Sticking plaster

My daughter loves a plaster.  There is nothing quite like that sticky bit of fabric (it doesn’t matter what colour, what design, waterproof or not) for making everything better.  I’m not quite sure what it is about them that she loves, but they have been an enormous source of comfort since an early age.

It could be visual.  The fact that she can no longer see the cause of her distress in all its gory glory could be the thing.  That plaster looks all clean and everything seems under control.  And of course, the wonderful, magical thing about plasters is that when she takes one off (eventually), blackened by grubbing about doing whatever it is the nine year old girl does in dens these days (I think it’s mostly digging), the wound has gone, or, at the very least, the bit that caused all the tears and couldn’t be kissed better is shrunk, soft new skin instead of scratchy scabs.

For L, the bigger the plaster, the better.  She is particularly fond of those enormous square ones, the ones that cover an entire knee, or an entire elbow with room to spare, no matter how tiny the splinter; I think it’s the drama queen in her that enjoys the attention as she moans and groans her way around the house, limping between destinations, her downturned little mouth begging your sympathy.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’d hate you to get the wrong impression of my daughter; she is no more an attention seeker than any other nine year old, but I do understand how it works, the ‘special-ness’ that injury confers.  When I was six, you see, I bore the biggest plaster ever stuck to human child.  It covered a scar that ran around my rib cage and along my shoulder blade and I well remember the pain of its removal; my gentle mother, gingerly picking it loose, shoved aside by an efficient nurse who was a fan of the ‘get it over with’ approach.

I never got to show anyone my plaster, though.  Not any of my peers, anyway.  I was far too wrapped up by hospitals for that.  No, rather than developing a fondness for plasters, for me, it was scars.  That scar that zipped me up was my tattoo, the mark that marked me out.  It took years before I tired of explaining, before it faded to a shadow that barely raises comment.  Not that I hide it, it’s impossible in the swimming pool after all, it just doesn’t define me any more; that specialness, that difference.

I got to wondering, the other night, while I was supposed to be sleeping, whether those plasters that my daughter loves so much aren’t a bit like the labels we apply to children.  Like the sticky strips my daughter insists on, these labels, like SEN and PP and FSM and ASD and ADHD are invested with far more than their properties of coverage.  Like those plasters, especially the big ones, or the ones with OUCH written on them in loud colours, the labels are a sign post.  They are a signal that something is wrong, that the person who bears them, or the person who parents the person who bears them, needs special treatment.  Adjustments.  Protocols.

The thing is, though, the thing that occurred to me in those long moments of sleeplessness, is that, unlike the plasters, under which the magical process of healing happens, the removal of which reveals, if not perfect skin then at least a work in progress, the labels we apply to children change nothing.

A child living in reduced circumstances still lives there even if they have PP or FSM after their names.  An application of ADHD doesn’t make a child’s behaviour any less zippy or impulsive.  The parents of dyspraxic children already know their child struggles to organise themselves and their bodies.  Sam had that extra chromosome from the moment he was conceived.  The label, the naming of the condition didn’t actually make a blind bit of difference to the situation.

For all that I know about Down’s syndrome, for everything that label has told me about low muscle tone, or auditory processing or the development of speech and language, it has never, not for one moment, made anything better.  It hasn’t made it easier to put him to bed, or do as he’s told, wash his hair, put his toys away.  It hasn’t made it easier for him to get to school, or me to get him to school.  It hasn’t made it any easier to learn to read.

Of course, I don’t know what it’s like to live in a state of perpetual confusion.  I don’t know what it is to live under the shadow of the unknown.  Neither me, thanks to my scar, or Sam, thanks to all manner of physical tell-tales have ever had to suffer the funny looks or questioning glances courtesy of an invisible disability.

But as much as L loves her plasters, Sam can’t abide them.  For him, the plaster itself, not the wound, is the cause of considerable distress.   If he comes home from school bearing one he isn’t happy until he’s torn it off.  It is only when it is removed that he is all better, no kisses required.

Sometimes, he’s quite profound, my boy.

14 thoughts on “Sticking plaster

  1. I get what you’re saying but we’ve fought for 2 and a half years for JP’s labels. It’s been agreed by the Paediatrician and the Neurologist (after extensive testing) that he has autism with sensory processing disorder, in addition to Down’s syndrome. These labels haven’t changed anything (he already goes to special school) and he’s still our boy. As someone with Down’s syndrome though people expect him to behave a certain way, and our lives are now slightly easier now we can explain he’s on the spectrum. He is essentially a little boy with autism who just happens to have Down’s too. We’ve really struggled to explain this to people as he doesn’t act like his peers with DS. Great read though and definitely thought provoking xx

    1. Yes, I totally hear what you are saying – I thought long and hard before hitting the publish button because this is such an emotive subject.
      I suppose the people I’m really thinking about are those who parent children who they would like to label because they, for whatever reason, but possibly not a learning disability, find parenting them hard and they want to shift the reason for that from their shoulders to those of their child.
      That’s a hard thing to see, especially from the perspective of someone who’s child was labelled from birth, if you see what I mean.

  2. Yes I know what you mean, I know a few people like this myself. It is upsetting to see and my heart goes out to those children.

  3. I agree with you that there is only so much value in a label and that sometimes it can be a hindrance, mainly because of the perceptions of others.

    However, having lived for four years with no diagnosis for my son, who has severe disabilities and delays in all areas of his development, I can tell you the reasons why it’s important to have one.

    Without a diagnosis we have no idea what his life expectancy is, or how best to treat some of his medical symptoms (unusual seizures, unstable allergies, thyroid malfunction).

    Without a diagnosis we have no idea if our son’s condition is regressive.

    Without a diagnosis we have no idea whether future children (or our daughter’s future children) will be affected.

    Without a diagnosis there is no clear pathway for support in health, education or social care. It’s better than it was, but still far behind those who DO have a diagnosis.

    It can also be a pretty lonely place, with no obvious place to ‘belong’.

    A diagnosis may answer some or all of those questions, which is why we will continue to hope for one.

    1. Ah, Katherine, I have just read your blog – I can relate very much to what you say. Living with fear of the future is a terrible terrible thing – whether known or unknown. One of the things I have most struggled with in my mothering journey with Sam is the loss of his future thanks to a diagnosis of Down’s syndrome. It is so well know, we, and he. is so pitied, so limited by the little other people expect of him; his individuality is so lost in the term ‘typical in Down’s’.

      What can I say? We are sisters in that our children struggle, that we worry for them, but we have a diagnosis, reasons – or partial ones anyway – and you do not. We, although we live in a state of constant anxiety, are not in a state of suspended animation.

      I hope you get the answers you seek – and that you swiftly find within yourself the strength to live with them.

      And then, after you have them, I hope you throw the rule book out of the window and do your damndest to enjoy every last moment, live every last second to the full, in full acceptance of the frailty that is an essential part of who we are. xx

      1. Thank you for your lovely reply. It’s hard isn’t it, because so many professionals see such a bleak future for our boy and yet with no diagnosis we don’t really know and I never want to underestimate what he might be capable of.

        It’s disheartening too when a diagnosis also then becomes a constraint, because so many people with varying diagnoses are living well beyond commonly accepted barriers. A diagnosis should be a guide but not a ceiling xx

  4. But a label can be a protection. My son has visual dyspraxia, which often looks like he’s taking the p*ss: but no – he can’t label that diagram, find the hidden set of numbers, deal with visual representations that are meant to make his work easier, even if he is in the top sets, and it’s pretty important he has a piece of paper that backs this up, or he’d never be out of detention. Everything is a two-edged sword!

  5. I wonder if there’s a difference here, between a label/diagnosis that can help the parents of a child, and the labels that we put on children when they come into education? As you’ll be aware, it really troubles me to see people talking about “poor children” or “FSM children” or “SEN children”, as though the label has come to define the child. We wouldn’t dream of doing this with other aspects of a child (ethnicity for instance), but more and more I see people not thinking about how limiting it is to define children in this way. What concerns me is that, the minute we start to think about children using these terms, we subtly alter our expectations of how complex they are as individuals.

    By the way, my dd (also 9) adores plasters as well. 🙂

  6. Your post reminded me of how when I was four I tore the soft inner skin of my thigh on a rusty nail sticking out of a gatepost I was swinging on (don’t think there was a risk assessment….) – one of my earliest and most traumatic memories. Once it had been stitched I had to have a huge plaster over it which periodically had to be replaced and I remember vividly the pain every time it was removed. Haven’t really been a fan of plasters ever since.

    I also remember my mum telling me (for some inexplicable reason) that the scar would go when I was 7. I woke up on my 7th birthday and checked to see if it had gone.

    Had my 57th birthday last week and it is, of course, still there!

    Thanks for your post, Nancy.

    1. Oooch! Jill, you sound like such a monkey as a child, what with being pushed down the stairs in boxes and all!
      I, too, have a monumental scar on my knee from an over the handlebars experience on my bike – although my mum didn’t stick a plaster on it. Instead, she bandaged me up (she was a girl guide once) and to the bandage I did stick. Eurgh!

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