I went to the Harry Potter studios in the Easter holidays. I didn’t go alone, I went because one of my friends from Wayfarers wanted to go, so she asked, and we went.
As well as her learning disability, F has a visual impairment which means she has problems with her peripheral vision and her depth perception. She carries a white stick to help others identify that she have difficulties. She decided we were going on the train, so I booked the train and the tickets to the tour (carer goes free! – although we split the cost because it’s a fun day out for me too) and off we went.
I am very aware that I travelled as her supporter, at her request. We took photos everywhere, including – to her amusement -the obligatory train selfie. I made sure she had what she needed, if anything needed to be explained and we were happy. On arrival we were early, but since it was quiet we managed to get in before our allotted time. Now, I made sure that F looked at and interacted with everything she wanted to see. We went on the Hogwarts Express, we sat in actual carriages used for filming and we tried on the sorting hat in the shop. We also tried a wand or two for size! People were spoken to, questions were asked, more photos were taken and I did my very best to ensure F had an amazing day out and understood what was going on.
We coped with the people who walked into us, who just stopped walking and who, in some cases, were quite rude.
One thing we both noticed was that there was a younger person going through the tour at the same time as us, with two carers. This young person was in a wheelchair, and appeared to have PMLD. They clearly were a Harry Potter fan, as there was eye contact and interest in the world around them, but the thing that upset me was the lack of interaction from the carers. Whereas I kept up an almost constant stream of questioning, explaining and checking with F as we were walking around, the two carers for this youngster were chatting away to each other and not paying the least bit attention to the person they were being paid to care for. (I’m assuming they were paid carers, I’d imagine family would do a better job!). Often badly positioned to see anything, no conversation about what was being seen, no attempt to get ‘into’ exhibits and really feel them.
I’d like to think that when I’m working with PMLD youngsters, and adults, that I give them a better experience of the world around them. I know that parents have to trust others to take their child out in order to get respite, but I wonder how much training these people have. I did similar work when I left university, with hardly any training. In my mind, it’s a missed opportunity – take on youngsters as support workers, pay them peanuts and don’t give them any training. Just a few hours of suggestions of how to work with someone with PMLD and life would be so much nicer for all involved.