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.


‘Incarceration’ on a sunny day

I’ve been trying (and failing) to make some sense of this experience. It’s too enormous. And on a sunny day like today, ‘incarceration’ is all the more painful. Of course LB isn’t ‘incarcerated’, he’s an informal patient who, in theory, can move around as he chooses. In practice, this isn’t really the case. (Although spending the day in his room watching Eddie Stobart DVDs is probably something he’d choose to do).

I was kind of delighted to read on twitter, this morning, that one of the priorities of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) is to strengthen its focus on mental health, mental capacity and learning disability. That delight was almost instantly quashed by the ‘Yeah. What. Effer’ demons. The past 16 or so years since LB was diagnosed with ________________ [fill in the current label/s depending on the year/decade/century/version of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Use an extra page if necessary], nothing has really changed. The kind of things we (a group of parents of young children) tried to change in health and social care all those years ago, are being fought by a new group of parents of young children. Having just emailed LB’s care manager this evening to ask her to stop any more direct payments (DP) and take back what’s been paid into the DP bank account (above the surplus that has already been demanded back by the DP team), in order to avoid paying a fair charge for no support at all, makes me wonder if things have almost got worse in some ways.

It’s a tricky one really. The extreme situation we’ve experienced over the past few months has pushed us into some horrible spaces. The almost daily developments – good, bad and indifferent – in the various areas that revolve around being the mother of a learning disabled young man informally living at a mental health unit, are time consuming, sometimes baffling and emotional exhausting.

I’ve read, researched, written about and lived the experience of mothering a learning disabled child. This adult stuff is a whole new ballgame. One we’ve barely had a chance to absorb and think about clearly. In the same way there was never any (useful) guidance, support or advice about having a disabled child, there has been no useful guidance, support or advice about having a learning disabled adult son with mental health issues (I don’t like this phrase but dunno what’s an acceptable alternative).

This has been hard. But hey ho. The sun was shining today. There’s good stuff going on. Charlie’s Angels are fighting the fight. Rich and I are both blown away by the support and warm wishes consistently offered by family, friends, neighbours, colleagues and all sorts of other people. Some guy raved about my grey hair at the bus stop this evening. And Chunky Stan’s eye pressure in his remaining eye is pretty much back to normal. 

And we’ve arranged to meet LB in Burger King tomorrow evening with Tom. They’ve not seen each other for five weeks. Funny times.

Whose story is it anyway?

Got my first negative blog comment (on the ‘about’ page) this week. From someone from the masterclass of all places. Anyway, it raises the issue of should I be writing about LB on this blog? What right do I have to do that? And shouldn’t he be telling his own story?

Well the latter is easy to answer. Yes, of course he should. If he wants to.

The other questions are less straightforward. I had a long chat about this recently with a colleague who has a long term condition. She said she felt a bit irritated by her mum always telling her story over the years. And still.


I don’t think people have their own, exclusive, story. Disconnected from those around them. There are multiple stories that overlap with other stories. On this blog, I’m not telling LB’s ‘story’. I’m recounting the experience of being LB’s mum.

I think it’s important to share these experiences not least to raise awareness of the lack of support for learning disabled children/adults but also because LB’s ways of being and doing makes visible mainstream practices that are taken for granted and unquestioned (see The Unlikely Ethnographer).

It has also had (the unanticipated) consequence of providing other people with a way of chatting to him and about him, and asking after him or about him.  It’s given him a space to be known. I kind of knew (but being immersed in the everyday chaos that comes with a less straightforward life didn’t really do anything about) how difficult it is for people without experience of difference to engage with it. This meant that LB was often not a part of my interactions with the wider world. Now he is. In an ordinary way. As a funny dude who loves lorries.

Chewy stuff.



I’ve been thinking about meltdowns for a few reasons in the last week or so.

  1. A PhD student, @lizith, tweeted me asking if I knew of other words for meltdowns. Her supervisor thought it was a colloquial expression and she should use a different word in her thesis.
  2. A colleague asked if I thought the Louis Theroux ‘Extreme Love‘ documentary was a reasonable portrayal of the more extreme end of the autism spectrum (in particular, the part where the mother flips the son onto the floor and restrains him using her body).
  3. LB is about to go on school trip again that involves a day trip to France.

I replied to @lizith saying that I thought ‘meltdown’ was a very widely used and understood term by parents of autistic kids. I don’t think I used it myself before I interviewed parents for a project, but their consistent use of it made perfect sense to me. I asked one mother to describe what she meant by it. She replied;

Sometimes you can see the gradual build up, you can see if he has had a particularly bad day because he will sulk and he will be moody and you know that sort of come seven eight o’clock at night you can really be in for it. So then it is trying to distract him and sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. And then he can go up to his bedroom and refuse to go to bed, start throwing things, jumping on his bed, sort of banging on the ceiling. Its – it is like a monster exploding. And it is very unpleasant and twelve months ago he did get very physically violent where sometimes we did have to physically to restrain him and use time out and we did at our previous house sometimes have to lock him in his room and that was on recommendations from one of the specialists at the [hospital]. We didn’t like doing it but there were times when we had to do it for everybody’s safety, but fingers crossed we haven’t had to do that for a while now.

So this extract answers 2. Yes. Parents do have to restrain their children sometimes. And it’s something that isn’t really discussed much or widely known about, which is one of the reasons I liked the Louis Theroux documentary. There is such a complex layering of guilt, despair, isolation and sadness involved in having to physically restrain your child. It seems counter-intuitive to parenting. While the rationale for doing it is largely to protect your child from harm, it’s also very upsetting to be attacked by your child. Intentionally or otherwise.

We had years of meltdowns with LB. I’ve discussed some of them before on this blog. In supermarkets, reversing the car, at home. It was never pretty and occasionally physically painful. It’s also hugely distressing and unsettling for siblings to experience. The extract above captures the unpredictability and helplessness that parents can experience once their child/children tip over into such distress. I can remember psychologists and other professionals suggesting I video a meltdown so they could actually get an idea of what I was describing. (They never offered a scrap of useful support). The thought of videoing his distress was as upsetting as experiencing it firsthand. Professionals should really have a better understanding of meltdowns, and how children, and their parents, experience them.

So to 3. LB has learnt to manage his distress so much more effectively over the years. He can cope with a lot of the things that caused meltdowns when he was younger. He’s done a lot of the learning and groundwork himself really, bless him.  Finding his way and negotiating a lot of the stuff that’s thrown at him. His school environment has helped him enormously, and the teachers/TAs’ consistent, affectionate engagement with him. Occasionally though, something unpredictable happens and ‘meltdown’ doesn’t quite capture the horror of what happens in the, for him, adult-like version of it. Like when he was told to take off his shoes by customs officers on his day trip to France last year and he thought they were going to steal them.

I’m glad I wasn’t there on that occasion.

I’d still welcome any sensible advice or suggestions by professionals but I won’t  hold my breath.

The rubbish tooth fairy

Tom’s tooth fell out yesterday.

“I’d better put it under my pillow”, he said. “But I hope there isn’t any more tooth fairy rubbishness…”

“Wha? What do you mean Tomo?”

“You know. There was that time she didn’t come. Then about two nights later she came, left a pound and the tooth. And then there was the time she took the tooth and didn’t leave a pound…”

“And there’s the tooth she left in the bathroom on the travel plug for about three months…” chipped in Richy Rich.

“Oh,” I said, “I hadn’t noticed that”.


The Eddie Stobart Story

These posts aren’t in a chronological order, so this probably won’t have the resonance it should. But random is good (sometimes). Laughing Boy came into the kitchen tonight and said “Thank you mum for phewddryfhddndfhrrhsssvvbnrtt”.

Whoa!!! Wha?? LB initiating a conversation? Unprompted? That isn’t about a need (toilet, internet access, maintenance of routine…) This is amazing. A “thank you” opening??? What are you saying LB???? Continue reading

The day I got locked out

   Laughing boy (3/5 kids, pictured on the right, next to 5/5) was off school sick when he was about 9. Being not quite of this world (some people would say he is autistic with learning difficulties) I was a bit stuck when I needed some milk. He was comfy watching endless episodes of Barney, so I decided to risk a quick trip to the Co-op (50 metres away).

I read the riot act – don’t move, don’t stop watching the tv, do not get off the settee, do not leave the living room, DO NOT go near the front door. Do you hear me? NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS!! He seemed totally on board. I went out of the house, shut the door, then realised no door key.  Hilarious. Continue reading