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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Still a child

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Dedicated to the wonderful children who are too often defined by diagnosis, difficulties and impairments.

He sits in a wheelchair with a bib around his neck. People talk about him like he isn’t really there. They feed him something without thinking wether he likes it or not. He has no say where they take him or how he is dressed. But just because he can not speak do not assume he can not understand. Give him a chance. Would you treat any other six year old like that? Treat him with respect and love. Let him try. Let him be included. He may be disabled, but he is still a child.

He screams in your face when you touched him. He bit himself when you closed the door. He is flapping his hands at the rain falling at the window and isn’t interested when you say his name. You don’t need to shout louder because he isn’t deaf. As frustrating as it is to watch, losing your temper at him won’t help. People talk about him like he is unaware. They had information about him but never took the time to read it or do anything about it. It was filed away and forgotten. People try and engage on their terms taking no account of his interests or sensory issues. Some even physically remove him or close the blinds.window Where is the respect? Where is the love? He may be disabled but he is still a child.

She lies on the floor trying to roll. People are pushing and pulling her this way and that. Talking over her noises and ignoring her pain. They think they are helping. They talk to each other without looking at her face, her eyes and listening to her cries. They have their agenda, exercises to increase her movement that no-one has involved her in. Their intentions are good. But have they motivated her and relaxed her? Would you expect any other five year old to exercise without motivation or encouragement? She may be disabled but she is still a child.

She stands at the side of the playground watching all the others play. The adults find this concerning so they devise strategies to include her and teach the children to not allow her to be on her own. She is badgered by voices shouting her name and pulling her hands. She is forced to join in, forced to interact when she didn’t want to. Why did no-one ask her what she wanted? Did she lose the right of choice and privacy when they diagnosed her with autism? They think they are helping but no-one thought to find out if she was happier watching and joining in if and when she wanted to. While other children can watch it seems she isn’t allowed. She may struggle socially but she is still a child.

He can’t speak so they buy him toys that they think he should like. No-one thinks to watch him and see what his interests are. He wants to look at a flyer from a frozen food shop but adults deem that wrong and would rather it was a book. When he licks the toys they take them out his mouth and take them away. They set up fancy sets with tiny cars and bricks that he can not hold and expect him to play like any other child. They get upset and annoyed when he brakes them and screams. They put dvd’s on he has no interest in because it is deemed more age appropriate. They think he can not speak so he can not communicate. But he can. He would rather the baby toys still but they are too embarrassed to buy them for a six year old. He may be developmentally delayed, but he is still a child.

He swears at your face when you say hello. He came out of school kicking and screaming and threatening to kill his teacher and classmates. The other children are scared of hi20140225-210850.jpgm and the school threatens the parents with the police. They label him as disobedient, a bully, having challenging behaviour. They yell at him more than they talk to him. He is retrained far more than he is ever hugged. He is isolated from his peers and banned from after school clubs. They try to fix complex problems with behaviour star charts and bribery. He may have difficulties, but he is still a child.

Despite physical, mental and and social difficulties these are all children. Children who deserve time, patience, understanding and love. They have a right to choose, to be educated and respected, to be listened to and included. They deserve to explore the world around them, learn in their own way and play with toys they enjoy. They deserve hugs and tickles and kisses.

Difficulties and diagnosis should never define anyone. Even if they can not feed them self, dress them self, attend to their own needs, speak or struggle with social interaction or behaviour they are still worthy of respect.

Because most of all, they are still a child.

Just imagine if that child was yours.