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

 

Five Christmas gifts to give to a special needs parent

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I used to think it was only children who were asked in December ‘what would you like for Christmas?‘. It seems as a parent I still get asked this. I tend to answer like most parents do with a simple ‘oh I have everything I need already thanks’ or the soppy mum variation of ‘my kids are all I could ever want and more.’

Both are true to an extent. My life is very full of smiles, blessings, love and joy but as a full time carer for two children with extra needs life is also very full of other things like hospital appointments, meetings, therapy and endless paperwork!

So what would be good Christmas presents for a special needs parent like me?

How about the following:

1. A listening ear.
We all have our own burdens to carry and none of us are without problems in life, yet so often we become so engrossed in our own busyness we forget to take time to listen to others. Giving me your time to just talk while you listen without judgement or trying to ‘fix’ things is one of the greatest gifts I could get all year round. Come visit me at home while we have coffee, or sit with me in the hospital waiting room. I may seem like I am coping but silently I pray for someone who cares enough to listen to my worries and my struggles. If you can’t physically be with me being at the end of a phone or even letting me let off steam via email or message is such a precious gift. You may not be able to wrap up your ears under the tree but if you could loan me them sometimes that would be amazing.

2. A shoulder to cry on.
Some days are just overwhelming. Some mornings by the time I have managed to get the children safely to school I am exhausted and emotional. Lack of sleep, worry for the future and constant battles on behalf of my children become weary. I, like so many other special needs parents, long for a safe and tender place to cry where we feel free and accepted to pour out our hearts. We need that release in order to gain strength to face another day. We need to let the stress come out in our tears knowing there is no shame in showing weakness. Could you be those shoulders? Will you let me cry without question and hand me the tissues without needing to tell me I am over reacting? That would be a gift that can not be measured this Christmas.

3. An encouraging word.
Few people truly realise how negative the world of special needs parenting can be. Forms ask for things your child is unable to do, assessments focus on your child’s shortfalls, teachers comment on how your child is not hitting targets like the others. Hospital appointments bring news that breaks your heart and even the simplest appointments like the dentist are utterly draining. Then add the guilt that your child can’t talk, or walk yet or play like other children. While other children achieve at sports, or drama or art your child excels more at loud outbursts, screaming endlessly or staying awake all night. Encouraging words are few and far between in my world so a little text, or message or a simple smile goes a long long way to helping brighten my day. An unexpected card saying ‘I care’ is like an oasis in a drought. It is beautiful, precious and priceless. You simply can’t give this gift often enough to a special needs parent.

4. Practical help.
I would never expect anyone else to have to see to my children’s personal needs nor do I expect anyone to be up all night long with them. However, there are some small very practical things though that anyone can do for a special needs parent that can make a huge difference. How about holding the door open when you see them pushing a wheelchair? Or holding the lift to save them waiting longer with a distressed child? If you see them carrying a child into a car seat in the supermarket car park why not offer to take their trolley back for them? These small gestures of kindness mean the world to someone who often feels ignored or invisible. Kindness and practical support never ever go unnoticed to a special needs parent and they restore our faith in humanity. Christmas is an ideal time to make a special effort to help the special needs parent as places are busier, louder and more chaotic than usual but remember a little help all year round would never go amiss.

5. Finally be respectful.
It is so easy at this time of year when the weather is awful and time is tight to just park in that disabled space for two minutes while you just nip in for bread. You may never ever think of doing that at any other time but for me as a parent of two disabled children this is a time when I need those spaces even more so. The same with the disabled toilet. I understand this time of year means most public toilets have queues and you don’t mean to upset anyone. However, these facilities are so precious to families like mine and our loved ones need that space and privacy to have their personal needs met by someone else. We don’t have the privilege of being able to wait. Please don’t push that disabled trolley away in your haste to get to the smaller on at the back. Having a soaking wet trolley may be annoying to you but to those of us who rely on specialist seating for our disabled children having an icy, snowy seat prohibits us from going shopping at all. Your thoughts and respect at Christmas mean a lot.

I realise now I do actually want a few things for Christmas this year. I want friendship, time, love and respect and those are not things money can buy, yet they are the most special and perfect gifts any special needs parent could want not just at Christmas but throughout the year.

Could you give me any of these? Do you know a special needs parent who could do with some Christmas magic? Let them know you care today. It could make this Christmas the best one they have ever had.

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This post first appeared here

The secret epidemic affecting special needs parents

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I had a message from a fellow special needs parent this week. Two words of that message have impacted on me greatly. She wrote:

I’m struggling

It is so common for me to hear this. It is the centre piece of every support group, the most common theme on online  forums, the single most heard words when I meet up with people.

For some of those parents it is so bad that I encourage them to see a doctor for support.

In my years as a special needs parent I have found there is a secret epidemic affecting so many special needs parents and it needs talked about: We need to talk about depression.

Depression in the special needs mum or dad is so understandable but too often goes unnoticed.

People see a mum crying and think she is having a bad day. What they don’t know about is all the other nights she cried in private and no-one knew.

My eyes are more tuned to see people struggling since I have walked that path. I know what it is like to look at my child and worry for his future. I know what it is like to feel there is no hope. I recognise that feeling of failure when you realise your child is just not developing as they should. I know the pain of taking your child to hospital when they should be outside playing with friends.

It is isolating when your child has special needs and it is ok to admit that.

Society sadly expects us to be positive, upbeat and encouraging and often I see parents who are so emotionally overwhelmed, so sleep deprived, so beaten down by the system, that they have so little hope.

When you have a child who struggles in school everyday, a child who won’t eat, or has no friends, or is being bullied for being different, or who can not play in a park as the equipment is unsuitable for their needs, how would you feel? If you child was denied the support they need, or could not communicate, or is living in pain every day would you not be heartbroken?

Is it any wonder there is an epidemic of depression among parents of children with autism?

While so many are on medication, and this is vital, we also as a society need to recognise that special needs parenting is exhausting and draining.

Medication is wonderful but what about better support and understanding for our children, better care for those in society who are full time carers, training for staff so they can better meet the needs of the most vulnerable, and a society less prone to judge and quicker to encourage?

The current epidemic of depression among autism families is concerning but what worries me more is that continual budget cuts and ignorance in society is breeding not only depression among the parents but sadly I am now seeing siblings, and even special needs children themselves, struggling with the same issues.

We need to recognise this epidemic and do something about it now.

Don’t ever be afraid to tell someone you a real struggling. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help. Together we can support each other and help make a better future for us and our children.

 

This post first appeared here.

When the local children mocked my son with special needs

img_5960For months we had watched a new children’s play park being build behind our house. We had walked along to see it with excitement and I checked the plans to see what equipment would be suitable for my children, especially for my son who has significant support needs.

I saw advertisements for an opening event but knew this would be more than both my children with autism would be able to cope with, so I never mentioned it to my daughter. Instead, later that evening when the event was over, I put their socks and shoes on and surprised them with a walk around to the new park for the first time.

There were no roads to cross but I still had to hold both their hands tightly since neither has any awareness of danger, but once in the enclosed park I allowed my son to run ahead flapping with excitement. I opened the gate and guided the children in. It was early evening but still daylight and it was no surprise that they were the youngest children there. The park was busy and noisy though with older children and teenagers, yet not one parent in sight. I was unsure if my children would cope but what happened next made me realise that it would not be my children who would struggle but actually me!

 

 

img_5958As my son laughed and walked around stimming I helped my daughter climb to get to the slide. As she climbed up a bunch of children ran towards her shouting, having climbed up the slide and over the top of the frame she was on. I looked round to see another bunch of children running in circles around my son laughing in his face. My children were shocked and scared. They had come to play not be tormented in their local playground!

The more I asked the older kids to leave my children alone the more they seemed to annoy them. They spun the roundabout with my son on far quicker than he was happy with making him scream. They mocked his stimming and noises and ran amok round all the swings and apparatus. It was as if they saw how vulnerable my children were and that made them an instant target. It was awful.

I shouted at them to stop. There were no adults around and the kids were clearly not caring. They poked at my son, knocked into him and climbed on whatever he was playing on. My non verbal son with vision impairment and severe autism was oblivious to what they were doing. The more he made noises and flapped the more they laughed and pointed. His twin sister thought they were being ‘silly’ and kept asking why big children were in a little kids park.

img_5955I played with my children and tried to ignore them. I took ‘happy pics’ and planned to post them to Facebook when I got home. People don’t like hearing the bad stuff so I was just going to head those pics up with ‘fun in the park’. My children did have fun. Unfortunately for them other children also had fun at their expense.

I wonder if the parents of those older children have any idea what their kids were up to that Saturday evening? My twins are unaware of what really happened that night, but I am. In an era where disability awareness is common place and inclusion in schools is the norm it scares me that other children still see bullying and mocking kids with special needs something entertaining.

My local authority website boasts that this new park has equipment that is ‘inclusive’ for all children. They have changed some apparatus but sadly we still have a long way to go to change attitudes before I can once again take my children to the park without fear of local children mocking my son with special needs.

img_5959We will be back at that park soon. My son will once again flap, spin and make noises. My daughter will want in the baby swing and will sit on the roundabout with her brother. She will go down the slide again and again and again. My children thrive with repetition. Let’s just hope the local children don’t repeat the bullying I witnessed of my son last weekend.

The park changed. Now it is time to change hearts and minds too.

How setting up a just giving page changed things for my family.

Most of us find it very difficult to ask for help. It is often seen as a sign of weakness in society and a sign that you are desperate.

Recently I found myself asking for help for that very reason; I was desperate.

I had to let go of my pride and allow others the opportunity to support me.

 

Gwynne - 20151003 -33 - highWe were going through a time of crisis as a family as my son’s MRI results showed upsetting results with his eye sight. As well as autism my son has the genetic condition neurofibromatosis type 1 and a routine scan showed one eye has microphthalmia and his other eye has an optic glioma. Both are very significant conditions that require long term care and close maintenance and both can leave him blind. Currently one eye has next to no vision already.
He is non verbal with classic autism. He has global developmental delay and sensory processing difficulties. He has severe learning difficulties. Life is not easy for him.

My daughter also has autism and huge anxiety. She has mental health struggles and an eating disorder.

Both children require a lot of support and I am a full time carer for them.

My sons challenging behaviour and my daughters anxiety meant they would both benefit enormously from a room to relax and chill out in. We were regulars at special needs places and I knew both of them loved visiting sensory rooms. I wondered if having one of our own would help them.

I looked into costs, funding, ways to build one and equipment that would benefit them both. The financial costs made me cry. Even with funding support it was impossible for us to build a sensory room on our own. Then I came across just giving.

I hesitated.

Was it right to ask others to support us when there are so many other good causes out there? Could I swallow my pride and allow others to help? Would anyone even care?

Almost reluctantly I set up the page and put it on my social media. As people began to give I cried again. With every donation I wanted to hug people. Every email notification on my phone make my heart skip a beat.

Just giving showed me people cared.
Just giving showed me we were not alone.
Just giving enabled people who don’t even know us to invest in my family.
Just giving reconnected me with friends and relatives I had lost contact with as word spread and my image was shared.
Just giving made my dream of a sensory room for my autistic twins come true.

By the end of the 30 days our target was not only met but exceeded. We had a custom build shed made and installed and ordered the equipment with excitement and gratitude.

 

It IS making a difference. More than I ever imagined it would. Every single penny given has been used and has changed my family.

When my son is frustrated he has somewhere to go and calm down that relaxes him and excites him.
When my daughters anxiety gets too overwhelming she has somewhere to go to destress away from people and events that overload her.
It has enhanced and developed their relationship and brought joy to my entire family.

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The room will grow with them and change to meet their needs as required.

 

Instead of crying we are now dancing together. We are more relaxed as a family thanks to every single person who clicked ‘donate’ on our page.

Just giving changed my family. It was hard to let people help but so worth it.

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is really a sign of strength. Never be afraid of letting others help make your dream come true.

Just look how happy my children are in the sensory room.

Thank you to everyone who made this possible.

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How my sons inability to speak is tearing our relationship apart.

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This is something I have never written about before or admitted to anyone, but I have always struggled with my relationship with my son compared to his sister. I don’t love him any less nor do I favour one above the other but there is something that prevents me being as close to him as I am to his sister: his inability to speak.
The older he gets the more it is literally tearing us apart and that breaks my heart.

We are both trying, we are determined to try and overcome this but no matter what we do it is always there lurking like a dark shadow.

We play together, we ‘read’ together (well I read to him!), we share games and we eat together but it is incredibly hard to reach into him when he is non verbal. That breaks my heart. Having no spoken language at all really affects my son so much.

Having no language at all at almost 8 years old has forced him to be more independent.
He can’t ask for help or even ask for something to eat. So he uses his physical skills to open the fridge and help himself or open the front door and take himself out. The other night he took himself to bed because he was unwell. He has in the past brought me a cup or a bottle of juice and I have found him sitting at the table with an empty plate in front of him too. I would love to be able to hear him simply say ‘mummy, I have a sore head.’ Or ‘can I have something to drink please.’. He won’t always have access to the bottle of juice or cup to let others know what he wants.

Having no language is making him frustrated and angry.
imageI know if, like his sister, he could talk about his day at school and let us know what has upset him we could help him calm down and share his day with us. When he looks at a box of toys and points it is incredibly upsetting for him when we continually have to guess what it is he wants and we frequently get it wrong. He gets upset at certain programmes on the television but has no way of telling me why so he gets angry instead. He finds open doors highly distressing but has no means to tell me why so instead he becomes frustrated and violent. Speech would help us resolve all these issues. Some will be quick to suggest sign language or picture communication but these are so limited and his inability to make the right sign or find a relevant picture just make him even more angry and frustrated.

Having no language means he is at the mercy of others to communicate on his behalf.
Could you imagine having a wonderful holiday, printing out all your photographs and yet someone who wasn’t even there with you decides to tell everyone about YOUR holiday without allowing you to say a word? I am certain you would find that irritating and annoying and you would become very cross. This is what is happening every single day when I send my non verbal son to school. Adults dictate what information I receive on my sons behalf and tell me (if I am lucky enough!) about the experiences he has had. It’s not what I want. It’s not what my son wants either! He wants to be able to tell me about his day, his way! When I pick my daughter up from school she tells me about her favourite pencil breaking, the games she played at playtime and the funny shaped banana a child had in their packed lunch box! This is life from her perspective and something I can never ever get from her brother. A huge chunk of his day is a mystery to me and he has no language to enable that gap to be bridged. Have you any idea how difficult and heartbreaking that is for us both? It rips our relationship apart.

Having no language is life limiting for him.
He will never be able to read to me, or to anyone else. He won’t ever be able to use his voice to tell a joke or share a story. He won’t be able to sing or even give me cheek. As he gets older he will not be able to use his voice to ask a girl out or even say ‘I do’ on his wedding day. Asking the price of an item in a shop, asking directions, even telling the bus driver where he wants to go are all going to be difficult if not impossible. He is likely to need someone with him to support him throughout his life. Using a telephone is never going to be easy and connecting with other people will always be much more complicated.

We have tried alternative methods of communication. We spent years trying makaton but he can’t manage the signs himself and is struggling with picture communication too.

I know if he could speak so many things would be different. I know if he could speak we would be so much closer. How do I know this? Because he has a twin sister and my bond with her is strengthened every single day through language. She tells me about her day at school, her worries, her achievements. We play together and I join in her games because language enables us to play together. She reads to me and with me. She can tell me what she wants and I can listen. She shares her emotions, her ideas; her life with me through talking.

The more she talks to me the more we bond. The less my son is able to say the communicate the more our relationship is strained.

I am working on my relationship with my son every day. We have a very special bond and a deep love but there remains an invisible problem between us that is tearing us apart: the fact he is non verbal.

If I could change anything it would be that he would one day be able to speak to me. If only love could make him talk…

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When you don’t feel ‘enough’ as a special needs parent

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By 4pm the panic was setting in. Later afternoon is the time it mostly hits. I begin to think about dinner, cleaning up, baths, stories, and hopefully bedtime, and I realise yet another day has passed and things haven’t changed. When my children eventually settle to sleep my mind will run through all the missed opportunities, all the forms I never quite had time to fill in and all the moments I left my children to entertain themselves. Did I do enough today to help them? Did I do any of the exercises the physiotherapist told me I should? Did I ensure my daughter had her insoles in to correct the turn in her feet? Did I teach them anything or encourage any social skills?

Even if I did something, was it enough?

If I read my children’s speech reports I am reminded of all the times today I forgot to use pictures to reinforce understanding, and why do I suddenly remember all about makaton signs the second my child has fallen asleep?
Then I remind myself I am not a speech and language therapist. Even more important I am not MY CHILD’S speech and language therapist. I am his mum. I can never be ‘enough’ for his speech and language development as that is not my speciality. So I could do more! What parent can say they honestly do all the exercises with their speech delayed child all the time?

If I read my child’s physiotherapy report my heart sinks. Once again another day has passed and we never did those leg strengthening exercises she hates, or invented games that required rolling. When I was busy cooking I noticed she was sitting in that ‘W’ shape again and I left her too it. I never did enough. Actually I don’t think I have ever done enough to satisfy her physical needs. I feel guilt about that daily but then I am sure all parents feel like this sometimes? Maybe it is just me?

I left my non verbal son to watch videos on his iPad today. Not the most ideal thing according to therapists I know, but sometimes I just can’t do it all. I even put my two autistic children in the car and went somewhere today without first reading them a social story about it, showing visuals and going through the route on google street maps! Oh dear, no brownie points for me today!

The fact is they survived. I survived. We lived to see another day, and yes I will always feel guilt at what we didn’t do in terms of therapy or research or exercises, but in many other ways I was more than enough for my children today.

They had more than enough of my time.
They had more than enough to eat and drink.
They have more than enough toys and technology.
They have more than enough clothes to wear.
They have more than enough access to medical and educational support.
They have more than enough love.

Fellow special needs mum, remember this: never let any professional make you feel less than enough. Never let your child’s struggles make you feel less than as a parent. You ARE enough! Your love, encouragement, support and dedication WILL be enough. Did you make it through another day? You were enough today and you will be enough tomorrow.

Never ever forget that!

This post first appeared here.