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Kathleen Mallett
I try not to think what will happen after we go


Kathleen’s eldest child Lisa, 35, was diagnosed with a learning disability when she started school. Lisa, who has a learning age of about four-and-a-half, is one of the founder members of Destined.

“We first became aware of a problem when we put Lisa down for Slievemore Primary School when she was four. But I was told that she’d have to go to Belmont.

“I was very shocked. I remember lifting her and running home crying. I’d never realised there was a problem. The doctors found that hard to credit – Lisa hadn’t walked until she was three. But I’d never seen anything wrong – she always seemed happy playing with other youngsters.”

Kathleen was later advised that the circumstances of Lisa’s birth might have been a factor in her disability. Kathleen was in labour for three days, and Lisa’s delivery was induced using the vacuum technique.
“A lawyer advised me that I had a case, but I was never interested in looking back.”

Lisa went to Belmont, where she refused for years to speak or paint, and was registered as “an elect mute” – despite the fact she never stopped talking as soon as she came home.

“I was going to tape Lisa, just to show the teacher. But instead I arranged for her to call in unannounced to the house after school to see for herself. She heard Lisa talking away and couldn’t believe it.

“Lisa just sat in the corner at school. And because of this, she would occasionally get bullied. But when she went to Foyleview, she loved it and started to talk. She became more involved.”

There was also an incident involving a boy at school, which both frightened and angered Kathleen. “Some people tried to suggest she was partly at fault. But she’s obviously very vulnerable and I don’t think she was properly protected.”


After school, Lisa went to the Maybrook Training Centre and then Greenhaw. She’s currently enlisted at the Evergreen project in Stradreagh, but Kathleen – and several other carers – are quite unhappy about the facilities there. “They [i.e the health authorities] say they’ve no money and have closed some of the better options.”

Lisa has adapted well to work, though her mother feels she’s inclined to be a little lazy. “I told them to push her a little. Challenge her – and not let her sit back.”

Destined, however, has made a major difference in her life.

“Lisa was one of the first members of the group, when it used to meet behind the Bogside Inn. And it has helped her enormously. The members all really look out for one another. Lisa would have a low IQ and not be as advanced as some of the others, but they really take care of her – watch her crossing the road, if she’s going to the shop and so on.

“It really gets her out socially. She does go shopping with her sisters. And her father would take her on runs. But when she was younger, it was terribly hard. She would have sat in the house all the time. I used to have to take her everywhere – bingo, visiting, even parties. I never had time to myself.

“There’s something for everyone at Destined – IT, snooker, karaoke, quizzes, rambling, the women’s group. Lisa loves the art they do there – and even presented some of her work to the group. She also goes out to the pictures with friends from the group and away on day-trips.

“She’s very comfortable with the people in the group – and chats away about her friends and the leaders. She even went on holidays with them last year.”

Kathleen is very praising of the neighbours and various health workers who helped her and Lisa at different stages.

“There were some very important people,” she recalls. “The neighbours would all have watched out for Lisa, to make sure she wasn’t bullied. And my house nurses, Lisa Harrison and Cathy Jackson, were very good to me.”

The holiday was significant in that it was one of the first breaks Kathleen had from her daughter. She refused to put Lisa in respite care, despite being offered the chance “umpteen” times.

“Even when my husband was in hospital, I wouldn’t entertain it. As long as I can breath, she’ll be with me.

“When myself and my husband went on holidays together last year, on our own, we suggested respite to my other daughters. But they went ballistic – and insisted that she stay with them. They wouldn’t hear of it.

“I try not to think about what will happen after we go.”

It is very unlikely that Lisa will ever be able to live independently or even semi-independently. “I think she’ll always need full-time care. For example, she has no idea about money. I decided once to send her down to the shop, with money wrapped in a note, for cigarettes. But she came back with nothing. Three days later, I found the note and the money lying beside a path.

“She looks completely healthy and is very fashionable – loves getting her hair done and pampered. But she couldn’t survive on her own. Sometimes I think I might have been over-protective, but then I remember just how vulnerable she is.”

Lisa still has sleeping problems and has suffered from depression but resists attempts to medicate her. Ever fashion-conscious, she is happy however to take what her family tell her are “slimming tablets”.

“The Destined group has really brought Lisa out of herself and given her confidence. It has changed her life for the good. Before Destined, I used to look forward to Lisa going off to school – or going off to my own work – as I needed the break. But now, she’s doing very well and is very happy.”


(See also: Lisa Mallet Interview)