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I felt very privileged to be asked to write a short story of how I am now working for Action for Children at The Pines residential short break service in Hertford and the steps that led me here.

I am mum to two young boys. My eldest, Nathan, is 23 years old and my youngest, Joshua, is 20. Nathan is the typical older sibling and very caring towards his brother. Even though their household generally resembles typical family life, my Joshua has severe autism and is non-verbal. Signs of any developmental delay weren’t seen until around the age of 22 months where, rather than progressing, Joshua regressed and any speech formed and interaction stopped completely.

Confusion, sadness and uncertainty over what lay ahead caused immeasurable heartache. My boys wouldn’t be following in each other’s footsteps, or go to the same school together, and socially would require very different support. My Joshua was not going to be mainstream.

It was a shock to step into a world where one child’s needs would be to very different to his older sibling.
Kitty, Joshua's mum
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However, Joshua started at a wonderful Severe Learning Difficulties (SLD) school local to our home; he started at 4 years old and finished at 19. It was a wonderfully supportive and caring school, where Joshua was encouraged to meet his full potential.

Despite this, Joshua was finding life increasingly hard to cope with, suffering severe anxiety and episodes of great distress. As I was generally on my own, it left a very unsafe situation in the family home. This is when we started working with The Pines.

Unsure of what exactly was going on with my son - who was gaining weight way over a normal pattern - and unwilling to put him on a variety of drugs which may not even help, I fought to get him an assessment. Eventually he was assessed in Northumberland, but as he was only allowed weekend visits and was so far away, it was like having my heart ripped out and was very hard to cope with. But he needed this, so the costs didn’t matter.

I was becoming very ill; anxious, worn out and worried with months of living on edge around Joshua’s episodes, scared to sleep.
Kitty, Joshua's mum
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I always saw them as a form of seizure – even startling him could bring one on. The Pines were aware of everything I was going through and were very supportive of Joshua and the family. With lots of professionals and assessments involved, it was a great help for Rob and the other staff to present at meetings about how we could all meet Joshua’s needs. It meant so much that they went the extra mile for our family.

My Joshua finished his three month assessment in January 2012, only coming home for 9 days over Christmas. Things were still uncertain, with no clear answers to his distress other than it being seen as a ‘fight or flight’ response. Although it was lovely to have Joshua back to his normal routine and have my son home, supporting him safely was my top priority and residential care was recommended to best meet his needs.

When Josh left The Pines to go into residential care, his leaving party was fantastic - complete with Elvis banner, Elvis cake and an Elvis CD as a present - I was very touched. Throughout his time at The Pines, they were always accommodating, taking everything into consideration and providing a safe environment where so much care, love and support was shown during the massive transition to residential care. I’m in admiration of everyone that helped provide the warmth of a family atmosphere and it was then that I really decided I would love to work at The Pines.

I now work here at The Pines, still feeling so very supported.
Kitty
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I’m very proud to be working with a great caring team, here to support and care for young people and learn lots from each one. I’m hoping to gain my NVQ Level 3 soon, fingers crossed! Our staff training is fantastic and I can use my own personal experiences as well. My Josh still has seizures but with love, great understanding and the ability to step into his world, he will receive all the care to meet his needs, as well as love and hope.

I must emphasise the importance and much needed short break services The Pines offers for the children/young people and their families too. The staff at The Pines were involved in Joshua’s transition to residential care, went along on visits with him and helped give information to help him settle in. The Pines encourage independence and participation from all the young people, where they are very much valued – it’s a great step to helping them move into the bigger world.

Love Kitty, Joshua and Family.