Or, otherwise entitled…
Once upon a time; many, many moons ago, my parents bought me a piano. It lived in my fathers study and alongside the weekly piano lessons, I was advised that I was expected to practice…for 2 hours a day *gasps*
Yes my people, TWO HOURS A DAY! *shouts*.
When the novelty wore off (pretty quickly), the most attention the piano ever got on a daily basis was when my mother vigorously polished the life out of it with Mr Sheen – that’s furniture polish, btw, not a man. Consequently, it was a very clean and shiny piano. But my father then got fed up of it in his study and it went to live (hopefully happily) in the local pub; perhaps ending its days being sung around by swaying, merry patrons, slopping their beer on it.
A similarly swift departure occurred when my Beagle, Sam, disappeared (not to the pub, mind) whilst I was at school one day, only to go and reside with a farmer…allegedly! #poorsam
Now, let’s face it, I was a kid. I didn’t want to waste two whole hours every single day in solitary confinement! At that age (in the olden days) all I wanted to do was my own thing and play out with friends, whilst anticipating being subjected to my mothers wrath when I returned later with dirty, scuffed, patent leather shoes (you can’t buff those babies up with Mr Sheen!).
I mean, come on, who sends their kid out to climb trees and generally mess about play with patent leather shoes on??!!! *slaps forehead*
(Or if it was raining and we couldn’t be bothered to go out, we’d make vile smelling ‘perfume’ out of squashed up rose petals or something we’d surreptitiously pulled up out of the garden)
…apparently we were considered rather posh in those days having a piano and study and patent leather shoes and whatnot, although you’d never guess if you met me now!
So I never became the best pianist. Nor was I a child prodigy. Obvs!
But perhaps if aforementioned (spotless and glossy) piano hadn’t ended up in the pub, I may’ve frequented my fathers study as and when the mood took me and had a little tinkle on the old ivories from time to time. Those little tinkles could’ve increased to longer, more productive tinkles…resulting in (perhaps) me committing in my own time to developing my skills; if only to play for pleasure, for myself…or whoever would listen.
It would’ve been prudent to allow me to learn the piano on my terms, rather than it backfiring – resulting in me developing a resistance to conform to this parental expectation.
Hindsight’s a great thing though, isn’t it? And we can all play the smarty pants and critique others’ parenting styles, can’t we? And blimey, if I was given £1 for every time I’d called out the judgements or been proffered ‘advice’ by people who had no idea whatsoever about parenting a child with profound additional needs, then that’d probably pay for a Baby Grand.
Many (many!) years have passed since my shiny piano got the eviction notice and only recently I considered treating myself to another one (although I guarantee it wouldn’t get polished!)…however, I’ve got FAR too many other things, more important things, to be getting on with at the mo. Maybe I will one day though. Hopefully.
So, where am I going with this?
Well, the aim wasn’t to belittle the well-meaning intentions of my dead parents. Not at all! I experienced a privileged and mostly happy formative early life.
No, what I’m intending to lead on to is how we, as parents, have the potential to get things wrong from time to time.
A PARENT, MAKING BLUNDERS? (yeah, plural)
How distasteful of me to suggest that!
We’re all perfect, right?
By imposing our own expectations/aspirations/whatever upon our children – regardless of them being well-meaning – it has the potential to impact on our children. It’s not rocket science, it’s #fact
Case in point and the reason for this post – here’s my totally epic parenting gaffe and how I was guided to put it right. It turns out I’d been doing this parenting malarkey a bit wrong! *puts hand to mouth in shock horror*:
Someone: Erm…sorry, PACT what?
Someone: *looks baffled* PAC…?
Me: PACT. G. It’s P.A.C.T. Hyphen G.
Someone: *looks baffled again* What’s that?
Me: It stands for Paediatric Autism Communication Trial – Generalised.
Someone: Oh *looks baffled…again*
…and then I undoubtedly proceed (quite poorly) to explain what we’ve been up to for the last 12 months.
(Kept that quiet, didn’t we? *winks*)
You see, we’ve been involved in a very important bit of research – the PACT-G Study – facilitated by the University of Manchester. Oooh! But now we’ve completed said research, we can let the cat out of the bag and tell you a little bit about it.
(n.b. no cats were actually put in bags)
Early on last year (I think) Hannah was (finally) formally diagnosed with Autism. Given the lack of support available (you don’t say!), her paediatrician signposted us to the PACT-G study. Happy to ‘have a bash’ at anything if it helps, I made a call to the University. Given Hannah has Cornelia de Lange Syndrome too I was concerned we wouldn’t be accepted onto the study. But we were. Phew!
PACT’s initial aim (I’ve pasted and copied this bit) was “to improve the social communication of preschool children with autism. Caregivers were coached, using video-feedback, to interact with their child using strategies that facilitated communication development in the child. This approach was found to be very effective in increasing the quality of parental communicative responses to the child, which in turn, led to increased child-initiated communications with the parent.
PACT-G therapy retains these effective elements; but adds new features to test specific ways to increase the transfer of child communication gains into everyday home and education contexts. The therapy begins with the parent at home and parental techniques are integrated into daily routines and play to assist generalisation of new skills development in the home setting.
In addition, the range of adults involved in training is widened to also include education staff in school settings. This extends the application of the intervention into the primary school years. To date, autism intervention studies have largely been limited to episodic interventions, usually in pre-school. However, communication skills continue to emerge and develop beyond the pre-school years and social communication skills in the early school age period are strong predictors for later development. The developmental nature of autism thus argues strongly for a developmentally sustained approach to intervention into middle childhood”
So, it seems those child development theories from people like St Ignatius and Aristotle (clever blokes) such as ‘give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man’ stuff is a load of old twaddle – in my humble opinion. Because Hannah started the research when she was 8 years old. We subsequently spent 12 months completing the programme…and we’ve had some pretty impressive results from it – evidencing in part that someone doesn’t just stop developing after they’ve blown out the seven candles on their birthday cake. (Actually, Hannah has difficulty blowing out candles, anyway)
So stick that in your pipe and smoke it Mr Aristotle and Saintly person!
Probably midway through the study, I had a lightbulb moment regarding my epic parenting gaffe. Hannah was engaging more and more with me when I did nothing; rather than doing what I’d done for the last 8 years – using every opportunity I could to try and engage her, help her learn new things, aid her development.
It turns out I wasn’t really helping. My bad. More like hindering; probably making her anxious or overwhelming her too much at times and bombarding her glorious little brain which needed to process everything in its own time and on her terms, her conditions.
But, mirroring my own parents, everything I did was with the best intention.
…and with love. So much love.
I learned that I needed to rethink again my expectations, adapt my behaviour even more and how I interacted with Hannah. I had to step entirely into her world (even though I thought I’d done so already). Let her take the lead. Let her guide me. I had to forget those mainstream theories about play and interaction between parent and child. Often, I had to sit back…and wait…and wait.
Initially it felt a bit of an ‘airy fairy’ concept. At times it felt like I was doing absolutely nothing…which I was…and that was uncomfortable for me. I wanted/needed for her to feel that I was there for her; despite being there already. But as the study progressed, I saw my little girl begin to blossom. Her communication has improved and so has her ability to concentrate more, and she can sit for longer on an average chair. Yay!
And nowadays, I can be observed being dragged around Broccoli HQ by Hannah to get the things she wants. I’m now regularly told to leave her bedroom when it’s bedtime – this is usually achieved by Hannah forcefully pushing me off her bed (she’s strong!) whilst she points to the door. Rude!
I jest, but these are huge, massive, glorious achievements in our world and I’m happy to be pushed and pulled around, if necessary.
It’s been hard going, there’s no doubt about that. But I’m SO very glad that we participated. I’ll elaborate further about how we did it in the next blog post which will include her telling her dentist off and a fabulous something to celebrate what she’s achieved so far.
So, I suppose that’s all for now, my people.
Thanks for stopping by.
Until next time.