The Freer Family – Large Family with Children with Disabilities #16KidsandCounting

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“We may not work at the moment, but if we could we would be at the moment it’s not possible. Just because we aren’t working it doesn’t mean our children won’t, as both of our eldest daughters are following their dreams.”

Until 5 years ago Gary Freer, father of 9 (Abbie 17, Hannah 16, Jordan 15, Shannon 14, Scott 12, Lucy 9, Paul 7, Jack 5 and Poppy 2) and grandfather of 1 (Abbie’s 7 month old daughter Ava, who also lives with them), worked full time, 6 days a week, abroad as a hgv1 lorry driver, only being at home one day a week. But then Gary had to give his job up as Kirsty has rheumatoid arthritis, and she was having a lot of trouble walking and doing normal day to day things. Gary wasn’t too happy about giving his job up as he had been with the company for a long time, and he enjoyed his job, and was worrying about the financial situation. Their son Paul, who has a narrowing of the oesophagus, was also very ill. He was eating a mouthful of food, being sick then, eating another mouthful, and so on acid reflux too so cried for hours at a time. Also their son Jordan, who was diagnosed as having ADHD when he was 7, was having months off from school because his behaviour was that bad. The children with special needs both are in receipt of Disability Living Allowance (DLA), with Kirsty and Gary being their Carers. Gary intends to return to work as soon as is possible for his family’s circumstances.

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The family private rent their 6 bedroom home, so are not affected by the bedroom tax. Abbie is at college she wants to be a personal trainer, so her parents look after her daughter so she can continue her studies. Hannah is also at college studying child care. The couple are not having any more children, as Gary has now had the snip. Kirsty told me that, “32 was a lovely age to finish having children, as now I can enjoy my granddaughter.” avafreerdress

Paul was finally diagnosed with narrowing of the oesophagus at 2 and a half after his 2nd barium swallow, but Kirsty tells me that it was plain to see from birth that he was ill, as he was being badly sick all the time. Their main difficulties are when Paul has his hospital appointments and they have to get Kirsty’s mum to their house to look after the other children, and being as it’s in central London it’s all day that they are gone. The Freers are at the hospital with Paul at least once every month, never getting any help with travel or parking costs. They have to constantly watch what Paul eats, and monitor when the other children are eating that they don’t give Paul anything that will make him ill. Paul has to have a lot of extra care as quite often he’s being sick in the night he sleeps in his parents’ bedroom so that they can keep an eye on him.

Paul’s illness has a big impact on his schooling as he misses a lot of school. He doesn’t have a statement, but surprising he is still managing to keep up with his work; he’s a bright little boy. Paul has a care plan in place as he had to have his medication at school. Paul is so happy at home he says that he’s going to live there until he is a Granddad himself.

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Jordan was different from birth, he never settled etc. The process of being diagnosed with ADHD wasn’t too bad as the school backed The Freers up right from an early age. They had portage and special groups involved so they had back up. Jordan he can’t be left in the house unsupervised, even though he’s 15. He has no road sense so can’t go out alone, and he wakes up at silly times in the night, so he has to be monitored. Because of his problems a lot of things he says are out of context.

Jordan’s school were very supportive and were great. Jordan has a statement of special educational needs in place, but left school in October 2012. At the time he was doing 2 hours a day, because of his behaviour and learning problems, and it got to a stage where the educational authority said that he wasn’t in school enough, and they wanted him attending full time ,but his parents knew he’d never manage that, so they decided to home school him.

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Kirsty and Gary recently considered home schooling Jack, as he wasn’t settling into school, but this last couple of weeks they’ve seen a big improvement, which they are really pleased about. The Freers are confident that if they felt the need to home school any of the other children they would, because Jordan is doing brilliantly.

The Freers have to insure that they don’t eat too late when they go out for the day, as this will cause Paul to be ill. Hannah (who was born at 26 weeks gestation) doesn’t like change, so sometimes they have trouble with her. Jordan likes to play his games a lot, and in recent years they have found that this calms him down when he’s restless, as sometimes he won’t want to go out, but once he’s out he’s okay. But he does say random things to strangers, asks unusual questions, and can get a bit loud and be silly sometimes.

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The couples’ discipline isn’t that strict, but when the children are being naughty they are told, and if they’ve been really bad they either have their favourite thing took away or no afters. Gary and Kirsty are very close to their own parents, and the children are close to their grandparents. The Freers do not get an awful lot of help from their parents, but if they really need them then they would always help. Kirsty’s parents work all the time, so they don’t see them much, and Gary’s parents haven’t long been back from France, where they lived for 6 years.

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The school run is split as there are four different ones to go to. Lucy’s school starts at 8.55, then Paul and Jack’s school starts at 8.50, luckily the 2 schools are a 3 minute walk apart, just around the corner from their house. Kirsty also takes her youngest daughter, Poppy, and her granddaughter, Ava, with her. Gary takes Shannon and Scott whose school starts at 8.40, and then Abbie and Hannah have to be in college for 9, so he takes them in the mini bus, and it’s only a 10 minute journey. Then Gary comes back and home schools Jordan.

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The Freers love having all the children off school, and they do all sorts of things: Picnics in the park, go to the beach, swimming, bowling, bike rides, time with extended family, home-made pizza night, movie night, occasionally all go out for a meal, taking the girls around the shops, and Gary takes the boys flying his model helicopters and to the amusement arcades and generally spend lots of family time together. They also have a holiday once a year too.

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Kirsty tells me that they don’t worry about what other people say about them. That their children are very homely, and would rather their friends stayed at their house, than go around to their friends’ houses. That they are a fun loving family, because life is far too short and living is all about happy times, love and laughter together. They do most things as a family, and all of the children come when they go places, and a lot of the time the children bring their friends too. They do not believe in sending their children to nursery, saying that they spend very little time with their parents before they have to start school, and the Freers do fun stuff with their children. Kirsty takes the youngest two to baby sensory, baby sing and sign and many toddler groups, where they can learn and play, but have their mummy and daddy with them; and has always done this. A lot of the time there would be phone calls to pick Jordan up, so he’d go to toddler group with Kirsty, but he liked it but then he was quite young and liked playing: Jordan loves babies.

You can see the Freer family in this week’s 16KidsandCountingHalloweenFreers Tuesday 26th March 2013 Channel 4 9pm.

Thank you kindly to Kirsty Freer for this interview.

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