A was first brought to the GP at age three because he wasn’t meeting his developmental milestones. The family waited months for an ASD assessment and his symptoms became more prevalent. Feeling increasingly isolated, they started looking for advice on the internet and spoke to other parents. They went to seminars, workshops and parental support groups. He was then diagnosed with Asperger syndrome.
As A grew, he became incredibly intelligent but also violent and aggressive to an extent where he needed intensive supervision. Self employed, his Mum had to cut back on work hours and it caused financial stress to the family.
By November 2015, his behaviour and sleep pattern became erratic in primary seven during preparation for the Transfer Test.
His school requested him to sit the exam because they didn’t have a Statement of Educational Needs from the Education Authority. Despite an NHS diagnosis and a mountain of evidence, the request was twice rejected. This, his parents say was the trigger for his first major breakdown.
His primary school has an allocated forty hours per year of child psychology. Equating to one week of work for a school with four hundred pupils.
In class, he had panic attacks but thought all the other kids were experiencing the same racing heart beat and sweaty palms. It was only when he returned home that he lashed out in anger because he didn’t know how to do his homework.
He was taken to the GP. His Mum requested him to be seen by a Paediatric Doctor. Another waiting game began. After months, she discovered the Paediatric Doctor rejected the referral and had instead recommended A go to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS). However, the letter was lost in the GP’s computer system and only uncovered after complaint.
A’s mental health deteriorated. The child psychologist in CAMHS diagnosed him with severe depression and anxiety. They recommended anti psychotics, melatonin and anti depressants. It took eight weeks and a suicide attempt for his prescription to be written.
At ten-years old, he was found sitting on the roof of the family home saying ‘he didn’t want to do this any more’. Beechcroft admitted him because the child psychiatric unit has been closed due to funding. His parents felt the environment was wrong for him because he was separated from family and in a unit with teenagers who were suffering traumatic mental illness.
The failure by Belfast Trust to issue A with his medication when it was required has been recognised by his parents as a clear contributory factor in the decline of their son’s mental health. They felt that a psychiatric admission could have been avoided, had he been given his prescription the day it was recommended. It has impacted his whole family, especially his siblings who have witnessed the police and paramedics in their home.
Since then he has passed out with panic attacks. Unless he physically attempts to kill himself or someone else, the Crisis Assessment Intervention Team of CAMHS criteria says he is not an urgent case and the Emergency Department sends him home with a diazepam.
He has ran at his Mum with a kitchen knife. Police and social services have advised her to press charges on him but she will not do it because he is at the age of criminal responsibility.
He was turned down by all four post primary school choices and offered places in schools as far away as Enniskillen and Ballymoney. His Mum threatened the Education Authority with the local MP, the media and his team of professionals. A was finally given a place in a nearby school.
He will be starting post primary in September without an induction or the opportunity to catch up on work he missed when he was ill. Home tuition should have been instigated upon discharge from Beechcroft but due to miscommunication in the Education Authority, the referral wasn’t processed for three months, at this stage the service had stopped for the summer holidays.
His parents feel that there is a huge wall of ‘no’ from services and they have to break it down to access the care he needs. For them, it’s an emotionally draining experience on the whole family.
They say there are individuals that do care, but their hands are tied by a lack of funding. Their advice to other parents is to seek it out and refuse to accept the rejections to ensure their child’s name reaches the right professionals.
As told to @AineCarson1