Christmas for Autistic Adults: What is it really like?

Three weeks ago my husband received a detailed written report which stated clearly that he was indeed autistic. Of course he always has been autistic but as this is his first ‘official’ Christmas as an autistic adult I thought I would dedicate this special blog to the millions of autistic adults who inspire me, encourage me and motivate me to do the best and believe for the best for my two autistic children always.

I have to be honest and say both my children struggle with Christmas and I wondered if that got easier as a adult.

I asked Lisa how she manages Christmas both as an autistic adult and a parent of two children with autism.

I love Christmas and spending precious time with family. Family that I’m comfortable with. I love the events we have over Christmas but at the same time seeing people I have not seen in a while can fill me with anxiety.

It’s like I try so hard, too hard for it to be perfect. And that’s when my obsessive behaviour kicks in. I have to have everything looking just right. I want to attend so many sensory related events with my close family, the ones I’m comfortable with. When they don’t share my enthusiasm it brings me down.

I like to have set people around me and if they aren’t, it makes me anxious.

So as much as I love Christmas and everything that goes with it, i am often accused of trying ‘too hard’. Trying too hard to organise everyone, and pleasing everyone. I build myself up and sometimes I get overloaded with it all.

Social expectations and anxiety was something Chris from (http://autisticnotweird.com) also touched on too:

As much as I love Christmas Day (and speaking as a practising Christian too), it’s surprising how little I love Christmastime. The day itself is usually wonderful, but it’s preceded by a boatload of expectations- some of which you can’t match, some of which are unclear.

Worst of all is the expectation that everyone MUST be happy in the run-up to Christmas – including those with mental health issues. And not only that, but you must express that happiness in very specific ways. (Even on the day itself, it’s a time when getting drunk at midday is seen as acceptable but if you check Facebook to see your friends enjoying themselves, you’re being “antisocial”.) And having to do a hundred things “because it’s Christmas” has never struck me as a good reason to make yourself stressed- honestly, I’d rather celebrate Christmas in a way that helps me to access the beauty of the season rather than the social expectations. I’m pretty sure that’s what Jesus wants too.

Social events can be a struggle for many with autism at any time of year but the extra pressure of so many events can be overwhelming even as an adult. I love how Nikki from http://www.spectrumgirls2.com describes the after effect of so much socialisation as a ‘social hangover’ as this is something I see in my own kids regularly.

I do love Christmas, I think it’s magical and it reminds me of fond memories when family all got together when I was a child. I must admit I do get very overwhelmed with it all as there’s a lot of preparation required on top of being a very busy parent carer.

I find the shops so busy this time of year, music, crowds, lights and I try and avoid taking my girls into crowded shops as many people don’t realise I’m having my own sensory overload as well as trying to cope with both my girls getting overloaded. I do a lot of online shopping. With events like Christmas fairs, nativities, meals, I will cope during the event but will feel emotionally drained afterwards, I often need to go and lie in a dark room and find it difficult to talk after busy events. I’ve heard this being described as almost like a ‘social hangover’ amongst adults on the autistic spectrum. I do a lot of avoiding if I find something quite heavy going, I’m not keen on the wrapping of presents so I do put it off a lot! One of the more unusual feelings I get every Christmas time is a slight depressed feeling of ‘fear of missing out’ which is something that I’ve only just recently found out about. It’s a feeling that my children are missing out on experiences such as visiting Santa, etc but then I have to take a step back and think that experiences like this are not always positive due to my youngest having a fear of Santa, we have to do what is in their best interest.

Helen from http://www.lifeandasc.com echoed some of those same thoughts:

I love Christmas but in small measured social doses (I prefer to limit social events to 1 or 2 over Christmas). I have a set routine for Christmas . In fact the way we decorate the tree and the meal I cook is the same since I was about 10. The hardest thing for me is present giving – I am bad at keep a surprise or waiting till Christmas to open things. For me the greatest thing about Christmas is the ability to stay at home without having to do much – as I tend to use it as complete downtime.

Surprise presents was something Nigel struggles with too:

I’m not a big fan of Christmas. I find it stressful, it’s hard to do the weekly grocery shop when everything has moved around. The whole pressure to socialise, shops being busy, roads full of traffic and the same old songs every year! I’m glad when it’s all over. I much prefer people to give me vouchers or money so I can buy what Iwant when Iwant it and not have to pretend what they have chosen is anything I even like!

I went on to ask Lee if he had any coping strategies that worked well for him:

Ear plugs/defenders, regular breaks to a quite area that others know are out of bounds (safe area/place) try and know structure of the day in advance like a timetable and also knowing who’s coming.

Which leads me nicely to the hope that Matt had for me:

As an adult I find christmas not to much of a problem to be honest, it makes a good excuse to drink and throw money up the wall lol. When I was younger it was a totally different storey though…

I hated the change of routine, things happening on different days, people turning up, tv programmes being cancelled,being so excited about the presents I was getting and staying up all night being sick and then being sick again when I didn’t get what I wanted and working out there was no such thing as Father Christmas and then feeling compelled to tell every other child I saw!

As I expected some autistic adults actually look forward to Christmas and I really hope that one day what Riko from http://www.dragonriko.wordpress.com thinks will be true for my children too.

I love Christmas and having loads of decorations, loads of presents, going shopping, going to parties and having people around.

As I debate whether to put a Christmas tree up or whether this change will once again be too much for my children I am filled with hope that while they will always have autism they may actually one day love putting their own tree up for themselves.

Thank you to all the autistic adults who not only helped me write this but give me hope daily. I hope by sharing your personal perspectives it helps more people understand and accept you all and makes the world a little more tolerant both for you all and for my children too.

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Autism: When your child’s obsession consumes the whole family

My son love lifts. He has done for many years now. He watches lift doors open and close on YouTube, he knows every shop in our town and beyond that has a lift, and when he has hospital appointments we HAVE to visit every lift in the entire hospital. 

It is consuming! 

It rules his life: He is drawn to lifts like a magnet is drawn to metal. He can not simply walk on by or use it for the functional purpose of just moving up one floor. No! He has to press every level, every single time. He has to get out at different floors and watch the same doors open and close from every possible angle. He has to flap, dance and giggle at people getting in, people getting out and the repetitive announcements telling you which floor you are at. He has to touch every wall, put his ear to the back and have a fit of the giggles at me preventing him from pressing the emergency alarm…at every single level! 

It is consuming!

I can’t just go to the shop to pick up milk or a loaf of bread because my local supermarket happens to have a life in the car park and two inside the shop. He either can not come with me (which involves a complete meltdown because despite having limited understanding he seems to be able to sense I am going to somewhere with a lift!) or he comes with me and I risk leaving having only made it to the lift! Moving him on is almost impossible. It involves him self harming, screaming, physically dragging him and sometimes calling for backup. It is not pretty. 

It is consuming. 

He loses all track of time in a lift. It is like an entire world to him. He loves the noise, the echo, the shiny walls, the confined space, the predictability, the voice that comes out at just the right time, the buttons he can press, and the feeling of it moving. It is exciting. It is his ‘happy place’ and he would stay there all day every day. I can’t let him do that though.

So I film him so he can watch himself back. I use ‘first and then’ and desperately bribe him to come away. I use timers and warnings. I use visuals and talkers. I could send God himself to rescue him but he still would not care. 

He is consumed by his obsession and nothing will move him on. 

Isaac is loved deeply. We allow him time at his obsession even though his sister would rather stick pins in herself than be at a lift! But what do you do when every family outing, every waking minute on YouTube and every google search (for images as he has no ability to read or write) is all consumed with your child’s obsession? 

There has to be a balance. Isaac has no understanding why he can not be utterly saturated in his own obsession. He has no awareness of the needs of others or that shops even have closing times! He craves the sensory feedback of lifts like you and I crave water and food. To deny him that would be to destroy him. 

So what do you do when you are consumed by the needs and wants of one member of the family? 

It is hard to get the balance right. We have tried the splitting up idea where one adult has the thrilling day of lifts (yes I am being sarcastic!) and the other entertains his sister. That causes resentment eventually. We have tried days without lifts (that was that awful screaming you heard ringing in your ear thousands of miles from me). We have tried compromising (have you ever tried to reason with a severely autistic non verbal 8 year old? It isn’t fun!). We have even tried the seesaw approach of you get a lift and we all get something we want too. That went down like a lead balloon!

There is no ‘little bit’ when it comes to an autism obsession. There is no ‘forget about it’ days. 

It consumes them. It consumes us. 

We are trying to teach our son patience, self control and limitations. Meanwhile he has other ideas…

P.s. I spent so long at a lift today I typed most of this up while watching him! 

His obsession really has consumed me now too…I am even writing about it! 

That is what happens when your child’s obsession consumes the whole family! 

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This article first appeared on http://www.autismawareness.com where you can find other great articles and information on autism.
A link to the original piece can he found here.

The Life Of An Autism Sibling


In the back hall of a church she watched as her brother climbed a toddler slide. As he sat at the top of the slide flapping he lost his balance and fell off. He was shocked and shaken as he laid there confused and hurt.

While the adults checked him over his sister ran around the room looking for all his favourite teddies, then sat beside him stroking his hair and whispered: You are ok. Don’t be sad. You are ok.
She is smaller than her brother, weaker than him physically, and much more timid in nature.
Yet she is strong. 

She is the sister of a child with autism and that is something very special. 
She copes with screaming and has learnt to be a peace keeper.

She copes with a brother who is controlling and she has learnt to compromise.

She copes with a sibling who rarely sleeps and she has learnt to rest as and when she can.

She copes with the unfairness when her sibling does not understand rules and she has learnt patience and maturity beyond her years.

She copes with aggression and responds with peace.

She copes with his iPad on full volume and responds by showing him how to plug in earphones.

She copes with people staring at him and she smiles at them and puts her arm around her brother in support.


She copes with getting less attention than she deserves and has learnt to play herself to cope.

She instinctively knows and understands now when he is experiencing sensory overload and leads him to a quieter place.

She opens snacks for him because she knows he does not have the co-ordination to do it himself.

She has learnt that he can not join in her games and copes with that disappointment better than many adults would.

She fights her brothers corner.
She keeps him safe.

She changes the TV channel when he screams at a show he does not like.

She even makes hand dryers work for him because she knows how much he likes them.

The life of an autism sibling is not easy. They are often over looked and expected to cope. They miss out on so much because of the needs of their sibling and have to adjust to family life dominated by an invisible condition. A lot is expected of them beyond what other kids deal with.

It takes strength to cope when your brother screams daily. It takes strength to understand certain toys can not be bought because they pose a danger to your sibling. It takes strength and maturity to realise and accept that having friends around to play may be more difficult than it is for others.

To watch your brother or sister struggle with something you do easily and not boast about this, to stand up for your sibling when others mock them, to cope with public meltdowns and not be embarrassed: you are amazing! 
Let’s hear it for the autism siblings! You all deserve the lime light for once!

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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Never before has a tray of pasta meant so much to me

imageNever before has a tray of pasta meant so much to me

I could so easily write a negative post. Life is anything but a field of roses right now but right in the midst of pain and struggles a little kindness, a hint of love, or even a tray of pasta can change things!

This post is dedicated to the manager of a pizza restaurant local to me. I will be printing out a copy and hand delivering it to her this week.

I need her to know that never before has a tray of pasta meant so much to me.

imageMy children are struggling. I try and disguise that but I can’t. In the last month my son has endured some difficult medical test including 24 hours of wires glued to his head:

And a few weeks later having to have anaesthetic for an MRI to identify where all his tumours are growing inside him.

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For any child these things are a real challenge but when you can not talk, have limited understanding and have a diagnosis of severe autism and neurofibromatosis these things just seem so much harder; for the child and the parents.

As well as this he has had to cope with a change of teacher at school and beginning overnight respite. He has been brave but in turn we have had to deal with some challenging behaviour.

For his twin sister these procedures and the ensuing changes to her schedule have been so upsetting and disorientating. End of term changes at school, a wobbly tooth and her friend being off school have made everything seem so much worse. This all causes one major difficulty: when stressed Naomi stops eating. Really stops eating.

Isaac loves his food. Anything edible is the highlight of his day. Among his many favourite foods are pizza, salad and garlic bread. One of the very few things his twin sister will eat is a certain pasta from a pizza restaurant.

Sometimes as a parent you do what you need to do to survive.

As much as I try to hide it it is very obvious even to a stranger that my children have struggles. Yet in this particular restaurant we always seem to be welcome.

By now you may have guessed what happened. My daughter broke her self imposed stress related fast and picked at her favourite pasta. As I took her brother up to the buffet the manager spoke to me with a smile and said she noticed my daughter only ever ate the pasta so she would go put more on ready for if she she wanted it. I wanted to hug her.

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Never before has a tray of pasta meant so much to me.

I had to say something because by now I was emotional. I sort of whispered that Naomi has autism and loves the pasta and thanked her for her kindness.

I thought nothing more of it until I went to pay and the manager said she had something for me. She handed me a bag with an entire tray of the pasta in!

She had no idea of our story. She had no idea the stress we had all been through and the daily struggles we face. She had no idea that that pasta was pretty much all that was keeping my daughter out of hospital.

A tray of pasta.

Never before has a simple tray of pasta meant so much to me, or my daughter.

You don’t need to know someone’s struggles to be kind. You don’t need to know their story to show love. The smallest of gifts can impact another life so much. Be kind. Show compassion.

We have of course eaten the pasta now. But the love shown to my family that day lives on.

I’m still a mummy

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I watched the little girl shuffle across the floor on her bottom the exact same way my daughter used to do. So pretty, innocent and delightfully happy. I approached her mum and commented on what a wonderful way it was to get about. Mum didn’t seem so sure. The baby was only just over a year so I shared with her how my own daughter used to do the same and what a smart way it was to get about as it allows you to see where you are going and take things with you in your hands, both of which are much more difficult when crawling on all fours.

Mum seemed reassured when I spoke about how my daughter walks, talks, goes to school and is doing well academically. We smiled at each other, looked at each other and the conversation flowed. And then something changed. I mentioned, almost without realising, soon after, that my daughter has autism. And the conversation pretty much ended there. Any confidence and reassurance I had offered about her daughter seemed to vanish instantly. Somehow I wasn’t in a position to support or encourage because my child had some sort of disability. I am sure she probably just didn’t know what to say or felt awkward or maybe thought that somehow her daughter’s shuffling in the same way as mine may mean I was suggesting her baby may also have autism. Who knows. It just changed things the moment that word was said.

It isn’t the first time that has happened too. Neither of my children are potty trained and I find other parents avoid even talking about that when I am around. And some even find it strange if I offer to take their child to the bathroom if they require help. Maybe they think I won’t know what to do as my own children are still in nappies or maybe they feel it may upset me. Neither of those are true. When I mentioned to another friend how my son also loved being in a ball pool as a baby and still loves them now she seemed to want to change the subject. Maybe the thought my six-year old was still enjoying what her one year old likes felt weird. I am not really sure.

I sometimes want to say to people that just because my children have difficulties does not exclude me from the mummy club. I am still a mummy. My children still breastfed, had wind, were sick, went through teething, cried though the night, spat out solid food when they first tried it, learnt to sit and stand, walk and crawl and drove me crazy with noisy toys. They still pulled clothes out of drawers, fell asleep when I least wanted them too, loved throwing food from their high chairs and needed nappies changed at the most inconvenient of times. They were still children. And I am still a mummy.

The only difference is my children did these things at different times. I remember the breaking back pain of having to hold your babies hands to help them learn to master walking. It is just I was doing that with a heavier, slightly taller three-year old rather than a lighter, smaller one year old. But I still did it. Because even when children have a delay or a disability they mostly still have to go through the same stages of progress. They still have to master standing, balancing and confidence before they learn to walk. They still have to master sounds and listening skills and facial movements before learning to talk. It’s just my six-year-old got stuck somewhere when the one year old sailed through that. They still have to go through toilet training whatever age that gets mastered.

Identifying with you in your child’s progress does not mean your child has the same thing as mine. It just means my children are just as normal as yours. I still had to enrol my children at school. I even saw one take part in a nativity this week. And my children will still hate the sprouts for Christmas dinner like most other children.

I guess I just feel sometimes only going to things for disabled children, or ones with autism, or neurofibromatosis, or whatever, isn’t helping. It is often the only way we can access things and so I am all for making accommodations for families like mine. But it has the negative effect sometimes of making people think we are different. In some ways, of course, we are. In the community I live I would find it very hard to find another non verbal six-year-old or a six-year-old still in nappies for example. But I could easily find another six-year-old just like mine who doesn’t like doing what he is told, likes playing on an iPad and hates wearing a hat. I could easily find a six-year-old like my daughter who likes books and Thomas tank engine and baking cakes.

This Christmas please see my children the same as yours. Children with dreams and hopes and a bright future. Children who will wake up on Christmas morning to new toys, whatever they are, and who may end up playing with the box longer than the toy. Not because they have autism or developmental delay, but because all kids love boxes!

And just like every other mummy I want to make my kids happy. I want to hear them laugh and I want to have quality time with them. I want to be included with other parents too. Everyone is different but kids, disabled or not, are still kids.

And I am still a mummy.

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I just need some breathing space

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I keep looking him in the face while I make that phone call. Answering machine again. 20 minutes later I call again and yet again it is just the same. How many messages should I leave? How desperate should I sound? Is there a point at which you push too much for respite and give the impression you don’t love your child anymore?

School finished for the long summer holidays two and a half weeks ago. 18 days ago to be precise. I make out on social media we are having a wonderful time. For 7 of those days we were on holiday in a cottage in the middle of nowhere. I post photographs of my children playing with gran’s dog, going on trips by train, playing with toy trains and toy food and going on walks. We come back and I post about days out, more train trips and fun in the garden. I make out that everything is ok. Because I feel I need to. No parent wants to admit they are struggling. I want to enjoy having my children at home full time. I want to make memories and do lovely things together. This is my daughters last summer before starting full-time education and I want her to remember this summer. We have had lovely weather and there is so much we could do as a family.

But 18 days in and I can hardly keep my eyes open during the day. Two nights in a row of being up through the night with my daughter having continuous nose bleeds. The trying to do everything in silence to avoid waking her brother, but not succeeding. And every day Isaac being awake before 5am ( and awake during the night too) even when we have had a full on day of activities the day before. Everyday Isaac screaming for mashed potato and gravy at 6am and hitting me with the gravy jug because I said no. Then being hit on the face with the iPad because he has pressed on google but you have no idea what he wants to look at (google images is his current ‘thing’), only to have it thrown back at you because that wasn’t what he wanted. Everyday Isaac wanting pushed on a swing in the park for hours, the constant trying to escape every time the door is opened or unlocked, the constant spilling of any liquid he happens to see because he likes the sensory feeling of water, the continuous turning on of taps and flushing the toilet non stop, the endless screaming, the knocking things down to hear the noise all the time, the opening of the fridge and freezer and helping himself, the biting, self stimulating and banging on the table to demand more food yet again. The effect all of this is having on his sister, on my husband, and on me is showing. 18 days in and the cracks are starting to appear.

He needs the routine and stimulation of school. We need the break.

My mum is doing what she can to help but at almost 70 she isn’t able to lift Isaac or restrain him. And Isaac is the same in her house as he is at home. Nothing is secure. The dog’s water and food is tipped up onto the floor within seconds of his arrival. He is up at the table wanting food even when he has just been fed. He has the dogs toys tipped out and thrown around before we have even closed the front door. He is like a tornado that never ends. He has mastered how to open her back garden gate. And he finds all this hilarious.

We have to keep him occupied constantly. He can not play with toys, or sit for more than a minute or even watch TV. He walks over and breaks anything his sister is playing with. He wants to sit in a ball pool of toy food by seconds later he has the entire box of toy food strewn all over the living room floor. When he has a bath the bathroom floor gets as wet as he does. And he pours into his bath any cosmetics he can get his hands on. The taller he gets the more things he can reach. If his hands can’t open it he just chews it until it opens. He turns the taps on constantly. He won’t even stay still for a nappy change.

Before the holidays we were getting 3 hours respite a fortnight. It was like gold dust. It enabled me to get to church and hear a service, something I hadn’t done in 5 and a half years. I had time for a cup of tea and a brief chat with friends afterwards before having to pick the children up. I haven’t been in a church service since the last time they had respite. I miss that so much. So I keep calling.

We get so fed up getting messed around that finally one morning we put the children in the car and drive to the summer respite centre we were promised a place in. I feel a failure as I press that buzzer with tears in my eyes yet ears still hurting from the screaming my son is doing even at that exact time. I am having to phyically restrain him. He can see swings across the road. I ought to be taking him there not to some strange building he hasn’t been in before. And Naomi’s hands are out in front of her showing how scared and worried she is. Before she cries I pick her up and hold her. What sort of mother stands outside a centre on a warm summers day hoping to persuade strangers to look after my son? I feel sick but I know we have to do this.

They let us in. The children already inside are settled, happy and silent? I’m sure we have come to the wrong place. Apparently not. We register Isaac but hear how despite the fact we have a set of twins born just one minute apart, despite the fact they both have a diagnosis of autism, they are only able to take one of them; Isaac. I hope they didn’t see the relief on my face when they said he could come for two days every week for the next three weeks. 6 days, 5 hours each day of breathing space.

I hope that is enough to save my marriage. I hope it is enough to give my daughter some valuable time alone with us before she starts school. I hope they look after him.

My heart is broken that I have had to admit I am struggling. I keep telling myself he has to have one to one at all times at school even in a special needs school. I try to remind myself this is not a parenting fail but rather a child with severe and complex needs who still can not speak and isn’t toilet trained. My mind knows my whole family needs this breathing space even though my heart is broken at having to hand my son in to respite.

I love him so much. I just need some breathing space.

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