Tag Archives: opinions

UnSATisfactory Pressure

Since the introduction of the National Curriculum to UK education in 1989 and the creation of the Standard Attainment Tests (SATs) in 1991, everybody has had an opinion about them and few are afraid to make that opinion known. For 25 years, controversy has raged about the value of these tests and who, in fact, the tests are really testing – is it the children or the schools? The one thing that is not in any doubt is that these tests put our children under a huge amount of pressure to perform well, even when their skills perhaps lie in a different direction and little allowance is made for those who find formal testing an unbearable strain.

Even though it’s been 2 years since G was in Year 6, I can well remember the stresses and strains that the prospect of the year-end SATs put on her. Small, but telling signs of the pressure she felt were revealed through changes in her behaviour at home and her already shaky confidence in her literacy ability took a further battering as she struggled to understand what the tests were demanding of her. Her homework steadily increased to ensure that all maths and literacy elements were taught, revised and well-established by the time the tests themselves actually happened and she spent Saturday mornings working with my 29Mum, a retired Year 6 teacher, to fine-tune those skills that were proving a little elusive to my school-loving child. Her hard work and focus throughout the year stood her in good stead and we were all proud of her year-end results, most of all because they rebuilt her belief in herself. Despite that previous experience, I knew that M’s start in Year 6 would herald a very different set of experiences and that’s absolutely proved to be the case.

M has been expressing his worries about the SATs since well before he even reached Year 6. He loves reading and his imagination and vocabulary are impressive, but the ongoing struggles with his handwriting and spelling due to his dyspraxia and dyslexia have really knocked his confidence when it comes to his literacy skills. This September saw the very real manifestation of the stress and pressure he’s put himself under and pieces of homework and classwork alike have left him in tears. I realised just how bad things had got when I received an email from his class teacher expressing her concern about his wobbles in the classroom. She knows him well, having been the school SENCo since he started at this school in Year 3 and also his Year 4 teacher when he had his NG-tube, so she’s fully aware of his additional educational needs and personality quirks and felt that his response was completely unlike him.

We have been working hard with M to develop the basic knowledge that is missing due to the delay in getting a diagnosis for his learning needs and are seeing a slow, but steady improvement. He attends weekly lessons at our local Dyslexia centre and his teacher there is working on his phonic and spelling knowledge in particular. We have agreed with school that he will only learn the spellings set by the Dyslexia centre as there is a greater need to ensure he has a good base on which to build his literacy skills, than worrying about the finer nuances of prefixes and suffixes for the time being. M uses the Nessy computer program, which was developed to teach reading, writing and spelling skills through a series of fun store_icon_nessyreading-01and interactive games and challenges. He has access to this both at home and at the Dyslexia centre and will soon be able to use it during some of his intervention group sessions at school. I have also just invested in the Nessy Fingers course, which will teach him to touch-type, a skill we are all agreed will be of huge benefit to him, especially when he moves on to secondary school next September. The ability to make notes on a laptop or tablet will ease some of the angst he already feels about the workload he will face in Year 7 and we are hoping to investigate some dictation programs that will also make his life just that little bit easier.

During Year 4, M’s occupational therapist came into school and taught a series of lessons focused on improving his handwriting and teaching him how to form his letters correctly. He now has the most beautiful joined up handwriting and, whilst it may take a lot of time and effort to do, he shows great determination to produce a well-written, well-structured and well-spelled piece of work. Even better, M recently received a certificate at school recognising his hard work with the diary entries he had been asked to write and congratulating him on some great ideas and marvellous handwriting. He was so incredibly proud of being awarded that certificate and his confidence and self-belief soared as a result. All too often over the last few years, M has been praised for his courage in dealing with his EGID diagnosis, NG-tube and food allergies, so it was great to see him receive recognition for the hard work he’s been putting in to improving his handwriting over the last 12 months.

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Truth be told, at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter what M’s SATs results are. They will not be a reflection of the bright, brave, cheerful boy that he is or of the huge strides he’s already made from an educational standpoint. They won’t show his breadth of knowledge on random topics such as the Illuminati, or expound his theories on anything Star Wars or his opinions about Brexit and the American Presidential race. They will never reveal the medical and health hurdles he’s overcome since the day he was born. Rather they will be a single snapshot of the ability of my 11 year-old to perform under certain pressures on a given day in May and will have no bearing on the journey he will eventually embark on for the rest of his life. They really are an unnecessary and unsatisfactory pressure that M and his friends could do without.

Any plans for the weekend?

We’ve got a weekend in London ahead of us and, being our usual optimistic selves, have planned a whole host of activities to keep us busy at every interval. Thanks to remarkable coincidence, we are able to combine 2 opportunities that have come our way and I’m hoping that Sunday evening will see us back home, exhausted, but also exhilarated by our experiences.

Allergy_Olympia_Logo_2Last year we decided somewhat reluctantly not to make our annual pilgrimage to the Allergy & Free From Show in London as M was in the midst of being tube-fed and had, at that point, only 4 safe foods in hand. Whilst I would have loved the opportunity to explore the offerings we’ve found at these shows in the past, I knew in my heart of hearts that it was more than M would be able to cope with and I wasn’t prepared to put him into what was bound to be an emotion-filled, stressful situation. G and I did toy with the idea of going without the boys, but other events came along and we enjoyed a weekend at home instead. To my surprise, M was incredibly disappointed not to go and was insistent that when this year’s show rolled around, he wanted to attend and was as keen as we have been before. At the start of this year, Mike and I discussed whether we really would go, talked it over at length with M and finally took the plunge and got our tickets for this Saturday. Over this past week or so, M and I have been looking at the businesses that will have stalls in Olympia when the show opens on Friday and he’s already made a note of a few he wants to visit. As I have become more active in the allergy community over the last 12 months or so, especially through friendships built at the FreeFrom Food Awards in February, we are all looking forward to meeting up with some familiar faces during our visit. This show is an amazing event and one that I would highly recommend to anyone living with allergies, or indeed following a vegan lifestyle. You can still get tickets to attend by clicking on this link and the show will be there until Sunday.

GOSH-logoSunday brings a different opportunity and an exciting one for G. When M and I took part in this year’s PLACE assessment at GOSH, I met and got chatting to Fiona Jones, the Children and Young people’s Participation officer at the hospital. One of her roles is to promote the GOSH YPF, or Young People’s Forum, something I had never heard about before, but was interested and keen to find out more. The YPF is for patients, ex-patients or siblings of patients at GOSH who are aged between 11-25 years old and who are interested in expressing their opinions about how GOSH can best support its teenage patients as well as being involved in projects that will help make the hospital experience a positive one for patients and their families. Unfortunately, M is too young to become a YPF member just yet, but Fiona asked if I thought G would like to become involved and I promised to ask her as soon as I could. To my delight, G was excited to be asked to join the GOSH YPF and is looking forward to attending her very first meeting on Sunday. focus-groupBoth children have already been lending a hand by trialling and reviewing an on-line project called Digital Badges, something they have really enjoyed trying out over the last 2 months or so, especially giving their feedback on how this project worked. G will spend her day with this group on Sunday at GOSH, whilst Mike, M and I explore the nearby British Museum and their Sutton Hoo exhibit and I can’t wait to hear all about it during our return journey.

The right PLACE for an opinion

Finally, it’s happened. Finally, I’ve found a place where my opinion matters. In fact it did more than matter, it was requested, recorded and appreciated too and, what’s more, it wasn’t just my opinion that counted that day, but M’s as well and that meant the world to him, and to me.

5729994426_7fbcf8798aAt the start of 2016, not long after we had returned home from M’s December admission, I spotted an opportunity for M and me to volunteer our time to be assessors for the annual PLACE assessment at GOSH. If you’ve never heard of PLACE before, then you’re not on your own as it was also a completely new thing to me, but I loved the idea of being able to give something back to the hospital that has become the focus of the last 5 years of our life in any way we could. To my delight, M and I were both accepted as volunteers and it was then a case of waiting for the crucial email inviting us to the assessment day to arrive. When that email did eventually appear in my inbox, the day was set for early April, which coincided perfectly with school holidays and my day off work – a real win-win situation for us. M and I chatted about what the day would involve and even the unexpected turn of events that resulted in M’s broken leg didn’t stop us as Tammy, the helpful Facilities Manager and PLACE co-ordinator, reassured me that we could still take part, broken limb and all.

PLACE stands for “Patient Led Assessments of the Care Environment” and, to be honest, does exactly what it says on the tin – invites patients and others closely connected to GOSH to assess different areas of the hospital according to a specific list of criteria. Upon arrival we were well-briefed on what was required, including the 5 key areas we would be focusing on: cleanliness; condition, appearance and maintenance; privacy, dignity and well-being; food; and, ironically, a new area for 2016 and one that M was best suited for, disability. We were split into a number of teams with between 3 and 4 patient assessors and a staff facilitator in each, and each team was allocated 2 wards and either a public (or communal area), an external area or an outpatients department to inspect. M and I had discussed the ward options at length ahead of time and despite M’s initial yearning to visit Rainforest, we agreed that our opinions of Rainforest and Kingfisher wards, both of which we have stayed on in the past, would be coloured by our previous experiences and wouldn’t be as unbiased as the PLACE assessment required. I asked if we could perhaps visit one of the newer wards in the hospital as it would be vastly different from our usual haunts and was delighted when that request was met.

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Our facilitator was the lovely Mark, who had already promised M that he would try to lead our group and would take him in the biggest lift in the hospital – which we did and saw so much more of the hospital that I’ve ever seen before. Everything settled, we headed into the main Reception, our public area, and started looking at the different things and criteria we needed to consider to complete our assessment, from fire extinguishers to hand-gel dispensers and everything conceivable in-between. Once we had finished there, we headed onto our first ward in one of the newer wings of GOSH, where, having completed our assessment of the ward itself, we observed the lunch service before tasting the food for ourselves. Our final stop was back in the oldest part of the hospital, where Rainforest ward can also be found, and what must be one of the smallest wards at GOSH. The contrast between the 2 wards was hugely noticeable and it was fascinating to learn more about the proposed improvements to the hospital over the next 5 years or so. It didn’t seem like a particularly long or overly active day, but by the time we had finished with everything we needed to do and had headed back to the Lagoon to collate our scores and add any further comments, M was completely exhausted. His enthusiastic participation in giving his own opinions and insights into what he could see so soon after breaking his leg tired him out to the extent that he fell asleep in his wheelchair and was completely oblivious to the activity and hubbub surrounding him for the next hour or so.

We both thoroughly enjoyed our experience on the day and M was delighted to discover once he woke back up that an invitation to attend next year’s assessment had been extended to him and that G had been added to the task-force too. I can’t reveal too much about what our findings were until the results are published, but I will say that we did find a problem with the disabled toilet in the main reception area. We were surprised to discover that it wasn’t really big enough to accommodate M, his wheelchair, his extended leg and me and that we didn’t have the space to manoeuvre him from chair to toilet once we locked the cubicle door. It appears that M’s broken leg came in handy on that day, though I’ve no intention in offering a similar expertise to next year’s PLACE assessment day! Since then, M and I have found ourselves sitting in the fracture clinic at our local hospital assessing what we can see surround3-tips-to-improve-the-way-you-write-Web-Contenting us, just as if we were in the midst of another inspection. What’s more, as often comes of these things, some more opportunities for both children to be involved in an ongoing capacity with developments at GOSH came out of that day which is really exciting, but that, as they say, is another story.

Another food and an unexpected insight

This moment has been an awfully long time coming, over 4 months and 7 food fails in a row in fact, but finally we have a fourth safe food to add to M’s repertoire: apple.  The last few months have been emotionally tiring as we’ve worked our way down the list of food challenges agreed with our dietitian and M has systematically, and holy-grailsometimes dramatically, failed each and every one.  It has felt as if that elusive fourth food was our personal Holy Grail and there were times when Mike and I both began to wonder when we would ever achieve it.

One of the complicating factors we’ve had to deal with during the food challenges has been the whole host of reactions that we’ve seen along the way.  We were never told, as far as either of us can remember, that it was possible to see so many different allergic responses to the varying foods M was trialling and we were certainly not advised that he could experience some that he’d never had before.  His severe oral reaction to sweet potato was, in many ways, the easiest one to identify, even though horrendous to see happen, as we knew immediately that it had to be an instant fail; but the others have not necessarily been so straight-forward.

complicatedOur main goal is to maintain the improved health and toileting that M has achieved since he first went elemental back in December and even though that has meant ruling out some foods that would have been great to have back in his diet, I remain firm that his well-being, both physical and psychological, is our primary concern.  At our last appointment, we discussed with both M’s consultant and dietitian our approach to the food challenges and agreed that anything that causes a loss of bowel control, of any description, has to be considered an instant fail for the time-being. These foods are not ruled out permanently – well, sweet potato is as far as I’m concerned! – and we will, without a doubt, revisit them at some future point once we have more safe ones back.

Sadly he has reacted to some of his old favourites, but he has coped admirably well with accepting the outcomes.  He still remains reluctant at times to acknowledge exactly how he is feeling and telling us about the aches and pains we know he must be experiencing, but 9 years of parenting M means that I have become highly attuned to his moods and can sense when he’s feeling under the weather.  His willingness to lose a food again at times has indicated to us that he also identifies when it’s making him feel poorly, especially when he has been prepared to fight for those that he believes he can cope with.

Never was that so true as at the start of our apple challenge.  During the first couple of days, his body reacted with hives and itchy skin, just as we saw when we first reintroduced rice and he also struggled a little with his bowel control.  However, unlike with other foods where he has reluctantly agreed that it was likely a negative response to the challenge, this time round M insisted that the fault was his for not listening to his body and responding quickly enough and that he felt he was still in complete control.

10 days on and he has proved to be right, which is a valuable lesson for us all:

We have spent years fighting for our voice to be heard when it has come to M’s health and each step of the way have been shown to be right in our concerns and our thoughts for his ongoing treatment.  It seems that now we need to start listening to what M has to say too and take into consideration his opinions and insights about his body.  Of course, at 9 he is nowhere near old enough or responsible enough to make his own choices or sway our decisions unduly, but, just as I have spent a long time arguing my place as the expert on the subject of M because I’m his Mum, now as Mum I need to encourage him to be his own best advocate and take an active and involved role in his care.  After all, that’s a key part of my parental role.apples7

And whilst I ruminate on this latest insight into M’s development, I’m eagerly gathering ideas and recipes to incorporate apple, in all its glory, into his diet.  So far, we’ve ventured little further than apple juice, apple slices and apple pancakes, but with the help of good friends, including one whose son is just a few steps further down the food challenge road than M, and great resources such as The Recipe Resource, then apple crumble, apple crisps and apple cakes are all on our horizon.