I made the decision to specialise in ASD / ADHD/ ADD when working with children 7 years ago after working within the Child Development Team. Not only did the psychology of the specific impairments with these individuals interest me but I found myself in awe of these misunderstood children. I found that beneath the challenging behaviour and the anxiety ridden meltdown were the sweetest children with amazing talents. I thrived on working with these children and their families. I was empathetic to the families and I tried my best to understand what they were going through. I listened sympathetically, I supported Applications and applied for charity funding’s for the family. I patiently spend weeks working with their children on eye contact and choice making and forms of expression, enjoying the sense of achievement when I broke down the wall and helped the children express themselves. I completed research on the impact of family functioning whilst awaiting an autism diagnosis and paved the way for important changes in the ways the NHS works in relation to this assessment. I researched into sleep cycles of the ASD individual and developed sleep programmes and petitioned for local sleep services. I really thought I understood.
And then 2 years ago my youngest son was born. At 11 months old he was diagnosed with Global Development Delay, at 13 months a sleep disorder and non epileptic absences, at 18 months old Sensory Processing Disorder was added to the list and now at 2 and half we’re querying ASD. NOW I understand. I understand the pure exhaustion of a child that won’t sleep more than a few hours a night, I understand the sadness you feel as a mother when you see other children the same age as yours doing activities that your child just cannot do. I understand the way you feel when strangers look at you funny in the street because you’re having to stop every few moments so you can cuddle your son so he can get the sensory seeking sensation he is desperate for, or when you have to stop and let him touch every tree on the street on a walk. I understand that feeling of hopelessness when your child meltdowns and you cannot comfort them no matter what you try.
Not only does this experience give me insight I never had (although I thought I did) into the lives of the parents, it also makes me a better therapist working with these children. I have a passion towards helping these children that inspires me to do more, to research more, to develop more strategies. I understand the anxiety, the meltdowns and the anger. When I travel into London 3 times a year to train school staff, childminders and TA’s on working with ASD I have a passion to help these adults understand our kids and the best way to help. I understand the questions, the ifs and the desperation the parents feel in a way that no amount of training and work experience could give me. I’m one of you. I write this whilst my oldest child is at school, my sister had to take him as my youngest is still asleep and I can’t wake him. Why? Because he didn’t fall asleep until 8am this morning. I’m right there with you with the trials and tribulations of raising a child with complex needs. I’m fighting it with you.
For support I offer;
· 1:1 therapy for your child on a range of issues such as social communication, anxiety, anger and other forms of challenging behaviour.
· Social skills groups
· Sleep advice and programmes for ASD children
These past few weeks Children’s mental health services have been the talk of the government, social media and the news. From every direction people are posting, discussing and proclaiming that Theresa May has announced that childhood mental illness must become a priority and her ‘unveiling of plans to reform the mental health services’.
I see professionals getting excited at the prospect of awareness and aid to their services, parents feeling relieved that they may finally be able to get their child the help they so strongly need and deserve. The entire UK seems to have a positive outlook on this proclaimed priority.
I feel angered at these claims by Theresa May. Now as a children’s therapist who has devoted the past 7 years of my life in training and practice to work in this field that may seem strange. But let me break this down…
Theresa May talked a good talk and she got the country riled up in excitement. But let’s look closer; Theresa May did not discuss budget increase, she did not discuss the development of new services or the funded training to develop more job roles for the already over stretched services we have. She didn’t mention hospitals or outpatient services at all. She spoke about communities and schools. The problem there? I didn’t go through 7 years of training for nothing. It takes specialist training to be equipped to work with these children. Teachers do not have this training. They are trained to teach and although they provide much need pastoral support for our kids they are not responsible for their mental wellbeing. We are. The parents, the GP’s, the nurses, the Psychologist, Psychiatrists and the Therapists.
I am proud to have worked in the NHS for over 4 years before entering into private practice. I have seen the demands on the NHS and I have seen the amazing work the staff do. But I have also seen the strain. I personally researched into ASD diagnostic waiting lists within our NHS and found an 18- 24 month wait. Our children’s psychological services currently have a 9 month wait. So where does that leave these children? It leaves them without. It leaves their families without.
So I shall wait with baited breath to see the outcomes of the government’s new plans to promote childhood mental wellbeing. And in the mean time I will continue to work with these children , their families and their schools on the front line because if I can stop one child taking the wrong path, if I can stop one teenager cutting themselves or talk one pre-adolescent depressed child from taking their life, or if I can reduce the social isolation of our SEN children and if I can give my support to one family to give them a tiny glimmer of hope, then my training, the demands and the stigma attached to my role and research will all be worth every second.
I’m waiting RT Hon May….