It Hurts

I have been sporting a cracked fat lip for a week thanks to Claudia.

She head-butted me, not on purpose, but in the course of the usual undressing routine in the bathroom.

Her head flew up into my face and swiftly and suddenly there was pain and blood and me roaring in agony and her roaring with laughter. Because that’s her response to other peoples pain and bleeding and making loud noises.

For one of the most social weekends we’d had in ages I looked like bad botox with my cracked and sneering upper lip. It hurt.

It amazed me how quickly it happened. Then it amazed me it hadn’t happened before. That in all these years of dressing and undressing and manhandling Claudia she hadn’t, that I recall, hurt me like this before.

As she gets older though, things are changing.

At 18 she’s now slightly taller than me. When I’m washing her hair in the shower my arms have to be so high the water runs down/up my arms and into my shirt.

It’s annoying to get so saturated and my arms ache.

She’s always been freakishly strong but now she’s equally determined and I can’t hold her back when she wants to rush down the steps and fast-gangle to the end of the driveway to watch departing friends and family until they eventually turn a corner.

TOOT! TOOT!” she shouts pointlessly at their vehicles, refusing to come back inside until they’ve gone from her sight.

One day she’ll fall down those steps in her frantic haste. And it will hurt.

Lately she’s resisted my taking the iPad away at night. She’ll grip it and pull back hard and has once or twice hit out at me. I’ll say “don’t do that!” and lately she’s sometimes said “smack you?” when she knows I’m getting annoyed with her.

Our family are not smackers. I wasn’t smacked and I didn’t smack my children.

But Claudia knows what smacking is (or at least the threat of it)– and when I get cross with her she taunts me by asking if I’m going to smack her – “smack you? smack you?”

I have no idea who taught it to her several years ago but its some consolation that she’s not fearful of the prospect and usually asks with a giggle.

As an aside – in the whole so-called “anti-smacking” debate it astonished me how many people advocated for their right to smack their kids. Usually the excuse was “that’s all they understand at (x) age”

I have spent 18 years raising a child whose “understanding” is certainly compromised and not one expert has ever, ever suggested to me that smacking her – at any age – would help her “understand” anything better.

When my lip was swelling and bleeding and so painful I understood what it felt like be really cross with her – this was not a battle of wills, this was me suddenly and shockingly physically hurt.

I didn’t want to hurt her back but I was so frustrated it happened!

My back is constantly sore from lifting, bending, supporting.

My knees ache from all the hard bathroom floors I kneel on.

She sometimes wakes in the night, she usually wakes early and in the evenings I can’t go to bed until she is at least settled.

I’m always tired.

So while she hasn’t deliberately hurt me, looking after her does hurt me.

Last week a woman from Blenheim was sentenced for 4 years in jail for murdering her daughter, who was only two years older than Claudia. Ruby was just 20 years old when her mother sedated her, then strangled her until she died.

Ruby had Autism, required full time care and attention and was violent.

Her Mum was Ruby’s sole care-giver. For 20 years she had tended to her daughter until she decided murder and a certain jail term was the better option for her. And she killed her own daughter. Can you imagine?

Hilary Stace writes well about the issue here;

http://publicaddress.net/access/murder-its-not-ok/

This case shocked and terrified me. It hurt me on every level. It still hurts.

That this sort of thing can happen is shameful. It reflects badly on every single one of us.

People who require high levels of care through accident or misadventure or degenerative illness don’t have the fights we parents have to access enough support.

The pain for carers is real. And relentless. The only villain in these stories is a system that abandons people while the rest of us murmur “poor thing” and get on with our own lives. Ruby and her Mother were utterly let down.

Hilary has good ideas (above) on how to address the issues.

In the meantime I can only hope Claudia doesn’t get more aggressive, that I don’t suspect she’s in more pain, that her behavior doesn’t become more difficult for me to manage.

I’m getting older. I hurt more.

I am lucky in that I’m not in it alone. Claudia still goes to school during the day.

We have family and friends and we have each other.

Tonight Steve and I are going out for dinner. Something other couples our age can take for granted but something we can hardly ever do.

In the wake of Ruby’s death I understand now it’s more important than ever to take a break from the relentlessness of caring for someone else and take time for ourselves.

Our future might depend on it.

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Talking Dirty

 

We recently moved house and it wasn’t long before Steve and I each got letters from the Electoral Commission reminding us which electorate we were living in and asking us to sign and send back our changed details.

And then there was a third letter from the Electoral Commission – for Claudia.

I don’t think I had ever considered Claudia and voting. Claudia voting! Imagine!

They knew she was now 18 and noted she hadn’t enrolled. I was a bit befuddled about what it all might mean so I gave them a ring.

Turns out Claudia is of course entitled to vote. She’s alive and of age and while its not compulsory to vote (unless Gareth Morgan has his way) they said she would be well advised to partake in our democracy, engage in the issues and have her say. I couldn’t agree more.

Some people consider politics a bit of a dirty word. They think that politics, like religion, is not a fit topic for polite conversation.

Our family doesn’t think that way. We enjoy loud impassioned dinners where everyone’s shouting and either indignant or provocative and the rules about who’s holding the spoon are pointless as the spoon’s been flung at the wall.

In our family it’s a bit rude not to join in and having no opinion is worse than having a differing one.

But in all the banter over all the chicken casseroles none of us have ever stopped to ask Claudia what she thinks. Even as we opine about her, about her situation and what religion and politics make of people like her, we’ve never asked how she feels about it all.

We know that, unlike her parents, she likes churches because of the singing (especially Christmas carols)

Would she hold political views different from ours? How should she vote?

Disability issues are only really high on the political radar of people who are affected by them.

It wasn’t an area of politics I took much notice of until Claudia came along. People told us we’d have to become outspoken advocates for her but I really didn’t foresee how much.

Steve has always been very politically astute and picked up the baton for our family.

Income splitting would be a reasonable option to make life a little more fair for families like ours.

In the early days Michael Cullen wrote a long considered reply to Steve about it, but ultimately declined to adopt it as policy.

In 2007 Peter Dunne told us income splitting was a priority for him but despite still being in Parliament all these years later, he has done nothing.

The late Allan Peachey met us and we had an excellent conversation around special education. At least he gave us the time.

Bill English responded to Steve’s e-mail in a way that proved he’d read it, and committed to phrasing policy better in future.

Kathryn Rich passed the buck and Anne Tolley sent the ubiquitous “thank you for your e mail, I have noted your concerns” insult.

Steve often says we have a heightened bullshit detector and he certainly sees straight through policy statements that are not in our children’s best interests. Good on him for paying attention.

In the meantime in the low-brow world of talkback, I was being hung up on by Michael Laws for defending Claudia’s right to be in an ordinary classroom with her peers. Sigh.

But that was years ago before we basically gave up.

I was once at a party that was being held on election night. I was listening to some results coming through and another party-goer was astonished at my interest. “I don’t care who gets in” she said airily, “ as long as it’s not that lesbian Helen Clark”. Another Sigh.

I have thought of this exchange often over the years. Her political apathy came from a position of luxury.

We are in a political era now where greed and self-serving are de rigueur.

Thanks to people like Paul Henry and the insufferable Mike Hosking, the populace are encouraged to believe that the people at the top of the chain are there because they work harder or somehow deserve it . They’re just better. As they feather their own nests we applaud them blindly from the sidelines accepting the promise there will be a trickle down.

This lack of nuance in thinking absolves people from being very interested in social justice. They forget democracy is not majority rules and that people whose voices are rarely heard will be overlooked. In the same way that we never previously bothered to ask Clauds what she thinks.

So I think we should hark back to a more representative time. A kinder, fairer, more humane time.

If people don’t think they are going to be affected one way or the other after an election, then maybe they should give their vote to somebody who is. Someone like Claudia. Somebody who does not have a strong voice of self-advocacy, someone who is never going to be “elite” regardless of how many hours she puts in or how “clever” her decisions. Now I think of it, she deserves two votes!

So with Claudia in mind, we’ll be paying close attention this election year, and will certainly make her vote count. And ours. I hope you do too.

Physical Signs Of Affection

So it’s 2017 and in all the excitement of leaving behind the painful year that was 2016, the monstrous first few days of Trump’s presidency caught us by surprise.

It’s been a right old walloping of realization that he is exactly who he looked and sounded like he was on the campaign trail.

Despite all the reassuring “he wouldn’t” “he couldn’t” and “he doesn’t mean that literally” musings from the astounded and excited; he did, he is and he has.

And he’s showing no signs of letting up.

But as we head into February I’m grateful for two things;

1/ I don’t have to live under his administration – and

2/ School’s back!

School being back is exciting for both Claudia and me – for different reasons.

I get my days back again and Claudia gets back to her friends and the teachers she adores.

There is one teacher of whom she’s especially fond.

Nigel.

Nigel, Nigel, Nigel, where’s Nigel? Nigel back this year? Nigel back? Nigel, Nigel Nigel”

Nigel, bless him, was away for all of last year, taking paternity leave to look after his own three children. Claudia mentioned it every day. More than once.

So now she’s back and he’s back and she’s still talking about him, reminding me he’s back, asking me to ask him to let her access the internet and telling me he has a dog named Oscar.

She often talks to herself as she drifts off to sleep and his name comes up there too.

It’s not easy being the object of her affections. She is known to launch herself at loved ones, head-locking them with her gangly left arm and vice-like grip, so they’re stuck with their faces in her armpit as she giggles with joy. Not that fun. Poor Nigel.

It’s probably wildly inappropriate too ~ however innocent her affection, it’s certainly uncomfortable to be in the grip of her wild pointy strong embrace.

Just ask Trevor.

Trevor drives the minivan which picks her up and she loves Trevor nearly as much as she does Nigel. He’s certainly on the receiving end of her physical signs of affection. 

Both men are sweet and kind and patient as they gently untangle themselves from her elbows and chin, but I know it’s annoying. I have to find a way to allow her to be affectionate with people without overwhelming them, or crossing the lines of comfort and acceptability.

Any ideas gratefully received.

We had a scare last year when a bunch of bureaucrats with no apparent knowledge of people with special needs decreed suddenly that bus drivers were not allowed to “touch” the students at all. Including assisting them. Parents had be the ones helping them in and out of the vehicle and help them with the seat belts, both on and off. Ridiculous!

For Claudia, part of Trevor’s appeal is that He is in Charge of a Bus!

From the moment she leaves our door He’s in charge. His commands = her obedience.

She’ll attempt to get in and out of the bus – for him – and is getting better at it and more independent. She wouldn’t do it for me – it’s not my bus, it’s Trevor’s!

He has the skills, patience and trust required to help her on her continuing quest to get on and off the vehicle safely and independently. I don’t.

Her ongoing independence and my ongoing back pain were at stake here!

It was an ill-advised confusing (for the students) unworkable (for the drivers) annoying (for the parents) nonsense for us all.

Thankfully it never ensued as an absolute. Or I would have had to find my way to whoever decided that was a good idea and set Claudia onto them. She’s strong. 

Culture of Entitlement

 

Here in New Zealand we woke up this morning to a grubby little story dominating the news.

One of our national heroes – an All Black – has been sent home during a tour of South Africa after revelations that last month he had sex with a women in a disabled toilet at the Christchurch airport.

It was September 18, the day after the All Blacks beat the Springboks in Christchurch and Aaron Smith and the rest of the team were out and about at the Christchurch Airport, wearing their “number ones”, representing the team, meeting and greeting fans.

At 2 pm Smith disappeared into the disabled loos with a woman.

According to witnesses they were in there for about 10 minutes.

Rhythmic tapping noises” could be heard and these same witnesses thought it prudent to record the noises and take some snaps of the couple as they came and went.

Our coverage and commentary about this incident speaks volumes about our culture and the reverence with which we hold All Blacks.

And I’m pissed off.

I’m pissed off at the inherent blokey, winky, jokey, wanky lightweight headlines ;

Smith was “Dumb”

Did Smith Do Anything wrong?”

Full witness account”

The tone of the stories – especially the one revealing the eye witness version, manages to make the people who were waiting to use the cubicle sound creepy, pervy and then in awe of this rugby hero even as they were outing him;

He said he found it quite amusing and wasn’t too worried about what Smith had done.

“I almost feel bad for putting the poor bloke in it now,” the husband said in a subsequent email.

(Stuff)

But in none of the reporting , commentary, moral outrage, finger pointing and opinion pieces which have spewed from this nation which reveres the game and its players – has there been condemnation of the fact a man who runs for his living used a disabled loo.

The media, the commentators, the fans, the misogynists, the feminists, the jilted partners, the armchair critics, the anti PC brigade and the players themselves have all missed the point in their breathless excitement.

Regardless of the fact he was representing the All Blacks in public and ducking to a public lav for a shag with a woman who wasn’t his partner was bloody stupid –

how the bloody hell dare he?

Those lavatories are not for him – whatever he seeks to do in there.

But where is the moral outrage about that?

I rarely challenge people to spend a day in my shoes.

But I suggest to Aaron Smith, the girl he rooted, the couple who watched and waited and the people who think it’s just all a bit of fun and he should be left alone and given some privacy that if they spent just one day supporting, toileting and sometimes changing depended teenage children in public loos they would know better than to use them.

That the arrogant and selfish choice of location for this tryst has itself drawn minimal criticism in this story shows me that on whichever side of the morality fence kiwis sit there is a general sense that disabled loos, like disabled carparks, are pretty much for “me too”. As someone who has no choices but to use these facilities with my daughter I really resent that.

We need them when we need them and I’ll be buggered if we have the patience (me) or ability (her) to wait for ten minutes while able people get their end away in some of the most filthy unsexy places imaginable. How bloody dare you.

For me the failure to call this is the most shameful thing about this sorry story.

Still not that Special

 

I’ve had a lot to report since my last post ;

Claudia has turned 18 and we enjoyed an amazing train ride and pub dinner with family and friends to celebrate. So much to say about that.

I have fractured my ankle in inglorious circumstances and am suddenly – and shockingly in plaster for six weeks – which has turned our life upside down, tested our stress levels and patience and thrown into sharp light how ill-prepared we have been for a primary care giver to be out of action.

So much to say here but I’m still in shock at navigating the quagmire of ACC and panic at trying to secure help.

And now suddenly the Ministry of Education has announced a shake up to the funding of the children previously known as those with “special needs” who will henceforth to be known as those requiring “learning support”.

Which now bundles all children who benefit from some extra learning support resources inextricably in with those who do have some underlying medical condition which prompts that need. That’s a bit bonkers.

And don’t even get me started on the ignorant and woefully optimistic declaration that from now on “special education” is to be called “inclusive education”. Because anyone who knows anything about both terms and both ideologies knows they are SO not the same. Just so, so not.

I’m so tired of it

Changing the words to describe our children won’t change our children and changing the words to describe the system wont change the problems inherent in it. I wouldn’t normally object to a better direction for labels but this is all such a smokescreen. Calling something inclusive without doing anything to make it more so is such cynical bullshit. 

It’s great they intend to “invest” more into preschool settings.

But they also state there will be no increase in overall funding.

And they’re going to be “reviewing” the current funding for people aged 18-21.

That’s Claudia and her peers.

Her needs are not reducing as she gets older but the indications are her access to support will.

I’m so tired of it.

Support translates as money. What we need is money.

Enough for enough teachers aids to support classroom teachers to teach all learners and to help all students to achieve more than we expect.

In every school.

We need access to specialists in speech and behavior therapy to ensure all students of all ages can express themselves and socialize.

We need schools to be welcoming. To be rewarded for being magnet schools and accountable if they’re not.

We need Principals who embrace a culture of inclusion, model it from the top and expect it form all their staff.

We need the barriers to inclusion to be identified and removed. And to admit the first barrier is a shitty attitude.

It hasn’t changed in the 18 years since my daughter was born.

Changing the names of the services and the faces of the bureaucrats and the titles of the research papers has done nothing to change the need and the solution.

But they will bend themselves inside out rather than admit the real need here – more money.

I’m so tired of it.

A Relaxed Performance

 

Going to new places for potentially exciting events (Crowds! Lights! Music! Performance!) isn’t exactly relaxing for some people – or the people who support them.

But all credit to the Court Theatre here in Christchurch for recently staging “A Relaxed Performance” of their school holiday production of The Little Mermaid.

This was a performance at which people with intellectual disabilities were welcome with special consideration given by the actors and crew to allowing for symptoms of their conditions.

So some lessening of loud or sudden noises, overly dramatic outbursts and changes to lighting may have occurred for this particular show.

In addition the actors and crew were themselves relaxed about sudden noises, overly dramatic outbursts or changes in movement from the audience.

And by default the parents, siblings and caregivers were more relaxed as nobody stared, nobody shushed and nobody minded anything in this wonderful warm inclusive magic of theatre.

The Court Theatre did everything right, beginning with sending out an information pack with pictures of the venue and characters, a story synopsis and details of parking and facilities – and ending with welcoming ushers, an enthusiastic talented cast and of course a fabulous show.

Claudia was beside herself with excitement, checking the tickets and the diary every day until showtime.

She was out of the car and striding in to the theatre, all quivering excitement and assertion.

She took her seat and sat reasonably quietly, absorbing the atmosphere and talking about the stage.

She sat bolt upright for the characters and listened to what they said.

She understood way more of the story than I anticipated and I suspect this is due to it being told to her in a live setting with live people talking to her in a real space.

She loved all the music, joined in with all the actions and shouted out to the villain when invited to.

And sometimes when she wasn’t – but nobody minded.

And she clapped and clapped and clapped – for once in her life it was exactly the right response at the right time!

That isn’t an opportunity we get very often.

She was too overcome (in a fangirly way) to have her photograph taken with any of the cast at the end and after refusing to leave her seat in the theatre tried to bolt straight out the door.

But the wonderful responsive cast were onto her, called out and went to her to say hello.

What heroes – for her and for us and everybody else in the theatre that day.

Thank you Court Theatre – for making the “Relaxed” effort.

It is very much appreciated.

Where is the bar?

 

The holidays are over and tomorrow school goes back. I’m so relieved.

I’ve had two weeks of torturous assaults on my eardrums as Claudia fires off commands and comments to me without pause for breath and in ever increasing volumes until I engage.

She’s relentless. She’s loud. She’s repetitive. It’s really annoying.

So tonight I’m raising a glass to the teachers and teacher aids who get to spend each school day with her.

And here’s especially to the eternally cheerful and optimistic language they use to describe my repetitive, loud, demanding child.

Her end-of-term report had us snortling into our pinot with their kind and creative descriptions of how she is.

The bar can be pretty low when it comes to people like Claudia.

The aims on her report are not complex – for example ;

‘Goal 1 : Claudia will use simple (2-3 word) sentences when asked questions about her day with 60% success”

We were weak with laughter as we read

Claudia initiates conversations by repeating single words to a variety of staff throughout the day”

That makes it sound almost tolerable and kindly glosses over the chainsaw-like reality of the relentless repetition.

iPad! iPad! iPad! iPad iPad! iPad! iPad! iPad!” iPad!” We know what it’s like.

Before leaving school Claudia has started to wander the halls to say goodbye to her peers and staff before leaving school”

Bye!” “Bye!” “Bye!” “Bye! “Bye!” “Bye!” “Bye!” –

-we can so imagine the trail of loud as she “wanders the halls” firing off her single word like the assault weapon she is.

Claudia enjoys discussing her and her peer’s timetables throughout the day”

Claudia has always been interested in the time and the date and the day and what might be happening. She’s beside herself as any given month ends and the calendar needs changing

Ahh!” (as she points) “Change Over!”

In the car she’ll suddenly shriek from the back seat

Ahh! What time is it?” as she points to the digital clock, which will invariably say something fifty nine. In other words she knows that after 59 the whole hour changes and that’s worth pointing out. Loudly.

She shamelessly rifles through other people’s diaries looking for interesting events or things to note.

It’s the same with calendars, whiteboards, lists, the mail.

So it’s no surprise to know she enjoys checking out everyone’s timetables each day.

And bless them for framing it as if she’s discussing it when we know that she’ll just be barking out what she finds.

Claudia will use a simple sentence to as for her iPad during free choice time”

I’m sure it’s a very simple sentence – ‘iPad! Ipad! Ipad! Ipad! Ipad!”

– over and over again.

Now she’s 17 and a senior there are “outings” into the community.

Each Wednesday there’s an outing to a cafe – which Claudia mentions a lot in her weekly run down of what’s going on – indicating she enjoys it.

During these experiences Claudia makes choices about what she wants by looking at the food on display, pointing and using simple sentences with support”

Gosh these teachers are lovely! In reality this will look like Claudia tapping her grubby fingers on the display case and shouting “lolly cake!” or “soss roll!” until it’s on the plate.

another activity Claudia enjoys and talks about throughout the week is the class weekly swimming session”

She does talk about it all week – she does that here too – reminding me she needs her togs.

Claudia also enjoys the opportunity to have conversations with other staff and students during the swimming session”

I feel for those staff and students, looking forward to a gentle waft in their rings down the lazy river but instead encountering Claudia shouting things at them from her ring – all amplified, as things are in an indoor pool environment.

All there together bobbing about. With Claudia. Being loud in the water.

Apparently Claudia participates in cooking by putting on her apron, she enjoys the discos at school, she enjoys walks of “varying length”, she “chooses to participate by watching through the hall windows”.

So much carefully worded and so much positivity.

So cheers to you lovely teachers and teacher aids, who find the kindest and most creative ways to describe our children. We appreciate your tact. We salute your creativity. We drink to your health.

When the bar is low you manage to make the bar a relevant, funny and great place to be.

So cheers and thank you.