To The Parents Of The Disabled Child Who Doesn’t Look Disabled

Dear fellow parent,

I understand.

I understand what it’s like to be in the park and others wonder why you are sticking so close to your child, perhaps guiding them or supporting them to do what other children much younger are doing easily. I know what it’s like to see parents and children stare at your child, laugh at them or worse…walk away from them.

People would understand if your child looked different, if you were pushing them in a wheelchair or if they had a walking frame. I see your child’s disability even when they don’t look disabled.

I understand.

I have a child just like that too.

It’s the expectations isn’t it. They look fine so why are they not talking like others expect, acting age appropriate or joining in with others? The assumption that ‘looking fine’ means they are ‘fine’ and that we are the issue not the child. Oh do I understand that!

Our parenting is questioned just because our child doesn’t ‘look disabled ’ whatever ‘looking disabled’ is even meant to mean? People think we are over protective, over bearing and causing the problem. Yet they don’t know what we know. They don’t see what we see.

They can’t see autism so they don’t know it’s there.

They can’t see global delay or learning difficulties so they must not exist.

They were not there when you received the genetic diagnosis so they don’t know.

They haven’t experienced the epileptic seizures so therefore you must have made them up.

They don’t know anything about the myriad of specialists you have visited or the volume of appointments your diary is full of.

They see your child and make assumptions based on the fact they look ‘normal.’

I understand.

You dare not mention that your child receives disability money. You know from experience that you will be accused of using your child to get money.

Why? Just because your child doesn’t ‘look disabled’ so therefore according to society they can’t be disabled.

I understand.

You see I have a child like that too. I get the sideways looks when I hold my almost ten year old tight as we walk. I hear the sniggers as he flaps and makes baby noises as we walk down the supermarket aisle. I know the judgement at the school gate when my child is the different one yet he looks just like any other child.

For some reason disability is meant to be noticeable or else it must not exist. People have this strange notion that if something can’t be seen then it must not be believed.

I know how that makes you feel because I feel it too.

We should not need to justify our child disability just because they don’t look disabled as people expect. It shouldn’t matter what someone looks like and people are so quick to judge.

So know you are not alone.

Know that I understand.

I am right there with you.

You do what you need to do for your child and know I support you.

Together we can raise our beautiful disabled children who don’t look disabled and hopefully one day others will understand too.

Yours lovingly,

A mum of a stunning but very disabled little boy.

This blog originally appeared here

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My Child’s Mental Heath Concerns Me

I held my new born crying baby in my arms like she was the most fragile piece of china worried she would break in my arms just by being held. She didn’t break, of course, and many people told me ‘babies bounce’ and ‘they are much hardier than you think’.

Except my baby isn’t resistant.

Only it wasn’t her little bones that were precious and fragile, it was her mind.

How do you protect a child’s little mind from breaking?

She was always nervous. So scared to crawl that she eventually just shuffled on her bottom instead. So terrified to take her first steps I thought it would never happen. Scared of other people, frightened of noisy toys, crying if she was separated from me.

‘Some kids are shy’ they would say.

‘She’ll get there in her own time.’

‘She’s picking up on your anxiety’

‘You are an over protective mother.’

I knew my child though. I saw the fear in her little eyes. It’s more than how I parent and I was right. Eventually she was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. I was told she was anxious. I knew that already. She was different from all the other children. So much younger emotionally and socially. She was terrified of other people. A little perfectionist.

I watched on as what little confidence she had fell off her like leaves falling from a tree in the autumn wind.

Vulnerable

Scared

Terrified

Fragile

Her mental health much more of a worry with each birthday she marked.

My daughter isn’t resilient. She can’t ‘shake things off’ or ‘let things go’. She can’t ‘brush things away’ or ‘just forget them’. Little things are major to her. Anxiety rules her life.

If she comes home from school and a toy has been moved she breaks down. If she wants something from a shop and it’s sold out she can’t sleep that night. If she gets a sum wrong or spells a word wrong her anxiety builds up to the point she won’t eat. She can’t cope with being wrong. That’s not my parenting that is severe anxiety, autism and mental health difficulties.

They told me children are not fragile. But my child is. Her bones are strong, her body healthy but her little mind is fragile.

I was right to hold my baby gently worried she would break. I could feed her, teach her, hold her, encourage her but I can’t make her mind any different to what it is.

My child’s mental health concerns me. I worry for her future.

The Top Ten Offensive Comments People Have Made About My Autistic Family

I have two beautiful and wonderful autistic children. I also married a unique and handsome autistic man (though we were married 19 years before he was diagnosed). They all enrich my life but being different does seem to attract attention at times…and not always positive attention!

As a parent and wife I have had to develop broad shoulders and thick skin to many things people say about my family. I thought I would share the top ten most offensive ones and explain why they hurt so much and what you could say instead.

Firstly I want to stress that this is not to condemn anyone or make them feel awful. It’s about education and understanding so if you have said any of the following don’t feel guilty just endeavour to think and understand more from now on. Thank you.

1. ‘Will they recover one day?’

Why is this offensive? Autism isn’t an illness or a disease that gets better. It is a lifelong difference that should be embraced and understood. By asking if my children will recover you are implying they have something awful that needs treatment or therapy to get rid of it. You can’t ‘get rid of’ autism and you insult my family by implying or suggesting they should get over, recover or get better from their unique differences.

It would be better to say ‘Maybe they will change the world one day!’

2. ‘It’s that modern day ‘in thing’ to cover up poor parenting.’

Why is this offensive? You are saying autism is fictitious and that the unique make up of my children and husband which makes them who they are is a negative thing brought about by something I (or in my husband’s case his parents) did. Autism isn’t ‘new’ despite the fact we now understand it better and therefore diagnose more often. Autism happens in poor families, rich families, highly skilled parents, working class, the unemployed and the elite. You will find autistic children and adults in families with a huge variety or parenting methods so there is absolutely no evidence to suggest it has anything to do with poor parenting and suggesting otherwise implies ignorance.

It would be better to say ‘It’s more common in modern days but hopefully that helps parents feel much less alone than before.

3. ‘I’m praying for a cure.’

Why is this offensive? You are praying to change the very being of who my children and husband are! You can’t cure or remove the autism from them any more than you can take out their hearts! God made them exactly who they are and he accepts them and loves them. Why would God want to cure someone he made wonderfully unique?

It would be better to say ‘I’m praying for you as life must be a bit more difficult at times for you.

4. ‘It’s a slap he needs not a diagnosis.’

Why is this offensive? It questions my parenting and implies my child is unruly and undisciplined when he is autistic, not a brat. We say autistic people are very rigid but in fact society is very rigid in how they expect people to behave. Acting differently to expected does not mean my child needs corrected it means we need to be more tolerant and understanding.

Instead you could say ‘It’s understanding he needs and that can start with me.’

5. ‘I hope none of my kids ever copy yours!’

Why is this offensive? It implies my child’s behaviour or actions is something unacceptable to others. It’s usually said to me when my child is flapping, spinning, making repetitive noises, or not answering when spoken to by a stranger. The fact my child is non verbal seems an alien concept to some. There are so many amazing things both my children (and husband) do that I think if other children (and adults) copied their resilience, energy, enthusiasm, excitement and empathy the world would actually be a better place.

Please rephrase your comment to ‘There is so much my children could learn from yours!’

6. ‘Oh everyone has a bit of that really so what’s the big deal?’

Why is this offensive? By implying everyone is on the autism spectrum you imply my children’s and husband’s struggles are not valid and their diagnosis is worthless. In order to be diagnosed with autism you have to meet a high level of criteria and be assessed by professionals in a number of fields of expertise. If we were all a little bit autistic why would we bother diagnosing anyone?

It would be much better to say ‘Oh you have a diagnosed condition. That’s quite a big deal!’

7. ‘They never had that in my day’

Why is this offensive? It implies autism is made up. You only need to meet my family to know this isn’t true. Oh and for the record my husband was born autistic and he’s 60 so it’s ‘been around’ much longer than people think!

Instead it could be said ‘I know autism was around in my days too but unfortunately it wasn’t as well recognised back then.’

8. ‘I’m so sorry. That’s awful.’

Why is this offensive? You are saying that my children and spouse are so defected and bad that them being autistic is something to be ashamed and depressed about. There is nothing awful about autism. Don’t say you are sorry please. It is NOT a tragedy.

If you want to express love when someone is diagnosed please say something like ‘I’m so thankful for you. Being autistic doesn’t change you and I am still your friend.’

9. ‘Are you sure he should be in mainstream with normal kids?’

Why is this offensive? You just implied my child isn’t normal! You also implied my child has no right to be educated among his peers. That is dangerous, insulting and very very hurtful.

Instead be supportive and inclusive and tell me ‘I am so glad your son is in mainstream with my child. It’s how it should be and we all gain from it.’

10. ‘He seems fine to me!’

Why is this offensive? Because my son, my daughter and my husband are all fine already! They do have struggles (wether others see them or not), they do react differently to others sometimes and they may communicate in unique ways but they are perfectly ok too. Just because we don’t see someone’s struggles does not mean they don’t exist.

It’s much more respectful to say ‘You look well. I am proud of how well you are doing.’

The vast majority of people don’t mean to offend and I understand that. However a more careful choice of words and respect go such a long way.

Here’s a cute picture of the three most amazing autistic people I know. Why would anyone want to say any of the above about them?

The Loneliness Of A Special Needs Sibling

It’s just after 6:30pm and her brother has just had a seizure in the bath. While her mum pulls him out and dries him her dad rushes upstairs to help.

And she was left alone.

It’s 11am at the retail park and suddenly her brother has disappeared. Her mum shouts his name and runs to the lift knowing her brother loves them, while her dad runs to the door to make sure her brother hasn’t ran into the car park.

And she was left alone again.

It’s 2:30pm on a Tuesday afternoon and she is with mum and her brother at yet another hospital appointment. Her brother’s height is taken, his weight measured and the eye specialist looks into her brother’s eyes while talking to mum in words she can’t understand.

And it feels like she isn’t there at all, even though she is.

Life feels all about her brother. She can only go places if HE is well enough, if HE can cope with it, if there is provision for disabled children. She hears others at school talk about zoos, trampoline parks and ice-skating rinks but she has never experienced those. She could tell them about tonic clonic seizures, communicating with a non verbal brother or what an occupational therapist does. She knows that isn’t what anyone wants to hear about though.

So she just stays quiet.

She does her own thing. She finds her own way of coping. She is the epitome of resilience, the definition of bravery, the personification of inner strength.

But she’s lonely. So very lonely.

She’s typical of so many siblings lost in the shadows while the limelight shines on the sick sibling, the disabled brother, or the struggling sister.

Expected to carry on with homework while her brother screams, to try and watch TV without complaining while her brother has a meltdown, to still sleep while her brother bangs toys throughout the night because he sees no need for sleep.

These are the siblings whose loneliness we don’t like to see. We don’t like to admit that disability affects the siblings as much, if not more, than the child who is diagnosed. It makes us uncomfortable to think we have caused an innocent child to experience mental pain while we care for the physical pain of another child. We hope beyond hope that things will settle and one day we will ‘make it up to them’ for the times we couldn’t make their school play because their brother was sick or in hospital. But that day never seems to come.

So she just carries on.

Until one day she says ‘it feels like I am invisible sometimes.’

Then you realise the utter loneliness, the repeated rejection she had felt and the fear she experiences daily. You vow to change things but nothing, nothing, will take away her loneliness.

I promise you siblings, you are NOT invisible. You are the real hero’s in all this. You are the ones who’s smile keeps everyone going, whose humour brings life and whose strength inspires.

You may feel lonely but you are never alone.

I promise you so many other siblings understand and they have been where you are.

You got the raw deal here and I’m sorry.

This post first appeared here. Do check out my other blogs on Firefly (www.fireflyfriends.com) and my regular updates and thoughts on my Facebook page (faithmummy).