herald

Saturday 3 December 2016

Sarah Carey: Why should my son be on a HSE waiting list if he doesn't need to be?

Boy in therapy. (Pic posed)
Boy in therapy. (Pic posed)
Girls doing homework
Aisling Brady McCarthy

Earlier this week it was reported that over 13,000 people are on a waiting list for a speech therapy assessment appointment.

As usual this was analysed in a one-dimensional manner: an under-resourced service failing needy children. It's a "disgrace", said Fianna Fail Health's Billy Kelleher. One report said that an extra €6m was being allocated to speech and language services.

But is continuously throwing money at health problems always the right answer?

I've suspected for a while that the problem with speech therapy is not exclusively money, but unnecessary referrals. Turns out I'm right.

Over the years I've dutifully presented my sons for their developmental checks with the public health nurse, where they're tested for speech and hearing.

Of course, they all clammed up when asked to talk to a stranger. At one test, the nurse was worried and recommended my son be referred for speech therapy. I was astonished.

Sure, he wasn't gabbing away, but boys develop speech later than girls and in my family there's a history of late-talking boys. Most importantly, I knew he could understand everything being said to him, so there was no cognitive issue.

The speech guidelines for two-year-olds are based on an "average" so a failure to meet the "average" didn't necessarily indicate a problem.

I really appreciated that the nurse was being cautious because early intervention is important and she didn't want to run the risk of missing an opportunity, but I assured her he was fine and he'd catch up.

If he was still behind then, I'd come back to her.

"Yes, but the waiting list is eight months, so if you put him down and he's fine in eight months, then you've lost nothing," she said.

"But that's why the waiting list is eight months!" I said. "If you put children on the list because it's long, then the child with Down's syndrome or autism is left waiting unfairly. I won't lose, but they will. Only kids who actually need an appointment should be put on the list".

I could tell she thought I was wrong, but I held my ground. A month later a friend told me her son had also been referred, but she took the appointment. Even though her son was improving she went along anyway. He didn't need it. What a waste of a valuable appointment.

Wouldn't it be better if the nurse followed up with parents at home to do a second check before referring? It would be a cheaper way of ensuring it was really necessary before using up a space on the list. Valuing a specialist's time and prioritising people in genuine need is just as important as money.

I enquired with the HSE and it seems my instincts were right. There is an over-referral problem because they can see that counties have wildly different referral rates. They're introducing national standards to reduce the problem.

And my son? My head is wrecked because he never stops talking now!

 

If their homework's not done my children should get in trouble, not me

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In my family we enjoy getting back to school.

My sons have missed their school pals. In June, we all needed a rest from the grind of lunches, uniforms and not-another-project. Now we need a rest from figuring out how to spend each day.

The only thing that makes my heart sink is the annual note home requesting parents to sign off on homework every night. That means I'm supposed to go through their homework item by item and make sure it's done - and done properly.

When did it become a parent's responsibility to get homework completed? That's a contract between teacher and student. If they don't do it they should get in trouble - not me.

I'll make the space available to the kids, turn off the screens and set a deadline. I'm there if they're confused and need help.

Row

But I'm fighting with them to do jobs around the house, eat their dinner, go to bed, practice music, wash their teeth, get them to sports and more.

Having another row because they got their maths wrong is a row I don't need.

Apart from the fact that there's far too much homework anyway, the point of the exercise is that the children learn some self-discipline.

They take responsibility for their work and boys, who don't care as much as the girls about neatness, learn to take pride in presentation.

If they don't do it, I expect the teacher to make them do it properly. If it's careless they should be told to write it out again. In other words, they should understand that there are consequences for poor work. At home, my instructions about homework just blend into all the other orders.

Insisting that I sign it off means it's actually my responsibility to make sure it's done - not theirs. It transfers the burden from them to me.

In fact, the boys instinctively know it's not my business. When I tell them to re-do something they say: "But it's for teacher, not for you!"

 

Aisling needs to be strong to recover

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How will Aisling Brady McCarthy get over her awful experience? The pictures of her arriving home from Boston (inset, centre) were hugely relieving and sad.

Aisling was in jail for two and a half years, awaiting trial for the murder of baby Rehma Sabir. The charges were suddenly dropped when "expert testimony" was called into question.

The American justice system is terrifying, with long waits for trial and huge costs. People often plead guilty to a lesser crime so they'll get out of jail sooner rather than defend themselves. If I was stuck in an American jail for a crime I didn't commit, I'd have broken down completely. I hope Aisling is strong enough to start over.

 

Don't be tricked, just don't click

 

LAST Wednesday a popular Irish website - I'm not naming it - tweeted what looked like a photograph of a boy's genitals. "Three million people shared this photo! Find out why!" it begged.

A boy's genitals? Really? This was clickbait - a cynical ruse by media websites to boost their readership figures for advertisers.

Stories are given wild headlines like "Read this and you'll never be the same!" or "What made Simon Cowell cry?!" When you click there's only some rubbish wildly oversold by the headline.

I presumed this wasn't actually a photo of genitals, but a disgusting trick by a desperate website. The only answer? Don't click.

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