Tired but happy

For every symbol I showed him Quinns indicated that I should put it on the ‘good’ side of the Talking Mat, a brilliant communication tool for digging deeper into someone’s feelings about a subject. Based on Quinns’ answers to my questions it was safe to report at his TAC (Team around the child) meeting that he is really happy with his school experience so far.

Photo of a black board with a picture of a school in the middle. There is a thumbs down symbol on the top left and thumbs up symbol on the top right. On the right there are 10 symbols each relating to school i.e. reading, numbers etc
Quinns’ Talking Mat with everything on the good side.

Despite everything that was going on last August Quinns took the start of primary one in his stride. Transition events that differed from previous years probably had more impact on the staff than on the children who didn’t know any different. Once his full risk assessment was complete, the accessible mud kitchen was in place in the outdoor classroom and I’d given the staff a quick guide to turning on the eye gaze computer they were all set. 

Walking to school that first day as soon as he saw the lollipop man he nearly burst out of his chair with excitement! I’m sure Quinns was as relieved as I was for him to have managed to start school. He has made brilliant bonds with his teacher and support for learning assistants who he already knew from having been at the school nursery. 

Over the school year he has built up such a rapport with his teacher. He knows she understands the subtleties of his communication and has no hesitation in indicating when he can’t be bothered working anymore. His looks towards the screen asking to watch Thomas the Tank Engine don’t go unnoticed. I don’t think she gives in to his requests that easily though as he’s usually tired out by the end of the day. 

I get a lot of brilliant photos showing what he’s been doing each day. I love seeing him smiling surrounded by his classmates and I’m amazed at how much and naturally they include him. They are so willing to learn his way of communicating. One of my favourite stories about his day was hearing how his friend held up yes/no cards for Quinns to choose between weird concoctions for a picnic they were planning together. 

5 year old girl on the left standing showing yes/no cards to Quinns, a 5 year old boy on the left sitting in his chair.
A friend showing Quinns his yes/no cards.

On his recent return to school I was asked if he could have pizza for lunch. At the start of the first term we decided he would have packed lunches. If I provided the food I knew he could eat it and so I could be sure he was eating enough. But when everyone else was having pizza that day he was keen to be the same as everyone else. He now gets to make the decision about whether he has packed lunch or school lunch each day.

As well as his weekly homework book he regularly comes home with crafts he’s made in class (I’ve noticed there are a lot of hats!) Most recently though it was bright side glasses, made as part of a discussion on how to look on the bright side of life. On the one side he is not happy to go to school when he is tired but on the other side seeing his friends makes up for it.

I’m fine

 

I’m fine. Or at least that’s what my photographs from the last eight weeks show.

Photo of a frog stuck in a plant pot

In reality I’m not fine. I’m processing a major event along with the rest of the world. It’s hard to admit that life is difficult when you know that it’s tough for everyone. Everyone has circumstances that make this situation difficult whether it’s isolating alone or as a working parent; losing a job or doing a job that’s particularly demanding. Everyone is doing what they can and hopefully communities are rising to the challenge of supporting each other just as ours has.

For us the shutters came down around our family of four a week earlier than lockdown. My instinct was to protect Quinns as I felt he was particularly vulnerable. I questioned myself constantly for several weeks before we finally received his shielding letter. The letter brought a certain amount of relief. Knowing that my instinct was right and that professionals agree is comforting. It doesn’t however bring back the support that we are missing.

We’ve gone from a team that couldn’t fit in the school’s biggest meeting room to just the three of us looking after all of Quinns’ needs while Dad works full time at a stressful job from home and Big Sister is home schooled.

There’s no longer the same NHS input as those who support us have been redeployed to cover other areas. On a practical level I have been unable to get the bigger size in Quinns’ support shoes from orthotics and have no hope for the next few months.

At the beginning of lockdown Dad had to fix the headrest on Quinns’ chair while receiving instructions on the phone from the rep. Later that day the rep was furloughed. For a while now a bit of the chair falls off periodically. We simply stick it back in.

Quinns’ three Nursery days a week provided not only education and socialisation for him but also space for me. He had the benefit of 1-1 support in the classroom while personal care was provided 2-1. Now it’s me providing it all and my much needed space is non-existent. My one saving grace is his classmate, Big Sister who also covers as my teaching assistant and occasionally additional support for personal care.

We chose to stop the carers who came into our home a couple of times a week to help us out. The risk to us and others was too great and we felt we could manage. However with grandparents all isolating in their own homes there’s absolutely no hope of respite. My only relief is when Dad manages to take holiday from work.

Much as I have wanted to I have not had the time or energy to write. I have however tried my best to keep up with developments. There have been times when I’ve desperately wanted to shout about frailty guidelines, DNR letters and serious changes to legislation. It rang so true when I read recently that it’s difficult to write when you are afraid.

‘We are all safe and well and making the most of our time together’ is my cover story for a level of exhaustion and anxiety that is off the chart.

Knowing that we are shielding at home till at least mid July, the only thing we can do is keep on going. We plan to make the most of the opportunity to ‘home school’ making use of the skills and resources available to us (it will come as no surprise that our home school has it’s own name and brand!)

I can’t take on all the roles of Quinns’ team but I can still be an advocate for value over vulnerability by sharing our positive stories.

And one last thing if you’re needing a break in lockdown and haven’t watched the film Crip Camp yet I’d highly recommend it!

Can you hear me?

I was recently on a course where speakers would present on various topics relating to inclusion. 

Pencil line illustration of a young boy shouting into a microphone.

At the start of one presentation a support person held the microphone to the speaker’s mouth. ‘Can you hear me?’ said the speaker. As we shook our heads the supporter adjusted the microphone. ‘Can you hear me?’ 

Again the answer was no and more adjustments made. ‘Can you hear me?’ This went on for several minutes until finally we could hear the speaker and I can assure you by the time the presentation began we were all listening. 

After that for the duration of the talk the supporter quietly held the microphone to the speakers mouth, only switching arms as required. His job simply to help amplify the speaker’s words.

Knowing how to support someone who is physically disabled can be really difficult. A really fine balance needs to be struck between supporting someone to do something and simply doing it for them. 

I recently helped Quinns make salt dough ornaments. They looked pretty good but my own experience working with dough and icing was obvious. I had taken over. I overstepped the mark of enabling and instead made them for him. I like to think that’s what any mother would do though… 

One evening we were sitting at the table. Quinns had his eye gaze computer in front of him. Big Sister was writing a letter. She finished and passed it to me. I read it to myself and told her how great it was before putting it down beside me. 

Quinns very slowly but carefully picked three words. ‘I. Want. See.’ 

Close up photo of the screen of Quinns' eye gaze computer showing the word and images for I want see in the speech box.

Of course, I had forgotten to show him the letter his sister had been working on. A great reminder that he’s so often passed over. We share things and show each other things all the time. His presence in the room isn’t enough to include him. He needs help to get in on the action either by someone moving him closer and / or helping him with the relevant piece of equipment but at the same time not overstepping the mark. 

Quinns will probably always need help. There are some amazing designs and technologies available that will enable him to do a whole lot but it’s really important that he also gets the right support person. The one who will quietly hold the microphone and allow Quinns’ voice to be heard.