I don’t know why anything surprises me any more when it comes to dealing with our local authority or the NHS or those involved in M’s education or, indeed, any combination of the three, but yet again, I have been amazed and astounded to find that the best way to get support for him is for us to take the initiative and forge the way, showing the professionals the best and most efficient way to get the job done.
We first discovered the power we wielded as parents approximately 12 months ago, when we came to the conclusion that M needed some speech and therapy help. Actually, that’s not exactly true. We first discovered it when we insisted on following our instincts and getting the referral to GOSH, but it would be accurate to say we were reminded of this yet again a year ago. M was a late developer when it came to his speech and for a long time was extremely difficult to understand. The only people who could understand what M was trying to communicate was G and me, which led to frustration all round as I was continually having to interpret for him and he hated the fact that nobody understood what he was trying to say.
Two things happened last summer that made us decide that we finally needed to address the issue. First of all, M failed his phonics testing at school as his pronunciation suggested that he didn’t know his phonics. His teacher hadn’t wanted to raise his speech as an issue with us before because of all the other health worries we were dealing with, but when Mike expressed his concerns with her, she was quick to concur. Despite our requests, we were told that there was nothing that the school could do to refer us for speech and language therapy and so we needed to see what, if anything, we could do ourselves.
The second was during a visit to our local National Trust property for a fun day out. G and M befriended another little boy and started playing quoits with him and his father. When the father asked M to repeat for the third time how old he was, “six”, and then turned to G to seek confirmation of M’s age, I could see the frustration reflected on M’s face and determined then and there that we had no other choice.
At that time, I thought that the only way forward was for us to pay for private speech therapy for M and so set Mike the task of speaking to a couple of local speech therapists about starting the process and seeing if they could help M or not. Within minutes of his first conversation, Mike was told something startling. Not only could M’s speech problem be identified – he pronounced his sounds through his nose, known as “nasal fricative” pronunciation – but there was definitely something a therapist could do to help and, what was more, Mike and I could complete a parent referral on the NHS for treatment.
We filled the forms, returned them to our local health authority and waited for the assessment date, which was scheduled for about 6 weeks later. The assessment completed, the therapist agreed that he should receive therapy within the school setting and 3 months later, M started 12 weeks of SaLT (Speech and Language Therapy) 2-3 times a week at school, all courtesy of the NHS. If we had listened to the advice of M’s school, we would have paid for the privilege of the therapy that M was entitled to and that has changed his speech and his confidence beyond recognition.
Now, a year on, we are again in a position where we could have ended up paying privately or waiting an inordinate amount of time for something M is entitled to receive. One of the recommendations made following M’s diagnosis with dyslexia and dyspraxia is that he receives Occupational Therapy (OT) to help develop his motor skills and his muscle strength, which, in turn, will improve his handwriting. The Dyslexia Centre gave us details of local, private OTs who would be able to provide M with the therapy he needs to see him develop.
I was told by another Mum, who’s child receives OT support through our local authority, that the waiting list for NHS-provided OT is in the region of 8-9 months, which is a long time to wait for something that could make a significant difference to M right now. It was here that I hit the next wall of confusion. I was advised to ask our GP to refer him, but she informed me that the only way to refer M for local OT was through his school. Now, given that M’s school hadn’t identified there even being a problem academically and were surprised that we had taken the decision to have him assessed for dyslexia and dyspraxia, I had no confidence whatsoever that we would get a referral from them, particularly after the whole speech therapy debacle.
So, once again, Mike took to the phone and made some strategic phone-calls. His first point of call recommended calling our local cottage hospital as it provides physiotherapy and OT for the community. One quick phone-call to there and we had an answer. We needed to print out a copy of M’s report from the Dyslexia Centre which details the benefits of OT to him, write a quick covering letter and send it directly to the Physio department at the hospital, whereupon they would review it and let us know.
Today, this plan changed again. The Physio department called me to ask why we had sent them the report. I explained the advice given and she was stumped. They don’t work in OT with children at the hospital and so advised that I called Children’s services at the local authority or alternatively the nearby Children’s Hospital.
You can probably guess where I’m going with this, but no sooner had I called Children’s Services, than I was advised that OT was run out of a different location and I needed to contact them direct. I have just spoken to a wonderfully helpful lady from Community Children’s Services, who has told me I need to go to either the school or the GP to get the OT referral M needs! Back to square one.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of the NHS and am impressed by the range of services and support they are able to provide, free of charge, to so many people, but once again, the link between NHS, the local authority and the school is an inefficient one. Over the course of the last week, I have gone full circle and am now back to where I started without making any discernible steps forward. However, I am now armed with the advice that I need to get the referral made and a name for the GP to send it to. When the lead-in time for much needed help is so long, every moment wasted is frustrating for us all. The support that M needs is going to have to start with us and I will be fighting his battles, and any that G faces in the future, before anyone else wants to get involved. Maybe re-training as an Occupational Therapist would be the quickest solution to our current need, or perhaps I shall return to the wise advice offered by Dr Google to see if I can pick up any tips from there to try whilst we wait for the referral to be made…
What else can I say? Parent power rules!