Sunday, 24 August 2008
My son’s 30 and has what’s termed as ‘profound learning difficulties’. When he was six months old I was told that he would be ‘a vegetable’ (the doctor’s actual term) and was advised to put him into care and forget him. Yes, that’s actually what I was told.
I didn’t. I was just 17 but I knew that with my mum's support, I could give him a life he deserved.
He was 3 ½ when he took his first step and nowadays we call him ‘the roadrunner’ because he dashes along, making it practically impossible for even fit people to keep up, let alone me with my dodgy legs or my mum on her aging pins. He can dress himself (although needs to be reminded put on clean clothes otherwise he’d wear the same things for a year!), he can bath himself if he’s supervised and reminded to rinse himself off properly and given help to wash his hair and get dry, and although he can’t prepare a meal, he can eat without help (although I have to admit that a good deal of it tends to land on his t-shirt or his lap) and he can perform simple household tasks like emptying the rubbish bin, feeding the pets, and vacuuming the floor (but not if it involves pulling the furniture out). In other words, he’s far from a vegetable.
He can’t speak but has an amazing ability to make himself understood through gestures and body language although you’d have to meet him to really understand the extent of his talent (and it IS a talent). He can’t count to more than 3 or write anything other than his name and some crosses (kisses) and he can’t manage complex computer games or even board games. He can sit for hours ‘counting’ pennies and stacking them up though, and even longer with his Magnetix and believe me, he loves nothing more than helping out.
Paul is kindness personified. As long as it’s within his capabilities, he’ll do anybody a favour, and most often he’ll give it a go even if he can’t do it. Unfortunately, the latter sometimes leads to problems because he‘ll have a go at something he hasn‘t been asked to do (like when he decided to change a plug or the time he drilled a hole in the wall). He’s only trying to be useful, though.
He loves animals, nature and sunshine but he doesn’t really complain if it’s raining and he gets wet. He hates it if he thinks people are being unfair to others and cries if a person or animal gets hurt. He’ll comfort you when you’re feeling down and he’s a master at making people laugh. In fact, it doesn’t take much to make him laugh - watching The Simpsons has him in fits!
Paul doesn’t demand much. He doesn’t ask for the latest Cds or DVDs but is happy when he gets one. He doesn’t demand the latest fashions but is happy when he wears something new (unless we’re talking trainers, in which case he’d rather wear the old ones until they fall off his feet). He’s perfectly happy with second-hand furniture in his room and at the moment he’s more than happy with a mattress on the floor in his nan’s room (there’s no room for a proper bed) just because he’s close to her and can be there for her should she need help in the night. He doesn’t want to dine out at fancy restaurants but thinks it’s fun to pop into the bakers for a cake and a cup of hot chocolate now and then, and he neither smokes nor drinks alcohol. He does drink too much milk for his own good, though.
What really upsets him is the way some people react. The stares, the comments made within earshot, and the sniggers from the ‘uneducated’. These things make him both sad and angry.
Recently I told him that I was planning to take him away on holiday. He hasn’t been anywhere for over 2 years - not even as much as a day trip - so I thought that being as he spends the majority of his time either helping Mum with the shopping, helping her with my very ill and dependant father, or just doing some bits and pieces to help Mum around the house, he’d appreciate a break. Alas, Paul didn’t want to go.
Sunshine, beaches, the warm sea, karaoke bars and hotel type join-in entertainment, all of which he usually loves, just weren’t enough to entice him away from his nan. His answer was that she needs him with her to help look after Grandad and to be able to carry the shopping home. That’s a kind and incredibly unselfish heart!
When I see ‘kids’ making demands on their parents for the latest computer game consoles, the latest designer gear, the best holidays and lord only knows what else, and still they’re sulky and miserable and complain that they’re hard done by, I can’t help but think how much better Paul’s life actually is. He’s happy in his simplicity.
Next time somebody says “he’s simple, isn’t he?”, I shall take it as a compliment. He is, he's happy that way and I love him for it.