Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Update on Winterbourne View Out of Sight Campaign

Last week I went to Westminster with other families whose loved ones with learning disabilities & challenging behaviour have been supported by Mencap and the Challenging Behaviour Foundation. We told our stories to Norman Lamb MP, Minister for Care.

Another parent has kindly agreed for me to share her blog about the meeting. Please read & support us.


Monday, 3 March 2014

Chrissy's New Home

We've been very busy getting Chrissy's new bungalow ready for her.

She is on her way there now. Very excited!

Long-time readers of this blog will know what a fight we've had to get to this stage in her life. She spent over four years in an assessment & treatment unit, & now she's ready to face the world again.

Let's hope the world is ready for Chrissy!

Fingers crossed that she will fall in love with her lovely new bungalow on the outskirts of Winchester city centre. It's going to be a huge change from living on a locked ward. She will have two carers with her at all times, which will enable her to live as independently as she can.

Watch this space....

Saturday, 12 October 2013

A brief update on Chrissy.

Lots of progress since I last posted.

Seizures and behaviours are now more stable than they've been in years. We finally got there! Chrissy has been able to go out and about, and is really enjoying life.

She now has the continuing healthcare funding that we fought for over such a long period. This should mean that she will get a better quality of care in the community.

She has a bungalow in Winchester through social housing and last week we selected a care provider, so it's all systems go. We hope to complete the transition by Christmas.

I'll post again when Chrissy has moved in.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Genetics Advances and Learning Disability: A Parent's Perspective

My book Bringing Up a Challenging Child.....http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/book/9781853028748 was published in 2000 and takes the reader through Chrissy's life up to the age of 14.

A decade later my chapter 'A Parent's Perspective' was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Dr Samantha Knight, who was on the research team that discovered Chrissy's chromosome disorder, was editing the journal and, as you can imagine, it was a huge honour to be invited to contribute. The book, which was published in Feb 2010, had the fabulously un-pc title 'Genetics of Mental Retardation' (a term that is still used in the US) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Genetics-Mental-Retardation-Encompassing-Intellectual/dp/3805592809 My chapter encompasses Chrissy's life up to the age of 26, and lies behind reviews on the remarkable advances in modern technologies that have resulted in newly identified syndromes and the importance of genetics in learning disability. The best way I could think of to add my chapter was in a series of images that can be opened up and read individually. The 14 pages can be clicked on and scrolled through at the bottom of the screen.

In between the two books I also wrote a piece for the Daily Mail about the groundbreaking genetic breakthrough that ended our 22 year search for answers in 2006.

I support Unique http://www.rarechromo.co.uk/html/home.asp & I'm a SWAN (syndromes without a name) blogger

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Progress & Mum Meltdowns

The roller-coaster ride continues! I'm feeling more optimistic again as there's been progress on all fronts.

Chrissy made it home yesterday! It's been a real struggle to get her up, bathed, dressed and out so all credit to the ward staff for getting her here.

Last week I had what Chrissy's social worker called a 'mum meltdown' when I saw the wretched state Chrissy was in, & the only solution I could think of was to keep her at home until suitable housing was found. Now we've had another discharge planning meeting and seen the neurologist, I'm able to take a step back and make a more considered judgement. The neurologist has attributed the changes in Chrissy to Zonisamide, so it's being withdrawn but we're likely to see clusters of seizures. I'm not sure how well I could manage these at home and if I, alone, had decided to bring her home, it could all blow up in my face if I put her at risk. At least in the assessment & treatment unit there are always medical staff somewhere on the site.

The urge to kidnap Chrissy & protect her from harm at all costs grips me every so often. It's an irrational, but all-consuming impulse that made me sympathise with Sally Roberts, who ran away with her son to stop him receiving life-saving radiotherapy because she feared it could do him more harm than good. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9733803/Sally-Roberts-runaway-mother-will-allow-radiotherapy-if-sons-cancer-is-back.html Also, if Chrissy came home her place on the ward would still have to be paid for by the NHS so we need to do this properly and plan each step with her multi-disciplinary team.

So now I've had the opportunity to air my concerns to the neurologist and other professionals involved in supporting Chrissy I can see light at the end of the tunnel again. Zonisamide is slowly being withdrawn. Chrissy's had two seizures, but one of those was on 1 August when she was on the full dose of Zonisamide. She had the other seizure here in the early hours of this morning. Both seizures were one-offs & lasted around 30 seconds. I am concerned about what next with her epilepsy meds. In the past her seizures haven't been managed by Epilim alone but the neurologist said there is scope to increase it. Overall, on balance, would it do her more harm to increase her regular epilepsy meds - or add secondary antiepileptics - or allow her to have runs of seizures & use rescue meds? These runs of seizures used to only occur around twice a month but they've been suppressed by meds so I'm not sure what her natural pattern is anymore. I don't know anything about the long-term side-effects of using rescue meds at the frequency Chrissy would need. The assessment & treatment unit still use PRN Diazepam, but care providers I've spoken to use buccal midazolam, which is given into the buccal cavity (the side of the mouth between the gum & cheek). I wonder why the latter has never been tried for Chrissy & which would work best? These are questions I need to ask the neurologist at her next appointment.

Progress too on moving into the community - yesterday we met with someone from a specialist housing association for people with disabilities and mental health problems and a potential care provider. We were very impressed with each of their approaches and the obvious passion they showed for supporting vulnerable adults to live as full a life as possible. With the aid of grants, the not-for-profit housing association would purchase a share in a property of our choice, given various conditions are met. The other part of the property would be mortgaged with a specialist mortgage company. As I said in my previous blog post, the budget covers a house we've seen in the local area.

The tendering process for providing the care package is now well underway. The plan is for decisions to be made early in September. The more I learn about supported living the more I realise it will be very different to any other service that Chrissy's lived in. It will be a huge challenge and a steep learning curve. Chrissy has no idea of what's in store as she wouldn't understand the concept - but I'm really excited! Bring it on....:)

I support Unique http://www.rarechromo.co.uk/html/home.asp & I'm a SWAN (syndromes without a name) blogger

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Being Chrissy's mum

A beautiful day...

But behind the scenes, I'm struggling with feelings of sadness and loss. We were so thrilled to get Chrissy back at the end of last year - to see the return of her zest for life and her enthusiasm for doing jigsaw puzzles, to take her on holiday, out with family, and shopping for new shoes, her grandma's reaction when we took her up north to visit her for the first time in years.....

Now, Chrissy's slipped away from us again and I'm gripped by the green-eyed monster whenever I see or hear about other adults with learning disabilities going out with their parents. It's routine for many such families but for us, outings and holidays with Chrissy are rare and precious events, often fraught with drama, to be celebrated when they go well. Chrissy just can't manage them at the moment and I realise that we're running out of treatment options. Her epilepsy no longer responds to monotherapy and nearly every secondary antiepileptic drug out there has been tried. She is so acutely sensitive to the neurological mayhem these drugs can cause that they stop her living her life. She isn't complying with bathing, teeth-cleaning etc and is still refusing food. Mood swings continue to be marked - one minute smiling and calm, the next screaming and shouting. She is disrobing on the unit but we haven't seen this at home - just shoes and socks off. She has bruises all over her body again from self-injurious behaviour - the only way she can express her distress. Two weeks ago I'd noticed bruising on her neck & had to raise my concerns at a higher level. I've never seen bruising there before & we're now awaiting the outcome of further investigations into how & when it happened. The explanation I got was too vague for comfort.

The weekend before last when that picture was taken Chrissy was so excited to see her brother, Jamie. His girlfriend, Penny, looks a bit like her sister, Alex. Chrissy thought she WAS Alex - & not just fleetingly. When Alex herself turned up later, Jamie and Penny had left. Chrissy transferred the name seamlessly to the real Alex. I'm uneasy about her confusion. She's always known who close family are even if she forgets other people's names. Another point to mention to her neurologist on Thursday when her antiepileptics are reviewed. The deterioration in Chrissy's health & mental state is something that he will be trying to resolve. The unit has no epilepsy specialists - the neurologist is based at a local NHS hospital. There's nothing more the unit can do for her now and, given the current situation, it's detrimental for her to stay there. So why is she still there?

Some of the housing barriers we've faced have shifted but new ones have popped up. We made a successful bid on a council house in the village but, although we were never given the chance to view it inside, we went with the professionals' views that it was unsuitable due to a number of safety issues in relation to where it was situated and the internal layout. The more housing options we consider the clearer we are about non-negotiables but it's hard to keep having your hopes raised only to have them dashed again. There are very few houses that become available in this area but Chrissy still has priority banding so I will keep checking the social housing website. The other option that's starting to look promising is shared ownership. A specialist housing association has finally come on board and we're having discussions about a house for sale nearby that meets their budgetary requirements. They are concerned about the noise impact on neighbours from any house with a party wall, even with sound-proofing, but a detached property is out of the question due to cost. The noise/disruption to neighbours issue must be a common theme with most people being moved out of assessment and treatment units into supported living and the Winterbourne View Joint Improvement Programme needs to address this.

The tendering process for providing the care package is also moving painfully slowly. I know we'll get there eventually but Chrissy has now spent 3 1/2 years in a locked ward. "What must it be like for her?" I asked Ian recently in a tearful moment. "We'll never know," he said. "You try to put yourself in her shoes but you can't see it like she does and there's no point even speculating."

He's right of course and I need to get a grip - but what mum wouldn't feel like I do? My heart is always at war with my head. I long to kidnap Chrissy and bring her home but I know the situation would be unmanageable, and certainly not in her best interests.

Last week Alex asked: "Do you ever resent Chrissy?"

"No," I answered as honestly as I could. "None of this is her fault. It's the situation I resent."

Reflecting on this question today I can recall times when I've felt fiercely resentful, but only in passing, the same way that I resent Ian when he keeps does something infuriating no matter how many times I ask him not to - like dumping his work briefcase on the kitchen floor!

Alex has just started work as a tutor at a unique school for children with autism, using ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis) http://www.ambitiousaboutautism.org.uk/page/treehouse_school/teachingandlearning/aba.cfm She's very excited about this new opportunity. She has always felt helpless in the face of Chrissy's suffering, even as a small child. Now she feels able to channel her conflicting emotions, and to use her valuable family experiences and training as a psychologist and teacher to improve the lives of other young people who struggle with autism and learning disabilities. Perhaps we can, in consultation with Chrissy's support team, try some ABA strategies once she moves into supported living.

Naively perhaps, I'd once hoped that similar autism-specific approaches would be used in assessment & treatment units & residential homes that claim to specialise in autism. Maybe one day.....

I support Unique http://www.rarechromo.co.uk/html/home.asp & I'm a SWAN (syndromes without a name) blogger

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Community Care Magazine: The Postcode Lottery of Care

Following on from my last post with a link to my article in Community Care Magazine, here's one I prepared earlier!

This piece ran 13 years ago when Chrissy was 16, & it's about inconsistency of service levels offered by local authorities.

We had just moved to Buckinghamshire, & the support hours that Chrissy had received in Hertfordshire, where we'd lived previously, were cut in half. Chrissy's needs hadn't changed but the council claimed they 'didn't have a big enough purse.'


I support Unique http://www.rarechromo.co.uk/html/home.asp & I'm a SWAN (syndromes without a name) blogger