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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My children have autism: I need therapy more than they do.


I remember the very first day I admitted to myself that my children were struggling. They were both 18 months old and neither of them were walking. One never gave eye contact not did he interact much and he had no language. The other could not crawl or roll or even pull herself up. Both relied on routine for everything!

 
I remember one Friday late afternoon making a call to my health visitor and leaving a tearful message on his answer phone.
Looking back that afternoon epitomises the entire point of this blog. Here was I in tears worried about my children while they were happy sitting on the couch watching TV.

 

They were happy…it was me who was sad.


As time went on and appointments started piling up for them both it became quickly apparent that I needed to do every bit as much as my children. Occupational therapists gave ME exercises to do with them, speech and language therapists sent ME on a course while the children were happy at home in their routine with babysitters. The paediatrician gave ME advice while only briefly examining my twins. Early intervention support relied on ME doing more with the children to ‘bring them on’. It felt clearly that I was to blame.

 

While my son scanned object after object across his eye line repetitively, happy doing his own thing, I was silently breaking my heart. When all the other children ran into nursery while my daughter needed carried in, I was the one who emotionally struggled.

 

When my non verbal, not toilet trained, highly delayed son started full time school years later he settled much quicker than I did. He assumed everyone would look after him while I knew otherwise. He had no awareness of the danger of getting into a taxi without mum (he hardly acknowledged who I was) nor any concept of what school was and just went with the flow. Meanwhile my anxiety rose to a whole new level knowing I was unable to know anything about his day, who he was with, what he had eaten or wether or not people were looking after my vulnerable baby.

 
I needed support to help me with that constant anxiety. 

 
When my son has extreme meltdowns lasting hours and he is unable to communicate why, that affects us both. The fact I now have an 8 year old who I still can not communicate with on any meaningful level has damaged me.

 
I need help to work through my feelings of failure. 

 
When I see other children riding bikes, playing with friends, going to dancing or any other of hundreds of ‘normal’ things both my children really struggle with my heart breaks.

 
I need people to understand that some times I need to mourn for the things my children will never achieve.

 
My body is carrying a heavy load. I am on full alert 24/7. I have professionals watching our every move, quick to point out if they feel my children’s struggles are down to my parenting. My mind is constantly alert thinking of our next appointment, the next thing I need to prepare my children for or the next person I need to chase up. After years that affects your body and your mind in ways you can not control.

 
I have had counselling and also have to take tablets to keep depression at bay. My thyroid is whacked and my blood pressure keeps rising. My adrenal glands are failing.

 
My doctors tell me to ‘rest’ but autism never rests. As a parent to two children with autism I can not afford to rest. There is no time off.

 
My children are generally happy. The world they live in is safe and predictable. I need to keep it that way to protect them. They need me. The reality is they always will.

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They are perfect the way they are. They don’t even see themselves as different. It is because I am NOT autistic that I see things differently. I see how they could be mistreated and abused. I see them struggling to get jobs. I see my son requiring support all his life and never living independently. I see their vulnerability. I see their lack of social understanding. I see their need for constant routine. I see their naivety.

 
They don’t need therapy to help them cope with any of that. But I do. 

When your child is diagnosed with autism and then dumped

img_6296When I broke the news on my social media that my child had just been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder I had a mixture of comments. Some people were sympathetic, others shocked, and others commented along the lines of ‘this should help you get him all the help and support now.’

It is incredibly common to hear that. But it is a myth.

Both of my children were diagnosed with autism and then dumped.

Having a diagnosis has not enabled them to get the support they need.

Even with a diagnosis my non verbal son still can’t access NHS speech therapy.

Even with a diagnosis neither of them are currently receiving occupation therapy despite both of them having acute sensory needs and neither able to do self care such as dressing themselves.

In actual fact BECAUSE my daughter has a diagnosis of autism she has actually been REFUSED access to mental health services.

They have been discharged by educational psychologists claiming there is no need for ongoing support.

Despite being diagnosed their educational support plans are continually threatened with closure.

Even our trusted community paediatrician who has been monitoring their development for almost 8 years is suggesting discharge since there is apparently little more she can do to help.

On the actual day of diagnosis we were handed and leaflet and sent on our way. This is happening to so many thousands of others and it needs to stop. Families are emotionally vulnerable, confused, desperate for support and looking for hope. One leaflet is not ok.

IMG_2182My children had more professional support BEFORE they were diagnosed than they have had after!

Before they were diagnosed we had an abundance of meetings, successful claims for dla with huge backing from every professional we came into contact with, access to specialist nursery provision, comprehensive educational support plans in place for them both, a weekly visit from a learning support teacher, fortnightly speech and language and physiotherapist and occupational therapists support. We had six monthly paediatrician clinics and referrals to any other services we needed.

After diagnosis everyone seemed keen to discharge us.

We were diagnosed and just dumped.

We are not alone.

The system seems to come to a crescendo after diagnosis then leave families hanging…alone, confused and vulnerable.

No wonder so many autism families feel let down and despondent.

We were build up and emotionally prepared for diagnosis only to be ignored afterwards.

Families need much more than a leaflet when their child is diagnosed and better ongoing support needs to be in place.

Only then can we perhaps stop this awful policy of diagnosis children and dumping them.

This article first appeared here

Raising A Child With Autism Who Has Too Much Empathy

 

 

 

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There is a commonly held belief in society that people with autism lack empathy. Every time I hear this statement I wonder if they have met my daughter.

I am raising a child diagnosed with autism who actually struggles with TOO MUCH EMPATHY.

Here is what it is like:

A few months ago I received a call from the office at my daughter’s school. Due to her autism my daughter struggles with huge anxiety and selective mutism. The school were calling to say my daughter was very upset but they could not work out why. I went down to the school expecting her to have been injured or perhaps bullied. Neither of these were true. My daughter was highly distressed in school because she had witnessed her friend fall over in the playground and cut herself. Long after her friend had had her wound cleaned up, dressed and returned to the classroom, my little girl was still crying for her friend. She later told me she felt as if her own leg had been cut and worried that her friend may have still been in pain. She took on another persons pain and tried to carry that for them. That is the deepest sort of empathy you can ever get.

Prior to this a few weeks before she had walked home from school with me very quietly and deep in thought. She looked like a child who had been in trouble at school that day and who was carrying the burden of guilt. Since she is a child who would never once consider breaking any rules I was naturally worried why she was so downcast. She spent the entire night withdrawn until at bedtime she broke down in tears in my arms. Another child had been moved down the behaviour chart to red that day and her tender heart was utterly broken for them. She truly felt every emotion you would have expected had it been herself it had happened to. She was disappointed, angry, upset and confused. She had this huge amount of stress on her shoulders that didn’t even belong to her yet she had no means of taking any of it away. Despite the crime not being her doing she was determined to punish herself for the wrong doing of another person. As admirable and self sacrificing as that is it is so unhealthy for any 8 year old to bear.

My daughter with autism takes everything to heart. She feels the pain of others like it has been done directly to herself. If someone shouts at anyone and she hears it she feels that voice piecing her fragile self worth like they were shouting directly at her. She takes on blame that is not hers. If I have her at the doctors and someone sneezes she feels responsible and begs me to make them better.

It is harder to live with a child who has too much empathy than not enough. Why? Because you can teach a child to understand the pain of others but it is so much harder to teach them to let the pain of others go when it does not belong to them. You can teach children to care but how do you teach them to stop caring when they care too much?

Having an over empathetic child on the autism spectrum means living with a perfectionist. You see she not only needs to be perfect for herself to prevent disapproval from others but she also feels she has to be perfect for everyone else too so that everyone around her is happy, safe and well.

img_0043The consequences of that are mental health issues, low self esteem and a vulnerability that worries me as a parent so much.

It is vitally important that professionals understand this in order to help my daughter and others like her. Over empathy is so misunderstood and ignored but is is real and it is very concerning.

Everyone who meets my daughter comments on her caring and loving nature. As a parent I am so proud of her and amazed at her incredible innate natural ability to reach out and empathise with others but I also worry she takes this to a level that is very unhealthy.

Could you imagine a nurse who feels the pain of every patient she treats? Or a teacher who breaks down every time a child in her class gets something wrong? Or a check out assistant who feels such empathy for every customer they want to pay for everything themselves?

My child’s future depends on professionals and myself helping her. With so much emphasis on the fact people with autism LACK empathy rather than having TOO MUCH empathy sadly I have a battle on my hands for support.

I thought raising a daughter with autism would be difficult but I had no idea how hard it would be to raise a daughter with autism who also struggles with too much empathy.

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Three things that happen when your autistic child is different at home and at school

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I am going through a very difficult time with my son. This morning he was carried to his taxi by my husband and myself kicking and screaming. He was stressed, his sister terrified and I was anxious and worried.
I haven’t called the school and asked if he is ok because I know what they will say.
He is not like that in school

Reports from school don’t marry with the child at home at all. In school he conforms, is settled and appears happy. At home he can be violent, unpredictable and highly distressed. This creates some problems for school, home and professionals. The great divide between home and school is a huge challenge and I am not alone in struggling with this.

When my autistic child is different in school it makes parents feel they are to blame.

When the common denominator for the challenging behaviour and meltdowns is home it is all too easy for professionals and schools to jump to the conclusion that bad parenting is to blame. We are accused of lack of discipline, lack of stability, lack of structure, feeding our children the wrong food and even not loving them enough! Just because a child has the ability to ‘hold it together’ in a very controlled environment all day and releases the lid on their frustrations, stressed and anxieties at home does not mean home life is awful. In fact the opposite is true! If a child did not feel secure, loved and safe they would continue to ‘hold it together’ at home for fear of releasing their true feelings.
Instead of blaming parents, schools and professionals should be more understanding of the difference between home and school and more willing to listen when their ‘perfect’ child is presenting totally different outside the school gates.

When my autistic child is different in school it makes accessing support very challenging.

So many parents know their child needs support from CAMHS or social work or speech and language but continually get denied these services due to presentation within a school setting. It is frustrating and damaging for so many children who put on a front within the classroom but who inside are screaming out for help. The system is loaded too much to the side of education where if referrals are put in from schools these are readily accepted yet a parent refers to the same service and the referral is often refused. There is still a huge assumption in the system that if a child truly had problems these would manifest in all settings the same. So parents get left to pick up the pieces of broken children by themselves with little support and hundreds of vulnerable children fall through the system because they are ‘good’ in school.
Perhaps if schools spoke to children or were more aware of stresses within the classroom environment for children with autism like noise, lights and the stress of conforming all day they may be more willing to support referrals for children who seem like Jekyll and Hyde.

When my autistic child is different in school it appears I am lying.

I have been at the meeting when all eyes are on me and I know they think I am lying, or at best exaggerating. I should never have to do it but I have resorted to videos and photographs of my child at times to prove that what I say actually happened. Would staff at school have to do this if the opposite was true and he was angelic at home but violent in school? Everyone at the meeting would be jumping in to support the teacher or school support staff if they were scratched or bitten or pushed by my son but as his mother it is seen as outrageous that I accept this behaviour at home. When I mention strategies we have put in place to help support my child at home and how these are not working some days they once again assume I am lying. It makes parents feel so alone, so belittled and unworthy. We already feel like a failure and those feeling are just made worse when schools give more and more examples of wonderful behaviour at school in answer to every incident at home that is mentioned. He punched his sister at home but shared his pencils with another child in school the same afternoon! He had a complete meltdown over homework yet got full marks in his spelling test the same day! It can be the same child and the sooner professionals and schools understand this the better for everyone. Have they never been professional and polite to someone in their job only to go home and let off steam by moaning at their husband or shouting at a driver who cuts them up?

I know what it is like to see my child happy, flappy and a delight to be with. I also know how hard it is for him and myself to see him so distressed he can not control what he is doing. Like thousands of other autism parents I experience the great divide, the Jekyll and Hyde of autism, on a daily basis.

Put me into different environments like an interview, a prison, a party or a holiday and you will see me change to suit my environment. My child with autism is no different.

I need people to see this and understand.

A thank you letter to the friend who told me I had depression

My dear friend,

It was just after my children had returned to school after the long summer holidays. The weather was still decent and the house quiet, yet I had no motivation.

Summer with two children with autism had drained me. There just seemed to be nothing left of me to give. I sat on the couch with a cup of tea and logged onto social media. It was my escape.

All you did was start a chat.

“How are you?”

I was fine. Of course I was fine. I was just tired after seven weeks of non stop coping with my children day and night. I adore my children. They were now back at school and routine was re-established so why would I be anything else but contented, happy and relaxed.

We chatted briefly for a bit while I scrolled through pics of smart children in uniforms, smiling selfies and the usual other tweets and statuses. Today I was just not feeling it for some reason.

I was exhausted. I convinced myself that was it. It was the change from having a noisy, chaotic house for seven weeks to having silence. It was the lack of sleep that comes with having children with autism. It was the one too many meltdowns I had dealt with. It was the isolation of summer. It was the facing another school year of my son still not speaking. It was the thought of another term full of meetings, forms, homework, appointments and even more meetings. It was the anxiety of wondering how my children were coping with huge changes and the thought of how they would be when they came home and we had the brunt of all that stress. It was wondering how to reconnect with my husband who I had barely had a chance to speak to for seven weeks alone. A mix of everything; that was what was wrong today. Tomorrow I would be fine.

An hour or so later, and still sitting on that sofa, my doorbell rang.

Of course it was you.

“I’m worried about you.”

So we chatted face to face for a bit. I just needed a down day I told you. Let me catch up with some sleep and get my house in order and all will be fine. Maybe I just need to get my hair cut or something? Perhaps a bit of retail therapy would get my spark back?

“Perhaps you should go see your doctor?” You said.

Why would my doctor want to see me? Antibiotics or painkillers won’t help me. I don’t feel ‘ill’?

“You may be depressed?”

Who me? Really?

I called the doctor in the end, if nothing else just to get you off my back.

Thank you for pushing me. Thank you for caring enough to reach out to me. Thank you for noticing me struggling.

Yes, you were right, I was depressed. I never expected that. Maybe you did? Maybe you were able to see something I couldn’t?

I am not sure if you remember that day as much as I do? It was seven months ago now but it changed my life. The doctor gave me tablets and I am so much stronger, more motivated and happier now.

One day I may be well enough to come off them. For now the stress and strain of everyday life with two young children with autism means I need them. I am not ashamed of that. Why should I be?

I am just ashamed I never sought help sooner.

I will never forget you my friend. I have not seen you in person for a while now but you were there at the right time and I am grateful for that.

You taught me to look after myself. You also taught me that sometimes love and care means stepping out when you think someone is struggling.

I just want you to know that I am looking out for others now just as you looked out for me.

You taught me that sometimes others can have an insight that the person themselves can not see.

You taught me that friendship and social media can be a way to spot things in others and help them.

You were more than a virtual friend, you were there when I needed you.

Thank you again.

I really hope all is well with you and yours.

In gratitude forever,

One of your social media friends.

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To the woman on the helpline

I called you today in desperation.

Yes, I am stressed and sadly you got to witness that in all it’s glory. Thankfully we will (hopefully) never meet. I ended today’s conversation in tears and there was so much I didn’t get to explain. The fact I even got to speak to you when both my children were in the same room as me is pretty amazing in itself. You probably think I am crazy so I hope this shows I am maybe not as crazy as you first thought. If I came across as emotional, stubborn, even perhaps agitated, I hope this letter makes you realise it wasn’t you I was getting at. I am just a mummy desperate to help my baby and today that happened to involve you.

I honestly don’t make a habit of calling helplines and crying for assistance. Sometimes I just don’t know how else to make my child better.

You see when I called you this was what my six-year-old was doing:

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She is sick. Again. For four weeks now she has had a cough that just won’t budge. She is already underweight. The doctors say she has a chest infection and the day before I called she was given her second dose of antibiotics in just two weeks. No mum can bear to see their child unwell. It is like a stab to their own heart and they would do ANYTHING in their power to get them better. The thing is to get better my daughter needs to eat and drink. Unfortunately this is a real challenge at the best of times and a hundred times worse when she is sick.

She has a very limited diet. She always has done. The only two things she has drunk since coming off breast milk is cows milk and a certain brand of orange squash that happens to be made by the company who employs you.

The doctor said milk would make her condition worse. So that only left the juice. I went to make her some and realised we had just run out. Her dad popped to the shops for some. He couldn’t find any. So he drove to another shop. Same problem. We just could not understand why this was, so he tried a few more shops. Still no sign of the juice. I tried tempting my daughter with so many other drinks. She would not take anything and was crying for her favourite orange drink.

When Naomi gets something in her head nothing but nothing will shift it. She smells everything to make sure it is right before it passes her lips. She examines what it looks like and often feels the temperature and texture too. She has sensory difficulties which affect her eating. She has rigid thinking which means she likes things as they always are. She struggles with change. She needs routine in order to feel safe. She has a condition called autism. She wanted her juice and would dehydrate rather than drink anything else. My heart was breaking for her so I thought I would just call and ask if you knew where I could purchase some of her juice.

I wasn’t intending crying on you, honestly.

Then you told me the worse thing you possible could ever say. And that is why I cried.

You told me you had stopped making her juice and you had no plans to make it again. Just like that you broke my daughters heart. And that broke my heart.

In the six and half years of living with my children’s autism I have rarely been so desperate. I remember pleading with you to help me. I remember saying she has autism and yet you said there was nothing you could do. I had to hang up I was so upset.

Your company now see me as a pest. I have written on your social media sites about my daughter and created a storm you don’t like. Kind people from throughout the UK have been looking out for the juice, buying, posting, bringing it to my house and giving me online links to buy it. There is a massive autism community out there and we stick together.

Today it was my daughter and your company. Tomorrow it could be another child and another company.

It is not my daughter being stubborn or obnoxious refusing to drink anything else. This is autism. It affects children and adults. Change has to be gradual, supported and is a process, sometimes taking years. It can not be done when someone is unwell. Sometimes, despite everything we try, change still never happens until the person is ready.

You shook my little girls world. You devastated mine. I do understand you were simply the messenger, the call handler, the employee. So I am sorry you witnessed this mamma breaking down.

My world is fragile. My daughter is fragile. I just never realised quite how fragile we both were until I called you.

Thank you for understanding,

One stressed and emotional mum.

P.S. Naomi is now much better thanks to us getting some juice eventually. We took her to a shop today but she refuses to walk down the drinks aisle because her juice isn’t there anymore. And she keeps repeating ‘why can daddy not buy my juice?’.
I just can’t answer that one.
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