When Little Ears Hear More Than They Ever Should

Last summer I showed my then 9 year old how to answer my mobile phone. Her twin brother was having major seizures and she wanted to help me. I tought her to answer and when possible pass the phone to me. Despite being autistic she worked it out and did exactly what I needed her to every time.

She was proud of herself and felt like she was helping.

I was proud of her too.

In the last year she has started to answer calls on the home phone too and is doing a great job of saying who is calling and passing the phone to me when needed. It’s a huge life skill and one which she has been excelling at. Up until today though I had no issues with her answering any calls.

Today I was driving with just the two of us in the car. I was on my way to collect her friend with her for a play date. Not long before we arrived at her friend’s house my mobile phone rang and Naomi readily answered it. Unfortunately it was a call she should never have heard.

Naomi’s twin brother is sick, very sick in fact. He has a brain tumour and is about to have invasive surgery followed by treatment. While I have spoken to Naomi about this in ways she understands (she describes his tumour as slime in his brain) the phone call today was one she should never have heard. Apparently the call started by asking if it was the family of Isaac. Of course my daughter answered ‘yes’. The caller then said that Isaac was to come to hospital immediately to be admitted for an undecided period of time so that he could have some urgent tests and then surgery on his brain. I don’t in any way fault the hospital as they had no way of knowing they were talking to a ten year old but the things said in that call were not ideal for little ears.

The day before I had taken both my children to another medical appointment. This time it was a community paediatrician who had never met my children before. Both of my ten year olds had to sit though a very long conversation between myself and that paediatrician while I outlined my concerns about them both. While the conversation was necessary, once again it wasn’t suitable for little ears.

So many children with additional support needs are hearing things that little ears should never hear. They are in meetings when adults discuss concerns, missed milestones, social difficulties and medical issues about them all whilst their ears can hear. I’ve been talking to my daughter so much about this as I try and help her work through her issues but as she says even sitting in a waiting room isn’t ideal: ‘Even if I was outside waiting or in class it wouldn’t matter as I would still know I am being talked about mum.’

Children hear a lot more than we realise. They overhear phone calls, hear discussions of adults while they play and they hear when medical staff mention things. They hear above TV, YouTube and other background noises. They pick up vibes, atmospheres and worries. Sometimes they even answer calls you would prefer they hadn’t.

I’m trying to help my child process the fact her twin brother is ill but now I need to help her understand and process things she has heard that she really should be protected from.

What goes into little ears changes children. Some of those words become their inner voice, other repeat loudly like an echo for years to come and others affect their self esteem for the rest of their lives.

I’m not a huge advocate of sheltering children from life completely. I don’t think that helps prepare them for the world they will live in as adults very well. However I am a huge advocate of protecting little ears from things that they are not ready to hear yet because their minds are not fully ready.

Right now I am having to work through some difficulties with my ten year old because her little ears heard more than they really should have. Sadly I am not alone.

We put parental controls on technology to prevent little ears from hearing words we don’t want them too, we have children’s TV channels designed to protect vulnerable children from the adult world yet we put our most vulnerable addition needs children in situations daily that cause their little ears to hear more than they should.

Isn’t it time we thought of a better way forward?

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The Insignificant Mother

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It started before the meeting even began. Emails, phone calls and discussions between you all to synchronise diaries and finalise a time and location that suited everyone. Everyone, of course, except the insignificant mother. My diary was never checked. No-one asked if the time suited me or if the location was convenient. As long as the ‘professionals’ are fine with it that is what matters apparently.

You all had weeks of notice. I received the letter in the post just days before. You all knew the agenda, I didn’t.

So here we are all sat around the table. I notice you all smartly dressed, folders and pens at the ready and reports all prepared, while I sit there in yesterday’s clothes trying to remember if I got around to brushing my teeth this morning or not.

Introduction are done and apologies made, yet a few chairs still lie empty. It seems some of you have not turned up, again. I realise that every person in the room is paid to be there, except me. This is everyday stuff to you all. Meeting are your norm. Not for me. I am not sure what you all think I do all day or even what you all think of me at all. What I do know is that none of you feel I am important enough to be given a title. The sign in sheet asked me to list my profession and just as I went to write ‘parent’ one of you says ‘you can just leave that bit blank’.

You all get your turn at discussing my child like you know them so well. I want to scream at you when you don’t even say his name right or know his age. I am told to wait my turn. Each person talks about my child like he is a number. He is just one of your case load, a child you will soon move on from, either by discharging or he moves on to another class. I guess I am at least thankful you made the effort to come. Sadly some of your fellow professionals never even gave my son that honour.

I wonder if I will ever get to speak. I have no prepared report to give you all or targets I have achieved. He made it to school today, does that count? He even had breakfast..that surely gives me bonus points?

“Mum, do you have anything to add”, so you actually noticed I was there after all! I have lots I could say but does it really matter? If I disagree with anything said it gets recorded as ‘not engaging with professionals’, if I talk about home life I am reminded ‘we must stick to the points in question’, if I ask to be reminded of something that was discussed ‘we have covered that point and you will be able to read it in the minutes’. What do you actually want me to say? What you really want is me to tell you all how wonderful you are and how grateful I am for your input. You want me to pat you on the back and boost your ego and bow down to your authority. You all hold the power in these things and I am just the insignificant mum.

The meeting closes. You all return to your cosy offices, your clinic appointments and your computers.

I return home to the non verbal screaming child. I return home to the little girl refusing to eat. You can tick you box to say you had your meeting, you can record who attended and who didn’t. Please do send me the minutes to file away with the large pile of reports and factsheets I have already.

One day I may get around to reading them. Right now I have a diary full of hospital appointments and two children who need a huge amount of support. You may like to record at your next meeting that the person providing all this support day and night, unpaid, and out of love, is the insignificant mother.

Insignificant to professionals maybe, but hugely significant and loved by the two people who count the most.

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Who supports the parents?

imageAnother letter. Another meeting. You know, the ones where everyone and their dog meets to discuss YOUR child? Now don’t misunderstand me here: I am so grateful for professional input, I appreciate them taking the time to come and I value their opinions (mostly).

The thing is though, they are doing what they are paid to do. They come dressed for the occasion, prepared, fresh and professional. And I just can’t compete with that.

I know I am ultimately the ‘expert’ on my child, but I don’t always feel like that.

I come to the meetings a very different person to them. I am mostly harassed, sleep-deprived, emotional and ill-prepared. I have not had the liberty of having a relaxed breakfast or had 15 minutes to apply my make-up. I have not even have a minute to use the bathroom in peace!

The times are set to meet their schedules, not mine. While I know the challenges involved in getting so many people together in the same place at the same time, I also know there will have been emails flying around, telephone conversations and tweaking of times and days among themselves to find a point of agreement. None of which I will have been involved in yet I am expected to just be there.

And I always am. Because it is what we do as parents and because I know these things are important for my children.

And so the meeting will go on. Each person will say what they are doing to help and support my child and reports will be circulated. It may well be minuted and if I am lucky I may even get a copy. Then they go their separate ways, each back to their own office, or base, or classroom and proceed with their day.

While I go home to cope with the everyday demands of two special needs children. Whilst in school my child appears to be well supported I wonder, not for the first time, about who supports the parents?

We are the ones dealing with the challenging behaviour, the meltdowns, the endless screaming, the not sleeping, the sensory difficulties and the food refusals. We are the ones who do the personal care, fight to get the uniform on and battle to get them to school. When the holidays come we are left alone and everyone at the meeting carries on with their day.

We are the ones fighting with schools, dealing with transport issues, and filling in forms. We are the bottom line and the most important people in it all. Our opinions matter hugely, our insight is important and our knowledge crucial. We should be valued, respected and acknowledged. We are the true professionals, the best experts, and have the most invested in our child. But we also deal with the reality so much more than anyone else.

I love that so many people support my children. But I do wonder sometimes when I watch other families going through the same thing as I do, when I hear so many parents of special needs children struggling with depression or crumbling with the stress of it all;

Who, in all this, is supporting the parents?

My kid cried…let’s call a meeting

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Something about the ‘stay at home mum’ got lost on me this week. I was hardly home at all. One meeting was followed by another meeting, followed by phone calls and emails.
I am so grateful for having people involved in my children’s lives. I appreciate the work my children’s schools do and the professional involvement that they both have. But it is a stark reality that having two children with additional needs with two separate teams of professionals and two different school to deal with often means a whole load of meetings.
Add to that medical issues and everyday appointments like dentists, opticians etc and I once again realise why I am often more of a carer than a parent.

The reality is that meetings are necessary. I can not raise these children alone. I have had to ask for help. We have speech therapists, educational psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists, doctors, paediatricians, nurses, support staff, teachers, head teachers and carers all involved with the children. And they all need to know when things change.

Then there is church too. After almost six years attending crèche the tiimageme has come to discuss how we go about transitioning the twins into Sunday school in church. While other families just take their child to a different room one week, perhaps stay for a short time and then leave them, it isn’t that simple for me. So I had to have a meeting. The children need social stories, photographs of staff, visual timetables and lots of discussions about to manage behaviour, communication and anxiety.

Now school has returned and there are new teachers to work with, new support staff and medical issues to sort there has had to be meetings with both schools. I have had discussions with teachers, head teachers, support staff, seen where one of the children will be changed and sorted through lots of minor issues and misunderstandings. The transitions to new classes and starting school has been hard on the children. It has involved panic attacks, self harming, screaming, and a whole lot of tears. Only one of the children has the ability to tell me what has been going on. We needed meetings and phone calls to help sort out a whole page of difficulties for one child and meetings to sort out ‘unknown’ difficulties with the other child. School has brought with it such an intensity at times and family life has been very hard. While that is often just something families need to go through and you know it will sort itself out, when your child has a disability you have a duty to keep professionals informed in order for them to best help and support. No parent can have their child self harm or have daily panic attacks and just ignore it.

We had some teething trouble with transport. Lots of phone calls later and that seems to be more stable. We have had challenges with homework in a house where both children require 1-1 at all times. The balancing of needs is turbulent at the best of times but add homework into the mix and the storm hits with full force, from both children. So this needed discussed with school too.

Care plans needed updated, medical issues have needed addressed and sensory needs monitored. And it all involves lots of discussions and meetings.

At times it really has felt like the second one of the children cried we would be having yet another meeting.

Sometimes it would be nice to just get on with family life. It would be lovely to have privacy and not have to keep discussing daily how we will deal with today’s struggles and tomorrow’s worries. It would be wonderful to not have to read school diaries and feel the weight of concern when you read ‘they had a bad day today’.

But I have to accept that if my children have support then in turn I lose something of myself. I lose my time, my privacy and some of the confidentiality of family life. My children lose a lot of that too. In order to help there has to be meetings. People have to know when my children are in pain, highly anxious or upset. We do need to share sensitive information with others like when they have had bowel movements or what they have eaten. It has to be recorded for their health and well being. Sometimes that just upsets me. It can feel like an infringement of privacy at times but sadly for everyone these things need to be shared.

But can I tell you that today my kid cried. And I just dealt with it. No-one else will know why and there will be no meeting. Because in all these discussions my family still needs respect and privacy.

Just because my children have extra needs does not mean everyone has to know everything. Help us, don’t suffocate us.

I might just mention that in the next meeting I go to…