Becoming a parent at any age is a difficult transition - but becoming a single parent at the age of 17, to a child with disabilities would be a situation most would struggle with.
Siobhann McLaughlin was just 17 when she gave birth to Aiden Keenan, and straight away the doctors realised something was wrong.
Aiden was born with a cleft lip and palate as well as a chromosome disorder which has left him with developmental delays. He has to be fed through a tube going into his stomach and until recently, also had a tube in his trachea. Now, at the age of three, Aiden cannot walk, talk or feed. But Siobhann said he’s still just like every other three year old.
The full time mum from Grangemouth said: “Aiden is cheeky and loves going for walks and trips in the car. He is obsessed with transport and always has a naughty look in his eye.
“It’s hard when people stare, but I just explain Aiden’s condition to them and why he is in a wheelchair.”
Siobhann has started a Facebook page, Aiden’s Journey, to raise awareness of his conditions and keep his supporters up to date with hospital appointments and surgeries.
Because former St Mungo’s pupil Siobhann was so young when she had Aiden, she needed additional support to deal with his disabilities.
After her son was born, he spent the first seven months of his life in Forth Valley Royal and Yorkhill Children’s Hospitals, then a further seven months in foster care as Siobhann struggled with depression.
She got Aiden back shortly after he turned one and they went to the Lilas Graham Trust in Thornhill to help them bond as a family.
The charity helps strengthen parent-child relationships and the staff provided Siobhann with support and the tools she needed to look after her son properly.
Siobhann said: “They were brilliant and helped me learn how to change Aiden’s feeding and tracheotamy tubes as well as deal with his other needs.
“The Trust does great work and without them lots of families would never be reunited after foster care.”
At the age of three, Aiden already has had several surgeries. He had his cleft lip and palate repaired by the time he was 18 months and he recently had the tracheotomy tube removed from his windpipe. He will shortly have surgery to repair the hole the tube fed into. Doctors aren’t sure how complex his chromosome disorder is, so can’t say if he will eventually learn to walk and talk.
Siobhann said: “Having the tracheotomy tube removed has made a huge difference to Aiden. Before, it would regularly get blocked and I would have to react fast to clear the blockage, often in the middle of the night. Since it came out, he’s been much happier.”
Siobhann is supported by her family, Aiden’s dad Jamie Keenan and friends Rachael Palmer and Gael Paterson.
Siobhann said: “It’s hard being a young mum but with the help of my family, friends and the Lilas Graham Trust I’m coping well. Aiden and I come as a package and I love being a mum.”
The Lilas Graham Trust provides live-in support for up to four families at a time and can help vulnerable parents. The Stirlingshire-based charity works with parents from all over Scotland who have been referred by their local social work office.
Chief executive Cath Morrison said: “We are a small unit, but the work is vital to ensuring that mums get the knowledge and skills to look after their babies.
“Falkirk Council has a very forward thinking social work department and they work with us to provide additional support for vulnerable parents.
“Some of them might have learning difficulties or mental health problems and others have children with additional needs. Some mums come to us that haven’t had the best parenting examples growing up and just need some help.
“Most families are with us for 12-15 weeks and then follow-up care lasts a further 6-12 months once they are in their home. We constantly evaluate the situation and help the parents if they make the wrong decision, but ultimately we have the best interests of the child at our core. “