The staff were friendly, helpful and caring and I have nothing but praise for what they did with Charlotte.
The first week was strange, it was difficult to leave her in this strange place, but she made herself comfortable and settled with very few problems. The guilt was enormous, that I had to send her away, that I had failed to give her what she needed and now I had to rely on complete strangers to sort her out. But I was told I could ring any time of day or night, I would be kept in the picture of everything that went on, and I just had to trust them to do their stuff.
Well, at the end of that first week a miracle had occurred! They had gone ‘cold turkey' with the swimming costumes, took them all away on the first day, never to be seen again! Instead, they were replaced by t-shirts made of the same material as swimming costumes, those which surfers would wear, as an interim measure. They told me that Charlotte had stayed in her bedroom until after lunch, refusing to get dressed or co-operate on the first day, but the times lessened very quickly in the following few days, and by the end of the week she was integrated into her small group and able to join in activities and play with the toys. I was over the moon, I'd have been more than happy to leave it there, but no, that wasn't going to be the end of it. They used sensory integration techniques with Charlotte, deep pressure activities using things like body sox and cushions, and motivators such as mirrors and toys she liked.
The following six weeks were a bit of a blur, with Charlotte in the unit from Monday to Friday, then coming home for the weekend. She started wearing trousers and leggings and they even managed to get her to wear a new pair of shoes after her tatty old ones got huge holes in the soles. Each week she looked a little different, was wearing something different and we were a much happier little family unit. She was happy and settled, more than I'd seen her in a long time. She even got excited when we went back on a Monday!
During the week she went horse riding, swimming, to the local sports centre to play on special bikes, and in the unit they had a sensory room, ball pool, garden and lots of toys and activities, so she had a wonderful time, oblivious to the grown ups who came to observe, assess and discuss her.
However, there was still a long way to go before we could be sure that she had overcome the obsession, and that we would be able to keep up the new routine. After the first six weeks, it was decided that Charlotte should stay for another six weeks, then another four weeks after that.
At the end of it all we had lots of in-depth assessments to go through, some of which I already knew, but there was so much going on that I wasn't aware of. She was assessed to have significant sensory impairment, and her developmental age was put at around 2.5-3 years overall, but her understanding and communication skills were below that of a 12 month old baby.
For all I knew this, it still came as a shock to see it in writing, I knew she was significantly behind an average child of her age, but by that much? But then, those parents among us who have been carers for any lengths of time find ourselves in our own little bubble of ‘normality' don't we? It's a survival technique, to forget ‘normal', to ignore the child development books which tell us what our child *should* be doing, to focus on the positives, the achievements our children make, which are infinitely more significant than the same achievements in a child without special needs. So, being confronted with this reality check really choked me up.