Do you ever wish you could ‘switch off’ your child’s autism?

Sometimes I do.

When I just need to get bread and milk from the local supermarket and I’m tired, in a hurry and just want ‘in and out,’ I wish I could ‘switch off’ my child’s difficulties with the music, crowds, smells, his absolute NEED to see the lift and his inability to stay beside me safely. Just ten minutes without autism would make that task easier…for us both.

When he’s crying in pain and unable to communicate why or where it hurts. How frustrating and distressing that is for us both. I wish I could ‘switch off’ his communication difficulties just long enough for me to be able to understand and help him.

When I am attempting to make a packed lunch for a school trip and I’m in tears because ‘lunch’ to him means a hot meal and I know everything I make will be refused. Just a half hour meal with autism ‘switched off’ would be a blessing for me, but more so for him. I know he doesn’t want to be so rigid but he just can’t prevent it.

When there’s roadworks and I need to drive a different route. To watch his face screw up in disgust and confusion followed by the onset of tears and challenging behaviour is torture for us both. I wish we could ‘switch off’ autism, just during the journey, not forever.

When I need to get medication into him. Just one minute of autism ‘turned off’ would allow vital epilepsy medication to be swallowed so much easier. While things are improving it is often very challenging and distressing for everyone. Antibiotics leave us both traumatised.

Right now though more than anything I wish I could ‘switch off’ severe autism as we face a period of very challenging medical difficulties. My non verbal son has recently been diagnosed with a growing brain tumour. He needs multiple anaesthetic’s and a brain tumour biopsy followed by possible treatment that will be invasive, challenging and intensive. I want him better; he needs to get better. The alternative isn’t something anyone wants to think about. . The presence of autism complicates even the simplest of procedures and we don’t have the time to ‘mess about’ right now.

Time is not on our side so having three months of acclimatising to new surroundings isn’t an option. Printing visuals of all the doctors we need to see, making timetables of when they will be seen and watching videos of procedures before hand to prepare my son just aren’t options any longer. I can’t just say ‘I couldn’t get him out the car’ to his neurosurgeon when they have theatre all prepared and scheduled for a brain biopsy. When appointments suddenly need changed due to things progressing fast I can’t say to specialists ‘well it’s not on his timetable so he won’t cope.’ ‘Sorry he stayed awake all night again as usual last night so we need to sleep today’ just isn’t an option when there’s an MRI machine booked for yet another scan, or nurses waiting to run more tests. There’s no option to say ‘don’t worry about his meltdown. I’ll just sent out another appointment in six months and we’ll try again then’.

We haven’t got time to put any communication device in place for my non verbal child any more, not that he has taken to any in the last ten years anyway.

Medically we are facing a crisis and severe autism doesn’t ‘do’ crisis. My son doesn’t do ‘sudden change’ or even just ‘change’. He doesn’t cope with new people, new places, being touched, sitting still while people talk, having needles put in, waiting around in clinics, or even having a simple plaster on!

I fully accept and love my son, autism included. I’ve never had an issue with flapping, watching the same thing lots, communicating in his own unique way or even needing routine. In fact I’ve developed strategies, patience, and understanding and I really wouldn’t want him any other way.

But I would be lying if I didn’t say that right now, in the middle of medical difficulties that can not be ignored or delayed, I would not love to ‘turn off’ autism just for short periods of time to make things easier for him, and also for me.

Autism can be a blessing and it isn’t something I hate but it can also make life challenging and right now we have enough challenges to face treating his brain tumour and we could do without the struggle just to get him inside a new hospital or the inability to wait for his name to be called and the terrifying fact his autism means he can’t communicate when or where something even hurts.

I thought in the past I’d like little moments of being able to switch autism off but right now I’ve never wanted that ability more. Autism is making an already challenging situation so much harder, not just for me but for my son. I’m not wanting my son to be non autistic just less rigid, less anxious, less ‘stuck’ during a time when co-operation, flexibility and communication are vital.

99% of the time I have time to do what he needs to help him. Unfortunately right now we are living in that 1% and I can not even adequately express how much simpler things would be right now without the added issue of severe non verbal autism.

Have I ever wanted to switch autism off? Right now for my son’s sake…yes! Most of the medical staff treating him would probably agree with me too.

The top ten summer stresses for special needs families


At first it is lovely to not have to cope with the school run or never ending packed lunches to make. It is a novelty to be able to put the TV on and not worry that the kids will be late or that they won’t eat breakfast. I am delighted to not have to wash and iron uniforms (who am I kidding I stopped ironing them by the end of September!) and find matching socks before 8:15am.

These are all great things to get a break from and I do not miss carrying my screaming child out to his taxi daily. But I would be lying if I said as a special needs mum that summer holidays were all wonderful. They are not. I find so many things stressful about having my disabled children with me all the time. I am not alone either. 

Here are the top ten summer stresses faced by so many special needs parents today:

1. Lack of changing facilities. 

I want to take my children to soft play, parks, swimming, museums and day trips. The problem is I have two children who still need nappies changed and both are well over the age of being able to access ‘baby change’ facilities. I need changing places toilets and these are so hard to find. For so many families this lack of toilets prevents them accessing places all year round but it is magnified during summer when children want to be out and about in lovely weather and families want to go out together making memories. None of my friends whose children have no special needs seem to even think about access to bathrooms and it upsets me that such a basic necessity for special needs families is so hard to find.

2. Lack of disabled trolleys in shops.

My son has profound autism and other complex needs. I can dream that one day he will walk around holding my hand helping me but it is a pipe dream. In reality he will smash things, scream, run away from me or wander out the store completely. I need to shop even when my children are not in school. Although online shopping is handy there are days I just need to be able to pick up bread and milk but something so simple is so difficult, and often impossible, if a store does not have a suitable disabled trolley for my son. I have lost count how many shops I have had to walk out before I bought anything because there are no basic facilities for my son. In 2017 this really should not be the case.

3. Lack of playing facilities in parks.


My local park is wonderful. It has a swing seat my son can use and a wheelchair accessible roundabout. Sadly this is NOT the norm and if my son is in his wheelchair I often find myself unable to even access parks due to cattle grids and tiny gates and that is before we even get to see if there is any equipment he is even able to use. Parks should be inclusive not just for the mainstream elite. The stress of not knowing your child can access something as simple as a swing in a play park is common for so many special needs families. 


4. Access

Yes even in 2017 there are shops, play centres, public buildings and restaurants that I still can not enter as my son is unable to climb stairs. Many shops also have displays so close together manoeuvring a wheelchair around the shop is impossible. I am denied access to places my son should be able to visit and I should be able to enter due to inadequate disabled access. The United Kingdom is far from disability friendly sadly.


5. Autism friendly hours that are not autism friendly times!

I am delighted that more and more places are putting on quiet hours and autism friendly times. However as wonderful and inclusive as this sounds they are often at times that are so difficult for my family to access. Early Sunday mornings for example are of no use to my family as we attend church and late at night is no use when I have young children who need routine. Instead it would be better to have a quiet day or autism friendly day once a week that enabled many more to access and enjoy places that otherwise exclude so many. 



6. Lack of respite.

Being nurse, therapist, attending appointments and getting very little sleep is draining. The majority of special needs families have no summer respite and little support through the long weeks of summer. This causes resentment for siblings who fall to the wayside and can put pressure on relationships and cause many carers to struggle with their mental health. For special needs families school offers necessary respite which they can not access all summer long. It makes for a very long summer indeed.

7. Inability to use household items due to sensory issues.

I dare you to use the hoover in my house over summer when the kids are home! Or the hairdryer or washing machine. These are items I use daily when my kids are at school but using them in summer causes the kids to scream and lash out in real pain. Parents of children with sensory processing disorder walk on egg shells all summer just trying to keep their house respectable without triggering continuous meltdowns.

8. Lack of sleep.

I can cope when my son does an ‘all nighter’ when he has school as I can rest or nap while he is out. When your child or children need 24 hour care and you get very little sleep that has to take its toll eventually. By week three of the holidays I have no idea of the day of the week or even my name as sleep deprivation kicks in big time. 

9. Lack of support.

Therapists vanish in the summer, as do health professionals and social workers! While I fully respect everyone needs a holiday it can be so disheartening and stressful as a parent to be left without any support all summer long. It is also detrimental to the children who require continuity and routine. Living with a non verbal frustrated 8 year old for seven weeks with no speech therapists is stressful! 

10. Isolation

Places are noisy, busy, expensive (carers allowance is a pittance!), and the general public can be ‘challenging’, making trips out of the house so difficult. Add to that the stress many families face trying to get their special needs child off of technology and even into a garden and you have some idea how stressful summer can be. For thousands of families this leads them to be isolated in their own home, forgotten and abandoned due to having a disabled child. 
With time, money and planning so many of these stressors could be overcome. A little respite, businesses and community groups installing changing places toilets and more shops purchasing firefly trolleys suitable for disabled children and life could be so much different. 

Have a think. What could you do to make summer easier for a family with a special needs child?



This article first appeared here

My children do SUFFER from autism and I think we need to understand that.

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I have just outraged and angered an entire community by saying that. Before you pin me to your dart board and vilify me on social media please spare me a few minutes of your time to hear me out first.

I adore my children. They are my heartbeat, my reason for being, my everything. I think they are the most beautiful human beings ever created, they are talented, hilarious, kind, amazing and every single day they make me proud.

They also both suffer from autism. I use ‘suffer’ deliberately.

Dictionary.com defines ‘suffer’ as:

verb (used without object)
1.to undergo or feel pain or distress:
2.to sustain injury, disadvantage, or loss:
3.to undergo a penalty, as of death:
4.to endure pain, disability, death, etc.,patiently or willingly

So sticking with the dictionary meaning let’s go through this. Not all apply to autism but here are the ones that do for my children:

Number one to undergo pain or distress. My children both undergo this due to their autism but in very different ways. My daughter feels very real pain when she experiences sensory overload and certain smells make her physically sick. Loud noise hurts her ears and someone walking past her in school is like them sticking needles in her. Her pain is real. Not understanding social situations distresses her to the point she has panic attacks and cries. My non verbal son experiences distress and pain daily as a direct result of his autism. The simplest of things changing or even a door open anywhere in our full street and he will self harm and scream for hours. He just can not cope and has no means to communicate why. That to me is pain and distress not just for him but for us too.

Number two: to sustain injury, disadvantage or loss.
Loss of ability to speak both consistently for my non verbal son and in certain situation for my daughter due to extreme anxiety; that is loss and disadvantage. To be excluded from social events because you are so limited in your interests or find social situations so complex and difficult is loss and disadvantage. To have the level of learning difficulty my son has where at 8 he can not write one letter or number nor can he read is a huge disadvantage in life. To still be wearing nappies at 8 is a disadvantage and loss. To not be able to dress yourself is disadvantage and loss. So yes they suffer from autism according to this definition too.

Number four: to endure pain or disability.
I see autism as a very real disability for both my children. They are unable to do what others in society take for granted. My son will require 24 hour care all of his life. My daughter has mental health difficulties which will require ongoing monitoring for most of her life. Socially they will both require support too. Their autism is life long and they require a much higher level of care than other children their age do. Do they need to ‘endure’? Yes I believe they do. A school day is huge for them both to cope with. The demands placed on them, the sensory difficulties faced and the continuous transition from outside to inside and different rooms puts massive stress on them both and it takes huge strength for them to get through every day. Autism causes them mental and physical pain at times in ways many of us don’t quite understand.

My children live in a world that is different to them and confusing. Their communication difficulties and social struggles make everyday a challenge. They struggle, they endure and they face difficulties. They are suffering.

It is apparently not politically correct to say anyone suffers from anything. The negative connotations associated with the word suffer make some people very angry. I am not dismissing that at all. Yet I am left with a big concern: If we continue to only allow people to use positive and politely correct language when referring to autism like it is ‘just another way to see the world‘, or ‘it is a gift‘, or ‘it is a difference to embrace‘ then are we doing an injustice to those who are in fact struggling daily, in pain mentally or physically as a result of their autism, and suffering as a result of inflexibility, social confusion and misunderstood repetitive movements like flapping?

My children need support. They need people to help them through their struggles. If that means I come across as negative saying they suffer from autism then so be it. Sometimes I have no choice but to break the taboo in order to get the support my children desperately need.

If by stating they are suffering it causes people to want to help, or makes them think about how they treat them then I feel it is justified.

I tell my children everyday how wonderful they are, how precious they are, how loved they are. I celebrate their achievements and accept them but I refuse to sugar coat their struggles and I want to honour them both for the way they cope in all the ways they truly suffer as a result of their autism.

They suffer from autism and I think other people need to understand that.

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I put him to bed some nights and cry


Loving my son is easy, living with him is not.
Some would say he is controlling, a bully, self centred and aggressive. These would all be correct.
He is also frustrated, anxious, stressed and agitated.
No anger course, or therapy or counselling will help him.
He is 8 and can not speak. He is still in nappies. He has no sense of danger. He can scream for hours, smear, attack and demolish all in one day.
Yet he can laugh a deep laugh that is so contagious he makes everyone smile. He can flap and find utter delight in lift doors opening for hours.
He is the apple of my eye and the delight of my heart but some nights I put him to bed and cry. 
I cry for the life he is missing out on: The lack of friends, the inability to read and write, the fact I have no idea when or if he will ever be toilet trained. I cry because he is misunderstood and judged so much. I cry because he can not tell me anything like how he is feeling or what he likes. I cry because he is so vulnerable and that scares me. I cry through exhaustion having to constantly guess what he wants and why he is so upset. I cry through years of sleep deprivation, lack of support and the stress that something as simple as an open door makes him throw himself down the stairs in distress.
I put him to bed and cry because I do not want him to see my tears. I never want him to feel he disappoints me. I never want him to feel rejected or unloved. 
But I need to let the tears out. Pretending this is ok is not helping anyone.
My son has severe autism and it is very hard. My son has neurofibromatosis type 1 and that scares me. My son is vision impaired and that worries me.
His list of diagnosis and difficulties is comprehensive. He requires 24 hour care and relies on me for everything. He will need care all his life and his condition is progressive and unpredictable.
He brings me great joy but caring for him exhausts me.
Loving him is easy, living with him is not.
I love him more than words can say but I put him to bed tonight and cried.

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How do you explain they won’t ‘get better’?

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If I had a pound for every time someone told me my children will ‘grow out it’, or ‘be fine when they are older’, I would be a rich woman. People expect you get ill or have difficulties for a short time, you have a period of struggling, and then you ‘get better’. You ‘get over it’ or ‘snap out of it’, or you have an operation or take medication, and then you become ‘normal’ again and function like everyone else.

But what if the difficulties and struggles are life long? What if you won’t get ‘any better’ even if you improve?

It is three years this month since we received my sons first major diagnosis. Though the initial shock and pain has eased I still get sad some days. Because three years on we are still in that same place.

He still has the exact same diagnosis. He hasn’t been cured. He hasn’t went into remission or stopped having his difficulties. I can’t read his diagnosis report and think they are talking about an altogether different child than the one sitting on my knee.

Yes he is making progress. But it is slow. And in spurts. And sometimes we still get regression. Oh are we allowed to mention that? The dreaded ‘regression’ word? Am I allowed to admit that sometimes my children struggle more than they did before? Or lose a skill they previously mastered?

How do you explain they won’t ‘get better’?

It sure looks like my son is getting better. After all for 678 days all he wore was the same red school jumper yet all of a sudden now he will wear other tops? That sounds like improvement. And it is! My daughter has started to master reading and writing. Surely that is her ‘getting better’ you suggest? And yes it seems so.

On the surface my children are both coming on well. We have had a recent successful play date, we have had them taking part in school activities I never dreamt they would ever manage, and two weeks into the summer holidays we have managed some days out and visits to parks. It seems like everything is ‘getting better’. It seems like to some that all is well.

Because people find the life-long bit so hard to understand. People see what they want to see. And after a while they get bored with seeing the same struggles, the same excuses and the same problems. People want to help and get upset when they do help but the problems still exists even when they have done everything they can to support. We look for quick fixes and short-term solutions and life long conditions need on-going, energy draining, never-ending support. It requires a commitment few are willing to make.

It is hard for people to understand why three years down the journey I still get sad some days. Why? Well because some days it feels like I am still where I was three years ago. It hasn’t gone away. And it never will.

There is no cure.

My daughter may ‘get better’ at social situations but it will never quite come naturally to her.
She may ‘get better’ at understanding that not all language is literal in meaning. But idioms and sarcasm will always need explaining to her with patience and understanding.
My son may ‘get better’ at being understood without any speech. He may one day learn to communicate via a device or language or pictures. But he will always have severe communication difficulties to some degree.
My son will never ‘catch up’ with his peers. He is not suddenly going to run a race, or write a story or learn to swim. He may never speak.
I have no idea when they might master potty training.

We are in this for the long haul. When others get ‘bored’ and move on we will still be here. We will still be struggling on.

Doctor’s can’t ‘cure’ my children. They won’t ‘get well soon’ or ‘grow out of it’. It won’t ‘magically disappear’ when they get older or become teenagers. In fact it may magnify.

You may not see them struggle but they do. It may seem ‘cute’ to flap and suck on your clothes at six but whimageat about sixteen? It may seem ok to have your tongue out all the time at six but what about ten? Or thirty?

My children have autism. My son has neurofibromatosis. They will become adults with autism one day and my son will become an adult with NF. His tumours will grow with him and his skin will grow fibromas and patches throughout his life. He will become an adult with social and communication difficulties and a learning disability.

They will ‘get better’ at developing a thick skin and coping with ridicule. They will ‘get better’ at devising coping strategies and becoming a part of society in some way or other.

But they won’t ever ‘get better’ from their life long conditions. And I may never ‘get better’ at coping either.

I may have more good days now than bad. But some days I am right back where I started three years ago. Life long condition means a life long journey. I know some people find that hard to deal with. But you know what? So do I.

It’s all about me!

Being positive is not being in denial. Posting highlights of your day on social media is not being fake. Trying to find hope in hopelessness is not wrong.

Attitude means everything.

And recently I have had to give myself a good shake.

Living with the daily challenges of two children who struggle can really get me down. Some days, more than I would like to publicly admit, I cry. I worry about the future. I struggle through everyday, often silently. And I feel alone.

But then I realised something important. I came to realise it was actually all about me!

I could look at things negative. Or I could try to see a positive.

imageFor example I could have wallowed in upset at the thought my daughter was so anxious she never made it to her first ever school trip. I could have become angry that she seemed to be excluding herself due to fear. But instead I chose to take her out for the day instead and shared a picture of her smiling face at a science centre rather than dwelling on her inability to join her peers at the zoo. School trip failing verses mummy and daughter quality time? Which would you have thought about more?

imageSame with sports day. I could shed many a tear over the fact my daughter was unable to join in many of the activities due to her difficulties. I could share pictures of an older girl having to take her hand and support her for even the simplest of races. Or I could take pride in the fact that on the tenth go at running around the cones my six-year-old finally had the confidence to say ‘can I try that myself?’. Those nine turns at needing support could have broken me but that final time doing it independently will make up for that every single time.
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And then there was her class assembly. I was hurt and devastated when my daughter came home to say she was the only child in the class who did not have a speaking part. Her teacher had asked her and she had told them she felt she could not do it. Though I admired her honestly I have to admit I also felt so sad. For her, and for me. But can I tell you something? There was not a dry eye in the house on the day of her assembly when she took centre stage and held the entire show together with the most crucial part in the play despite not saying a single word! In the words of my six-year-old, ‘We can’t all have speaking parts. Someone has to do the acting!’ There is so much wisdom in that.

I could think about the sadness of taking her to yet another appointment.Or I could look at her smile as she played innocently in the waiting room and her sheer delight at being given insoles to help turn her feet. I think as adults we too often set our minds on that appointment rather than the child-like look at it all.
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I could be angry at the fact I never get to sit in church with everyone else due to my children’s needs. Or I could take pride in the fact my children will sit outside the hall in their own little bubbles allowing me to at least be in the building. This is progress.

I could be embarrassed that I took my children to visit a friend and my son preferred to feel her garden bush than to be social. Or I could snap a picture of his happy face and be grateful my friend accepts us for who we are. And is happy for us to come back anytime.
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I could shed tears at the fact my daughter recently went to a party and spent two hours sitting at the side next to me on her own. Or I could be delighted she was invited in the first place and see this as progress that she stayed in the room and enjoyed watching.
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I could become frustrated at the fact everywhere we go my son is fixated with the elevators. Or I could ride with him, film him and discover on play back that he actually said the word ‘again’! Had we not been at that lift I would have missed that word! He hasn’t said it since but I have a video as proof and in time I may one day hear it once more!
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And finally I could despair at the fact that for almost two years now my son has refused to wear anything other than his beloved school jumper. I mean literally every day I only get to see him in red. It started off funny but then in time I somehow gave up hope. Then, just today, he let me put a t-shirt on him and he kept it on happily all day long! And after all those tears, hopelessness and feelings of despair, I found a reason to smile again.
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My children have some real struggles. I will never deny that. And everyday is a challenge. But sometimes it isn’t about them. It is about attitude: My attitude. Sometimes it is how I see things that makes a real difference to everyone else.

And now I realise that: it is all about me!

I’d rather walk through the storm with you

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Winter in Scotland can be brutal sometimes. Yesterday morning was one of those mornings. Cold, wet, very windy and still pretty dark as the children needed to leave for school. So even though her school is, at most, ten minutes walk from our house, I offered my little six-year-old the chance to take the car.

‘No’ she insisted. ‘I’d rather walk through the storm with you.’

So we wrapped up, zipped up and headed outside.

There were times when she was almost blown away. But we held hands tightly and neither of us planned on letting go.

There were times we could hardly see where we were going. But we just kept walking, one step at a time, encouraging each other every step.

There were moments I thought we should turn back and climb into the warmth of the house or the dryness of the car. But we had a determination and a purpose and the destination was within reach. It may have only been a ten minute walk but there were moments it felt like eternity. The intensity of the wind, the driving rain in our faces and the cold taking our breath away. ‘Keep going’ she told me and keep going we did.

Of course we arrived. We were a little windswept, our clothes were wet and our faces red from the cold. But as I left her in the safety of her school and walked back home myself through that storm I realised the value of walking that day.

My little daughter was gaining strength, courage, determination, and the gift of encouragement this morning that going to school the easier way would not have taught her. And she chose to do that of her own free will. She wanted to go through the storm with me because she loves me.

I feel like I have been walking through a storm like that for years. When I found out my precious children were not like other children it felt like I was being beaten down by a gale force wind. Constant appointments, diagnosis and fighting for what they need feeling like cold, icy rain forever falling on top of me. The waking up every morning facing the same pressures of caring like the darkness of a cold winters morning that never seems to end. The not knowing the future like the freezing cold temperatures numbing you to the pain.

It is so much easier to get through the storm holding someone’s hand. There is strength that comes from the encouragement of another little voice saying ‘keep going’. There is a love that grows deeper, a bond that gets stronger and a determination that grows continually by facing the storms of life with another one.

Don’t go it alone.

I know that having you all alongside me is what is making this thing called life easier.

Everyone one of you means so much to me.

Don’t let go of my hand please…because I’d rather walk through the storm with you.