My Mum wasn’t surprised to discover me and my brother fighting over a green fruit pastel when we were kids.
Her father was colour blind and she knew it ran through her DNA, and would be passed on to her kids.
The fruit pastel was in fact orange.
You do tests in Primary School to confirm it, and then you get on with your life.
Coincidentally, my wife carries the colour blind gene too.
Our birth son is colour blind.
Our adopted son isn’t.
He doesn’t share our DNA.
Being colour blind is generally a relatively minor inconvenience.
You can’t be a pilot or an electrician and you have to ask shop assistants if clothes match.
You don’t get extra time in exams or a badge that lets you park near The Asda.
I think my colour blindness is stated in my doctor’s notes.
Our adopted son may have perfect colour vision but he does have some other additional needs.
Numerous children we have fostered have had additional needs.
This is born out by statistics.
Kids in care, or who have been in care, are far more likely to be neurodiverse than kids who aren’t or who haven’t.
Dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, ASD, ADHD and numerous other three letter acronyms are far far more prevalent in our LAC and PLAC communities.
Whether you foster, adopt or got your kids via more traditional methods, working out that they’re neurodiverse, getting a diagnosis and the necessary support is a challenge, ‘challenge’ being a euphemism for a Herculean task of epic proportions, that will almost certainly drive you mad.
We’ve been to our wonderful local Kids’ hospital more times than I can count, and I can count quite high.
It’s newly completed, purpose built, light, airy, with TV screens showing Dr Ouch on a loop.
It has a resident magician and celebrities regularly pop in to cheer everyone up.
If you want to find out if your kid has autism, you have to go to the ‘old building’.
Navigating the old building is some sort of parental test.
Dark, dilapidated corridors with out of date signage eventually lead you to a Waiting Room, but only for those willing to persevere, for those who will not give up on their child, and who are doggedly determined.
The staff are gorgeous, but you only know that if and when you find them in Reception.
This is a good analogy for accessing help for your child.
It’s hard work.
It can be a full time job.
It’s exhausting and can be exasperating.
Our little man was taken to a separate room for his tests.
I knew this wouldn’t bode well.
At the time, his separation anxiety was particularly acute, and being with strangers in a strange place sent him straight into his ‘lizard brain’ or ‘amygdala’ if you’ve been on a course.
He basically froze, and stared.
20 minutes later, we were reunited.
I bought him a Meal Deal as a treat.
Chicken with stuffing, quavers and an orange drink.
It’s not always the same, but it usually is.
It took several appointments and lots of paper shuffling to get an autistic diagnosis.
My emotional reaction was mixed.
Practically, this diagnosis would help us access what he needs and what he’s entitled to.
The autistic diagnosis has helped us get him an EHCP (Educational Health Care Plan) and then DLA (Disability Living Allowance).
On the other hand, ‘An autistic diagnosis’ really doesn’t tell you very much.
We already knew he liked routine and felt reassured by the familiar.
If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person.
I should also point out that my wife does the form filling in our house.
Without Mrs Watson’s tenacity, logical mind, massively high levels of literacy, and ability to understand ‘the language of bureaucracy’, our kid would be lost in a system.
I have never filled out a form successfully in my life.
Our Social Worker once asked if I had a diagnosis for ADHD and directed me to an online diagnosis tool.
I started the test, got bored, and went off to do something else.
There are some things this kid struggles to do.
Meeting and interacting with strangers is high up on the list.
But is this a rational fear based on the trauma of his early life or part of his neurodiversity?
I don’t know.
Recently I asked him to tidy his room, again.
He said he was busy.
When asked again, he said he couldn’t.
Apparently, and I quote him verbatim ‘my autism is playing up’.
In 1986, I went to an Anti-Apartheid Rally on Clapham Column.
Our aims were to demand the release of Nelson Mandela, smash the racist, oppressive regime in South Africa and raise global issues of injustice and inequality.
At the time, these goals seemed utterly unattainable.
I was also interested in seeing The Style Council, Sade, Gil Scott-Heron, Billy Bragg and Big Audio Dynamite.
Sting was there too.
It was a sunny day and a chance to hang around with my mates.
I quite enjoyed travelling up on the train from our slightly more salubrious suburb. I don’t think I’d ever been to Clapham before.
It was an adventure.
I remember carrying a placard which professed my support for the ANC, an organisation with which I was not fully familiar.
I was given a phone number of a pro bono lawyer should I be arrested.
I found the whole day exciting, inspiring and just a little bit dangerous.
I’m not sure my Mum knew where I was.
Although I didn’t have a full understanding of international politics, it was abundantly clear to me that Apartheid was an abhorrent regime.
I came back high as high as a kite, with a feeling that I’d been part of something important, possibly world changing.
I enjoyed the feeling of making a difference, even if it was minuscule.
A few family members questioned my politics deciding I was at best naïve, and at worst some sort of Communist.
The London Borough of Sutton has never been known for its radical politics.
I just thought I was, more or less, in the right.
I was 15.
35 years later, my wife and I applied to become Foster Carers.
Although she’d never been on an Anti-Apartheid March, we both shared a similar streak of justice, and a desire to make some sort of difference to society.
She’d seen The Style Council live.
Her favourite album was ‘Our Favourite Shop’.
On the surface, Foster Carers are a mixed bunch.
We come from a variety of backgrounds, cultures and creeds.
We represent all sorts of sexual orientations and domestic set ups.
Some of us are quite tall.
My wife is quite short.
However, I think all Foster Carers share a few character traits.
Invariably, we have an acute sense of justice and a desire to make a difference.
We may not be able to change the whole world but we can change the whole world for one kid, or maybe a few kids, if we foster for long enough.
Whether driven by faith, altruism or both, every Foster Carer I’ve ever met has been driven by a deep desire to help the most vulnerable in our society, namely the child in the care of the State.
It’s almost an obsession for some of us.
We’re not as cuddly as you may think, more like a lioness protecting a cub.
I think Foster Carers also tend to be highly relational.
We like being with people, and become energised from being around others, especially those with whom we share a common experience, and a common goal.
There are few more things more fun than sharing ‘stories’ with other Carers, who just get it.
The stories can be hilarious or brutally sad.
Sharing them is therapeutic in itself.
We also enjoy the adventure, and are generally quite happy to not quite know what’s going to happen next.
If a kid has just arrived, or has been with us years, we’re able to make quick assessments of what battles need to be fought and what can be left to another day.
We delight at any progress.
A kid may need to sleep with the light and TV on, but at least we’ve got them sleeping!
Some people enjoy the adrenaline of rollercoaster rides, white water rafting or climbing Everest, but a foster carer can get a buzz from convincing a child that 3.00am is a bad time to play tennis and that not all grown ups are dangerous.
Nelson Mandela got released from prison in 1990, and Apartheid eventually ended.
Mandela never sent me a thank you for helping secure his release.
Sometimes doing the right thing is its own reward.