When The System Damages The Very Children That Need Support

I am not sure what I thought would happen the first time I had an appointment to take my children to the paediatrician. I guess maybe some basic physical checks like height or weight or maybe some referrals on to other professionals or departments. I naively expected that appointments to help my children would indeed help them and not impact on their mental health years later.

That first appointment was my first introduction to the ‘system’. For anyone not familiar with how things work in the world of special needs parenting we are given appointments where we are expected to take our children along while strangers smile at them, perhaps say a few remarks to them, and then they are expected to sit quietly while the adults discuss them.

Even when my children were just toddlers this never sat comfortably with me.

My children may have complex needs but one thing is certain: they can hear perfectly well.

So for years I have taken them to paediatricians, specialists, therapists, neurologists, nurses, educational meetings, had social workers in my house and they have even been taken out of class at school to attend school meetings about them. In every single one of these situations, for years and years, they have heard adults discussing their diagnosis, their difficulties, and their struggles, all the time while they have had to sit there and listen!

Is it any wonder so many of our children with additional needs go on to be diagnosed with anxiety and mental health problems?

Why are we allowing children to hear such negative talk about them all in the pretence of ‘support’?

I tried to keep it positive but it backfired. By saying how well my child was coping and praising their achievements professional support got withdrawn quicker than the weather changed!

I realised I needed to be honest about the struggles my children had in order to secure the right support, but this has come at a high cost: my own children’s mental health.

Years of hearing everyone around them talk about them like they don’t exist, years of hearing their autism spoken about like it is a thing to be disgusted, years of all the adults who should be inspiring them criticising them instead, years of hearing their own parents highlighting nothing but their weaknesses takes a toll on them.

I hate what the system has caused.

We ought to know better. Research has proven so many times that children (and adults) need encouragement, positivity and belief instilled in them. They need adults around them to see them as valued, precious and wonderful. That IS how I see my children. Yet in order for me to secure any services to support them I am faced with an awful dilemma of having to talk about my children’s struggles while they are in the same room and can hear every word.

The system, designed to support our most vulnerable, is in actual fact making our own children ill.

Please don’t think I haven’t tried to protect my children. I have tried all sorts from technology with headphones, to arranging care so they can leave the room, to even asking for meetings and appointments without my children present. The latter very rarely happens and my children are not daft. They know we are talking about them regardless.

I understand there are times medical professionals, education staff and social workers do need to physically see my children but could this not be done separately to protect young hearts and minds? Apparently this is not common place at all, well at least not in my area.

So 8 years after that first paediatrician appointment what has changed? Well we have had literally hundreds of appointments. Both of my children have long lists of names of professionals who have met them, talked about them or treated them. I have drawers full of paperwork. I still have a diary full of appointments. Yet what is the hardest of all to cope with is that I have two children who have anxiety, mental health struggles and low self esteem and they are not even ten yet!

What concerns me more is that my children are just two of millions.

We must do something now to change this. Children should not be sitting playing while adults discuss their difficulties EVER. It is unprofessional, cruel and causing long term mental health problems.

What sort of society are we when the system mentally damages the very children who need our support most?

While you think about that I am busy trying to rebuild my babies.

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Dealing with criticism

Welcome to my second ever guest post. This post was sent to me by someone I know well and who follows my blog. As a fellow blogger, and now successful author of a book, Jonathan has had his fair share of criticism and bad comments. Here he shares how best to deal with them.  We can all learn from this!

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Dealing With Criticism

Take a bus with three children under five and you will instantly get a reaction. There are the vacant stares, the enthusiastic smiles and, of course, the grim glowers of disapproval. In fact, whatever you do, if it is worthwhile or slightly abnormal, there will be critics. Once we accept that, we have to figure out what to do with them.

Since burning them at the stake, filling their shoes with silly string and torturing them with Barry Manilow songs are all against the law or impractical, we need to find something more constructive. As a dad of three, PhD graduate, interpreter and writer, I have had my fair share of rejections and criticisms and knocks.

One of the first lessons I learned about criticism, and one I am still learning, is that criticism needs to be put into context. So, for example, if you have written a book that a hundred people love, it doesn’t make any sense to get caught up in the views of one person. If you have two children whom you love and who are managing, then it shouldn’t worry you that one person on a bus or commenting on your blog tries to lob over a few choice words.

Their life isn’t yours and frankly, I doubt they would do as well as it as you are. As much as it seems sometimes that every second person is giving you the stink eye, the truth is that there will likely be people around to encourage you and affirm you. As a Christian, even when I really feel that I can’t find those lovely positive people, I can rest in the love of God. The opinions of one weirdo mean nothing to someone who knows they are already unconditionally loved.

When you hear one person mouthing off, concentrate on the affirmations of those who have been praising you. When you get one catty remark, just remember that someone else’s opinion of what you are doing is not the same as your own incredible value. Let me tell you now, you are valuable and cherished and living a worthwhile life and anyone who can’t see it is not worth listening to!

Once you learn to contextualise criticism, you start realising that there are two types of critics. The first, and oddly the most annoying, are the helpful critics. The people who care about you and want the best for you. They only ever share a correction to keep you on the right track and even if they get things wrong, you know they mean well.

Why are they so annoying? Precisely because, in the majority of cases, it helps to listen to them and you find yourself with an adjustment to make or some advice to take on board. There is nothing worse than actually realising that you still need to learn teachability and humility. Or maybe that’s just me! 😉

The other type of critic doesn’t really need a name, although you can suggest one in the comments if you like. At best, they are unhelpful, at worse, they are destructive. They are the people who see you out with a double-buggy and ask if you know where children come from (if you didn’t before…). They are the people who tell you your work should be thrown in the bin or your children are awful or…

It’s for those people that you need to exercise patience and memorise two rules. The first is that, as marketing expert Seth Godin says, being criticised for something is better than no one bothering to talk about it. Take the criticism as a badge of honour. You are doing something worthwhile that others feel is worth remarking about. Wear the badge of criticism with pride.

The second comes from Bill Hybels and still makes me take a sharp intake of breath. He argues that, even with the meanest, most unkind critic, we need to try to find the critic’s grain of truth. Maybe that stern look in the supermarket from a perfect stranger could be a reminder to react less to childish behaviour. Perhaps the odd look from the old lady on the bus reminds you of the challenge you have taken on and how much of yourself it will take to just get from day to day.

Even the harshest critic can teach us something. The biggest thing I am learning from my critics is that I still put too much importance of other people’s opinions and still tend to put too much of my value in the things I do or create. If I measure my self-worth by how well my children are behaving today or worse, how well I am behaving today, I am not likely to get anywhere.

As I learn to separate who I am from the things I do, I realise that I can change what I do more easily. And once I know that I can grow, I realise that others are on the same journey. We all have bad days, grouchy moments and get annoyed when things don’t go our way. We are all growing. Whenever I remember that and I remember that I am loved while I am not there yet, the criticism doesn’t affect me nearly as much.

I still want to buy some silly string, though!

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img_5942Jonathan Downie home schools three children under five with his wife Helen, whist being a full time conference interpreter, researcher, author and speaker. He is based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He can be found at:

Twitter: @jonathanddownie (personal), @integlangsbiz (work)
Linkedin: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/jonathandownie

Website: http://www.integritylanguages.co.uk/