each other’s corridors talking together. And it was just brilliant for the first time to seem the army of healthcare professions who helped him not as individuals, but as a team, sharing ideas about problems (getting appropriate utensils/cutlery, for example, to engage in assisted self-feeding) and services he needs access to now or soon (such as communication aids).

It was great to see them focus on what he could do, not what he couldn’t. It was fab to learn that they see no reason why he shouldn’t move to the nursery room to be with peers his own age (I was both thrilled and broke out into a cold sweat when then said this, I must admit). And most of all my heart skipped a beat when they said that there’s no evidence yet (things can change, of course) of cognitive disabilities. His speech delay and problems are, so far as all the flash cards and other tests put his way recently suggest, are motor in origin. When I saw the brain scan that showed the extent of his PVL (I can see it now if I close my mind’s eye), I could never imagined that this would be possible. One set of challenges, at least, seem to have been dodged. 

We even spent a bit of time in the meeting joking about things, too. Mainly about how nutty I am. About how crazily I research things; how I take pride in resourcing things that are ‘unresourcable’; about how I take my parent-carer homework very seriously (I even have a laminator now, don’t you know). But as the meeting went on, it became abundantly clear that we will need all that nuttiness and a whole lot more over the next 1-2 years. Because finding and getting others to agree on the appropriate educational setting for Boo is going to be, in the words of someone at the meeting, ‘one hell of a hill to climb’. If you have a child with additional needs, I didn’t need to tell you that, did I?

First there are the challenges of the new system for SEN provision. No statementing now, but EHCP, a new system that is not yet fully understood by anyone, so far as I can see, even those piloting it, or being piloted in it. Then there’s the particular challenge that Boo presents, the ‘square peg in the round hole’ analogy was used over and over. I may deck the next person who uses it (only in my imagination, of course).  

What do you do with a severely physically disabled child who seems cognitively age appropriate? What do you do with a child whose barriers to learning are primarily bodily? Technology can help meet those challenges, but it can’t provide the hourly physical care that Boo will need. Technology can’t do his his stretches for him, remind him to move the position of objects around him so his tight arm muscles don’t shorten. Technology can’t help him go to the toilet or play stuck in the mud in the playground.

People can do this. But getting LEAs to fund those people, for the right number of hours, the right kind of person? Well, that’s a different story? And do we even want Boo to be in mainstream education, which to my surprise, his developmental consultant thought we should push for? Do we want him to be likely the only severely physically disabled child in his school? The child who is always a problem from the school’s point of view (no matter how caring the institution might be).

We have been told that there is no school in our county that seems provisioned to meet Boo’s particular needs. Mainstream with support might be possible, even desirable, but persuading those we need to persuade will be tough. And finding the right mainstream environment would be hard indeed. But then SEN schools near us don’t seem right for Boo either. ‘They wouldn’t want him’, we were told rather bluntly. SEN schools in other nearby counties are not a square fit either (see even I’m using that bloody awful analogy now), and getting agreement for out of area funding and transport has been described as ‘very challenging’.

And then there’s the biggest challenge of all: Boo is not yet two. Not till next week, that is. He shouldn’t be two for three months, of course. And when I think back to Boo 12 months ago and Boo now, well… let’s just say a lot can change and it will. Often for the better, but also for the worst. No one in their right mind can predict anyone’s future when they are 2! 

So I now have an even longer to do list than normal. I have more appointments than ever in the diary or to make. Parents of children with disabilities who have opted for different educational systems to meet. School visits to arrange and liaison workers to meet. But it’s good to be prepared. And this matters too much not to take seriously. So I will do it.

But in the process of dealing with laws and LEAS and words that unhelpfully reduce our children to problems (putting the words Care and Plan into the EHCP doesn’t change that, folks) I don’t want to forget what the TAC meeting confirmed. Our little boy is bloody amazing. And we love him and will fight tooth and nail for him so that he has every opportunity to maximise his physical and cognitive potential, no matter what that is, or where it needs to be realised.   

 

 

 

When Your Crystal Ball Breaks

There are a few phrases that have started to stick in my throat since Boo’s birth. I’ve blogged about one of my pet hates before when I explained why I find it hard to ‘take each day as it comes’. Another that really yanks my chain is one I haven’t heard for a while now, but which is circling round my head endlessly at the moment: ‘Sorry, my crystal ball is broken.’

It’s a phrase that I heard a lot once upon a time, not so long ago. It was in many ways the signature note of the early months of Boo’s life. In my blind fear and panic following his brain bleeds, then the PVL diagnosis, then the likelihood of a cerebral palsy diagnosis and after the onset of infantile spasms, I often used to ask questions after Boo’s future.

‘What does this mean for him?’

‘Will he be able to walk?’

‘Do you think he will be cognitively impaired?’

‘Will he lose skills?’

‘Will he be able to talk to me?’

There were others, too. It’s still a bit too painful to write them all down.

The answer was always a variation on a theme. ‘Harumph’; ‘You got me there;’ ‘Who knows?’; ‘How long is a piece of string?’, or my least favourite, ‘Sorry, my crystal ball is broken.’

I don’t ask those questions any more, although I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t think about them all, and many others besides, every day. You see, I’m a planner. I like to map out possible futures for us all (I did this pre-Boo), so that I can be prepared, think ahead, have a strategy, make the best of things. It’s just not possible to do that with Boo. I realise that now.

But there’s another important difference that has moved my thinking on from the bad old days. Of course, I want Boo’s life to be a long, healthy and happy one. A life of cognitive and physical potential. But I don’t equate happiness with him being able to walk any more, or even being able to sit unsupported. Life is more complicated and beautiful than that.

And I realise now that one of the reasons I so hated hearing that everyone’s crystal ball was broken was not just because no one could give me any guarantees for the future, but because the very fact that I had asked those questions betrayed a certain naivety and even, perhaps, shallowness on my part. No one can predict Boo’s future; no more than they can predict mine. And even if they could, knowing whether or not he attends mainstream school or walk won’t tell us if that future is a satisfying one or not.

It took a long time, and I still live with my old thoughts quite a lot, but I have moved on. It feels good to type that.

But now, the tables have been reversed. Now I am the one being asked to look to the future and I don’t mind telling you that I’m finding it really unsettling. Really, really unsettling.

It has taken me a long time to adjust my sense of time. To reconfigure milestones as inchstones. To think about physical and cognitive goals not as something that should happen in the next 3 months, but hopefully, with the wind behind us, the next three years. I may still have a tendency to micro-manage the day-to-day (and always feel like I’ve not done enough), but the future is something that I have partly let go of. I have goals, hopes and dreams, but my horizon of expectation has shifted. It’s still there, but fuzzier along the edges and more distant.

This has been a herculean effort for me. So I find it very hard, as Boo approaches 2 (actual, not corrected) in April that consultants and others are asking me to plan ahead and make big decisions.

Statementing and schooling come up at many of our appointments now. And different pictures are being painted. Sometimes I hear of special schools, communication devices and a non-verbal future in which we have to wait to see the extent of cognitive disabilities emerge. From others, I hear he’s not disabled enough to go to the specialist schools that are very near us. That there is no concrete evidence of learning difficulties yet. That it’s not clear what would be the best environment for him.

Then there’s a pregnant pause…

‘What do you think, Mum?’ (Why no one can call me by my name is anyone’s guess.) And then: ‘What do you want for, Boo?’

Surely, what I want is irrelevant, I shout in my head. What he needs is what matters and, although I have strong feelings about various things (I know he understands everything we say to him, he does have some words and communicates with them, sounds, and in other, non-verbal ways), I don’t really know what he needs to maximise his potential, or more to the point, what institutions might be able to meet those needs.

It’s the same with Social Services. I am grateful that they are looking to offer us money to help contribute to the astronomical costs of making our house (the house we moved in before I was pregnant so that we could have a second child) accessible for Boo. But I can’t answer their questions. ‘So, do you think Boo will be able to walk up the stairs by the time he’s five?’ ‘Do you think he will be able  to bath and toilet himself by the age of 8?’

I want to scream at them, or failing that to say what I have hated hearing so many times before: ‘Sorry, my crystal ball is broken.’

Don’t get me wrong. I am glad people are consulting us. And some clearly take our assessment of Boo very seriously. That hasn’t always happened. It’s nice that it does.

But let’s face it, I’m no clinician and although I would argue till I’m blue in the face that I know him best (I do!), I am not a healthcare or SEN professional with enough local or sector knowledge to know what out there in home adaptations or schooling is best for him. And let’s be frank about this. Even if I did, not much of this is in my control. Geographical luck and, what it always boils down to, money, will play a big part in all this. We are the parents of a child with additional needs. We just have fewer choices than most.

I feel in the dark. Newly infantilised in only a slightly different way than the way I felt after his birth. It’s difficult to process. And it’s disorienting having made this mental leap to Boo let’s-just-see-how-things-pan-out time, to planning mode.

We have our first TAC (or Team Around the Child Meeting) in March. It has taken 10 months to set up and I hope it will help to clarify some of my thinking about all this, although I am really not sure what to expect of the meeting and would greatly appreciate any advice anyone has on how to get the most out of such meetings.

I know that the statementing process should start in the next few months. It is frightening. I know there are opportunities, but I can’t help but feel that we are walking in the dark. He is so young. So much could change. So much will.

How on earth can I navigate the path ahead when I can’t even see it beneath my feet?