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The Stevens Family

Fiona is a serving part-time Officer in P Division of Police Scotland. Between Fiona and her husband Mike they have 48 years’ service for Police Scotland. Mike is now a full-time carer for their twin boys.

Ben and Finlay 13-year-old identical twin boys. They were diagnosed in 2010 with severe autism, a learning disability, hypotonia, hypermobility and dyspraxia. Their parents were told the boys would experience ‘significant difficulties for the rest of their lives.’ The boys have the capacity of a two-year-old in many aspects of their lives yet they are now tall, strong teenagers. They are non-verbal and communicate their basic needs and wants in pictorial form using an augmentative and alternative communication device. Non-verbal does not mean their home is quiet. The boys are very noisy and increasingly need a break from each other and Fiona and Mike need respite too. Ben and Finlay attend a special school for children who have complex and additional support needs. They attend school on a part-time basis as full-time education would be too much for them. For the remainder of the week, they are educated at home by their parents learning basic self-help skills such as toileting, showering and dressing.

Life is very challenging and exhausting and there are very few opportunities for respite but Mike and Fiona are determined that Ben and Finlay will live with them for as long as they are capable of caring for them. Life has become even more difficult in the last year due to the significant twin impacts of Covid-19 and the boys reaching puberty.

The boys understand neither of these challenges. Covid lockdowns have meant that the boys cannot do their favourite activities or visit their favourite places. Puberty has meant hormonal changes and body changes that the boys don’t understand. Both of these things have caused a regression in the boys’ behaviour, which manifests itself in increasing meltdowns and incidences of self-injurious behaviour. The boys’ height, strength and frustration combine when they have such meltdowns meaning the violence and aggression exhibited are an increasing risk to the physical and mental wellbeing of each other and their parents. These meltdowns result in great upset and self-injurious behaviour and often lead to the boys hitting each other and their parents as well as them causing damage to property within the family home, causing distress to all involved. It takes everyone a good while to recover from one of these episodes. They are made more difficult by Fiona and Mike’s inability to effectively separate the boys to provide comfort and reassurance to the boy who is having the meltdown but equally to protect the other from injury or harm.

This application to the St George’s Trust was to seek financial assistance to purchase a garden cabin that is insulated and has heating and power so that it can be used all year round. It is intended to provide an extension to the family home but as a separate standalone entity in the rear garden. It would provide a safe and calm environment to remove one of the boys to if they are distressed due to their own meltdown or that of their brother. Knowing the antecedents of such behaviour, Fiona and Mike’s hope would be that they could pre-empt a meltdown and move one of the boys to the cabin and in doing so, lessen the impact on everyone and enable a quicker recovery. Such separation is essential given the boys’ regressive behaviour and frustration caused by lockdown and the hormonal changes arising from puberty. It is far too simplistic to suggest that such behaviours will disappear when life returns to ‘normal’. If Fiona and Mike are unable to separate the boys in this fashion then there is a growing risk that they will hurt each other or one of us. Ben and Finlay have done so well in terms of their development but their parents need to take this action now so as not to undo all they have achieved.

This garden cabin will also provide a place where Mike and Fiona can ‘educate’ one of the boys when they are not in school. They plan to use this safe place to work on self-help skills free from the distraction caused by the other sibling who could be similarly cared for in the house.

Lastly, opportunities for respite for the couple have been extremely limited for the duration of the boys’ lives and have been non-existent since the emergence of Covid. This cabin would provide the opportunity for one parent to have some peace and tranquillity and the chance to recharge for the further challenges ahead.

This application sought to improve the family’s mental health and well-being after their most difficult and challenging year ever. Life is doubly difficult as the couple have not one but two teenagers with a profound and lifelong disability who require round-the-clock care and support.

We are pleased to report that following a series of Covid related setbacks the cabin is close to completion. Firstly, the contractors had difficulties sourcing materials then they were beset with isolation issues among their workforce. Delivery has therefore come about two months later than planned. All that remains is for the landscaping and step to be put into place and the family can then start to enjoy the benefits outlined above.

Fiona and Mike are hugely grateful for the support provided by the St George’s Trust in making this possible.

Fiona Stevens / Michael Stevens (July 2021)

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