Did you know that approximately six thousand children in the UK with assorted Special Needs and disabilities do not currently have a diagnosis?
I learned this after Pearl’s first round of diagnostic tests at 18 months. I was astounded, surely the SEN teacher in the Child Developmental Centre was wrong? My girl was wobbly, couldn’t speak, was missing developmental milestones all over the place, and couldn’t walk. That HAD to have a name didn’t it? Pearl obviously had a diagnosis or would be getting one very soon. Oh yes.
In the interests of honesty, I’ll tell you a secret. I did not really want a diagnosis as it would prove there was a real problem that Pearl may not grow out of. I was also more interested in treatment and therapy than a name. Looking for a label seemed to imply that there was something wrong with my atypical, perfect child. Obviously if Pearl had a syndrome it would be called HGS (Happy Gorgeous Syndrome) or ‘Probably a Genius but slightly held back by circumstance syndrome’ (PAGs) for short.
Children with SEN can struggle to fit in with the mainstream world. As you merrily bob along to the local Mums and Tots and shoehorn your child into Gym Babes (an experience I soon discarded as all the children younger than Pearl learnt to walk and graduated to Tumble Tots) it’s clear that there is a difference. We are social creatures and we all need somewhere to belong. As you realise this, and your friends are ignoring you as all you talk about is medications and hospital appointments you look around. Oh look! There is a Special Needs Community! They get it! In truth in the early years everyone I met in this community got a diagnosis and peeled off into specific support groups. I’m afraid to say that many in this community struggled with our lack of diagnosis even more than out pre Pearl friends. Hadn’t we met this nurse? Wasn’t our Paediatrician very good? Had we seen the Geneticist? Everybody seemed more interested in Pearl’s diagnosis, or lack of it, than Pearl.
So why get a diagnosis anyway?
Firstly it’s easier. When people ask “what’s her problem?” instead of replying “people who ask insensitive questions” you can give a short sharp punch, sorry, I mean answer.
When the DLA send you the mother of all forms, you can save (some) time by putting PAG syndrome in the “cause of difficulty” box.
Importantly it may be that your diagnosis is a difficulty that doesn’t stand still, progresses, or responds to treatment. As a parent this is something you need to know. You may be able to stand on the shoulders of the giants of research and academe and benefit from their hard work.
Siblings. Those people who have learnt more about disability than many junior Doctors, they may need to know. After 3 A4 pages of rejections from the likely diagnosis club I was ready to throw in the towel. Pearl’s eldest sister, referred to in the blogosphere as “The Glory”had a very astute appraisal of the situation. At 15 she wanted to know could she have a child like Pearl? I had not even thought about inheritance. I had to put my feelings about the diagnostic process to one side for her peace of mind.
The main, overreaching reason I can see that we require diagnosis is that our society works on the Medical Model. The Professionals come in, they assess, diagnose and treat. Funding follows. We have all been brought up with this. It is the glory of modern medicine.
My preference is the Social Model, which takes everyone however able or otherwise, at face value and changes society to make it accessible to everyone in every way. Get with the programme people, we need adjustments. Make them. Unfortunately we are quite a way from this being our societal default. Until it is diagnosis will continue to be hotly pursued by medics and parents alike.
Where does that leave the 6,000? Where do they belong?
SWAN (syndromes without a name) is an initiative of the Charity Genetic Alliance UK, to support families of undiagnosed children. They are simply fabulous. Organising support pages, local groups, information sharing and giving parents the opportunity to vent and celebrate in a safe space. Importantly they also offer access to studies which will further future generations knowledge of the gene, syndromes and interventions. Because of SWAN Pearl took part in a study on Deciphering Developmental Delay, and because of that we have a genetic answer to her difficulties. Pearl has a mutation on GNA01 which has spontaneously occurred and was never tested for previously as she displayed different features to others with the condition (go Pearlie go!). This may help us learn how genes change, widen our awareness of what this particular gene is responsible for and help the Pearls of the future.
As far as this family is concerned though, Pearl is Pearl and that’s that.
Find out more about SWAN on www.undiagnosed.org.
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Donate by texting SWAN11 £3 (or any amount up to £10) to 70070