‘Am I mainstream now Mum?’

We passed the 100 day mark this week. 100 days. 100 days of incarceration (though not according to some involved in this story who insist the locked door isn’t stopping LB leaving the unit). Let’s park that detail for now. And the emotions associated with this experience.

Leaving sounds are being made. Most vocally by LB. The slow wheels of social care are groaning into a ‘lets talk about potential provision at some vague meeting at some unspecified point in the near-ish future’ position’. I suspect (sadly) this may be quite something in social care activity terms in the case of young dudes like LB.

Incarceration came about because there was no care or support available. This (incarceration) has given us – er, I’m making some unsubstantiated assumptions here that Goffman would possibly be proud of – a slightly better position in terms of access to support. I’m less than optimistic about what that support might look like, given anecdotal and other information, but the bar is set so low from where we are, support of any shape that actually supports, is progress.

Reading between the lines (because nothing is transparent here) unnamed people (in health/social care/education?) are aware that LB is ready and in need of support to enable him to be released from the (I’m assuming) costly provision he’s been an inmate of for the last 100 or so days. Not that he’s locked up or anything.

Now there’s the rub. For the first time, we’re insisting on effective and appropriate support. This position makes me feel slightly heady, slightly hysterical, hugely enraged but mainly sad.

But hey. What about LB? How’s he doing?

Three things jump out this week.

1. He attended the ‘feelings’ group which was progress after the first meeting when he turned up, gave everyone the finger and left.

2. He’s asked me repeatedly this week if he’s mainstream now.

3. When I ring and they pass the phone to him, he has a nifty exchange with me – ‘Yeah, right’ ‘Yeah, cool, see you then.’ ‘Right, yes, cool, yeah’.

I’d take these three things as a sign that there is some shaking down in his mind of who he is, and what he wants.

C’mon social care (if you hold the power here). Let’s act on that and create him a space in which to live productively. And, while I’m at it, can I chuck back into the mix the feelings of siblings who are offered no support, and, if under 16, not allowed to visit their brother or sister on site?

It shouldn’t be like this.

The logic of care

As luck would have it, I’ve been reading Annemarie Mol’s ‘The Logic of Care’. Just in time for the response to my NHS complaint about the events leading up to LB’s admittance to the unit to plink through the letter box.

These events are recounted on this blog in some detail but can be summarised as, er, a complete lack of care. Mol argues that the current emphasis in health (and social care) on choice is inadequate. This, too, is timely. Choice schmoice if you ask me. She’s concerned that an emphasis on choice leads to things becoming fixed and constrained; the circumstances in which we make our choices, the alternatives we choose from and so on. And choice is tied to individual responsibility. Instead we should pay attention to the actions of care. We should be doing things. Collective practices and attempts to make life more liveable.

Well I’m liking Mol’s interpretation largely. So, what about the response to our complaint? It has been investigated. Key people have been interviewed. The initial findings were further challenged and we have a detailed and considered letter. I don’t want to go into the details of this here as there are some outstanding issues, but I do want to draw attention to a phrase that is explicit and implicit throughout the letter; ‘the clinical care and support was satisfactory and of the standard of care that would be expected from the service’.

Now in Mol’s research, when people complained about their healthcare, they were not stories relating to a lack of choice, but experiences of neglect, of feeling abandoned. That nobody cared. Our experience of the period leading up to LB’s admittance to the unit was that health and social care didn’t care. The two professionals I howled down the phone to that Friday afternoon, after LB had punched his teacher in the face, didn’t care. But they weren’t the only non-carers. There was a structural and systemic lack of care across the health and social care board.

But we apparently experienced the ‘standard of care expected from the service’. Whose expected standard of care is the glaring question here? Based on what criteria? What we experienced was nothing that could be remotely daubed as “care”. And, as always, I’m left with my litmus test of wanting to ask the people involved during that period; ‘Can you just, for a moment, imagine if this was your child? Experiencing this level of “care”? What do you think you would feel?’

So, we’re left with a misplaced (or mis-used) choice agenda and a system in which the expected standard of care equals no care. Luckily for us, there was a supporting cast of dazzling carers; family, friends, Charlie’s Angels, head teacher, school nurse, cake-makers, neighbours, twitter buds, colleagues, and random strangers. That’s what care looks like. Collective attempts to make lives more liveable.

The Unit. Day 68

“And LB, make sure you say ‘Hello’ before you ask grandma for your bus magazine. Ok?”

“Yes.”

“Hello LB.”
“Hello.”
“How are you?”
“Hello.”
“Did you enjoy the bus museum?”
“Hello.”
“Would you like a drink?”
Where’s my bus magazine?”

Choice and enthusiasm

Beginning to find our way around this choice issue with LB at last. Or just picking up the techniques we used for years before ‘choices’ were relayed through and monitored by a third person.  Yesterday I rang the unit and asked if LB wanted to go out somewhere today. Yes. Good.

This morning, after much thought and discussion with Rich about where to take him (we don’t want to go too far down the route of endless treats and no sniff of dishwasher-land), we agreed the bus museum would be a good plan. A ‘bus museum plus’ plan. A pleasure and pain model.

I picked him up from the unit at 12.

“Where do you want to go then LB?”
“Bus museum.”
“Ok. We’ll go to the bus museum. And then we’ll go to Sainsbury’s after to do the shopping.”
“Sainsbury’s after?”
“Yep. Bus museum followed by Sainsbury’s shopping.” End of.

Nearly four hours of watching mechanics and enthusiasts in action, with a vintage bus ride thrown in. And then a packed Sainsbury’s at closing time. All done joyously.

Don’t you just love buses?

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The Unit. Day 63

You know that saying; that things can’t get worse? Well that’s turning out to be a load of old codswallop. After the whole CPA meeting surprise (see yesterday’s cheeky little number for details) and, as yet, no sniff of what the future might hold for LB (Don’t. Just don’t even mention support), I went to visit him yesterday evening. He was in bed, dozing. With a bitten swollen tongue. Signs of a seizure. Or size of an elephant it might well have been.

The bitten tongue had been noted and Bonjela on order. The seizure dimension overlooked. LB’s seizures have always worried the pants off me. Not least because it took about four ‘in your face’ tonic clonic epics before the docs would even entertain the idea that he might have epilepsy. We were tripping over that old ‘he’s got to learn to manage his stress/star charts anyone?’ chestnut (a.k.a. the learning disability trump card) for months.

The thought of him having a seizure, in a locked unit, unnoticed, has generated a new level of distress I can’t describe.  I don’t care how old he is, and I certainly ain’t treating him like a child, but I want to comfort him, and keep a watchful eye for any further seizures. And I can’t.

 

The Unit. Day 59

LB went to the farm today. Under duress but with effective encouragement. His face lit up when he saw his teachers apparently.

He was lazing in the living room, surrounded by his transport magazines when we turned up this evening. He showed us his scrap metal notebook. After the list of items he’ll need to set up a scrap metal depot, he’d drawn a picture of a lorry on each page and labelled them ‘scrap metal lorry’.

Towards the end of the book, there was a picture of two men with guns pointed at each other, labelled ‘Dirty Harry’.

“Wow. Have you seen Dirty Harry LB?’
“Yes.”
“You must tell Grandad, he likes Dirty Harry.”
“Yes.”
“Whose the other man in the picture?”
“Dirty Barry.”

Liminality, mothering and something?

Crap. Crap. Crappity-crap. Thoughts are pinging round my head that I want to write and ‘resilience’ keeps cropping up to capture them. Ggggrrrr.  I’m not convinced by ‘resilience’ in this context. I want a different word, one that feels more comfortable. But what???

Anyway, parking that for a moment, I had two days off this week. What a pile o’ shite they’ve been in some ways. Terrible weather, the weekly community team meeting (CTM) at LB’s unit which is (inevitably) a real party stopper, a few failed tasks and overdue domestic stuff. The cockroach remains in the freezer, way too cold and miserable to schlep up to the post office – me/the weather that is, not roachy. LB refused my offer of various outings preferring to have a long bath instead. [And no, I didn’t play the McDonald’s card again, because it can’t become about burgers all the time].

After piecemeal chores, and heating up leftover curry for me and Rosie, I went back to bed with my book and ipad to power through some Candy Crush levels. And have a kip. That was cool. We got to visit LB early evening and, with some persistence, caught his attention in a scrap metal yard discussion. With him smiling, it was ok to leave. (And get caught in rush hour traffic on the ring road home. In the pissing rain).

Anyway, this is a long ramble really, about my thoughts yesterday evening.  I got to thinking about the recent jaunt to Bristol with twitter buds Kate and Alexa, to visit a superb social enterprise set-up. This memory was one of those winding moments that can be unexpected.  It’s a funny one really. I avoid LB’s bedroom and feel sad when the odd bit of his clothing comes through our (chaotic) washing process. But I can watch previously lost home movies with real enjoyment. Then I notice an old ‘Pupil of the Week’ page (yep, the dude racked up quite a few over the years) pinned to the fridge, or chat to someone in the street, and that punch in the stomach is back. Together with the old rock throat combo.

Ironically, 57 days on, we’re in another liminal space.  Liminality was something Katherine RC and I wrote about a few years ago in relation to being (academic) mothers of disabled children, excluded from disability studies (for not being ‘disabled’). LB being contained is another version of this, in a different space.  We have no idea what is going to happen, how it’s going to happen and what we should do to help/make things better for LB (and us). There are no guidelines, no advice, no rulebooks.

The CTM focus is on the here and now; LB’s everyday life in the unit. The broader questions can’t be answered. I was recently flagged up as a problem in a meeting I missed; described as unable to move beyond seeing LB as a child. While this has since been ironed out as misunderstanding/miscommunication, it contributes to the experience of liminality.

My reflections here are twofold; I’ve been struck by our resilience adaptability? acceptance? ability to get on with stuff? as a family. We’re all mucking in and making do, getting through and looking out for LB. That’s fab. Seriously fab. I don’t know where these resources come from – if someone said 56 days ago, that LB would still be in the unit at this point, I think I’d have collapsed – but we’re muddling along.

My worry is that in the same way I’m only able, with hindsight, to view the course we took with LB as a pup, as unhelpful, we may similarly get blown off course here. We’re almost back in that ‘just diagnosed’ type space. Unable to make any sense of it and dependent on the views of health and social care professionals.  We have no idea what ‘the course’ is, or should be, particularly now LB’s tipped into an unthinkable place. And perhaps they don’t either.

I also wonder if being ‘resilient’ may muddy things.  We’re so busy muddling along, dealing with direct payment nonsense, negotiating visitations to LB on a daily basis, schmoozing, ranting, questioning, trying to get some sleep, and hold down jobs, we’re unable to see things clearly. We’re simply following a well trodden path which I suspect should be changed.

Home movies and translation

As a prelude to two days annual leave, I started to ‘sort out’ stuff yesterday afternoon. A painful experience. Partly because it highlighted my (our?) hoarding tendencies groan, but also because it made visible the way in which our lives were disrupted/interrupted/put on hold a few months ago. This interruption – still no effective words for this – was apparent through opened but discarded post and other overlooked detritus.

Shudder.

Anyway, one positive to the sort out was finding home movies that had been missing for several years. They’d fallen down the side of the desk where I’m sitting typing this (the darker reaches of sides and behinds that are only explored when annual leave beckons).

I took time out of sorting to graze this footage. Sob. Where.did.the.years.go???

Various things jumped out, including a trim version of Rich *cough cough* and the total cuteness of the kids. And LB’s quirkiness and humour shines. In one scene, he’s jumping up and down with excitement during an Easter egg hunt, completely missing any eggs even when gently guided towards them repeatedly by Rich. In another, he’s sitting eating his tea with Rosie and Tom, wearing a cycle helmet, his ELC police tunic and a pair of googles. Hilarious. Why was this version of him absent from every ‘official’ report/discussion over the years?  Looking back, we were completely derailed by a system which delivered so little. I can remember LB and Rosie being filmed by a paediatrician at an assessment centre as tots. She wanted to capture his “non-interaction” and “own world” stuff on film for teaching. Makes me cringe now but in the early days of crash landing into ‘special needs-land’, you invest so much hope in these professionals making your child ‘better’, you do pretty much anything they suggest/ask. Hunter-gatherer diet….? Er, let’s not go there.

Framing ‘learning disability/autism’ as a negative, needing treatment, repair or containment [yes, I know. The irony] rather than engaging with LB (and other dudes like him) as individuals, means that support is pretty much useless. And as I keep saying, support that don’t support, ain’t support.

So what advice would I give my fifteen year ago self?

The dude’s different, and he’s always gonna be. Get over it and get on with enjoying what he brings to the party. Oh, and don’t get too hung up on all those meetings with health and social care professionals. They ain’t as important as you think. Really.

The Unit. Day 50

Back from work this evening to find Will here. Fab surprise.  He drove me [????] round to see LB. Yes. He drove me round to see LB.

We found LB in the living room with his DVD playing on the big screen. Everyone sat around, chatting a bit. Watching the film. Hot Fuzz. Peaceful times.

LB didn’t really say much but Will caught his attention a few times – with mention of Chunky Stan and his work trip to Somerset tomorrow. And Eddie Stobart of course.

50 days later.

The Unit. Day 40

Day 40: The day we took LB to the bus museum

Got a call from the Unit yesterday asking if we wanted to take LB to the nearby bus museum that he loves. TAKE HIM?? Pick him up and take him ourselves?? That’s a ‘Y.E.S. We’d love to‘ kind of answer. It wasn’t open yesterday, and he declined our offer to take him somewhere else instead, but today Rich, Tom, Owen and I scooted round, picked him up and headed for the museum. It was great. The museum’s very quirky with a lot of very shiny old buses. We sat in various buses and coaches, chatting, remembering visits to museums and holidays from years ago. The outing was rounded off with sausage rolls and ice-creams in the cafe. Fun and fab.

“By the way, Margaret Thatcher died”, said Tom, as we pulled up back at the Unit.

“Why?” asked LB.

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