There Can Be Only One

Monday 16th September 2013. C-Day. College Day. We had had the whole weekend to pack but there were still some last-minute additions to the bags: a 4″ figure of David Tennant as Dr Who, an empty bubble bath container in the shape of The Stig from Top Gear, Harry’s nightlight. We were all quiet and a little subdued. Grandma told me that she’d had a chat with him that morning and Harry didn’t really understand what was happening and that just made everything worse.

We set off at 8am, dropping Harry’s sister at school on the way. I had to remind her to say goodbye to her brother because she wouldn’t be seeing him for five weeks. Typical teenagers’ forgetfulness. And then it was just the three of us. We left Yorkshire in glorious sunshine, encountering showers and then more sunshine as we neared college. A perfect metaphor for the day: sunshine & showers; bitter-sweet.

A knot the size of a grapefruit formed in my stomach (and it wasn’t the bacon sandwich eaten half-heartedly at the motorway service station). Time to act: put on a smile, adopt positive body-language and come up with cheery chat. Having registered our arrival we joined the human conveyor-belt of interviews with various members of staff.

Travel

The travel co-ordinator asked about our plans for half-terms and holidays. “It is college policy to promote the independence of students and wherever possible we encourage students to make use of the transport services provided by us.” Harry could travel home by coach or train with groups of other students accompanied by staff as far as Manchester. We decided this was an aspect of independent travel training we would like to work towards but felt that October was too soon and elected to go and collect him instead. We got the impression this was a rarity. Not for the first time I felt like I was being an over-protective parent. I made a mental note to download the application forms for a Disabled Persons Railcard.

Health

Next it was on to the college nurse. All her questions were directed at Harry but he was unable to answer the majority of them. He was able to acknowledge that his address was correct but not his date of birth. And he often forgets how old he is. We handed over Harry’s proof of NHS prescription charge exemption (a copy of his HC2 Certificate for full help with health costs) and a form agreeing to him being given an anaesthetic if necessary. We explained that Harry’s ear infection had recurred over the weekend (great timing) and that he would need help administering the prescription spray. We tried to remember the numerous minor operations he had as a child. I gave her the Occupational Therapy report produced after Harry had left school and far too late to be included in the LDA.

Harry went off with the medical staff to be weighed and measured: 5′ 10″, 9st 2lbs, BP 124/77. No medications, no allergies, no dietary conditions. “An easy one!”

Education

Our next stop was with the curriculum co-ordinator. He took Harry’s photo (not a good one, H refusing to look at the camera directly) and spent more time discussing how student photos might be used in promotional material than in Harry’s timetable. He hadn’t received the form which showed that Harry’s preference was for vocational modules in Hospitality and Retail and so had produced a timetable which took in H&R but also aspects of Land Based Studies (Practical Skills and Horticulture), Catering Studies and Arts, Media & Business Studies. I panicked a bit because Harry has an aversion to getting dirty and doesn’t like animals other than our own pets. But it’s only for a couple of weeks until Harry’s skills and preferences can be determined. And ultimately one area of study has to be picked because “study programmes are being introduced by the DfE from September 2013. The programmes will form part of the curriculum offer. The aim is to maximise the potential of young people to progress in education or employment.” (College literature)

Social Life

He double-checked which sports and social activities Harry wanted to include in his timetable: darts, football (H not sure), gym (not sure), horseriding (limited availability), swimming (H isn’t keen but dad thought it was a good idea and had packed his swimming trunks). From the list available I can imagine he would love Out & About Xtra Club (Monday 5.15-7.15pm), Music Club (Tuesday 5.15-6.15pm), Drama & Karaoke Club (Wednesday 5.30-6.30pm), Disco (Wednesday & Saturday) and Walking Club (every other Sunday 2-4pm). But will he be made aware that they are available?

Speech and Language Therapy

The therapist explained that at one time she would have seen every college student. Due to cutbacks she can now see only those students who have SaLT indicated in their assessments. She didn’t have a report from Harry’s SaLT at school because they hadn’t produced one. He had only been getting input during his last year at school but I am glad that I persevered in pushing for it to resume since it will undoubtedly help him. I promised to send her his last report from 2009, along with a report from his class teachers in 2012 so that she would at least have something.

Finance

Here we handed over Harry’s medical card and a form allowing him to be registered with the college doctor. They needed his Unique Learner/Pupil Number which I found on one of his SEN Review reports. And his NI number. They needed to know which benefits the student receives. And if your child is taking their own TV to college they need a TV licence. We decided it would be better for H to watch TV in the communal lounge: more chance of socialising that way.

How much personal allowance should Harry be given every week? How long is a piece of string? Harry has a wallet which I load up with cash when he gets taken out on trips but otherwise he’s like the Queen: he doesn’t need money. The finance officer mentioned that he might like to buy a soft drink, sweets or a magazine. I’d rather he didn’t. I explained that Harry has to use prescription toothpaste high in fluoride in order to control the extra plaque that builds up because he is unable to brush his teeth thoroughly. As for magazines, he loves his dad’s old Empire mags but he can’t read them, he just looks at the pictures picking out familiar characters/actors. So, for Harry to spend his allowance on magazines would be a bit of a waste. Wouldn’t it?

The highlight of college weekends is the trips out: musicals in Manchester, Birmingham, Wolverhampton; castles; museums; football matches; zoos; train trips. There is a lot to choose from. If asked, Harry would probably say ‘yes’ to everything. He would love the theatre trips but hate the shopping trips and museums. I circled the trips I thought Harry would enjoy between now and the Christmas holidays and the cost came to about £350. Looks like we’ll be topping up the allowance pot before too long.

However, I was a little worried by the talk of “rounding up” students to go on undersubscribed trips and I’ll be checking the statement that comes through from college with this in mind. (Controlling again. Can’t help it).

We were exhausted, it was 1.45pm and long past Harry’s (and our) lunchtime. We took ourselves off to one of the on-site cafes and ate lunch in quiet contemplation.

Harry’s Room

After lunch it was time to find his room and unpack. Deep breath. Staff seemed unsure about which was Harry’s room. On closer inspection each door had a name label on in small type. I’d like to have seen a photograph, at least 4″ x 6″, especially for students who can’t read.

The room was small, dark and sparsely furnished. 2 single beds, 2 sinks, 2 wardrobes, 2 bedside tables. It seemed that Harry would be sharing a room. As he was first to arrive he had the pick of the beds. We picked the one nearest the window as it seemed a bit brighter. We put up the posters we had brought and they cheered his half of the room up: Skyfall, Marvel comic covers and Spiderman. We struggled to plug in the extension lead for the bedside lamp. There would have been no room for a TV and none for his digital photo frame. I plugged in his nightlight. A narrow shelf for toiletries. I unwrapped a new bottle of mouthwash and encouraged him to use it. The Marvel comic duvet set stayed in its packaging and was put into the wardrobe but now I wish I had taken the time to put it on. Harry helped to unpack his clothes and with space at a premium, decided to put his football kit on top of the wardrobe. Let’s hope it doesn’t stay there for the rest of term.

I wanted to check that the Care Plan, which I had taken a great deal of time over, had made its way to the staff. Again, it was not to hand and I worried that they would not have read that Harry needs to be shown where the toilets are, that he can’t tell the time or use a phone without assistance. My lip wobbled for the first time.

There was nothing left for us to do. I hugged him and said it was time for mum and dad to go.

Don’t want you to go.

It won’t be long. We’ll see you soon.

Don’t want you to go.

Five weeks and then it’s half-term.

Don’t want you to go.

Oh Harry, it’ll go really quickly, you’ll see.

Don’t want you to go.

I know. But you’ll make lots of new friends and learn lots of new skills.

Don’t want you to go.

I couldn’t think what else to say to him. My eyes were filling with tears and I was determined not to cry in front of him.

Well mum and dad can’t stay here, there’s not enough room.

Don’t want you to go.

I know. I know. But we’ve got to go.

Don’t want you to go.

We put on our coats and picked up the empty bags. One of the other student’s parents were also on the verge of leaving and I saw his mum wiping her eyes. He had settled down to watch TV in the lounge and we encouraged Harry to do the same. A last reminder to the staff that Harry hadn’t worked out where the toilet was in relation to his room. Or which was his room. (Get those photographs up). A last goodbye and we walked away.

Only when we were safely back in the car could we let out all the pent-up emotion. We felt wretched and thoroughly miserable. The drive home was punctuated by tears and the occasional grasp of one another’s hands in supposed reassurance.

There Can Be Only One… First Day at College. The rest have to get easier.

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One response to “There Can Be Only One

  1. When i first saw the title of this blog i thought of one thing, when *** was younger and we realised he was different i used to sing a song to him which is sung by football fans to their favourite player, “there’s only one *** ***** “, me and him would often sing this and he loved it. He too has grown up but not really the way we would have liked, he’s been apart from us for a period and we all missed each other, he’s back now and we are fighting the fight to get him help, me and him still sing the song and he’s still my favourite player.

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