Chrissy age 9. The start of more turbulent times. Note self-inflicted scratches on face & around eyes
As we continue to marvel over Chrissy's emergence from medication-induced cognitive impairment and behavioural changes, we are looking at her future care options. Although we haven't got a discharge date yet, we're nearing the end of Chrissy's treatment but can't make firm plans until the funding dispute is resolved. A personal support package needs to be in place before Chrissy can take up any housing options that may be offered but despite the efforts of a solicitor, an ombudsman and ourselves, progress is still painfully slow.
A mum that faces similar challenges to ours said she has always tried to take a reasonable approach but feels her constant efforts to improve her disabled child’s life are an uphill battle without any action. Another parent said she was in despair as she doesn’t see any significant changes coming to ensure good, long-term care for her child. ‘I’m sick and tired of all the stress and worry, and the coping,' she says. 'I want to be heard. I’ve had enough.’
Battles can start early on when you have a child with a learning disability, particularly if the cause is unknown or the child has complex needs. My book ‘Bringing Up a Challenging Child at Home’ http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/book/9781853028748 describes my attempts to get someone to take my concerns seriously. No one ever sat me down, and took time to listen and explain anything. I was always asking ‘what’s wrong with my child?’ I felt like I was being fobbed off and became increasingly frustrated.
Eventually, it became chillingly obvious that something was wrong. Chrissy was diagnosed with epilepsy when she was 10 months old and, later, with developmental delay. She received physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy but these services were snatched away when we moved to a different area. It was our first experience of the postcode lottery but not our last - a decade later Chrissy's respite care allocation was halved when we moved to another county. I didn't know how to go about challenging these decisions but I've since learned that it's only those who shout loudest that get the help their child needs.
During Chrissy’s early school years things went relatively smoothly. She had sufficient support in lessons to help her to achieve her potential and was under the care of Great Ormond Street Hospital, who took quite an interest in her. It was only as she grew bigger and more difficult to manage that the battles began in earnest. Health professionals and Social Services seemed to write Chrissy off & wouldn't offer sufficient support. I guess no one really knew what to do and they feared that they would carry the can if something went wrong.
When Chrissy was nine doctors began prescribing anti-psychotics and sedatives to try to subdue a particularly intense outburst cycle but the episodes escalated and became more violent and prolonged than ever. Over the next four years there was one crisis after another as her SLD school struggled to cope and so did we. We were using behavioural intervention strategies but they only helped with day-to-day challenging behaviours, not with these more severe episodes.
Finally when Chrissy was 14 Ian and I snapped after she'd had several days of frenzied self-injurious outbursts while on the anti-psychotic, Haloperidol. Somehow we got her down to our local children’s ward. 'This is our daughter, Chrissy,' we told an appalled nurse,'and we're not taking her home until someone helps her.’ We had a heated discussion with hospital staff when they realised we were sticking to our guns but once they got a handle on the situation they agreed to help. I’ve described Chrissy’s transformation in just 14 days after those meds changes in previous posts. For the next few years things ran relatively smoothly again - but when her meds were withdrawn after the platelet drop, I was propelled back into the fray.
The dreaded anti-psychotics were re-introduced, and Chrissy's behaviour & quality of life deteriorated again. Her doctors wouldn't accept anti-psychotics were making things worse AGAIN, and argued instead that it was all down to her being in the 'wrong' environment for someone with autism. There were endless disputes over the right course of action to take and Chrissy was stuck in the middle. In 2008 after another awful cycle of extreme outbursts, she was given 28 days' notice of eviction from her residential care home. I fought a legal battle to give us extra time for a transition to another care home, then when that placement broke down amidst the all-too familiar backdrop of medical professionals doing nothing and citing the 'not-fit-for-autism' environment, I had to take legal action again on two separate occasions to get Chrissy into hospital for assessment and treatment.
While parents of neurotypical children face occasional set-tos our battles are never-ending and instead of stopping when they become adults, they get worse. There's always another 'concern' to address along with major ongoing issues rumbling in the background, and we go through periods of reeling from one crisis to another.
In my previous post Groundhog Day http://jgregorysharingsstories.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/special-saturday-post-groundhog-day.html I describe how I feel like I'm continually revisiting the same issues. For example, last year's admissions and apologies from the NHS trust about making a ‘dog’s dinner’ of Chrissy’s assessments for healthcare funding, and their promises to rectify the situation with properly conducted assessments and thorough investigations have come to nothing. I"ve lost count of how many times my hopes have been raised like this. Another parent described it as like kicking a football around a triangle. You are in the centre of the triangle created by professional services and your issue just gets kicked around from corner to corner as the professionals that you go to for support pass the buck and blame each other. After going down all these frustrating routes of trying to get someone to take responsibility and action you are left back where you started to kick the football from.
Meanwhile, Chrissy's epilepsy remains unstable, and other health worries keep cropping up that leave me feeling acutely aware of the fragile balance between symptom control and quality of life. We intend to make the most of the good times while they last. That's why we're taking Chrissy on holiday to Center Parcs at the end of the month. Wish us luck!
I am a SWAN UK (Syndromes without a Name) blogger