My Severely Autistic Son DOES Have A Bright Future

Six and a half years ago when I took my toddler to a clinic and left with a diagnosis of severe non verbal autism , pica and global developmental delay my heart broke. It didn’t end there either. Six months later he was diagnosed with a progressive genetic condition. A year later he added vision impairment to his list. At seven he added an optic glioma, a form of brain tumour and at nine, epilepsy.

As I write this he is ten, with the developmental age of a one year old, the speech of a nine month old baby (he is non verbal), he isn’t yet potty trained and requires round the clock care. He has to be medicated twice daily to keep major seizures at bay. He needs six monthly MRI tests to monitor his brain tumours.

On paper his future doesn’t look good.

I have spent so much time breaking my heart for my son and all he will miss in life. He likely won’t fall in love, get married, have a family, have a job, learn to drive, attend college or university or live independently; all the things parents expect from their children as they grow. He can’t yet write his name, he’s never attended mainstream education and his care needs are so high I have been his full time carer since he was born.

So given all that information how can I possibly say my son has a bright future?

Quite simply this: Quality of life isn’t determined by what other people think.

I thought my child should find a partner, perhaps have a family of his own, get a job, drive, contribute to society in some way and make a difference. I thought he should go to school, perhaps onto college or university then find happiness and fulfilment in a career of his choice.

But who says any of this is a bright future? Who determines these things as quality of life?

In actual fact my son has an amazing future ahead of him, one very different to how I imagined, but even more incredible!

He’s never going to carry the burden of responsibility so he won’t stress about interest rates, taxes, mortgages or company shares.

He’s never going to become embroiled in complex relationships so won’t experience the heartache of divorce or family breakups.

He will remain blissfully sheltered from many of the awful things that life carries with it like murder, abuse, political turmoil, homelessness, drugs or wars.

His simple life will be the envy of many.

His needs will be met, either by carers or myself, for as long as I live. He has a sister who adores him and who I know will do all she can to make sure he is looked after too.

He will spend his future not in the drudgery and stress of daily commutes to work or long shifts but in doing what he loves most. He’ll be taken swimming, the cinema, cafes, shops, garden centres and day trips. It will be like he’s retired without ever having to have done the fifty plus years employment first.

Clothes and food will be provided for him. Other people will arrange whatever finances are required, drive him or support him in transport and make sure he is happy and well.

His future is, in fact, what so many of us would dream of. He will watch what he wants on TV, explore the world via google street map and see family often.

He will, as he already does, be surrounded by love, respect and support.

I’ll take him to as many lifts as he wants because his years of education will be complete.

I am not deluded. I am not just looking at life from rose tinted glasses. I am fully aware that my son will always need a huge level of care and that I may not always be around to give him that. I, more than anyone, understand how vulnerable and naive he is and always will be. I know i will fight budget cuts, endless complex forms to have control of his finances and health needs and that I will likely get little to no respite when he passes from children’s care teams to adult care teams.

This won’t be easy for ME but for HIM the future is bright.

We are so quick as a society to assume that anyone with learning disabilities, severe autism or complex needs is a burden. We see their quality of life as somehow less because it doesn’t follow the tradition path of higher education, work and raising the next generation. We see their inability to pay taxes as somehow awful and view them as beneath others.

My son, and thousands of others, walk a different path in life. They face a future quite different to that which we see as ‘normal’. Yet their future, their existence, their needs, are not in any way less or second class.

My severely autistic son’s future is full of life, love and fulfilment. That to me is the epitome of a bright future and quality of life.

I am looking forward to it and if he understood what the future was I know he would be excited too.

Six Reasons Why Autistic Children Might Struggle With Losing

Last week I was at a school party with my daughter for Halloween. She’s not a fan of parties yet wants to be there too. It’s a huge internal struggle for her as she as she wants to be there like everyone else but realises she is different too.

The free dancing, general socialising, and snacks were hard enough but worse of all was when the games began.

My daughter loves games. She loves the rules and obeys them precisely. She likes that they are organised, structured and fair. The only problem is…she has to win!

They played one game which she lost right at the very start.

In front of her peers she could not hide her upset and I had to remove her from the room to save her embarrassment.

It’s now over a week later and she still can’t get the fact she lost out of her head. She can’t process it or make sense of it.

Of course all children can find it hard to lose but for autistic children it can be so much worse.

It’s not about just telling them to be a ‘good loser’, or using logic to explain that only one child can win out of everyone there. There are very valid reasons why autistic children can find losing hard and before we can help them we need to understand them better.

1. The Spiky Profile

Autism is a complex disorder and it usually comes with what is known as a spiky profile. This means that a child’s development is at different levels in different areas that what might be expected for their age. So, for example, while my daughter is on par with her peers in maths ability she is years behind in social skills. While her peers have mastered ‘good sportsmanship’ she isn’t there yet. It doesn’t make her any less it just means she needs extra patience and understanding. All children develop at different rates but somehow society expects all children to accept losing gracefully by the time they start school. For many autistic children this just isn’t realistic.

2. The Overgeneralisation

When my daughter loses in her mind it isn’t just a game, it’s everything. Her mental health deteriorates so quickly and it escalates from ‘I didn’t win that game’ to ‘I am useless at everything’ in minutes. Nothing will persuade her out of the mindset that she didn’t win so therefore she is terrible at everything, everyone hates her, and there is nothing she is good at at all. Many autistic children can be like this. They process the game as something of major significance and losing becomes the be all and end all. All rational thought leaves and they judge themselves by the sole fact they lost at one thing. While some may think this is ‘stupid’ or ‘childish’ it is a very real anxiety and needs patience and understanding.

3. The Humiliation

One thing my daughter can not abide is being the centre of attention in a negative way. She hates people staring at her or seeing her as different. Her social anxiety makes her believe that everyone thinks of her as a loser so the humiliation of publicly losing a game just reinforces that fact in her own mind. The shame of not being the best, the embarrassment of having to ‘sit out’ and the added cheers from others who continue to play only make this worse. Despite the fact she knows it is fair she will argue that ‘it’s not fair’ because in her mind fairness equates to only her winning. Which leads to the next point…

4. The Expectation

Losing well takes practice but how can you practice something that causes so much anxiety you can’t cope? It doesn’t matter how much you try to explain to my daughter that the reality is only one child will win and statistically that is very unlikely to be her, she will then argue that is ‘should be’ and ‘could be’ her so she plays with the attitude of ‘I am going to win because I want to’. While this is admirable and makes her play well and push through her social anxiety about joining in, it all falls apart very suddenly when she doesn’t win. It’s a catch 22 situation because if she accepted she was unlikely to win she would never agree to join in in the first place! I. Her mind she has already played out the game already. That’s the only way her anxiety will allow her to play but her imagination has her winning so when the reality is different the crash is big. Expectation vessel reality is always a hard one for everyone.

5. The Inability To See Things From Others Viewpoint

My daughter isn’t selfish. She is actually one of the most empathetic children there is but when it comes to games her anxiety becomes so high she goes into self preservation mode. In that mode she can’t look at someone else’s point of view so forcing her to congratulate the winner won’t work. She feels cheated and angry at the winner so how can she say ‘well done’ to them? Her own feelings and upset become so huge they are overpowering preventing her from having empathy for anyone else at that precise moment.

6. The Lack Of Control

One of the hardest things about any sort of game, wether it’s snakes and ladders or musical bumps, for an autistic child can be the absolute lack of control they have over any of it. The randomness of what you may thrown on a dice, or having an itchy nose when you should be frozen in musical statues is uncontrollable and that can bring huge anxiety to many children. They can’t predict and they are out of their comfort zone which can cause upset, frustration and challenging behaviour.

You would think with all that my daughter would hate games. In fact the irony is she loves them! Yet no matter how many different games we play she still finds it deeply distressing to lose.

The important thing is I recognise that and I understand and we continue to work on good sportsmanship often.

Like everything it’s about patience, understanding and compassion.

So the next time you see a child crying because they lost at pass the parcel or getting angry because they were ‘out’ at musical chairs spare a thought for the difficulties they are dealing with and remember we can all struggle to lose…especially when it comes to football!