Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Busting for a Hamster

When J was around 4.5 years old he began to express the desire for a pet hamster. Being J this request was made in its own individual way. I can remember clearly the two of us sitting on the sofa sharing a book about pet animals. The book talked about cats. dogs, budgies, goldfish and hamsters as pets and little companions. J promptly showed an interest in the hamsters and stated that "I want a hamster". "Do you J"? I asked. "Yes" said J "I am busting for a hamster". Needless to say the expression "busting for a hamster" went through the family like wildfire and became a stock phrase to be used whenever anybody badly wanted or needed something or other.

At age 6 J finally got his wish and Dora the Explorer came into our lives, a sweet, tame honey coloured hamster who had been handled from a young age by her breeder. Dora has proved to be an ideal pet for J who participates in cleaning her cage and in handling her. Dora is utterly endearing and once she is awake each evening becomes tuned in to the sounds of the room and shows an eagerness for interaction. Calling her name brings her to the side of the cage and hearing the door of the cage opened has her scrambling for the exit with haste.

Someone else who is also "busting for a hamster" is Dru my 2 year old Tortie cat. In retrospect bringing a hamster into a house containing Dru was not one of my more sensible decisions. Dru is a magnificant hunter and has shown herself to be a very good mouser and bird watcher over the past year. So Dora is in a certain amount of danger whenever she is not in her cage. To get around this we have a plastic ball which Dora can be shut into allowing her to explore the house in safety - Dru watches from a distance but somehow cannot always make the connection that Dora is within - my wonderful Dru - she may have a strong hunting instinct but is evidently not blessed with brains as she ignores the plastic ball and Dora within and goes back to watching the cage.

This morning I stumbled out of bed at around 6.40am, went bleary eyed downstairs, fed Dru, made coffee and shuffled into the living room to find something mindless to watch on TV while I sipped coffee and came to. Some minutes later Dru appeared and immedietly crouched down on her belly, then widening her eyes she shot towards the welsh dresser and began stalking something beneath. "Bless" I thought, "she's seen a spider or something". But as Dru became progressively more frenzied in her stalking I began to wonder and worry, grabbing Dru I shut her out of the living room, she promptly pushed the door open and resumed her wild eyed stalking. I grabbed her again and unceremoniously shoved her out into the hall shutting the door firmly. I went back to the living room by now very wide awake. I switched on the main light and called out in my best "hamster enticing " voice (yes there IS such a thing) "Dora" and out from under the welsh dresser popped a little honey coloured head with bright black eyes, moments later she was walking confidently across the living room floor towards me. I scooped her up, made a fuss of her and placed her back in the cage noting the large hole she had chewed in one of the plastic tunnels. I am not sure how long she had been out but she drank and drank from her water bottle so I am guessing she was out a while. The hole was rapidly patched up and then an enraged Dru was permitted entry to the living room once more - she went straight to the cage and noted Dora within - this did not however, prevent her from resuming her stalking of the hamster under the welsh dresser - bless.

I just know there's a hamster round here somewhere

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Christmas 2009, money, Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

Christmas was spent in Wales this year and J had a great time unwrapping a mixture of birthday presents and Christmas presents. J did very well with PSP games, Meccano (hey - those bendy fingers are certainly getting some exercise), DVDs and a Playmobil Police Station which took me just short of two hours to put together. In addition to this J received around £60 in birthday and Christmas money which promptly began burning an enormous hole in his pocket.

Back in the summer we enjoyed a week long camping trip with friends and relatives. Among the other campers was M who celebrated his 11th birthday during the time we were away. M received a similar amount in birthday money and like J immediately began to expereince the same pocket burning effect. A trip was made into Bridport and after a short while in the toy shop M emerged clutching an enormous Star Wars Lego Kit. J's eyes nearly popped out of his head as he saw Chewbacca, Darth Vader, Yoda and any number of other Lego figures included. More than anything else in the world at that moment J wanted that Lego kit. Sadly M refused (very sensibly) to open the box when we arrived back at camp saying that he would wait until he got home. J has been talking about the Lego kit ever since so there is no prize for guessing exactly what J wanted to spend his money on at first opportunity.

So yesterday we made an early trip into town and to the big Toys R Us store to find that virtually all their Lego stock had sold out. I had rather anticipated this and had discussed it with J prior to going. I suggested that if they did not have the kit that he bought something small and waited a week or so. J readily agreed but when it came down to it was of a different opinion. But then if you are 7, if you have what seems an enormous amount of money and if you were in the equivilant of paradise surrounded by toys of all kinds would you say "okay Mum  they don't have the thing I want so I'll come back next week"? No? Thought not!

So a decision had to be made in the Lego aisle. I flatly refused to allow J to spend £60 on a Star Wars spaceship which would fall apart at first play and in the end J settled on an Indiana Jones Lego kit which created a plane, a jeep and which contained several characters, there was even enough money left over to buy a Playmobil Police car to go with the Police Station J unwrapped on Xmas Day.

So yesterday morning I arrived home with J, the shopping and what I anticipated to be 10,000 pieces of Lego and an instruction book. Obiously the Lego had to be put together before anything else was done (thank goodness I had no frozen stuff) and the box was opened and three packets of Lego fell out - yep - loads of pieces but thankfully nowhere near as complex as the various Star Wars lego kits I have put together. I got to work and 90 mins later we had an army jeep and an impressive looking plane - yesterday afternoon the plane had become "a submarine Mum". Great!

Monday, 21 December 2009

J's birthday

Yesterday J was 7. Yesterday I gave thanks for the pleasure and good fortune I have in being able to hold and cuddle my darling boy as I know other parents do not have that same luxury. And yesterday we had the second birthday cake in a week following the first at J's party held on 12th December.

Going back 7 years I think of the day J arrived, following a night of contractions (but little progress) and a full moon so bright I could actually read by the light which was cast through the skylight of the room.   I was in hospital and labour was being induced because two weeks after his due date J was showing no signs of making an imminent appearance into the world. Prostin gel was given and then some hours later a second dose and....... nothing - no contractions. The third dose DID stimulate contractions but they were sporadic and variable in strength. The fact that they occurred every 4 mins overnight was a drag but a necessary evil for the onset of labour. I did everything I had learned and taught other parents, I stood, I rocked, I bathed, I knelt on all fours to no avail. Nothing relieved pain or made the discomfort any easier to bear. Then at 4.00am everything just stopped and I drifted into sleep. At 9am the doctor appeared to see how far I had progressed...... I hadn't progressed at all.

At 3.30pm I went to labour ward and at 16.06 J was born by caesarean section weighing in at 9lb 6oz. The baby I had wanted and waited so long for had arrived and was so handsome.  J was my amazing Christmas gift for 2002 and a wonderful birthday present for his Nana who had been born on the same date 67 winters previously.  My great big healthy baby boy was so welcomed by many people ..... and right from the start he enjoyed a cuddle with his Mum. Seven years following that first cuddle we had the following conversation:

J.  "Mum, I can do anything I want on my birthday can't I"
Me. "Within reason J yes you can".
J: "Oh good - can I sleep in your bed tonight".
Me: "Okay then".

So last night I cuddled J and remembered that first precious cuddle in the hospital. But now J hugs me back and says "I love you my beautiful Mum" and last night I had the sheer pleasure of watching my beautiful boy as he drifted off to sleep next to me  - my cup, as they say runneth over.

Friday, 11 December 2009

The Divine Mrs M!

There should be an award for kind, understanding and experienced teachers. Those that have been in the job for years but who demonstrate everyday that the job is still as fresh and exciting as it was in the beginnings of their career. Add in a dollop of big personality and a "no nonsense" approach, you have the divine Mrs M who has been coping with  teaching J since the beginning of September.
J and Mrs M have been aware of each other almost since he started attending the school. Mrs M runs a Rosary group from time to time and J amazed me by attending it - even if he did not quite grasp the whole concept. Mrs M also amazed me at around that time .... by grabbing J for a hug one morning and saying "God Bless him he sits so nice and quietly at the back of my Rosary group". I wanted to grab Mrs M and say "J sit's quietly"? And "are you sure you have the right child"? But she DID mean J and he WAS the right child and indeed he DID sit quietly in the Rosary group.
Mrs M is from Northern Ireland with a heavy accent and she never fails to make me laugh when dealing with J. Most afternoons when I collect J, Mrs M will be standing at the door saying "okay, bye bye darling" as he leaves. On other occasions she just stands at the doorway in mock horror saying to me "just take him - take him home".  At another time when J told Mrs M he was "going home now" she raised her hands in a "praise the heavens" kind of way and stated "Hallellujah".
Mrs M also understands J very well indeed and is aware of his difficulties in some areas, she asks a lot of J at times and pushes his limits as is needed but is also ready to cuddle and reassure where necessary. Yesterday J went with his class to the local shopping centre where they were due to sing Christmas carols. As I was working this was attended by Nanny who said that J was excellent, did all the same actions as his classmates and  joined in the singing. In fact his only moment of anxiety was when the alarm started sounding from the local jewellers (no it had not just been held up - just a blip I think).  As soon as the alarm started to sound Mrs M had J by her side and pulled him to her in a reassuring manner. And J coped with the alarm.......Brilliant.
Later the class returned to the school where I and several other parents were preparing for the school Christmas Disco (160 portions of hotdogs and chips). Once the food was nearly all out Mrs M appeared in the kitchen bemoaning the noise made by 160 children - she was surely jesting. "Why" I asked "after a full week in the classroom around these little darlings would you NOT want to hear all this noise Mrs M ....;. and in any case surely you should be in the middle of them and break-dancing". Mrs M looked at me with a twinkle in her eye and stated "I did all that in my youth - now are there any spare chips"?

Later I took J home... he had fallen over in the disco and was asking for home, cuddles and to curl up on the sofa. He was in fact exhausted - too many late nights and a very busy week at school had taken their toll.  As I cuddled him I smelt his head - he smelled purely of Mrs M's perfume - as though he had been cuddled up to her for a bit. I asked him "Did Mrs M cuddle you today" - "Yes" said J " she looked after me on the coach back to school".

Mrs M - here's to you - you are a wonderful teacher and while J gets fed up with you at times I think you are great.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Sensory seeking and weighted blankets at bedtime.

Have been having some evil thoughts regarding J at bedtime. He is about as "sensory seeking" as it gets at bedtime and Scott (the very nice OT ;-)) suggested trying a weighted blanket or toy (draught excluder type thing) to place over J and see if this would help calm him. I have now found a website which sells these weighted blankets - they are various weights. I asked Scott if I could get the sort of weighted blanket which would pin J to the bed.... Scott said that wasn't the idea. Damn!

.... and (totally off topic) once again Dru has been up the Xmas Tree.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Idleness, drums and the fidgets

Over the past week J has surprised me by suddenly becoming capable of putting on his own socks. This has been a constant problem for him over the past few years as socks are  fiddly items to apply to feet and J has struggled. On Sunday J and I went swimming and had a great time especially as J is proving to be an adept swimmer. After our swim we went to get dressed before heading off with his cousins for some chocolate induced fun. J could hardly wait to get out of the changing rooms and before I knew it was dressed (if not quite dry) right down to socks and shoes on his feet. My appointment with the OT flashed before my eyes as I recalled telling them that J "cannot manage socks". This was a few short weeks ago and yet here was J having proved that when the impetus is there he can quite perfectly manage them. The words "idle little monkey" wandered through my mind and connected themselves to J! All this time I have been dressing him when the lazy little tyke could quite perfectly manage himself. But then I recalled the persistant palmer grip, the difficulties he has definitely experienced in school and which have been noted by everyone who works with him. Just because he can now manage does not mean this has always been the case, however, quite obviously matters have improved but the darling child was not going to attempt any task that he could  get his mother to perform for him.
So we now have a change to the morning routine. No longer do I assist J to get dressed, instead I lay all his clothes out for him and then "race" him to see who can get dressed the quickest,  J always wins AND his clothes are on the right way round too. Not bad for a child with "bendy fingers" who "can't do it Mum". A quiet word was had with the school about this latest progress and a request to continue encouraging J's independance - when he goes swimming on Thursday he will be doing his own socks.

This afternoon I went to see J in his school play. J's class did the story of the Nativity and J has been proudly telling me for weeks that "I'm an actor Mummy". Further questioning elicited the information that he was "being a Roman soldier" and then came the killer.... "and I am the drummer too".  Bless the school, they have taken my son - the noise king - and entrusted him with a drum in the school play. No way was I going to miss this - so 1.20pm today found me queuing outside the school with Nanny, the first parents/grandparents there in fact. For too long I have rushed out of work to try and catch J's assemblies and plays at school and I am ALWAYS last there and always right at the back catching scarcely a glimpse of J. This time I was first and determined to be right in the front row in full view of J. This is what I cut my hours for... to be around and visible for J. And oh was I visible. Right in the front row, right in the middle and right opposite J and his class mates.
For the first time ever J was not accompanied in by a teaching assistant and walked in proudly with his classmates carrying a drum, he was dressed in a costume and looked very proud of himself as he lined up with the other Roman soldiers. The Nativity was beautiful and J was fabulous with his drum... he was also very restrained and only used the drum when it was called for in the script. Towards the end of the show he started to get what I call "an itchy bum" and began to fidget - lifting himself up and treating all the visiting parents to the sight of his pants. Eventually tiring of the show he left his classmates and brought himself over to my side. Mrs M the fierce but wonderful class teacher (who was sat next to me) said to J in her broad Northern Irish accent "Now J - you need to sit on the floor by Mummy and don't move". And do you know what... he hardly did move. I really MUST get Mrs M round at bedtime.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Giving J a "label".

I have been pondering a bit since my letter from the community paediatrician - his impressions were as posted before, dyslexia, dyspraxia and social communication disorder. As the OT said "that's quite a label" and it's this thought which gives me some disquiet. J definitely has some problems which were picked up at nursery. To me though he is and always was just J with all his little foibles and idiosyncracies. The problems he displayed in nursery were exactly the same as the ones he displayed at home but in the context of a crowded nursery and now a classroom can be irksome and hard to manage for the teacher and teaching assistant. This is why J has so much 1-1 support and I am grateful he has this. Seeing the paediatrician was supposed to be another opinion for the education service - a different perspective and a way for them to add to the picture of J's needs to see if a Statutory Assessment needs to be carried out. What concerns me is:
  • Children with any sort of label have a set of behaviours which apply to that label. I wonder how much of this is the actual underlying problem and how much of it is a child behaving in the way expected of him for the diagnosis.
  • The SEN label may become applied right throughout his school years with his educators having a lower expectation of him as a result. This is fine if his educational attainment would be low no matter what but it is NOT okay if he has potential which is missed as a result of the lower expectations.
  • The other issue is that J is a carbon copy of me and except for the reading issue I was exactly the same at school. I found it hard to read social situations too and as a result was bullied and totally unable to cope with this. The difference is that although I saw educational psychologists I did not get any sort of label as I might have done now. I read well but coasted through school as I struggled to apply myself - once I was adult enough to do so I never looked back and studied various subjects throughout the next 20 years including gaining a degree.
  • J has always achieved some things later than others. He spoke very late but babbled almost constantly to himself in a nonsense language showing that language development was there and would it did when he was 3.5 years old. And dyspraxia? J crawled at 5.5 months old - hardly dyspraxic wouldn't you agree?
  • Children seem to be given all kinds of labels these days. I've lost count of the number of children diagnosed with ADHD (and with which I was determined the paediatrician would not label J ). My friend had a daughter with ADHD - true ADHD - she rarely slept longer than 2-4 hours and even as an adult  still requires medication.

When did difficulties in behaviour and in skills become worthy of a medical diagnosis? I am not someone who says these things do not exist - they have always been there but have we gone too far in the desire for a label?  I think we might have done especially if you consider that once a label is applied it may well be there for life and affect the child as an adult trying to live a normal life with the label of whatever around his neck.

So despite what the paediatrician has said I am placing myself firmly on the "let's wait and see" line. Despite my previous post I am keeping an open mind on dyslexia following the response from a blog reader. It's possible J could be dyslexic.... I don't think it's a case of ABT (Ain't Been Taught) as if this was the case then few of his classmates would be reading either and all indications are that this is not the case judging by the number of "free readers" among his peers (free readers are those who have progressed through the reading program and are now allowed a free choice of books to read and feed back on).

I am happy for J to have a label if it's the right one and if it will guarentee him the support he needs in the classroom. Otherwise I'd like the medical profession to keep it's labels for those who need them and I'll continue seeing the OT service who are offering practical support to J and the SENCO who is assessing and applying various techniques to help J in the areas he struggles. I am equally happy for J to go into the social communication group (something which might have helped me as a child) especially if it helps him to make sense of his world and means he can build up good lasting relationships with his peers.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Dyslexia? I am not so sure......

One of the issues raised by the community paediatrician was the possibility of Dyslexia. J at almost 7 cannot read beyond simple words...longer words tend to be mixed up and sounded backwards hence the suspicion of dyslexia. However, some of the signs suggested by the Dyslexia Institue do not apply to J. He knows the days of the week although he needs to check what comes before and after each day sometimes, he knows his numbers even if he is behind the rest of his peers with numeracy. He is also ace at following instructions for Lego cars, figures and rockets... something I think many dyslexic children would find difficult. This morning J has constructed a Lego Bionicle Robot from scratch using all the instructions and his "bendy fingers", which have been used as an excuse in the past week to NOT even try to do other tasks. He succeeded without any input from me and was rather pleased with himself when he had finished. Well done J - your Mum is proud of you.
Now I just need J to apply himself with equal enthusiasm to writing and other tasks which require he uses his "bendy fingers". He has been informed that the excuse "I can't do it because my fingers are extra bendy" will not wash with either Mum or any of his teachers. "Bendy fingers" are a problem but don't excuse him from trying.... and as this photo shows, his "bendy fingers" can work quite well.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Take one Christmas tree.....

Take one Christmas tree and add one Naughty Tortie who likes climbing trees.............
...... and you get.....

.... an extra decoration for the tree.... or "Cat in a Christmas Tree". The very beautiful Drusilla who at nearly 3 has not forgotten her kittenhood and J thinks she is great.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

You have to love logic.......

"Hmmm" said J as he delved down the freezer on his return from school. "This is the last one" he noted holding aloft a Cadbury's" choc ice on a stick" which I hoped to hide from him until after bedtime. "Yes it's the last one" I agreed, "would you like it"? Fat chance of him saying "no it's okay Mummy I want you to have it". So J now has his Cadbury's "choc ice on a stick" sitting in front of the TV and Ben 10. As the living room carpet is new I have decreed that all food is to be eaten at the table but have weakened if he sits on the sofa and does not move.
"Yes" says J "because the carpet is new Mummy"........ and then came the logic...... "but when it's old it I'll be able to drop things on it won't I".

The banging sound you hear is me whacking my head in despair.

Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Social Communication Disorder.

It's been some time since I blogged about J, a good few months in fact - a few months filled with indecision, change, helplessness and sadness at times. There are good things too, finally after many years of waiting we have been allocated a council property. The drop in rent is massive and I am just so grateful.
In September it became increasingly apparent that J was struggling even more than before and I made the decision to ask the LEA to carry out a Statutory Assessment of his educational needs. As any parent who has been through this process knows - it is fraught with obstacles and hurdles. I have not even asked for a statement of special educational need, just an assessment to see if J might require one now or at some point in the future, you would think I had asked for the Earth given the forms, the reports from the school and the additional evidence they are asking for. All this to decide if they will even carry an assessment out.

J is currently receiving 15 hours of one to one time in school, his reading is not even at National Curriculum level 1, writing is too difficult for him, social skills are well behind his class mates and he is struggling. Hearing your child say "I am no good..." is heartbreaking - especially when that child is not yet 7.

As a result of all this I made the decision to drop from full time hours at work to 16 per week making me entitled for the first time ever to extra tax credit and free prescriptions. I will not be as well off but I will be around to collect DS from school every day and also get him into some sporting activities. He loves swimming (something which once held fear for him) and goes twice a week - once with school and once with me. I am told that trampoline lessons might also be good for him so will be booking those in after christmas.

J has now seen an Occupational Therapist who continues to see him weekly and has also seen the community paediatrician whose impression was Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Social Communication Disorder. As the OT said "quite a label". Personally I am continuing along the "let's wait and see" line with J as he has areas of utter brilliance. He is very bright (according to his teachers) and rarely forgets anything factual he is told. Getting it all down on paper is an issue but one I suspect might be overcome with a little creative thinking.

Bedtime is still an utter nightmare - especially since J discovered Ben 10. Evenings are now filled with J swinging from the light fittings (almost) while he saves the world. I should be grateful that my little superhero wants to protect me but I am NOT. I am then the horrible Mum who tells him to go to bed.

Scott the very nice OT (J's mummy ponders if he is single ;-))suggested that J is very sensory seeking and said there were various things to help with this. One idea is a bean filled comforter or long cuddly dog/cat/pillow type thing which could be laid over J at bedtime and provide some of the sensory feedback and so help calm J at bedtime. I tried with Sammy Dog a long bean filled draught excluder (always used as a bed companion) last night but Sammy Dog is too light so I suspect we will need something more specialized.

Watch this space methinks. Am willing to try anything.