We Might Not Have a Medical Degree but We Are Also Experts - Experts in Our Own Kids.

Kerry Fender by Kerry Fender Additional Needs

Kerry Fender

Kerry Fender

Down’s Syndrome, my family and me – one mum’s account of family life with an extra chromosome.

I believe that if we all work together and are ‘on the same page’, offering a consistent approach, it will give us the best chance of a good outcome. I must say, though, that I did not have high hopes; I was afraid that it was just a box-ticking exercise by me to prove that I had at least tried, and I entered the meeting feeling very defensive.

To my great surprise I actually left the meeting feeling very positive. I felt that I’d been not just listened to, but heard.

I felt that constructive suggestions had been made, and that, above all, everyone wanted the same thing – to work together to help Freddie.

You might ask why this should come as a surprise, especially if you are the professional; after all, isn’t that exactly what is supposed to happen? In theory, yes: but from a parent’s point of view, meetings with professionals can often feel like confrontations.

I am not the only parent who feels defensive in the face of professionals.

I was following a thread on Twitter recently in which a teacher asked: ‘Why are parents so adversarial with schools?’ I tweeted the reply: ‘because schools are adversarial with parents’.

He seemed surprised by this viewpoint and asked me to elaborate, so that he could get some idea of what might be done to reduce conflict between parents and teachers.

I said that both parties needed to remember that they should be on the same side – that of the child.

In the past I have approached professionals, looking for assistance with a problem that I have not been successful in tackling by myself, only to find that the meeting turns into a subtle blame-shifting exercise.

We’ve been through several phases of where Freddie has point-blank refused to get ready for school.

No amount or type of rewards has any effect, and physically forcing him to get out of bed, wash and dress is not a long-term option – he is only going to grow bigger; I don’t believe this is an appropriate or healthy way to deal with a child, anyway.

Since I could identify nothing at home that might be exacerbating the problem the next logical step was consider whether there might be something at school that might be at the root of it, because treating the cause has got to be better than just treating the symptoms.

So I asked a professional.

‘You could get up earlier. To give him more time.’ That was the first suggestion.

Please excuse the stony silence while I bite my tongue and try not to say: ‘Now why didn’t I think of that, and haul my sorry backside out of bed at a decent hour instead of festering in my pit until 5.50 am.

After all, it’s well known that a child’s mood and cooperativeness are vastly improved by dragging them out of bed while they are still asleep.’

Perhaps I am just spectacularly unimaginative, but I couldn’t for the life of me see what was to be achieved by giving him enough time to sit there like an adamant and very angry sack of potatoes for three hours instead of two.

It would still end with me trying to force his school uniform onto him while he fought tooth and nail to get it off again.

‘You should give him consequences. He’s old enough to understand that. Have you tried walking him to school if he misses the minibus?’

Of course, I really should try that one.

After all, the LA only gave him a place on the minibus so that I could stay in my pyjamas watching TV instead of taking my child to school.

It had nothing to do with the fact that my son had hypotonia and profoundly hypermobile ankles, and a tendency to ‘flop and drop’ when he gets tired and frustrated, and we live three miles away from the school  -- that’s forty minutes walking for a healthy adult!

I could put him in the buggy, I suppose, but then which one of us is suffering the consequence? He would have a nice ride while I jogged along pushing the combined weight of him and that contraption. Yeah, that’d teach me, wouldn’t it, not to be such a rubbish mother.

Was I meant to leave that encounter with the notion that I was a really s*** parent who just needed to pull her socks up? Was it meant to be motivational?

If the above example is typical of the tone that prevails when parents meet with professionals, is it any wonder that so many parents come to meetings on the defensive?

We come expecting to be talked down to and scolded like recalcitrant children. Professionals so often fail to treat parents as equals in the discussion.

Yet we are equals, because we too, in our way, are experts – experts on our child; and the things that we know about our child form a vital piece of the picture that must be fitted together to help each child get the best outcome


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