I manage to have special needs conversations in all kinds of situations: On Friday morning I went to a cafe for an early lunch with my sister and we chose an M&S cafe. We sat down with our food at a table for 4 as the tables for two looked pretty cramped, where we began eating and talking. We had finished our soup and toastie when a young mum, with her two year old daughter, asked to sit at our table, as it was getting busier in there.
We engaged in some small talk, laughing that the toddler had tucked into her chocolate lollipop before she had even considered her egg sandwich. My sister then went to use the facilities before we left and the Mum explained that her toddler was realtively easy to look after, as she slept through, but that she was really struggling with her autistic son. With little encouragement she went on to tell me that he was in mainstream junior school and was coping with the work but that he had no social skills or friends and that she was worrying how he would cope at high school.
Of course I told her that Joshua went to a local special school and we talked about how that experience might help her son further down the line and that he might be able to cope with 1 to 1 support in mainstream. Our conversation was not long, it ended when my sister returned to the table and we began to put our coats on to leave. The toddler bid us goodbye and the Mum told me her name. I suspect that I will never see that mother again but I hope that she has gone away slightly reassured and perhaps feeling less lonely in her experience.
I have always made myself available for these chance conversations with strangers and I enjoy them too. The most memorable one for me was when Joshua was in hospital , starting the ketogenic diet, so he was not ill at the time but needed close supervision for a few days to ensure that he did not react to the extreme change in nutrition. While I was there one night I went to the parent room, where a mother was alone and crying. Of course I had to ask if she was ok, if she needed anything? She explained that her baby had just been diagnosed with brain damage and she did not know how she was going to cope. While I made us a hot drink, I told her about Joshua’s birth and diagnosis 9 years earlier and how much he had achieved since then. She stopped crying and listened, asking a few questions. The next day I brought Joshua to see this mother to introduce my son, proudly and she commented on how happy he seemed. Joshua enabled her to picture a future that she could not see beforehand.
Now I have no idea what outcome either mother did, or will, get and I may have given both of them false hope, but for a moment I was able to use our experience to offer reassurance to get both through a difficult moment in their lives. When I was alone in SCBU after I had been told Joshua’s scan results and diagnosis, at 4 days old, I would have given anything to have met someone like me 17 years on, to help me to imagine a future that was something other than a frightening black hole. So I feel that is the least that I can do for other parents who might be struggling.