So yes…I am doing it for ME!

imageIt’s the week before my twins have their seventh birthday. The invites are sent, the venue booked, cakes arranged and party bags all ready. This crazy mum has only gone and arranged a party for them!

And you know what? I am doing it all for ME!

There I said it.

I have invited children I want there, I have organised the cakes I want, and I have put what I want in the party bags.

That may sound very selfish. And it may well be. But for once I NEED this. I NEED my children to be part of some sort of ‘social norm’, I NEED them to feel ‘included’ and I NEED them to take part in society in some way.

So yes my son will not speak to a single other child. He probably won’t even recognise the children there or play with any other person. He won’t thank anyone for a present or open any cards and it is highly unlikely he will join in any activities. He has no concept of what a party or a birthday is even about now I think about it. So I can assure myself I am not going to all the effort of a party for HIS behalf. He would happily have spent a day watching lift doors opening or closing or watching hand dryers.

His sister on the other hand may like the concept of a party but the actual reality of it is a different matter. It will be hit or miss wether she speaks on the day, wether she will join in on her terms or not and she will certainly not be the life and soul of the party in any way. Social events are a bit of a nightmare for her and the noise and bustle of a busy room could sent her into sensory overload.

So why am I doing this to them?

Firstly they miss out on so much in life. They don’t ever get out to play with friends or get invited to a sleep over. They never get to go to brownies, or rainbows or boys brigade. My son has no friends (not that he even gets that concept) and my daughter has just one friend she talks to. Play dates just don’t happen around here. They are isolated and excluded from so much and for once I want them to be part of society. Is that such a bad thing?

Secondly, they may have zero social awareness but I do. All the other kids have a party on their birthday and I want my children to experience that too. I don’t want them to be ‘neuro typical’ or ‘normal’ but I also don’t want them to be bullied for being different either, especially when my daughter attends mainstream school. They may have no idea about peer pressure just now but I also want to protect them from cruel children who think nothing of bullying a child because they were the only one not to have a party. They are growing up in a non autistic world that sadly will not always be kind to them and sometimes I just want to protect them a bit. So I am doing it for ME so I feel they are just the same. Wether that is right or wrong is not up for debate. It is what I feel is right this year.

Thirdly, for just once, I want my children to be the centre of attention even if they don’t know it. They deserve their moment in the spotlight just as much as any other child. They rarely get to be called up at school for achievements and they never get awards outside school because they are unable to attend any after school activities. So while I am throwing the party for ME it is because I want people to notice my children, love on them and enjoy being with them. We just don’t get that much.

I just want to say I am not being cruel to my children. I have booked a centre for children with support needs. There will be a fabulous sensory room for my son which I know he loves. If it is too much for my daughter she can have as much time out as she needs. They won’t hate it all, they just won’t ‘conform’ to social norms on the day. And that is fine by me.

It is two hours of their day. Seven years Is worth celebrating. THEY are worth celebrating.

So we are having a party. And yes, I am doing it for ME. Is that really so bad?

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The effect on me…

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Having children affects everyone. You become less focussed on yourself and more focussed on another. You sleep less, go out a lot less and consider it a great achievement to get a shower without interruption. But as time passes the children slowly become more independent and confident and you little by little gain more of yourself back again.

Well that is how it works when you have typical developing children anyway. But what if that very needy, all-consuming, up through the night, needing a huge amount of time stage never ends?

It is well documented that parents of very young children are vulnerable and prone to depression, mental illness, and can easily become socially isolated. Health professionals are trained to look out for this and regularly check for signs that all is not well as research has shown that sleep deprivation and coping with the high demands of a baby or young child take a huge toll on parents.

But it is expected that season will pass as the child grows.

But for some, like myself, that season just keeps going on. And not because I went on to have another child either. It is because almost seven years after having my babies I still face the high demands, the daily intimate care needs, the lack of sleep and the stress of milestones not being met. My children have disabilities and the pressure parents of very young babies face is still very much the same as what I face daily. I still change nappies, I wash my children and dress them, I am still singing nursery rhymes and trying to teach one to say ‘mama’ or ‘dada’, I am still cutting food up and putting socks on that have been pulled off.

And that long-term intensity has to have an effect on me.image

It takes it’s toll mentally in that some days I could just sit and cry. The doctor could give me tablets but the pain and stress would still be there. Some days the effort to get dressed and get out the house just seems too much. Except unlike parents of babies who don’t have to leave the house and can go back to bed, my children have school to get to even if one of them still only functions at the level of a 1-year-old.

It takes it’s toll socially in that going out at night is impossible. Besides the fact I have huge caring responsibilities and am permanently exhausted, baby sitters are a rarity for families like mine. Who has the physical ability to carry a large six-year-old out of a bath and dry him and dress him? Who has the emotional strength to deal with a little one having a panic attack because her mum has left the house? Even if I did find that special someone I have no motivation to get dressed up and make myself presentable when my body just craves sleep.

It takes it’s toll physically. The lifting and carrying of a baby can make a mum’s arms ache but when the ‘baby’ is two thirds of your height and a quarter of your weight how do you manage? Seeing to personal needs of a toddler who decides to crawl away is a challenge. Seeing to the personal needs of a child who can bite, punch, kick and climb is an altogether harder challenge. When they are long past the age of using a baby change in public and you have to find a way to meet those needs in public toilets not build for that purpose your body aches and bends in ways you never thought possible.

It takes it’s toll financially. Babies cost. I often hear parents complaining at the cost of essential items like prams, car seats, cots and nappies. Second hand is sometimes an option though. But not when you enter the ‘special needs’ market and you have to look for elastic waisted soft trousers for a child who can not dress himself yet aged 6. Or you have to think about paying for private therapies not available on the NHS. Then there is the cost of hospital trips, the fact the schools are miles away from home and special needs sensory toys come at a huge cost. And I still have to buy wipes, and bedding and nappies and other ‘baby’ items six years on.

It just all takes it’s toll on me.

The days of people ‘popping by’ to see if I am ok has long passed. The excitement of coming to see those new babies has long gone. The phone calls from friends to hear how the babies are stopped many years ago. Yet the reality of my life never changed much.

Yes, my children have changed me for the better, but full-time caring for a disabled child takes it’s toll.

Please, if you know someone who has a child with any sort of disability, think about and do what you can to help the child. But have a think what you could do to help mum or dad too. Believe me they need support more than you may ever realise.

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Walking on bubble wrap or walking on egg shells?

imageHave you ever worked or lived somewhere were the mood of just one person affects everyone else? The boss is having a bad day so the atmosphere in the office is awful? The baby won’t stop crying and so everyone in the family is stressed?

I am a full-time parent carer and more and more I am realising the effect that one of my children can have on my entire family.

My beautiful son has classic autism and neurofibromatosis type 1. He is on the verge of turning seven-year-old and as yet is not speaking, or toilet trained, is dependent on me for all his care and very much lives in his own world.

Some days looking after him is like walking on bubble wrap. We are all cushioned by the fact he lives very much in his own world. People can call him anything but he doesn’t care. We can spend hours watching lifts or listening to the noise of hand dryers in bathrooms oblivious to the fact the world is passing us by. People neither hear us nor see us as we walk on our bubble wrap and only the tiniest of ‘pops’ make us heard in our community. We are isolated, invisible almost at times, but very secure in our own protected world of routine. Provided all is going according to the world of ”Isaac’ the world can be a happy, settled and loving place. He can be the happiest, flappiest, most content child in the world. There is no ‘mummy can I have’ or peer pressure for the latest trends. There is no social pressure to join in the best football team, or streams of birthday parties to go to. I have no costs for computer games as he can’t play them and he is as happy as a pig in mud surrounded simply by plastic food or a few baby books. Some days walking on bubble wrap is the most beautiful, most peaceful and wonderful place to be.

But other days he wakes up at hours only night shift workers ought to see; bedding, child and room covered in your worst nightmare that you smell before you see. Or you hear that high pitch scream for hours on end. The bubble wrap we once walked on once again replaced by a harder, more dangerous and very precarious road known to many as walking on egg shells.

This is the side of autism people don’t feel comfortable talking about. The days when nothing goes right and my child goes from one meltdown right into another. Like the morning this week he freaked out simply because our car was covered in condensation due to the colder weather. Or the fact his breakfast was not exactly what he wanted or expected. Or the taxi came too early, too late, or reversed into the driveway when he wasn’t watching! The days when everything we touch cracks those shells and impacts on everyone in the entire family. There are days, sometimes many on the trot, when we have to look out for the safety of his twin sister as he would bite, attack, throw things, pinch or push her without any prior warning. There are days when I wonder if my back, or hair, or glasses can cope with much more aggression and attacks from a child fast approaching my own height and weight.image

It isn’t easy to say but some days we are afraid for our safety and that of our other child. The older he gets the more egg shell days we seem to have. Reversing the car, stopping at traffic lights, road diversions, coming in the house from a different door, not going to lifts or hand dryers, not having mash potato for every meal, you tube layout changing, Google street maps not looking like he expects it too, no internet, presenters coming on the television instead of the programme….and so on. Endless broken egg shells and meltdowns we can not control.

I have never really been a fan of eggs and I detest walking on egg shells. School see the bubble wrap boy mostly, which is good. And sometimes we get to see that boy too.

It is the start of half term here and tomorrow I have no idea if I will wake to walking on bubble wrap or walking on eggs shells and it won’t be me deciding how my own days goes.

Autism: it affects entire families and the way they walk so much.

This is my ‘normal’

This is my ‘normal’

The intense sadness is beginning to ease now. Waves of heaviness still creep up on me at times but I cry, wipes my tears away and face another day with a smile.
Maybe I am getting to that point of acceptance?
Maybe I am realising it isn’t the end of the world and I still have two beautiful, amazing children?
Or maybe it has all just become ‘normal’?

I looked back on some old videos and photos this week. There were happy moments of my children playing, flapping moments at lifts, lovely memories of my daughter singing, and too many photos of my children eating! Reminders of how things were and a stark reminder that in many ways things are just the same.image

My son still has his chubby cheeks, big brown eyes and cheeky smile. My daughter has stunning golden hair, piercing blue eyes and beautiful petite features.
And my son is still not speaking…

This is my ‘normal’.

Since my children were months old I have been trailing them regularly to hospitals and clinics. We have so many professionals involved they have to add extra chairs at every meeting. If we decide to change something, if my children have medical issues arise or don’t eat their dinner for a couple of nights I feel I have to call everyone to keep them up-to-date. I have phone calls from schools, people dealing with our children, and others who have just received referrals about them on an everyday basis. We have to take our mobiles everywhere and be available to pick our children up at short notice at any time. Every week I have to discuss with transport about times my child will not be at school due to appointments.

This is my ‘normal’.

I have visuals in every room of my house, we have regimented routines, I read the same bedtime story every single night. I make the same dinners, in the same way, at the same time every week. I buy my children the exact same shoes in the next size hoping they won’t notice I have changed them as their feet grow. We visit the same places we have been to before. I use google street map to show places before we go there and I have become an expert at knowing where every single lift is in every shopping centre within travelling distance of my house. I spend hours watching hand dryers with my son because it keeps him happy.

This is my ‘normal’.image

I can’t tell you if, or when, my son may speak. I can not tell you if, or when, my daughter may overcome her severe anxiety or be able to speak in school. I can not say if, or when, my son will ever stop wearing nappies. I do know my son is unlikely to ever attend mainstream school in any capacity. I have no idea if he will ever learn to read or write. I have no idea if his tumours will grow anywhere else in his body or if his seizures will remain stable.
I live with uncertainty. But I also live with intense gratitude.

This is my ‘normal’.

I am thankful for everything. I celebrate the mundane. I kiss and hug my children in private and in public without caring what anyone thinks. I smile because I have a thousand reasons and more to cause me to. I laugh with my children. I treasure life and find enjoyment in everyday moments. I take pictures of my children like tomorrow is not guaranteed. I love with all my heart because my children have taught me too.

This is my ‘normal’. And normal is good.