Why I Struggle When My Special Needs Child Gets ‘Star of the Week’

So my 9 year old son came home from school on Friday with a certificate and photograph in his bag. There was no eagerness to show me and no message in his school diary; it was just there. Of course I am proud of him and told him so and absolutely it will be displayed on his bedroom wall to honour his achievements like his sisters are in her room. That is never in doubt. However, I have to be honest and say I really struggle when my son gets ‘star of the week’ and here is why:

1. It reminds me just how far behind he is academically.

It’s a sobering thought that my son has been at school five and a half years and is still working at pre-school levels in many subjects. The very fact he still has no idea that star of the week is any sort of aspirational incentive to even aim for says it all. He isn’t being modest or shy in not showing me his certificate; he honestly still doesn’t get the whole social aspect of celebrating achievement in any way. His twin sister commented on his award saying ‘well done Isaac but…’ and she went on to ask why he is still so far behind her. That’s hard. You see I live with my child daily and I know he struggles but seeing it on paper seems to somehow make it raw. It hurts. I am proud of my son but sad that he is behind so much. I don’t think anyone wants their child to be 7 or so years behind their peers in any way.

2. It makes me scared for the future.

I try not to think of the future. I live everyday and enjoy the moment but wisdom would tell me that I do need to plan for the future too. I shared my sons achievement on social media and today someone asked me in person what happens to children like my son when they finish education. The reality is my son will likely not be suitable for college and academically will never reach the level required for university. Employment is pretty unlikely too so our current options include him living at home and attending day care services. That’s not what I planned for my child when I conceived him and carried him for nine months, and although I do need to be mentally prepared for this seeing his star of the week award just feels like his future is all planned out and that is scary. His options are limited and seeing his academic ability on a laminated sheet makes that a stark reality. I won’t lie, that is hard to accept.

3. It makes me feel he is being defined by his ability to learn.

When I think of my child I think of am energetic, fun loving, teddy chewing, mischievous little brown eyed boy who does the best squeezy hugs and who loves his food. I think of the child who has incredible gifts in communication despite having no spoken language. I get so much joy from singing along to the songs he plays on his iPad and going to lifts with him. I see a child who gets so excited every time Bing Bunny comes on the TV that he bounces in the armchair he is sitting in. I see a child who could go hundreds of miles to places on google street map even though he has significant visual impairment. I don’t see his lack of ability to read or write or speak as an issue and none of those difficulties define him. So when I see his star of the week award I hope that this is not just how society sees my child either.

My son will always struggle with some things. Professionals and medical specialists have told me it is unlikely my son will ever speak to me. Education have told me he won’t ever attend a mainstream school and college or further education is unlikely. It’s a very sobering thought but with that comes my absolute determination that my son should never ever be defined by his struggles.

So I will stick his award on his bedroom wall and smile. It’s great he has been recognised. It’s great he is making progress but I never forget that for everyone of us life is much more than our ability to learn or how far we go in education.

I struggle when my son gets star of the week because his ability to achieve should never be limited to traditional education. I am raising a remarkable, brave and wonderful child who is breaking the mould in life. He is a star in so many more ways than just trying to write the digit 2. One of the many reasons I write about him is to help others see beyond his academically ability (or lack of) so I will stick that award up and get back to celebrating my son in every other way I do daily.

Don’t ever let educational achievement define anyone. We are much more than our ability to learn.

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Hope For Parents Who Can Not Leave The House With Their Own Children

My children returned to school this week after two weeks Spring break and as I look back at photographs of their time off I realised something very significant: I am now able to take my own children out of the house!

That may seem a strange thing to say to anyone who has never been where I (and thousands of other parents) have been, but I can assure you every school holiday there are parents of autistic children right around the world stuck at home unable to leave the house with their own children.

Back in July 2016 I wrote this post where I quoted families throughout Britain who were trapped at home unable to take their own children out. It wasn’t lazy parenting or just anxious mums or dads, there were very legitimate reasons why taking their autistic child (and siblings) out the safety of their own home was a huge challenge. To summarise the list of reasons included refusal to leave by the child, no awareness of danger, violence and unpredictable behaviour, sensory issues and public comments.

I was one of those parents.

I have two autistic children, one with huge anxiety and another with challenging behaviour and huge sensory needs. For my safety (and theirs) it was best we stayed inside our own bubble of safety at home.

So what changed? Less than two years later and I have photographs of my children at soft play, in shops, swimming and in the park during school holidays. I not only took them both out myself but we all had fun and I even managed to snap some pictures! What others take for granted since birth has taken me almost ten years to achieve…but I got there, and you can too.

So how did I get to where we are now?

1. I worked out my children’s sensory needs and played to them.

I watched them at home and took notes. It was very obvious both my children loved water. They would play happily with water and bubbles and they both loved a bath. That got me thinking about swimming. I called the pool to see when they were quiet and while they were at school I went myself and took pictures of the changing rooms, lockers and showers (I knew they would never use these but they still had to walk past them). We watched YouTube videos of children swimming and I let them try on arm bands and rubber rings.

Then one day I took them swimming. The changing and drying was, and still is, a bit challenging but they love being in the water. It was worth it. Finally we had one place I could take them!

2. I took account of their need for routine and worked around this.

My children do not cope with routine changes. However that meant I could not leave the house with them so something needed to change. I knew there were some parts to the day that were unmovable like bath time and meal times. We never go out after dinner as I know how anxious and distressed my son gets if he does not have a bath at 6pm. He is more amicable and open to change after breakfast so this is when I usually head out now. It’s what works for us and that’s fine.

3. I do the activity and then bring them back home.

First bowling then home. First library then home. They needed to learn to trust me and they needed to know they would always be brought back to their safe place. There was no sneaking into the supermarket while I had them out or popping into a friend’s house on the way home. Short trips keep their anxiety (and mine) much lower and gives them time to process where we have been and wind down from that. One thing at a time is a motto that works very well for us all.

4.iPads come too.

For my twins, and many other autistic children, technology is much more than just a solitary chill out activity. My non verbal son uses photographs on his iPad to communicate and they both use their tablets to zone out when things get too much. If that means they play a game on their tablet and stay sitting on a seat while the other child takes a turn at bowling then I am delighted. Having their iPad helps the transition, minimises the sensory overload and brings them comfort. If that’s what it takes to get out the house then so be it.

5. I involve the children and instantly reward them.

Good old fashioned bribery got us out the house! I remember taking my screaming son one day to the supermarket. He was anxious and annoyed I was taking him out the house but I knew the benefits to him would out-way his anxiety. He was safe and with me and I was monitoring his stress levels continually. I took him in for bananas and right back out again. On the drive home he ate a banana while flapping with excitement. Now he associates the supermarket with food (instant gratification) and I can take him in with me for short periods provided he gets something to eat in the car coming home. There is no wandering aisles stressing him and I take him at times the shop is quieter to minimise waiting. It works. There is one supermarket near me that he never ever wants food though and that’s because they have another massive motivator for him: a lift! He knows if he stays with me while I pick up milk he can watch the lift for a minute before home. It’s mutual benefits really. With my daughter a promise of a magazine or other small treat had the same effect.

They both now see so much benefit to leaving the house that on occasions they even suggest going places before I do!

It took time and patience. I needed to take a risk and do it. It involved planning, risk assessment and sometimes having another adult with me, but we got there.

Like so many thousands of parents of autistic children I found myself staying home all day everyday because my children refused to leave the house, their lack of danger awareness scared me, their sensory issues were so high and I was worried about what people would say.

My children still have no awareness of danger. They still (and always will) have autism. They still have high sensory needs and I still get comments and stares from the public.

The difference is now we just go out and have fun anyway!

It wasn’t easy. It took time and patience. Today I can leave the house with both my autistic children on my own. I am proud of myself but I am ever prouder of both of them.

If you don’t feel you can leave the house with your autistic child can I tell you just one thing: There is hope.

It is most definitely worth it. You need out and the world needs to see both you and your amazing autistic children.

I Could Hate Autism…but

I could hate autism tonight.

I could hate the fact my son has caused so much damage to my house again, both in financial terms and in emotional terms. Things of sentimental value smashed, toys broken, floors flooded, window blinds torn. I could hate the fact he has screamed for hours on end in frustration and anger and attacked anyone who came near him. I could hate the fact his sibling is having to deal with all this and live in a volatile situation she has no control over.

When the child who has caused the damage has a diagnosis of autism I could hate autism so easily, but I don’t.

Many would argue, and I would have done so in the past too, that my son’s autism is to blame for tonight. It was his rigidity of thinking and inflexible thought processing that were the triggers. It was the fact he could not control everything and his sheer need for set routine that started it all. It was the fact his communication needs are so high and he was frustrated at not being able to verbally say what he wanted. It was his lack of social awareness and inability to understand others viewpoints that meant he caused thoughtless damage to other’s property. Everyone of these things are key traits of autism spectrum disorder after all, so surely autism was to blame for it all?

Autism isn’t why my son is violent. Autism is not always the reason my child has meltdowns and screams.

There is more to my child than autism.

There is more to anyone than autism.

Let me be clear: autism does not make people violent. I do not hate autism.

Am I upset about my evening and the damage that was caused? Yes very much so. I am more upset, however, at the fact people will see tonight as something fundamentally down to severe autism. Severe autism does not mean a child will be violent. I can not stress that enough.

Let me say this: my son is 9. Yes he has autism. Yes he has no verbal communication. Yes he has learning difficulties and other complex needs. His challenging behaviour IS linked to his complex needs and these do play a factor in what happened tonight but they are not the full story.

I could hate autism but I don’t.

Instead I hate the fact I misjudged my son’s level of anxiety to the point I let him get to the stage of full meltdown.

I hate the fact my tiredness and frustration meant I never showed my child the patience and understanding he needed.

I hate the anxiety and frustration my son felt because his world felt so out of control and unordered because I never ran his bath at 6pm when he felt I should.

Autism was’t to blame for tonight: I was.

My son is a vulnerable child. Whilst he does need support to learn to wait and be more gentle (as does any child,autism or not, and many adults too!) he also has a right to be understood, be listened to and have his needs met regardless wether he can speak or not. I am the adult in all this and it is ME who needs to change and mature not him.

Do you know something…my son could have had a bad night, been frustrated and had a challenging evening even if he didn’t have autism. He is a 9 year old boy with developing hormones, a growing body and determination like any other child. We all get angry and children need space to be forgiven and grow as much as we all do. Have I ever wanted to throw something in temper at times? You bet I have. I have just learnt as an adult that there are better ways to deal with anger. My son just needs time to learn that too. Autism and learning difficulties may mean that takes a little longer and it’s my job to be more patient during that process.

In all the chaos of tonight, in all the broken toys, wet floors, and smashed items I found my son had done this on his bed. A line of cars to remind me how beautiful, ordered and perfect autism is.

I could hate autism but there is nothing about autism to hate.

Just to add I ran that bath, apologised to my child and we made amends. Yes he has autism and learning difficulties but his laughter, his energy, and his forgiving spirit know no bounds. One of the most amazing things about his autism is he will wake up tomorrow with no agenda, no grudge and a love of life that makes everyday wonderful.

I could hate autism but I love my son far too much for that.

A Mother’s Cry: Can my Disabled Child Ever Become a Christian?

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It’s Easter Sunday, the very centre of my beliefs as a Christian, that my Lord and Saviour not only died for me on a cross to carry my sin, but he rose again on the third day to beat death once and for all to enable me (and everyone else who believes) to have eternal life.

I sat in church today and heard the gospel message preached with my beautiful children beside me, just the same as my parents did the generation before. I never tire of hearing the message of Jesus crucified and at 15 it impacted me personally on such a level my life has been rooted and grounded in my faith ever since.

Yet here I am faced with a massive question that has caused me to question my faith in a way I never ever expected: if he wanted to, could my disabled son ever become a Christian?

Why would I ask this? Well every tract I have ever read (there have been hundreds), every gospel message I have heard preached (there have been many) and every evangelist I have listened to have all taught a way to salvation that is fundamentally impossible for my child to ever achieve.

img_1145-1This is Isaac. He is, like everyone of us, made in the image of God. He is the most beautiful and incredible gift ever given to me. He is a true miracle having been prayed for and believed for against all odds. I was given medically less than 1% chance of ever having children yet after ten years of infertility God blessed me with not one, but two, babies. Isaac was the first born of twins. He has soft dark brown hair, hazel eyes that shine light and sparkle with life even if one of them doesn’t work and the other hides a tumour on its optic nerve. He makes noises, though at 9 and a half none of these noises form words that you and I can distinguish. He has severe autism. He has severe learning difficulties. He is epileptic. He has a brain tumour that means he will forever function as a very young child, most likely no more than aged 2 to 3 years.

So when I hear today’s gospel message once again I am crying, not only because the story of my Saviour always touches the very core of my being but because I know how the service will end and I can’t help wondering…

Can my disabled child ever be saved?

You see the way of salvation in the Bible is clear. It is based on such well known and readily quoted verses of so many believers: Romans chapter 10 and verse 9; “That if you confess with your mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

I believe that.

But what if someone has such significant learning difficulties they will never understand and they can not speak their own name let alone say ‘Jesus is Lord’. What happens then?

Then there’s the famous one in John chapter 3 and verse 16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

I believe that too.

But what about those who are cognitively unable to believe?

I could go on and talk about sin, baptism, the work of the cross, bridging the gap between God and man and all sorts of things that preachers and tracts talk about. Not one of these things will ever be understood by my son.

If he can’t understand the story can he ever believe in God?

He is never going to raise his hand at an alter call. He will never go forward for prayer to turn his life around, he will never hold a microphone and testify to how he was once an addict and now he is a Christian.

The fact of life is, for my son, and so many others, we need to see salvation in a different way.

Maybe I am tearing up the theology books here, maybe I am shaking traditions, but I believe my baby boy will always be saved. He will never be the lost sheep that the Shepherd longed to find. He will never be the prodigal son. He will never sin. The acts of the sinful nature (according to Galatians chapter 5 verses 19-20) are sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and the like…one thing I can category say is that my son will never do these.

He embodies innocence. As Psalm 139 says he is fearfully and wonderfully made. Like us all he was made in the image of God. But unlike us, he can not choose to sin, neither can he choose to believe.

He can flap as we sing praises, he can make a joyful noise, he can rest in the presence of God. He can feel peace, experience joy and love deeply. I believe he can know God in his Spirit even if his mind and body don’t function as well as we would all like.

I believe he is in the palm of Gods hand.

I believe in grace that a loving God has searched my son and knows his heart, that he is familiar with all his ways. He alone created his inmost being.

God has this covered.

Can my son ever get saved when he can’t believe and confess like every preacher and tract says he has to?

I can’t quote you scripture but my mother’s heart cries out to a God who hears my prayers and is carrying my son both now and forever.

That’s my mother’s cry.

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The Five Signs That Tell Me My Autistic Child Needs Help

My children are autistic. I don’t want to cure them and I love them for exactly who they are.

However life for those with autism comes with extra challenges and for both of my children their difficulties in communicating often mean that the first I realise something is wrong is when we hit a crisis. As hard and heartbreaking as it is for me as a mum to watch my children struggle at times with these five difficulties I know it is so much harder for them. They are trying to communicate to me, and to others around them, that they need help and the onus is on myself, as their mum, and on the other professionals to watch out for these signs so we can intervene and support them through whatever the source of their distress is.

Here are the top five signs my children are struggling:

Sign number 1: Increase in meltdowns and shutdowns.

img_2186-1Behaviour is communication. No child (or adult) has a meltdown or a shutdown for no reason. They don’t just ‘feel like it’ or ‘want their own way’ as many have suggested to me about my children. For a child who has held it together emotionally all day at school, like a spring tightly coiled, is it any wonder when they finally reach a safe environment where they are free from judgement and pressure that they have to ‘let it out’? Autistic adults often have the same struggle as they are faced with working in environments that can cause sensory issues, social misunderstandings and continued demands placed upon them all day long.

Long meltdowns or periods of withdrawal and silence are alarm bells to me that something is troubling my child and I need to deal with it.

Sign number 2: Stopping eating

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This is something that my daughter does far more than my son who would eat his own bedding given half the chance! When your world is out of control and there are so few things you can control it makes sense to my daughter to control what she eats. I know right away if a child has called her names in the school playground, or she got an answer wrong in her spelling test as she will refuse to eat even the few foods that she loves.

 

 

Sign three: Mental health crash

It is blatantly obvious to me that my child is struggling when they tell me they want to die. When you misinterpret social situations, take language literally and face sensory bombardment daily is it any wonder at times that my child feels it is all too much? Signs of a mental health crash in autistic people are exactly the same as everyone else. I look out for not sleeping, loss of appetite, no interest in toys or activities they previously loved and wanting to be alone all the time. For my autistic daughter another sign is not having an obsession. When she tells me she is bored I always check if it is just simply boredom or if in fact her mental health is so poor she is unable to even think about doing anything. Lack of motivation, and no desire to please in my child is uncharacteristic and would make me want to investigate further.

Sign four: Increase or decrease in ritualistic behaviour

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My son has a lot of rituals. From when he wakes and has to bring down every cuddly toy from his bed to his arm chair, from the certain order things must be lined up at the side of the bath when he gets washed, to where he sits in the car..it all has to be ‘right’ or he gets distressed. I am familiar with his home rituals and school need to be fully familiar with his school rituals. If he suddenly stops a ritual he had always done, like the night recently he refused to get his nightly bath, I immediately knew something was wrong. Less than ten minutes later he had a seizure. He has no way of talking and his change of routine was a red flag to me that something was wrong. The need for order over and above the normal level makes me sense something is happening and they need help.

Sign five: Self harming

My son has a history of self harming due to severe communication difficulties and frustration but after a lot of support we have got this to a point where he is safe. However the first sign of him returning to making his skin bleed, or biting himself or banging his head against things repeatedly and I know he needs help urgently. He has no way of communicating pain so harming himself can sadly be his only way to show me his body needs help. It can also become a habit and a sign that his sensory needs are not being met.

 

When I hurt I have words, I have knowledge of who to ask for help and I have experience of being listened to and understood. Sadly many people with autism are not understood. They are belittled, mocked, have too many demands placed on them from a neuro-typical world and face sensory struggles every day. They perhaps find transitions difficult, a simple change in routine confuses them or they have misunderstood what someone said to them.

Just because what is troubling them seems trivial to you or me as a non autistics, does not give me or anyone else the right to say my children’s feelings are not valid.

We owe it to autistic children and adults to hear them and support them regardless how they communicate to us. Look out for these signs in anyone you know who is autistic.

It is often the case of actions speaking louder than words.

How one 9 year-old Described her Brother’s Autism in just a few pen strokes

There was nothing special about Thursday evening as I worked my way through the typical bedtime routine for my 9 year old twins. They had already had a bath, clean pyjamas on, eaten some supper and now they had moved into their separate rooms ready for stories, kisses and pre-sleep chats.

It’s hard to split yourself in two (or three, or four even if you are blessed with a quiver full) but my daughter willingly lets me see to her brother first most nights. She sacrifices so much for her autistic brother and this is just another example of how she puts his needs before her own daily. While she amused herself quietly with what I assumed was some colouring in or reading I continued on to settle her somewhat hyperactive brother next door.

I read the same story as always. He chooses the same story every night despite the fact he has a whole basket of books in his room. His autism means routines should never change and repetition is very much the name of the game. Unlike his sister he isn’t going to talk to me at bedtime about his school anxieties or fall outs with his friends. He has no friends. I have no idea what goes on at school (or anywhere he is out of my care) and at nine he has no spoken language. I hug and kiss him. I get nothing much in return. One day I might, but not tonight. I tuck him in, leave the room and turn off his light.

As I go next door to his sister her eyes light up as she clutches a little piece of paper to give to me.

“Mummy, I’ve been thinking about Isaac tonight. Can I show you something Mummy?”

And at that she handed me this:

I asked her to talk to me about it.

Mummy, these are the wires in my head. One is the talking wire, one is the brushing my own teeth wire, one is knowing my times tables in maths wire, one is knowing how to write wire, this one is playing with friends wire, this is the knowing how to read wire…”

She named all twelve straight lines she had drawn and said how for her, like most other children, she was able to do all of the things she listed. She talked about how some of her wires connect right away and others took time but they ‘knew where they were going’ and as she gets older and learns more ‘new things’ she will have ‘more wires that know where to go and connect up straight’.

I was amazed that a child could be so aware, so astute and so insightful. I let her continue on.

‘And this, I think, is my brother’s wires mum. He finds everything so hard doesn’t he? This is his talking wire mum. Look it goes to the connection for brushing teeth. No wonder he can’t talk when his brain gets confused like that! This is his writing wire…it’s supposed to be connected to the writing one at the bottom but instead it’s connected to the playing with friends wire. It’s all so hard when your brain gets confused but I know he is trying! I mean everything must be so hard when the wires are all jumbled up like this!’

I looked at her with tears behind my eyes. If anyone will advocate in life for her brother when I am gone it will be his sister. She understands him like no other.

My daughter knows I write. So I had to ask her.

“Naomi, is it ok for mummy to share this with other people? Is that ok with you?”

She smiled and in her usual determined way took the sheet back from me and pointed to her strokes again.

“Only if you make sure you tell everyone that it’s ok to have autism. Make sure people know Isaac does HAVE wires. He has a brain. He is trying. If I could make his wires straight Mummy I would, do you know that?”

I hugged her tight and kissed her forehead. She doesn’t want her brother to not have autism. I know that. She just wants to hear his voice, be able to play with him, brush her teeth beside him, write stories with him and practice her times tables with him like she does her friends from school.

She might want a brother with straight lined connections, but she could not love her autistic brother more if she tried, with crisscross jumbled wires and all the wonderful quirkiness that that brings.

Her understanding maybe over simplified in many ways but her fierce protection and love can never be denied.

I keep looking at that piece of paper.

She’s so right. My son is severely autistic with significant learning difficulties. He will need care all his life. But she’s spot on: he still has wires. He still has a brain. He can learn. He has potential. Life maybe much more confusing for him with wires that go different ways to what ours do but is that such a massive problem?

Maybe, just maybe, having straight lined connections in your brain is not for everyone. The world would be a very boring place if all our brains looked the same after all.

Three Reasons to vote for Naomi Gwynne in the National Diversity Awards

Have you heard about the National Diversity Awards? (http://www.nationaldiversityawards.co.uk/)

For those that haven’t heard they are a prestigious award ceremony for individuals, charities and organisations within the UK who are promoting and making the world a more diverse and inclusive society. They were launched in 2012 and have huge sponsors including Microsoft and endorsed by many celebrities.

I was aware of them through social media when both a charity I support and a friend I know where both nominated last year and I had the honour of seeing both get through to the finals and attend the awards night. It looked amazing!

Imagine my utter surprise then when a few weeks ago an email appeared in my inbox from the National Diversity Awards informing me that my 9 year old daughter had been nominated for this incredible award this year! In fact I was so shocked I had to call them up as I was sure someone had made a mistake! Besides I had never seen a child nominated before so was sure something had gone wrong. I cried on the phone when I was told that, yes, my 9 year old daughter had really been nominated and yes, of course, children could and would be accepted providing they met the criteria.

I am absolutely delighted and honoured to tell you that Naomi meets the criteria…at 9!

Now it is all about votes. When voting you will be asked your email address and the reason why you are voting for Naomi. So I want to give you THREE reasons why I feel you should vote for my daughter. Of course I am biased but let’s stick to the facts:

1. She single handedly forced the local council to make a children’s play park more inclusive for children with disabilities.

How did she do this? Well Naomi has a twin brother who has complex medical and developmental needs. When her local play park was redeveloped at a cost of £160,000 Naomi was so excited to go and play with her brother. However on returning home she announced she was ‘sad’ because she noticed right away that while she was able to use the new swings her disabled brother wasn’t. She watched as all he could do was place his cuddly toys in the baby swing and push them because he was too big for the younger swings but developmentally unable to use the traditional flat swings for older children. Of her own doing at just 8 years old she put pen to paper and wrote this letter to the ‘park builders’.

As her mum I was so touched I knew something had to be done. Her voice needed heard. All I did was photograph her letter and tweet the council. It was all Naomi’s thoughts, ideas and writing. Neither she nor I had any idea how a child’s letter would catch the attention of the media.

Naomi went on to appear in all the national and local newspapers. She was featured on ITV news, magazines and even as far away as RTN in Germany! None of this phased Naomi who was much more delighted to be able to push her brother on a suitable swing when one was finally installed five days after writing her letter.

This alone deserves her to win! That swing is now used by thousands of children, not only children with disabilities but children of all ages and abilities who are now able to enjoy the park better as a result of the action of one child’s compassion and determination.

2. She overcame her own anxiety to appear on BBC breakfast to help fight for children with autism to be allowed sensory aids when schools were banning them.

When fidget spinners were suddenly all the craze I happened to write an article about how lovely it was for children like mine ,who both have autism and sensory needs, to be included more. As schools began banning the aids because they had suddenly become the latest craze Naomi became quite angry. She was indignant that children with sensory needs should be punished just because a sensory aid had become a popular toy for everyone. So when I was contacted by the BBC and invited onto their flagship BBC breakfast show and asked if my children would like to come too Naomi was determined to not only come, but to show personally how sensory aids were useful for children like her and her brother.

This involved a long train journey, a stay in a hotel overnight and a very very early rise as we had to be in the studio at 6am for the live show. All of this would be a challenge for any 8 year old, but for Naomi who has autism, severe anxiety and selective mutism all of this change was massive.

She did it! She may not have been able to speak but she showed the presenters her sensory aids and was determined to be there to fight for the right of others like her to have aids they need. I was so proud of her.

She overcame her own fears and anxieties to help others. That’s incredible for anyone let alone a child.

3. She showed immense bravery and courage to open up and write about her own struggles with food in order to try and help others.

Naomi knew I wrote about her and her brother. She was always asked her permission before I published anything about her and she would read over and change anything she wished. When one day a friend asked if Naomi would like to write something herself and suggested she may like to talk about her struggles with food Naomi decided she was ready. She dictated her thoughts to me and made sure I was recording them exactly as she said. When she had read through what she has said and amended anything she wanted I then asked her if she wanted to keep it for herself or share with others. Her immediate answer was to share it because others may be worried about the same things and she didn’t want them feeling alone! So her first blog was published via my own blog and it went viral very quickly. To date it has been read by over 250 thousand people all around the world and helped so many to understand and empathise and therefore hopefully become more tolerant and inclusive of those who struggle with food and eating.

Have a read at her words here: https://faithmummy.wordpress.com/2017/08/07/the-reason-i-dont-like-to-eat/

I am sure you will agree that showing that level of courage and bravely to make the world more inclusive and understanding of eating disorders deserves recognition alone.

So there are my three reasons to vote for Naomi. Naomi has a comprehensive diagnosis of autism, selective mutism, anxiety and an eating disorder. She has a twin brother who has severe needs and is unable to talk. She lives with his challenging and unpredictable behaviour and his ever changing medical needs. Recently she has had to watch him taking seizures in front of her yet she remains calm, loving and gentle at all times towards him. From aged 5 when she started school she has stood out as a child with huge compassion and empathy using the skills she gained from living with her brother to help others. (https://faithmummy.wordpress.com/2016/01/15/the-day-my-five-year-old-changed-her-class-without-saying-a-word/)

She has achieved more in 9 years than many of us achieve in a lifetime.

I should not really have been shocked she was nominated for such a prestigious award but in my eyes she deserves to be honoured at any level.

If you agree and you would like to vote for her you can do so here: https://nominate.nationaldiversityawards.co.uk/nominate/endorse/31936

Thank you.

Even if she does not progress any further it is so good for her to know that her efforts are worthy of recognition and that people see that she really is making the world a more diverse and inclusive place to be..even at 9.