“There’s no support for adults,” Alison White was told, as her son Louis neared his 18th birthday. “There used to be, but it’s all been cut.”
As Alison White sips tea at a café in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral, huddling in her green coat against the early spring chill, she looks like any other visitor enjoying an afternoon in London. But this trip marks one of the first occasions in two decades that the 52-year-old has had a day – or even an hour – to herself. Her son, Louis, who has cerebral palsy and learning difficulties after suffering brain damage at birth, has turned 21 and received funding to attend a residential educational college.
He’s in his second term, and Alison White is finally “coming up for air”.“I feel like I’m looking at things I haven’t seen for 20 years,” she says, holding her mug of mint tea. “A bit like I’ve been in some time machine and popped up and things are different.”
Her life of 24-hour care – helping Louis with everything from chewing his food to using the lavatory, stopping him compulsively thwacking his forehead against hard surfaces, managing his severe allergies, enduring little sleep because of his nightly distress – is chronicled with painful honesty in her recent memoir, Letter to Louis.
Alison and Louis. Photo: Courtesy of Faber & Faber
The book is both a lament and a battle cry. It describes navigating a state system that is stacked against anyone attempting long-term care for a loved one. “We felt like we were in the dark, going nowhere,” White says, recalling particular ire at a “speech therapist who thought we were deluded and didn’t recognise that Louis was trying to communicate with us”.
We are also introduced to the Glasgow midwife who dismisses what will later prove …read more
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