#LivingwithLD – Living Our Lives on Replay

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This is the first in a planned series of blogs #LivingwithLD about life with a daughter with a severe learning disability, which is part of an undiagnosed genetic condition. The series focuses on raising awareness of the challenges and joys of living in a household which embraces learning disability.

Living Our Lives on Replay

A typical morning in our household starts with GG before she has even been helped out of her sleeping bag asking….

GG – ‘Me school today’

Me – ‘Yes, GG school today’

GG – (Signing Monday / general hand flapping) – ‘Monday, me go school’

Me – ‘Yes GG, it’s Monday and you are going to school’

GG – ‘Daddy! Me go school today’ (Imagine high pitched, excited, squeaky voice)

GG’s Dad – ‘Yes GG, it’s school today’

GG – ‘Daddy, Monday, me go school’

GG’s Dad – ‘Yes, it is Monday so you will go to school’

GG – ‘Me dressed’

Me – ‘Yes, it is time to get dressed’

GG – ‘Me get dressed, me dinner (breakfast in GG’s world)

Me – ‘Yes, let’s get dressed and go for breakfast’

GG – ‘Me breakfast, me clean teeth’

Me – ‘Yes after breakfast, we will clean your teeth’

GG – ‘Me teeth, me hair’

Me – ‘Yes, after your teeth we will brush your hair’

GG – ‘Me hair, me iPad’

Me – ‘Of course you can have your iPad while I brush your hair’

GG – ‘Me iPad, Daddy me shoes’

Me – ‘Daddy will help you put your shoes on’

GG – ‘Me shoes, me coat’

Me – ‘After shoes we will help you get your coat on’

GG – ‘Me coat, me white bus’

Me – ‘That’s right, the white bus will come for you – shall we get dressed now’

GG – ‘Me dressed, me dinner’ AND REPEAT! REPEAT! REPEAT!

This constant running through of the morning will happen 20+ times every morning – over and over for more than an hour, only pausing when she has her beloved iPad and baby videos to watch. No-one else can get a word in and we have become skilled at conducting this never-ending conversation, whilst also chatting to / giving the usual morning routine instructions to GG’s siblings.

However, we know that not listening or replying will fuel GG’s anxiety and this repetition is part of her coping strategy. She needs to know what is coming next and needs almost continual reassurance of what to expect. We have tried ‘now and next’ boards, distraction and pre-empting the run through by talking it through first, but nothing seems to provide the same level of comfort as GG verbalising it for herself.

In the early days when classed as ‘developmentally delayed’ and the future was so uncertain, we would have been absolutely thrilled to glimpse a future in which GG could communicate. GGs speech is still unclear and to those who do not know her well, you would not understand all that she is trying to say but we know, we hear it over and over again.

We will always celebrate GG’s communication abilities and be forever grateful that she has developed these skills, but living our lives on replay does at times test our patience to the max. #livingwithLD.

WHY MY MOBILE CHILD NEEDS A BLUE BADGE

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There has been a great deal of discussion over the past week around the consultation on blue badge provision for those with hidden disabilities. This is very topical for us as we are currently appealing the decision to not award a renewal of GG’s blue badge. I resisted the temptation to immediately jump into the discussion and instead opted to track how and why the blue badge is important for GG.

GG does have physical disabilities including low tone, hypermobility, a discrepancy in leg length and some dodgy bone alignments, although she is mobile and can walk short distances. GG does need help to get into the car and be safely strapped in. However the need for a blue badge is driven equally as much by her hidden disabilities – as I hope to explain by giving you an overview of the past week.

Thursday after school: GG arrived home from school and was having a tough day. We immediately needed to jump into the car to collect big sister from her after school club. I carried GG to the car and lifted her into the car seat (all 24kg!) and gave GG her blankie and an apple for comfort. We drove to school to find the blue badge space occupied by a non blue badge user. I parked further away – knowing that getting GG and her younger brother out of the car to go and collect her sister would be even more stressful. Instead I dashed over and asked another Mum to send big sister over to me, which she kindly did. Had I been able to access the blue badge space, I would have been directly outside for big sister and would not have had to leave GG unattended whilst distressed (even for the shortest of times).

Saturday morning: We attended a session for children with special needs at a Children’s Centre. The blue badge spaces are c. 200m from the door to the centre. GG was doing okay so, with support, I helped her out of the car and we walked round. GG had a lovely time but unfortunately hates leaving, she refused point blank to walk back to the car. I left her and younger brother with a member of staff whilst I ran to get GG’s specialist buggy which I loaded her into, and then transferred her to the car. In a normal parking space this would result in a number of issues – not being able to wheel GG’s buggy to the car door so I would have to carry her from the rear of the car, and also not being able to open the door wide enough to lift GG in.

Saturday afternoon: We stopped for lunch at a garden centre. Unfortunately they had no mashed potato which is GG’s staple diet when we are out. This resulted in a lot of distress for GG and despite having walked in quite happily, I had to carry her back to the car. Without the blue badge I would have had to carry her much further and also relied on big sister to make sure her younger brother was safe across the car park. GG was not co-operating so getting her into her car seat was a battle and without the extra space at the sides would have been impossible. Even had GG walked she has very limited safety awareness so my attention has to be 100% on keeping her safe in a car park.

Sunday afternoon: Younger brother had a party at soft play. GG was really tired and so I used the buggy to transport her in and out of the session. She sat playing with the babies, only going up to the big slide with her Dad’s help. There is no blue badge parking at this play centre (I have asked why) but I was fortunate to get an end space, with enough space to pull the buggy up alongside.

Monday evening: Swimming lesson night! GG loves the water but comes out shattered. GG completely refused to put her boots back on (after a battle to shower, get dried and dressed). Once again I carried her, shoeless this time, back to the car and lifted her into her car seat. Being right next to the entrance was much needed as I hauled swim bags x 3 plus 2 tired kids outside, whilst carrying a non-co-operative GG.

Tuesday evening: Big sister’s hockey training night. Again GG did not want to leave the house after school, so she was placated with a bag of crisps and her blankie, and carried to the car. Getting her out again to drop her sister off would have added to her distress, so being able to pull into the blue badge space nearest the pitch meant I could wave big sister off without needing to – a massive bonus.

So as you can see, almost daily – even on a school week, the blue badge really helps to make life a little easier. In the school holidays we would be much less able to get out without it.

There are a a couple of questions I have been asked that I also think are worth addressing.

Are GG’s needs more than those of a toddler? GG is like a young toddler in a (tall) 7 year old’s body. Having had 3 children, I have faced the challenge of not being able to open a car door sufficiently to help a young child into a car seat. However there are always other options – I (like many) have lifted a baby in through the car window. I have helped a toddler clamber through from the front seat and leaned through to the back to secure the seatbelt. With GG, I cannot use these methods and my only option is to put her in the buggy, on a safe pavement and move my car to somewhere we have space. GG doesn’t understand what is happening and thinks I am driving away without her – it is so stressful for her and an absolute last resort.

What if there are not enough blue badge spaces? I have a lot of sympathy with this argument but if for example, there were not enough hospital beds for those needing one would we argue that some people didn’t get one, or would we fight for more spaces? If more spaces are needed then let’s make sure they are provided.

I hope that this has given you an insight into our life and how a blue badge has made a significant positive impact. As you have read, a blue badge is really important when you have a child who has behaviour challenges due to a learning disability, which often results in carrying and lifting to the car. It is important to a child who cannot manage long distances and tires easily, so still needs use of a specialist buggy. It is important to me when I need space to lift an older child into a car seat, because they physically can’t or won’t co-operate with you. Both the physical and hidden disabilities justify the need.

I would welcome your support on the consultation which can be found here: https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/R2OF6/

 

Flash Forward To GG’s Future

party-146582_1280.pngRecently, I was lucky  to enjoy a rare girl’s weekend away for a family birthday celebration, a couple of days of freedom! The venue was an over-18s which was a new experience for me – it felt strange not to have children around, but an experience I was happy to embrace.

After a huge amount of organisation to ensure things ran smoothly in my absence, and having stayed at home to help with the (always challenging) bedtime routine, I missed dinner and arrived part way through the evening entertainment. After grabbing a glass of wine, I immediately noted that the majority of guests were of pensionable age and proceeded to have a good giggle about being the ‘youngsters’ in the room. However, there was one notable exception to the sea of grey hair, which I picked up on over the course of the evening – there was a much higher than usual representation of adults with disabilities.

The Fabulous Dancing Lady

By 11PM the disco had started and our group was up on our feet, making the most of the opportunity to dance. We were beaten to the dance floor by only one individual – a beautiful lady, younger than us, who had no inhibitions and was literally having a ball, strutting her stuff. I suddenly had a ‘flash forward’ into a possible future life for GG – there were so many similarities despite the difference in age. Over the two days, this lovely lady became our dancing companion. There is no doubt that we all let our hair down more than usual, thanks to her fabulous ‘give it your all’ approach to dancing. I haven’t laughed so much in years!

Mum-Watching

I also spent some time observing her mum. A tired but happy looking elegant lady who was never far away, but obviously comfortable enough to sit and relax while her daughter was having fun. I also noted the regular prompts to have a drink, I saw at dinner the support needed to choose and order a meal, the accompanied trips to the loo and I watched as Mum spotted the signs of tiredness, and gently encouraged her daughter to call it a night. I saw the constant ‘watching eye’ to ensure her daughter was safe and not disrupting other guests but most of all, I saw a mother and daughter enjoying a weekend away together.

roadsign-2570954_1920 (1)A positive picture of the future

I observed all of this and I didn’t feel sad or worried – I felt hope for a future that maybe ours. A future in which there will be leisure opportunities, weekend breaks, dancing, laughter and acceptance into a community. A safe place to go with a grown-up GG which is otherwise difficult to imagine (outside of specialist provision). I have always feared thinking about the future but now, I am more positive. I hope that we will be equally as happy as my lovely dancing partner and her mum.

The Guilt of Respite

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For the first time today, I used the 5 hours that GG was in holiday club to go out with my other two children (and not for me to work). We were all excited  – although tried to not show that in front of GG. It was a 5 precious hours that we chose to spend outdoors, exploring the beautiful local countryside and walking the puppies. It was a glorious day and we had a great time.

In all honesty, I did not miss the screeching, the stressing over whether GG will drink and her refusal to use an unfamiliar toilet. Hauling the buggy in and out of the car and not being able to get in and out of the tea shop were welcome upsides.

I absolutely loved being able to dawdle and explore, GG hates being still in her buggy so stopping is never an option. We visited the Birds of Prey Centre where GG would have struggled with the noise. We enjoyed the simple pleasure of being able to run through the woods with the dogs, and for me being able to watch the others on the climbing frame, without having to join in to help GG around.

GG on the other hand had a lovely day out. Along with some of her school friends, she came home full of smiles, an empty lunchbox and keen to go back again tomorrow.

Perfect you would think so why do I feel so guilty. It is because I missed GG’s smile as much as I missed her screeches. I missed her giggles as much as I missed the inevitable tears. I missed the simple pleasure GG takes in a cheese sandwich whilst my others devoured lunch without a thought.

It felt like we were incomplete as much as it felt a relief to have a fun day without the additional challenges. Every photo I took was missing something. Perhaps in time I will come to accept this new phase in our lives. I know how much we all need some time out, GG’s siblings in particular, but I wish with all my heart that it didn’t have to be like this.

2017 GG’s Best Year Yet!

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The past year has been a whirlwind  with significant changes in our lives and for GG it has, without doubt, been her best year yet.

The Big Move…

The big news of course was the house move, 200 miles from all that GG had ever known, to our new life in the country. The move has proven to be the best thing we could have done. We have the space for all that GG benefits from – a ball pool in her Peppa Pig bedroom, enough room to (clumsily) push her baby’s pushchair around the house and space to play away from her noisy younger brother. The outdoor space is even better and the investment in a sunken trampoline that GG can access without support has given her a new level of freedom.

The New School….

With the move has come a new school where GG has settled incredibly well. Described as the ‘mother hen’ in her classroom, GG has developed friendships and has made progress beyond our expectations. Her annual review started with ‘What do we like and admire about GG’ – it was an uplifting and positive experience, no longer fighting for her every need but surrounded by a team who could not be more helpful.

GG’s Busy Social Life….

The social opportunities have expanded as well – we have managed to replicate horse riding, swimming and Brownies and GG has adapted well. The addition of a local boccia group which her siblings join in too represents truly inclusive sports. Holiday club options have also worked well with GG happy to get on the bus with her packed lunch. Our precious girl has such a busy social calendar!

GG’s Love of Animals….

We have extended our repertoire of animals – GG still loves her daily Guinea Pig cuddles and is as excited as the day we first had them. The addition of an outdoor cat has had limited impact, however the 2 puppies we bought home in November have enhanced GG’s life beyond all of our expectations. There is no longer a fight over getting dressed in the morning as she is so keen to make it downstairs to see the ‘woofs’. The smile on her face as they welcome her makes all of the extra work worthwhile.

On the Health Front…

Medically 2017 was a relatively stable year, discharged from cardiology, better results from the eye tests, only a couple of UTIs and a subsequent scan showing no significant issues. Appointments with many other teams but none too worrying. Most of all GG’s epilepsy has improved – it is still there and we continue to sleep with one eye on her video monitor – however we have even removed one of her medications with no impact. We could not be more delighted and we hope we will see an improvement in concentration and behaviours as a result.

GG’s Major Achievements…

In addition to taking major changes in her stride throughout the year, in the last 2 months of 2017, GG had her art work displayed at a local show, coped with going on stage to receive donations on behalf of her holiday club, and most importantly leapt an astonishing 1 year and 4 months forward on the assessment of the level of her understanding. GG has also started to sing which delights her and all those around her. There is no doubt that 2017 was GG’s best year yet.

As we move into 2018….

We are so excited about what GG can achieve. Our focus on improving some of the challenging behaviours will continue. The EHCP transfer will no doubt prove a challenge, and just maybe 2018 will the year of the diagnosis for our gorgeous SWAN as we await results from the 100,000 Genomes study. Let’s hope 2018 will prove to be even better.

Five Things I Would Change

Five Things I Would Change…..

1. This maybe controversial as I know many parents who would not change their child for the world. I would not be without GG for the world, she and her siblings are my everything. However I would fix GG if I could. The core of GG, would 100% still be her, she has a very strong personality! However I would take away the pain and challenges she faces every day.

2. The attitude of others, towards those of us trying to lead a typical family life with a disabled child. It’s not easy, so you staring and tut-ting is really not helping. We should be able to go out for the day or enjoy a meal – offer help instead of judgement.

3. The assumption that parents of children with disabilities do not, or should not work. We are a growing army of working parent carers, it is good for us, good for society and definitely good for our children when we can make it work. However it does mean that I am not at your beck and call, for appointments and I cannot conjure up a fancy dress costume in 48 hours!

4. The crazy inconsistencies between provision in different local authorities / NHS Trusts. It is a postcode lottery as to whether you have access to, or qualify for, much needed support and to not have a standard offering to children with disabilities is beyond ridiculous.

5. Professionals treating us like amateurs when we are experts in our children. We are their voice so please listen and treat us with respect.

 

 

A Letter to the Prime Minister

Dear Mrs May,

Twelve months ago I wrote to you regarding Brexit and how I hoped that you would protect funding around genetic research, which is so important to those of us who have or care for someone with an undiagnosed or rare disease.  https://theworldofgorgeousgrace.com/2016/07/05/dear-mrs-may

I did receive a generic response from your office, which did not give me a great deal of comfort.

Whilst this remains a concern, I have to be honest that I have worse fears for the future of the country, given what I have seen the Conservative Government do over the past year. Disabled people seem to have dropped off your radar (maybe even pushed) and I want you to put them back where they belong – on an equal footing with everyone else.

Disabled people should not be dying because of inadequate care. Disabled people should not be dying because you have significantly reduced their benefits. Disabled children should not be excluded from school because of insufficient funding. Disabled people should not be suffering unnecessarily due to the state of the NHS. Disabled should not be subjected to undignified questioning by under qualified people because you want to save a few pounds. I could go on but I think you get the point.

I totally understand that there is less money to go around but you do have choices Mrs May. Businesses must be made to pay the tax they owe in this country. Tax avoidance schemes must be eliminated. An extra penny on the pound for higher rate tax payers would not impact their lifestyles at all. Simply joining up services and reducing bureaucracy would allow money to be redirected into frontline services. There are many choices which would not result in some of the neediest people in our society being further isolated by selfish and needless policies.

I know we have 4 years before another election and somehow we have to find a way to muddle through, survive for some of us. However I think you know that the tide is turning, the reality of cuts in the wrong places is becoming more visible. If you don’t care enough to make a change for disabled people then think about yourself – do you really want the reputation that causing unnecessary suffering to disabled people will bring? I hope you are not that heartless.

Yours sincerely,

GG’s Mum

 

 

 

My Proudest Moment(s)

When I think of moments of pride with my other children, my mind immediately jumps to a milestone achieved – starting to crawl, their first word, learning to write their name or receiving an award for ‘empathy beyond their years’ – a common trait in siblings of children with special needs.

With GG it is difficult to pinpoint those moments in a ‘first’. I cried with joy the day she took her first steps, but actually I was more proud of the resilience she showed as a baby wearing splints for hours on end to help her muscles develop. I was prouder of her ability to persevere through a demanding daily, physio session for 3 continuous weeks which accelerated her physical development. I was really proud of how she adapted to a specialist walker in the months before she took her first independent steps. The ultimate achievement of a milestone is made up of hundreds of proud moments which reflect GG’s determination.

I am so proud of how hard GG tries to communicate – her attempts to sign, verbalise and use communication aids to make herself heard. Last year was the magical moment when she first verbalised her own name – it’s still not a clear pronunciation, but she knows what she is saying and is still proud as punch to answer the question ‘What is your name?’ It cannot be underestimated how hard she worked for that one small, but hugely significant achievement.

I am incredibly proud of how GG copes when she is unwell and particularly during seizures. GG complains so much less than other children but handles so much more. Awful ear infections that we only know about due to a high temperature, huge bruises or blisters on her feet that we are unaware of at the time, and yet she smiles on through her day. The confusion after a seizure and sheer exhaustion it brings – none of it stops her for long. I could not be prouder of how resilient GG is.

One of the greatest pleasures for us is seeing GG interact with others. GG has social skills well above the expected level for a child with a severe learning disability. From a young age, GG has always loved being the centre of attention and will always seek out the company of others. Watching her try and join in games with her siblings and peers, always a long way behind but cracking on regardless. The one in her classroom who likes to make sure everyone is included, regardless of whether they respond to her. I am so proud of how inclusive GG is and how infectious her happiness can be.

I cannot point at one moment, one achievement as being my proudest but if I had to summarise, then overall I am most proud of GG being true to herself and every day being the best that she can be.

 

 

GG’s Favourite Book

 

To be honest, this could be a picture of any Peppa Pig book. This one is a favourite as it has the sound effects, and GG particularly enjoys Grandpa Pigs snoring. We read every day and mostly GG engages but I do wish she would extend her repertoire! One of my favourite parts of the day is a bathed GG, having snuggles and a story before bed.