The ‘scaniexty’ I live with when my child has NF1


He was four years, three weeks and five days old when I left the hospital with a piece of paper with the words ‘neurofibromatosis type 1’ scribbled on from a doctor I had only just met.

 
The more I googled the more upset I got.

 
Would you not be anxious if your baby was diagnosed with an incurable progressive genetic condition? 

 
IMG_1043Back then my biggest worry was seizures. The cafe-au-lait marks on his little body had meant nothing at all until that day but now I read that their presence was a key marker for diagnosis. Another one we could tick was developmental delay, another large head, and still another freckles under his arms. It meant the doctor was right and as I read on about complications and tests my mind began to panic. The condition causes benign tumours to grow anywhere on the nerves of the body causing a large variety of difficulties including scoliosis, vision impairment, bone deformities, epilepsy, learning difficulties and facial deformity. 

 
As the tumours can only be seen properly by MRI my first thought was should my little brown haired boy have to have anaesthetic to have a brain and body scan?

 
This was my first taste of the form of anxiety that is common with parents whose children have NF1: SCANIETY, a form of anxiety that is associated with having scans and waiting for results. You won’t find that word in a dictionary but parents of children with NF1 understand it and struggle with it so much.

 
You may never have heard of it but we live with it none the less. 

 
Before our child ever has their first scan we still suffer with it. The ‘what-if’s’ of thinking should he/she have an MRI and if so how do we convince doctors to give them one? In some areas it is standard procedure to scan a child soon after diagnosis to have a ‘base line’ to work from but for so many others this expensive test is only given when there is a clinical need. Parental anxiety is not always recognised as a clinical need so many families find themselves fighting for a scan to find out if their child has any internal tumours and if so where.

 
My son was 7 years, six months, one week and two days old when he finally had his first MRI. From the moment I received the appointment I was anxious. It was going to be the first of many times he would require anaesthetic. How would he cope? How would I arrange care for his sibling? Would be need to stay overnight? What might they find? When will we get the results?

 

Scaniexty is scary.

 

My whole life was suddenly out of control and everything rested on the results of this scan.

 
Two weeks and five days later I had a phone call from the doctor. Could we come to the hospital the following day as a matter of urgency to discuss the results.

 
Scaniexty hit again with a vengeance. They had found something. 

 
They discovered a number of things from that first scan. My son had a serious eye condition unrelated to his NF1 which meant he had no sight in one eye. On the other eye he had something called an optic glioma which so many NF parents dread: a tumour on his optic nerve. A group of oncologists discussed my child’s case and decided, for now, no treatment was needed. We were sent home.

 
Scanxiety never left me though.

 
In six months time we would be back for another scan. My mind could not ignore that. He had a scan, they found a tumour, next time there could be more.

 
What should have been a six month wait until the next one turned into an agonising ten months before we finally had our next scan on 3rd March this year. The scaniexty of waiting for that second scan was awful. The day of the scan was awful. Waiting on the results is awful.

 
When your child has NF1 scaniexty never leaves you. 

 
This time the results showed the original tumour was stable but he also has brain lesions, one of which is large, and these are a direct result of his NF1 too.

 
We live with the constant worry he may one day need chemotherapy. We live with the worry he could go blind due to his optic glioma since he has no sight in his other eye at all. We live with the worry they may one day they could find a tumour that keeps growing.

 
I live with anxiety as a mum to a child with NF1. That anxiety is deeply connected to the fact my son needs ongoing scans for the rest of his life.

 
There is no cure for NF1 and there is no cure for the scaniexty it brings either.

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There is nothing ‘high’ or ‘functioning’ about her autism at all.

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My daughter attends her local mainstream school. Her grades are average and her behaviour perfect. She is mostly happy to go to school and is never later with her homework. She appears to be an ideal student and school report ‘all is well’.

But all is far from well with my child!

She no longer receives occupation therapy, or speech therapy or any other support in school. Her grades are considered a reflection of the fact she is coping well and therefore her autism is deemed to be ‘high functioning’ simply by the fact she can answer simple times tables questions or write a story.

But there is nothing either ‘high’ or ‘functioning’ about her autism in any way!

The dictionary defines high as “great, or greater than normal, in quantity, size, or intensity.”
My daughter has high ANXIETY, high EMOTIONS, high SENSITIVITY but not high autism!

She struggles with noise, touch, change, lights, attention, demands placed on her, eating, drinking, toileting, self care, socialising and understanding the world. Just because she can read a book, sit quietly in a classroom and sing in assembly does not make her autism any less.

The dictionary defines ‘function’ as “the kind of action or activity proper to a person, thing, or institution; the purpose for which something is designed or exists; role.” Is it ‘proper activity’ for a person to break down in tears and make herself sick because the school has changed her gym day for a few weeks? Is it ‘proper activity’ for a child to be unable to interact at all with other children in the school playground? Is it ‘proper activity’ for a child to stop eating and drinking completely due to anxiety?

Her autism does not disappear when she is at school. All that happens is she conforms. She ‘follows along’ like a sheep in the hope that no-one notices. Inside she is breaking up, welling up and churning up but all anyone sees is a child who can write in a jotter, sit on a seat and tidy up when asked.

A child with autism in mainstream school should never be assumed to have ‘high functioning’ autism simply by the fact they are in a ‘normal’ school classroom. Just because they have the same uniform on as all the others does not mean they are the same.

Inside they are either feeling sick, shaking with anxiety or screaming. The flickering light is causing them pain, the humming of the radiators is making them want to cry and the child next to them leaning on their desk or touching their pencil case is causing them to want to run away. Can you see any of that or do you just see a child with a pencil in their hand writing?

School don’t see the pain in her eyes when I pick her up at three o’clock. They don’t see the teeth grinding, the skin picking and the disengagement. They don’t see the lining up of everything, the screaming and the cowering in a corner. They are not dealing with the sleepless nights begging me to come in bed beside her or the full on food refusal because her anxiety is making her ill.

They look at test scores, conformity, and academic skills and decide that my child at best has ‘high functioning autism’ or at worse is ‘fine.’

She is neither.

She has autism. Simple as that. She is every bit as autistic as her non verbal brother who has severe learning difficulties and attends a special needs school.

Don’t dismiss her struggles based solely on the school she attends.

School can say what they like but there is nothing ‘high’ or ‘functioning’ about her autism at all.

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50 Reasons Why We Still Need Autism Awareness Month

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You are probably thinking this is going to be a heck of a long blog with a title like that. What use would that be? I have no intention of boring you so I will cut to the chase.

If you have ever wanted to know why we still need autism awareness days or months or awareness days for any other type of condition here is why…

These 50 comments are all from the general public and each and everyone of them were actually said to a family with a child with autism or additional needs.

This is why I keep writing about autism. This is why we need people to talk about it.

1. Now your child has glasses it will cure his autism.
2. The best way to stop your child from smearing is to change him more often.
3. Your child’s difficulties are because you worked while you were pregnant.
4. Your children have autism because you don’t love them enough.
5. They probably have autism because they are twins. Twins always have problems you know.
6. It is because you had post natal depression. You are to blame for your child being disabled.
7. Your child is like that because you are not strict enough with them. They would never be like that if they were mine!
8. Are you sure they have autism? They don’t look autistic to me!
9. Vegetables, your child needs to eat more greens and then they will be fine.
10. It is because you breast fed them for far too long!
11. Your child needs to control themselves better.
12. Are you sure it isn’t you with the problem? Have you thought about counselling?
13. You must have really done something terrible is a past life to have a child who is blind.
14. Have you tried praying more?
15. She is non verbal because you don’t speak to her often enough.
16. He is just lazy.
17. They never had anything like that in my day you know.
18. He’ll grow out of it.
19. Have you not thought to use essential oils?
20. They just need a good smack.
21. Once he starts talking you will never know he has autism.
22. Disability is just a excuse for poor parenting.
23. Your child has that because you neglected them.
24. It is learned behaviour because their brother has it. They are just copying you know.
25. He just has too much screen time. Take his iPad away and he will be fine!
26. All kids do that.
27. It’s just because you have anxiety. That makes a child disabled.
28. She isn’t talking because you are deaf so you can’t teach her!
30. He’s fine in school you know!
31. Fillings. If you have fillings in your teeth it makes your child disabled.
32. Peppy Pig is what makes your child autistic.
33. You need to feed them the right stuff. Organic, gluten free, sugar free, wheat free…
34. It was probably for the best you had a miscarriage as you would not want another child like your son would you?
35. Cool they have autism! What’s their special gift?
36. He’s always fine with me you know!
37. It’s because you and your husband separated.
38. There’s no chance he has autism because he gives good eye contact.
39. There’s no chance you have autism…you have a job!
40. Are you sure they actually got diagnosed with that?
41. You just sent her to the wrong nursery!
42. Vaccines. I got my child immunised and made them disabled.
43. They just need more fresh air.
44. Dirt. My house is too clean and that has caused my son’s autism!
45. Have another child. If he has someone to play with he will be fine.
46. She can’t have autism, she’s a girl!
47. She is way too social to have autism you know!
48. You do way too much for him. Doing that makes them disabled.
49. You just want people to feel sorry for you because you have a disabled child.
50. Mixed race marriages. It isn’t right and that is why your child has problems!

Are you shocked? Angry? Upset?

So was I.

Ignorance is still rife and until people realise how wrong and hurtful comments like this are I will continue to write about the reality of my life.

You may have heard about autism but do you really know what it is?

It is alright to not know but it isn’t ok to say any of the things above.

I just hope and pray that every awareness day, every awareness month and every blog I write goes some way to dispelling some of these awful comments.

Until then I will talk about autism in all its reality, splendour and wonder.

Because I never want these two to ever have to hear any of those 50 comments, ever!IMG_0725

 

What it is like to parent a child who can never be left alone

When your baby is born you promise them the world. You promise to look after them, keep them safe and be there for them. When they are tiny and lying so innocently in your arms fully dependent upon others to meet all their needs it is so easy to promise them you will never leave them.
The reality is though that children grow. As they grow they need to learn responsibility, resilience, and independence and all three of these require periods of not being constantly supervised by a parent. I want to say I never ever set out to be over bearing, or a so called ‘helicopter parent’ or paranoid in any way.

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Unfortunately though life changed the way I parent my son. He has multiple difficulties and wether I want to or not he simply can NOT be left unattended at any time, even at age 8.
Going to the bathroom is such a huge risk I leave the door wide open so I can see him and hear him, or I take him with me. Simple tasks like tidying the kitchen can only be done if I am able to see him completely or he is in the same room as me. If I leave the house for any reason I have no choice but to take him with me. I can only shower or bath when he is at school unless there is another adult here to watch his every move. Even popping to the car in my own driveway is a risk I can not take most days.
I do not want to live like this but I have no choice. I am fully aware how damaging this level of hyper-vigilance is to my son and to myself but I am actually doing it because there really is no other way. School have to show the same level of vigilance as do his respite centre so it isn’t just me.

He simply can not be left alone, ever.

Here are a few reasons why:

1. He has no language.

That poses huge risks. He can not ask for help, or shout if in danger. He can not ask to reach something that could fall on top of him and he can not tell us where he wants to go. So I have to be with him.

2. He has no concept of danger. 

He would open the house door and stand right in the middle of a motorway and have no idea. He would eat grass or dog faeces or climb out a window. He would play with knives or drink bleach. I can not leave him for his own safety.

3. He sensory seeks all the time.

He seeks out water but can not swim. He seeks out lights…even if these are car headlights. He loves the noise of smashed glass…he climbs…he swings on doors…he bites and kicks…for his own safety and the safety of others he MUST be supervised.

4. He is violent.IMG_0449

One minute he can be the most loving, gently child but that can change in a moment and he can attack someone. While I know some of his ‘triggers’ for the safety of his sister he can not be left in a room alone with her or anyone else.

5. He smears.

As awful as this is to talk about it is real for so many families. Left alone for less than a minute and so much damage is done. No-one benefits from the clear up and the less it happens the better for everyone.

6. He eats everything.

Bedding is a current favourite but we have had clothing, toys, jigsaws, paper, pencils, lego, teddies and money all eaten regularly. The danger of that is very obvious and unless we wish to have a season ticket to the local hospital he MUST be watched.

7. He destroys.

He is the master of opportunity. Sensory seeking, no concept of danger, little awareness of cause and reaction and no understanding of empathy mean he has fed his sisters tropical fish milk, talcum powder, full tubs of fish food and several Thomas tank engine trains. He has thrown and broken expensive technology like iPads and cameras, he has blocked the toilet with all sorts and poured all manner of things into the bath tub. While he may have no understanding of his actions we do and it is vital this behaviour is prevented as much as possible. The only way to ensure that happens is to be always vigilant.

8. He has seizures.

Medically the consequences of leaving him unattended could be fatal. He has had seizures at the top of flights of stairs, outside and during the night. He could choke on his own vomit, badly injure himself or knock himself out. He must be watched.

9. He is vulnerable.

While he may be living in his own ‘bubble’ sadly he is at high risk for bullying and abuse or wandering off. As his mother I have to protect him. That means having to be with him. It is hard to trust when he has no communication to tell me anything.
People tell me I need to relax and that he needs to learn independence. What they don’t understand is that he never will be independent. The level of care he has now is what is likely to have to be in place throughout his adult life. It really is the only way to keep him safe and to keep others safe too.

I am tired. I cry. My life is severely restricted by the needs of another person. If I want my son to stay alive and have any quality of life I have no choice but to never leave him alone.
What’s it like to parent a child who can never be left alone? 
Lonely.

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Please stop praying for my son with autism to be healed

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So many people have told me over the years they are praying for my son. I am incredible grateful for that and the kindness they show but what are they praying about?
Are they asking God for my 8 year old to finally speak? Are they asking for his seizures to stop? Are they praying he learns to communicate or to read and write? Or are they praying for him to be healed of his autism?

Let me be very clear..I want people to pray for my son. My entire family needs prayers and needs God more than we ever have. We need love and support. But please please could you not pray for my son with autism to be healed?

Here is why.

There are many occasions when Jesus healed individual people in the Bible. These include people who were blind, deaf, paralysed, had leprosy, fevers, seizures and even those who had died. Despite studying all of these incidences I could not find any occasions when Jesus prayed for anyone who had learning difficulties or communication difficulties like my son’s autism to be healed.

Then there were mass healing events that Jesus did. Again although many were healed there is no direct reference to children or adults who struggled socially or had repetitive behaviours like my son.

The Bible says that Jesus welcomed the little children. Although I have no proof I am certain there were children in Bible times who displayed similar difficulties to my child. I know they were every bit as welcome to Jesus.

The Bible says that my child is fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:14).
The Bible says my son was knitted together in my womb (Psalm 139: 13)
The Bible says my son is created in God’s likeness (Ephesians 4:24)
The Bible says my son is the apple of God’s eye. (Psalm 17:8)
The Bible says my son is God’s workmanship created to do good works. (Ephesians 2:10)
The Bible says God has plans to prosper my son and not to harm him, to give him a hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

God sees no difference between my son and anyone else. He does not view my son as less than or inadequate in any way. Could God heal my son of his seizures and his genetic condition that causes tumours in his body? Yes, without a doubt. Could God open my son’s mouth to give him clear speech? Yes, I believe that with all my heart. Could God cause him to be more settled and display less challenging behaviour and agitation? Without a seconds doubt of course he could. These are things I pray over him daily.

IMG_0440I pray for peace for him. I pray for joy and laughter. I pray for people to understand him and show him love. I pray safety as he travels so far back and forth in country roads to school each day. I pray for a receptive mind and open heart. I pray strength to his body and ease from pain. I pray for him to sleep (I am human so this is something I need too).

I pray for strength for myself as I care for him. I pray for wisdom and unity for those who work with me to meet his needs. I pray for his sister as she deals and lives with some events that could traumatise her. I pray her tender heart is not broken too often. I pray for friends she can trust. I pray she knows she is loved when her brother consumes so much of my time.

There is so many things I pray for and so many things others can pray for too. There are things you CAN pray for for my son to be healed of, but autism is not one of them. Autism is a neurological difference in his mind that causes him to see the world a bit differently. Autism is a part of the way God made him and it makes him beautiful and perfect.

God made each one of us part of a body. My son is every bit as much a part of the body of Christ as the next person even if he has severe learning difficulties, is vision impaired, has global delay and has autism. It does not matter to God that he flaps, spins, screams and is unable to speak. Man looks at all that but as the Bible says “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” I Samuel 16:7

I pray that the world looks at my son’s heart too.

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I’m not perfect but I am perfect for them


I have a confession to make: I got annoyed at my children today! What? You have done that too? Seriously why are we so afraid as parents to admit we are less than perfect.

 
Last week I took my kids to the dentist at the wrong time. I sent my son to school the week before without any lunch. He is not able to talk so could not tell anyone. I blame sleep deprivation personally.

 
I do my best. It is what we all do. 

 
But still we never seem to feel we get it right all the time. That feeling is magnified when your children have extra support needs.

 
I remember eagerly buying push along toys, walkers and sit on cars for my toddlers, only to have them sit unused in a corner as my son was three before he walked, by which time they were all far too small for him. I tried to do the right thing, the ‘perfect’ thing, but for my children it was anything but perfect.

 
I sang nursery rhymes with my babies. I read to them, talked to them all the time and blew bubbles. Yet still my 8 year old to this day can’t say a word. I did all the right things but for him it just wasn’t to be.

 
I bought this wonderful potty for my kids. You know the ones that sing to them when they pee and even looks like a toilet. That was a total disaster!

 
I took my pre-schoolers to museums, cafes, soft plays, garden centres and farms. One of them screamed all the time and the other was terrified. What seemed the perfect thing to do was in fact anything but for my autistic children who struggled with sensory overload everywhere we went. 

 
imageSo I decided to stop being the perfect parent and instead become the perfect parent to THEM. That meant taking my son to see lifts. It meant taking them on train rides and joining in games of lining up toys. It meant accepting them for just who they are and allowing them to be autistic.

 
The best toys I ever bought them were second hand. I gave up full time work to care for them so I can attend all their meetings, keep up with all their teams of professionals and ensure they get the support they both need. It means I am there to keep the routine they need to feel secure and calm my son when he is in meltdown.

 
Being the perfect parent for them means sometimes making the same meal every night for a week just to see them eat. It means trailing shops to find the only juice my daughter will drink. It means cutting out labels in their clothes and ensuring the materials are soft and not too ‘busy’ so as not to upset them. img_0046It means reading the same bedtime story every night for two years in exactly the same way. It is answering the same question for the hundredth time and remaining patient.

 
Do I get annoyed at them? Of course I do. I am human. Do I annoy them? Absolutely! Do we love each other and hug often? Yes we do. 

 
I am never going to be that parent who shows off a shelf full of trophies my child won at dancing or football. I am not going to be the parent who home makes Halloween costumes or bakes the most incredible birthday cakes. My kids have way too much screen time than is recommended and my son can’t even write his own name at 8 years old!

 
But I know what triggers a meltdown in my son and how to avoid it. I know what makes my daughters anxiety reach sky high and can work through this with her. I know the limitations of my sons eye sight and the fact he can not see pale colours. I know exactly what reading book my daughter has this week and what characters she is into just now. I know their routines for bedtime and school days and follow them like a robot so as not to upset them.

 
Those things don’t make me the perfect mum, but they do make me perfect for them.

 
I am blessed to have them. We are blessed to have each other. None of us are perfect but together we are the perfect team.