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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 September 2006, 10:29 GMT 11:29 UK
'Why my son's not a problem child'
Karen Johnson's family problems led to social exclusion

As Tony Blair sets out the government's plans on how to tackle Britain's "problem families", one mother tells how the frustration of her son being seen as a nightmare child has led to her family feeling isolated.

Most parents will recognise the social embarrassment generated by a disapproving look or even the loud "tut" from a fellow shopper who has witnessed their children causing havoc in the supermarket.

Karen Johnson is well used to that and more. In fact she admits she used to dread going out with her son David because on the face of it, she says, he sometimes appears very badly-behaved.

"If he threw a tantrum or fought with my other son in the supermarket people used to give me dirty looks as if to say I should be able to control my children but they didn't know about his problems," she says.

David suffers from dyspraxia which causes, among other problems, delayed development, immature behaviour and an inability to interact with other people.

Karen explains: "He's 13 now but he's got the mind of a seven year old, he still cannot tie his own shoelaces or ride a bike. And he throws tantrums and has phobias, such as being left alone."

Karen says David's problems led to both him and the family being socially excluded for years.
I think the government needs to get off their backsides and do a lot more for the kids
Karen Johnson

"He found it very hard to interact with other children at school. I'd see him standing alone in a corner in the playground.

"And I don't really have much contact with other people apart from family members. My kids take up all my time so I don't really have any time for myself. It's very isolating."


Karen, who lives in east London, says very little help was on offer after David's condition was finally diagnosed two years ago. Apart from occupational therapy sessions for David for eight weeks, she was left to cope on her own.

"This has all made me very ill, I suffer really bad migraines and it's really physically draining. Anytime David has a tantrum it's me that has to deal with it and it is really strenuous.

"There should be helplines which you can ring up or a centre you can go to for help. Loads of times I felt I would end up going insane because it's been so hard for me."

As a single mother on income support, Karen says she did not have the money to pay for the specialist help she felt her eldest son needed.

It was only after the family was referred to the charity NCH that things started to get easier, she says.

"A family practitioner, Kevin, comes in to help and without him I wouldn't be able to manage. Before on a scale of 0-10 for coping I'd say I was 0 but now that Kevin helps I'd say it was 7 or 8."

She believes more needs to be done to tackle the problems of families such as hers, and better facilities should be provided for young people.

"I think the government needs to get off their backsides and do a lot more for kids.

"If they provided more youth clubs, got them involved in outings and doing things I think you wouldn't have half the crime or gangs you get, the drugs, drinking and teenage pregnancies," she said.

'Problem families' scheme set out
05 Sep 06 |  UK Politics
The politics of exclusion
24 Feb 06 |  UK Politics

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