Friday, 9 December 2011
Invisible in the Community
Chrissy (in purple, 2nd from right, at a MENCAP party aged 7)
It hit me when I was searching our family albums for another photo.
So many pictures of Chrissy engaging with people, fully involved in the hurly burly of life. Dressing up for Halloween and making 'witchy' faces with her sister; sitting at a table, eating birthday cake, surrounded by people and chaos; dancing around and introducing me to her peers at her 18th birthday party; giggling with her brother on a fairground ride.
What happened? How did we get to where we are today - in a locked ward on an assessment & treatment unit?
Despite the government's efforts to end social exclusion, people with learning disabilities are still amongst the most marginalised groups in society - but it isn't bullying or prejudice that makes Chrissy invisible in the community. She simply isn't able to function outside her comfort zone. The severity of her autism, stripping & self-injurious behaviours have effectively isolated her from the world.
Chrissy's involvement in family events has dwindled. She came to our wedding in 2003, albeit with two helpers, and a family christening a couple of years later. She managed (again with two helpers) for an hour or two at my 50th birthday party last September, which made my night. Now we can't even take her up the road to the village shop or, God forbid, to a restaurant.
It means that Chrissy's outings are restricted to our garden or the assessment & treatment unit's grounds. Even on good days, we can't risk taking her anywhere other than straight to the car when we take her back to the unit. She's too unpredictable.
Looking back, Chrissy had become increasingly difficult to manage as she'd grown bigger. Holidays together as a family and trips to the supermarket were the first to go. Then we had a few years' reprieve in her teens with the transforming medication regime before the most severe challenging behaviours kicked in again during her twenties. Her autism crept up on us - hand-flapping, turning switches on & off, getting stuck - unable to transition to the next activity, repetitive questions, turning items in her bedroom back-to-front - but, because she was still sociable and affectionate, it went undiagnosed until she was 22.
Have the effects of her chromosome disorder become more marked & pervasive as she's grown? Has her epilepsy, poorly controlled when she was little, caused brain damage? Should she have had the triple vaccines as an infant? Did behaviour management interventions come too late? Is some of her medication making her condition worse? There are no answers and it's a case of trial & error. For now, we make the most of the good days and continue to work on the rest.
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