Acts of Kindness In A Pandemic

I stood in the playground of my daughter’s school in mid March as parents and grandparents gathered. There was only one thing being talked about: Coronavirus and panic buying! While many were stressing about shortages of toilet rolls and hand soap I was getting more and more stressed about the availability of baby wipes with two disabled children who both needed them. Since I wasn’t about to disclose to otherwise strangers about my children’s intimate care needs I kept quiet and walked my daughter home wondering how I would meet her and her brothers needs silently.

No-one could have predicted that by the end of that week my daughter’s school would close, along with every other school in the country, for an indefinite period due to a worldwide pandemic.

Coronavirus was no longer about which shops had toilet rolls but now about life and death and living in lockdown.

It’s 11 weeks now since lockdown started. I haven’t blogged at all during this period because it’s been a rollercoaster of emotions and every last minute of my energy has been spent supporting my autistic husband, caring for my elderly mum and looking after my autistic twins. I have cried alone, cried with my children, had sleepless nights and even had a panic attack for the first time since I was a teenager (longer ago than I want to admit).

But in the midst of this period there has been hope and that hope has kept me going.

Right in the midst of crisis there has been so much kindness.

Two days after lockdown was announced, on the morning I opened the last packet of baby wipes to clean a child up, I had a knock at my door. The postman, who was working throughout as a key worker, delivered a parcel from someone who only knows me via social media.

My daughter opened the parcel and shouted:

“Mum, it’s gold dust! Look what someone sent us!”

That’s the sort of thing she’ll always remember and tell her children about: in the midst of a crisis someone cared enough to show kindness.

Since that day I have been searching deliberately for acts of kindness.

I need hope. We all need hope.

We need to know the world isn’t all darkness and depression and that even when things are incredibly difficult that love never stops.

Here’s some of what I found:

I read stories of children’s birthdays and neighbours decorating gardens when the child was asleep to surprise them.

I read about surprises left on people’s doors…everything ranging from toys to colouring books to wine and chocolate.

Another person told me how a friend from her writing class, who had never met her young daughter, posted a box of books to her so her daughter had something to read.

One that really made me cry was the story of one lady whose daughter is autistic and has a very limited diet. One of the few things the girl eats is McDonald’s fries. For almost 9 weeks every McDonald’s was closed, even the drive through’s, and when they announced reopening it was staged with some places opening before others. One lady queued over an hour to buy fries then drove to the girl’s house to deliver them so that the girl could have her beloved and treasured safe food. That’s incredible sacrifice.

I heard stories of churches making packs for children and families while church was closed.

I read of charities making activity bags and sending them to children all over the country.

I was told of teaching assistants dressing up as children’s favourite characters on video calls to cheer children up.

We had deliveries ourselves including colouring sheets from a local taxi company, Easter eggs from a community group on Easter Sunday and a box left on our doorstep with individually wrapped small gifts for each of us…a magazine for my daughter, my son’s favourite biscuits, a treat for my husband and a bag of sweets for me. Little things that meant the world to us all.

I cried when another friend shared how her sister in America used the time difference to book a supermarket delivery slot in England for her sister and her nephews and even managed to get ten bags of a certain pasta which she knew was a staple food for the family and which they had been struggling to get.

There were so many stories of people making hot food for vulnerable neighbours, shopping for elderly family and friends, supermarkets keeping certain tins of things aside for a local family whose autistic son relied on a certain tin of meat, and then bigger more organised events like people putting rainbow pictures in their windows so children had something to see on their daily walk…the one allowed exercise each day.

Then last week a friend’s son, a wonderful young man who happens to be non verbal, autistic with learning difficulties and epileptic, was celebrating his 18th birthday with no ability to have a party, see family or see his friends at school. So to help him celebrate strangers from around the country sent him cards to open and little gifts that made his day a day to remember even in lockdown.

James on his 18th birthday with cards and gifts from strangers. Credit: Mark Arnold/Additional Needs Blogfather

Kindness and love can’t undo thousands of deaths nor can it eradicate completely the stress and distress of a world wide pandemic, but it can go some way to remind us that even in the midst of a crisis, when people have every reason to look out for just themselves, that there is hope and love in the world and that people still care about others.

It’s acts of kindness that many children will remember in years to come when they tell others about the time they lived in lockdown.
It’s acts of kindness that have helped keep mental health strong in the midst of heartbreak.
It’s acts of kindness that have kept me going when lack of sleep, long days and tight restrictions have felt like I was trapped.

Baby wipes, soap and toilet paper are no longer in short supply these days. Kindness isn’t either.

Even when life is at its hardest look for kindness. I know you will always find it.

With thanks to everyone who shared their stories to bring us all hope.

I Used To Worry About My Autistic Child’s Future Until I Met An Adult Just Like Her

All parents worry about their children: Will they make good healthy choices? What if they get hurt? Will they have friends? How will they cope with handling money? Will they be safe?

It’s standard parenting really to worry.

That worry is amplified if your child is autistic. You worry even more about them misunderstanding language, making friends, and being independent because they are more vulnerable and different to their peers, and because society isn’t yet as accepting and embracing of difference as it should be.

I worry about both my autistic children but for very different reasons.

My son is profoundly autistic. He is, however, likely to have the support he needs throughout his life because his needs and difficulties are very obvious to people. The fact he has no spoken language, he has significant medical issues and severe learning difficulties on top of his autism mean that my worries for him are more about will he carers look after him, will he be understood, will he be respected and so on.

With my daughter, who is also autistic, but who has no accompanying medical issues other than anxiety (which is huge and I would never underplay that), and certainly no learning difficulties, my worries are very different. I worry about people taking advantage of her when she is socially naive to their motives. I worry wether she would manage a work environment with her unseen and often misunderstood sensory difficulties. I worry that her communication difficulties and social anxiety will mean she is isolated and unsupported. I worry that her naturally caring nature and very tender heart would mean she is vulnerable to bullying and cruelty.

I try to never let her see my worries but they are always there. When she struggles with change at school on days like sports day or comes home in tears because she had been unwell and unable to tell anyone. When her anxiety is so high she has panic attacks and nose bleeds and I am powerless to make everything right.

She worries about everything and I worry about her.

Then I met Tom on a social media group. I say ‘met’ him but he was a stranger posting on a group both by commenting on posts relating to my daughter (and other posts too) and writing his own posts. Very quickly to us both it became obvious that Tom and my daughter had so much in common. Examples included little things like the fact:

1. They both preferred to sit on hard surfaces like the floor instead of traditional furniture like armchairs and sofas. Naomi spends hours a day, often all day, playing on the floor. It turned out Tom does that too but as an adult to relax in other ways like watching TV.

2. Naomi really struggles with needing personal space. She builds barricades out of toys to create circles around her that no-one can enter. Tom struggles with personal space at work in a similar way.

3. Naomi takes language literally timing me for example if I was to say ‘I will be back in a minute.’ Tom was struggling with the same thing and mentioned misunderstandings at work and with his family due to the same literal understanding of language.

4. I mentioned in one post that Naomi was terrified of flies, wasps, bees and any other small flying creatures. Tom was reminded of the time his parents told him he was so scared of bees he refused to get out the car.

5. Both Tom and my daughter would rock to self soothe.

I could go on but the resemblances continue to grow the more Tom posts about his life and the more he reads about my daughter.

Coming across an adult who is so like your child is incredible. It gives me hope when I once had worry, it excited me when I used to fear and it inspires me when I was once disheartened.

I know Tom isn’t my daughter, but with so many similarities I feel we were meant to meet to ease my worries. You see Tom is independent, he has a full-time job, he has friends, and though he struggles with isolation at times he never loses hope and he never stops trying. Of course he still has struggles but he did well educationally and he has achieved in so many ways. He lives the sort of life I hope my daughter might have one day but yet I worried wether it would happen.

Tom only found out he was autistic as an adult. My daughter was diagnosed aged 5. Tom doesn’t live in the same country either and his family life and dynamics are different. Yet the similarities are just enough to make me feel encouraged. What is even more important though is that hearing about Tom is helping Naomi.

While my daughter isn’t on social media yet I have been telling her about Tom. She is amazed at the similarities (have I mentioned Tom even shares her birthday?) and so encouraged to hear that while he may have some struggles (don’t we all, autistic or not?) he is achieving, happy and doing well.

She may never meet Tom but that doesn’t matter. We don’t have to meet people in person to be encouraged or inspired by them.

My daughter will one day soon be an autistic adult. Hearing about an adult just like her has been life changing for us both.

Thank you Tom.

I used to worry about my child’s future until I met an adult just like her.

If only every autistic child could meet an adult just like them too. Believe me when I say it really is life changing.

Hope For Parents Who Can Not Leave The House With Their Own Children

My children returned to school this week after two weeks Spring break and as I look back at photographs of their time off I realised something very significant: I am now able to take my own children out of the house!

That may seem a strange thing to say to anyone who has never been where I (and thousands of other parents) have been, but I can assure you every school holiday there are parents of autistic children right around the world stuck at home unable to leave the house with their own children.

Back in July 2016 I wrote this post where I quoted families throughout Britain who were trapped at home unable to take their own children out. It wasn’t lazy parenting or just anxious mums or dads, there were very legitimate reasons why taking their autistic child (and siblings) out the safety of their own home was a huge challenge. To summarise the list of reasons included refusal to leave by the child, no awareness of danger, violence and unpredictable behaviour, sensory issues and public comments.

I was one of those parents.

I have two autistic children, one with huge anxiety and another with challenging behaviour and huge sensory needs. For my safety (and theirs) it was best we stayed inside our own bubble of safety at home.

So what changed? Less than two years later and I have photographs of my children at soft play, in shops, swimming and in the park during school holidays. I not only took them both out myself but we all had fun and I even managed to snap some pictures! What others take for granted since birth has taken me almost ten years to achieve…but I got there, and you can too.

So how did I get to where we are now?

1. I worked out my children’s sensory needs and played to them.

I watched them at home and took notes. It was very obvious both my children loved water. They would play happily with water and bubbles and they both loved a bath. That got me thinking about swimming. I called the pool to see when they were quiet and while they were at school I went myself and took pictures of the changing rooms, lockers and showers (I knew they would never use these but they still had to walk past them). We watched YouTube videos of children swimming and I let them try on arm bands and rubber rings.

Then one day I took them swimming. The changing and drying was, and still is, a bit challenging but they love being in the water. It was worth it. Finally we had one place I could take them!

2. I took account of their need for routine and worked around this.

My children do not cope with routine changes. However that meant I could not leave the house with them so something needed to change. I knew there were some parts to the day that were unmovable like bath time and meal times. We never go out after dinner as I know how anxious and distressed my son gets if he does not have a bath at 6pm. He is more amicable and open to change after breakfast so this is when I usually head out now. It’s what works for us and that’s fine.

3. I do the activity and then bring them back home.

First bowling then home. First library then home. They needed to learn to trust me and they needed to know they would always be brought back to their safe place. There was no sneaking into the supermarket while I had them out or popping into a friend’s house on the way home. Short trips keep their anxiety (and mine) much lower and gives them time to process where we have been and wind down from that. One thing at a time is a motto that works very well for us all.

4.iPads come too.

For my twins, and many other autistic children, technology is much more than just a solitary chill out activity. My non verbal son uses photographs on his iPad to communicate and they both use their tablets to zone out when things get too much. If that means they play a game on their tablet and stay sitting on a seat while the other child takes a turn at bowling then I am delighted. Having their iPad helps the transition, minimises the sensory overload and brings them comfort. If that’s what it takes to get out the house then so be it.

5. I involve the children and instantly reward them.

Good old fashioned bribery got us out the house! I remember taking my screaming son one day to the supermarket. He was anxious and annoyed I was taking him out the house but I knew the benefits to him would out-way his anxiety. He was safe and with me and I was monitoring his stress levels continually. I took him in for bananas and right back out again. On the drive home he ate a banana while flapping with excitement. Now he associates the supermarket with food (instant gratification) and I can take him in with me for short periods provided he gets something to eat in the car coming home. There is no wandering aisles stressing him and I take him at times the shop is quieter to minimise waiting. It works. There is one supermarket near me that he never ever wants food though and that’s because they have another massive motivator for him: a lift! He knows if he stays with me while I pick up milk he can watch the lift for a minute before home. It’s mutual benefits really. With my daughter a promise of a magazine or other small treat had the same effect.

They both now see so much benefit to leaving the house that on occasions they even suggest going places before I do!

It took time and patience. I needed to take a risk and do it. It involved planning, risk assessment and sometimes having another adult with me, but we got there.

Like so many thousands of parents of autistic children I found myself staying home all day everyday because my children refused to leave the house, their lack of danger awareness scared me, their sensory issues were so high and I was worried about what people would say.

My children still have no awareness of danger. They still (and always will) have autism. They still have high sensory needs and I still get comments and stares from the public.

The difference is now we just go out and have fun anyway!

It wasn’t easy. It took time and patience. Today I can leave the house with both my autistic children on my own. I am proud of myself but I am ever prouder of both of them.

If you don’t feel you can leave the house with your autistic child can I tell you just one thing: There is hope.

It is most definitely worth it. You need out and the world needs to see both you and your amazing autistic children.

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.

Ten Seconds That Prove You Should Never Underestimate A Non-Verbal Autistic Child. 


People don’t expect much of my son. 

Speech and language therapists have all but given up on him, encouraging me to just accept he is non-verbal with limited understanding.

School take him on ‘environmental excursions’ rather than reading and writing because…well he can’t hold a pencil despite having been in school for four and a half years so he is never going to read and write is he?

The learning difficulties mental health team wrote to us explaining his challenging behaviour and long spells of screaming are just part of his complex diagnosis and are unlikely to change.

The public looks down on him in distaste.

Children his own age mock him in parks and soft plays when they see he can’t talk and is still wearing nappies.

Even as his mum I sometimes find myself wondering what the future holds.

It is easy to understand why. My son has a long list of diagnosis all of which are life-long conditions. He development is years and years behind what is ought to be and he requires support for all his personal care. He is a non-verbal severely autistic 8 year old who is still very much living in his own world. 

Well that is what I thought too. That is until I happened to turn my iPad video recorder on this evening while he was playing with his iPad. What I captured changed everything.

He had been handing me his iPad on and off for the last half hour. He was pressing the ‘google’ app wanting me to type things in to let him scroll though images. It was exhausting trying to guess what he wanted to look at with no eye contact, no words to tell you and no clues. In the end, frustrated myself, I handed him the tablet back and said ‘Isaac google something?’ I never for a minute even thought he would understand let alone google something so incredible it had me in tears:

He clicked on the search button and within seconds he pressed the ‘i’, quickly followed by ‘s’, then without hesitation he pressed the ‘a’ right beside it twice, before pausing for a few seconds then finishing his search with a ‘c’. In total it took less than 10 seconds for him to prove you should never underestimate anyone!

He just typed out his own name and I had no idea he even knew it let alone how to spell it!

The speech therapists may be right about him not speaking but he clearly understands far more than they realised.

School thought he would never be able to read and write…well he may not be able to hold a pencil cold but he just wrote his name using a keyboard on an iPad so who know what else he may be able to type?

The learning difficulties health team may be right about his behaviour being part of his comprehensive and complex diagnosis but what if so much of it is frustration at understanding but unable to communicate back?

Maybe this ten second video may help the public see that you can not judge anyone by lack of speech or lack of eye contact or lack of social skills. 

It only took my son ten seconds but in that ten seconds he has proved to so many that we must never, ever underestimate anyone, especially those with non verbal severe autism.

Does my son still have difficulties? Absolutely. Should I ‘not expect too much of him’? Never!

Behind the flapping, you tube on repeat, screaming exterior is a brain hard at work piecing things together in his own way in his own time. 
People don’t expect much of my son: I do. He just showed me why.

Why is it so hard to hear what you already know?

imageSometimes you already know something. Your mind has already gathered all the facts and knowledge and came to its own conclusion. Circumstances have been leading up to things and you *think* you have it all worked out.

That is until someone else says what you have been thinking out loud. Then suddenly your world crumbles and you go to pieces, even though you kind of knew it anyway!

In one of our many meetings this last week a professional who has seen my children regularly for over six years voiced out loud my inner thoughts on the subject of my sons inability to speak. Isaac is now six and a half. And he still has no speech. He makes noises, he screams, he takes me by the hand to things he wants, and now he is older he sometimes just helps himself. He has only been pointing for around a year.

I swallowed hard and asked her for her honest opinion. “Will Isaac ever speak?” I *thought* I was ready for what she would say. I already know deep down that the older he gets the more unlikely it is he will talk. I live with his frustrations and anger everyday and hold him while he cries every night. I celebrate all his efforts at communication in every form yet still long to one day hear his voice. But the realist in me knows that time is passing and he still has yet to master the tiniest of words that babies less than a year say with ease. We haven’t had the ‘ta’ or ‘hiya’ or even the basic ‘goo’ and ‘gaaa’. We have no waving goodbye or clapping in glee. Eye contact and joint attention that comes naturally to the youngest of children is still a mystery to my six-year-old. I am not in denial.

Yet when she told me my boy is unlikely to ever speak to me it still broke me.

Why is it so hard to hear what you already know?

Next month marks the three-year anniversary of his first major diagnosis: Classic autism with global developmental delay and severe learning difficulties. He had only recently mastered walking at that point, had no language and was very much locked in his own world. We had been told he had autism since he was 21 months and had yet to meet any professionals who disagreed with this in any way.

Yet on the day we took him to that clinic assessment there was still a tiny part of me hoping everyone was wrong. My world fell apart when I left that appointment hearing what I already knew spoken back to me by someone else.

Isn’t it strange how hard it is to hear someone else say what you already know?

Maybe when no-one else confirms it we just try to somehow forget about it? Maybe we don’t really face our own worst thoughts? Maybe the reality of someone else saying it just makes us realise it is true after all. But then they add to the pain and harsh reality by sending it to you in writing. And we find ourselves mourning in our darkest moments all over again.

I sort of knew deep down there was more going on. He had other ‘symptoms’ children with autism didn’t really have. But I never wanted to hear someone mention that out loud. At least not to my face. Yet one day five months later we heard the doctor tell us our baby also had neurofibromatosis type 1. Combined with his other conditions (and we may yet hear more as we wait for full genetic blood results to come back) the future is not the brightest for my son.

I know he will need care throughout his life. I know it is unlikely he will ever drive, own a house, have a successful career or go to university. But am I still not quite ready for someone to voice those things to me.

Why is it so hard to hear what you already know? Because it means you have to finally face up to it. It means others know your worst fears and concerns. It makes you vulnerable. It brings emotions to the forefront you would rather others never got to see. It is like stealing away that tiny shred of hope you held on to for dear life.

Someone asked me how the meeting went. I told them we were just told some stuff we already knew. They looked at me in wonder as the tears ran down my face.

Why is it so hard to hear what you already know?

It will get better, I promise

“Blood mummy. Blood mummy.” she cried just as I was trimming her finger nails.

The tiniest nick. But lots of tears. And plenty of blood.

If there is something sure to get my baby girl upset it is blood. She becomes hysterical at the sight of it. I just know it will be one of those stories I will hear repeated and repeated and repeated and will never be allowed to forget. But in the meantime I have to clear up blood that is pouring like a river and comfort a little girl who has gone into overdrive.

So dad wraps her finger in some kitchen paper. And I get some plasters.

“No mummy, not a plaster” she screams.The sight of the first aid box just made her ten times worse.

She doesn’t want a visual reminder of her pain. She wants it gone. She doesn’t want anyone else to see her wounds. She just wants to get better. I don’t have time to sit and explain or prepare her for the fact a simple plaster will make it all better. I even try a children’s plaster with lovely pictures on. She pulls the finger away dripping blood everywhere.

And the tears keep coming as fast, if not faster, than the blood from her finger.

We don’t do unpredictable very well in our house. We do routine, structure, preparation, This isn’t as much the pain that is causing her stress this is the look of blood, the not knowing what we are doing, the people being too close to her, the mass of sensory feelings her body is getting bombarded with. This is fear. This is the thought that things will never ever be better.

Plasters don’t work. So mummy held her 5 year old baby in her arms and firmly held kitchen towel over the small but highly distressing wound. To her this is massive. And I understand that.

“It will get better, I promise.” I whisper.

Slowly but surely it does of course. But her emotions and heart beat and adrenalin need to catch up with reality. That takes time. The comfort of being held and spoken to softly help. She is holding onto that promise. Though she has no visual sign of the reality she is trusting.

“It will get better, I promise.”

A little cream, a firm wrapping of kitchen paper and some micropore tape to hold it down does the trick. For now though she knows she is different. She feels that everyone will stare at her. She feels emotionally vulnerable and ready to cry at the slightest thing. The pain is still raw. Her mind can not yet think of anything else other than that cut. Everwhere she looks is obvious reminders of the pain. Drips of blood on her pyjamas, on the seat and on mummy’s clothes. Drips that right now seem massive. But to someone who has no knowledge of the situation they may even go unnoticed.

I remind her clothes can wash. Chairs can be cleaned.

“It will get better, I promise.”

Image

Two bedtime stories later and a little more reassurance and she was asleep. Tomorrow that little cut will be much better. In a few days time it will seem much less dramatic. The memory will be there of course. The trauma will still be there too. But in time that will fade a little. As I promised her, it will get better.

And I can promise you things will get better too.

Sometimes life is like tonight and suddenly something traumatic and overwhelming happens. And you may not be prepared. You child got diagnosed with autism, your marriage ended, you became ill, you lose your job, your landlord wants to sell your house, there is a death in the family.  Life has a way of throwing things like this at us. And just like my daughter when she saw that sight of blood, panic sets in.

Although my daughter is too young to voice it, she was probably thinking, like we all do,

‘How will I ever get over this? How can I stop this from happenin?. Can someone help me? Please just let this stop!’

It is ok to feel like that. It is natural.

Let people help. The right person can come along with that first aid kit, and that reasurring loving voice and tell you,

“It will get better, I promise.”

At first you see the plaster, that visual reminder that something is wrong, and you might panic more. You think everyone will see your pain. You feel vulnerable, insecure, broken. We all feel like that at times. It is ok to cry. When it all seems temporarily overwhemling crying is instinctive. It is part of the shock release. Sometimes it is the pain that is the issue and other times it is the thought that everything has changed, the not knowing what to do now, the sensory overwhelment of it all.

In that period of being wounded, of needing comfort, of being confused and emotionally vulnerable we all need the security of resting in someone’s arms. In my times of need I am so thankful for the loving arms of my Father God. Of being able to find refuge in the shelter of his wings. But we need people too. Friends to comfort us and keep reasurring us that it will get better. We need helped. Supported. Loved.

You may have to go through a period like my daughter of knowing you are different. I know when my children were both diagnosed with autism I suddenly realised how different life was for me. I thought my ‘wound’ was so obvious to everyone. I felt the pain and hurt would never go away. It felt like everday I was reminded of the fact my children were not like others. I felt like everyone would see that ‘cut’ and ask all about it. I seemed like I was dripping reminders of autism everywhere I went. I felt sad, alone, confused, vulnerable.

But time heals so well. I rested. And one day the wound was no longer raw. My children still had autism, just like my daughter still had that cut. But the diagnosis day became a memory. Sometimes, like Naomi, I want to replay it and talk about it. And that is ok. We just need to find the right people to listen. But things have moved on. When Naomi wants to talk about the day her finger got cut I will listen and comfort once again if the momory restirs emotions, but I will be reminding her that it got better.

She can’t keep that bandage on forever. It would not be healthy. I can’t keep going back to diagnosis day either. It happened. And things changed. But you know what? It got better. I grew as a result. I learnt, I became more compassionate, and I found new friends along the way too.

In the year I have been blogging; In the 13 months since we found out my son and husband have an incurable tumour condition; in the 18 months since Isaac was diagnosed as classic autism, global developmental delay and pica; in the 3 months since my daughter was also diagnosed as having autism; in the 4 months since we found out Isaac is visually impaired: these words have been my comfort, my strength and my hope.

It will get better, I promise.

Let them comfort you and bring you hope today too, whatever you are facing.

It will get better, I promise.

It doesn’t take much

Life, for me, is a very delicate balance.

The balance between meeting the needs of my very different 5 year old twins. The balance between being a good mum and also being a good wife. The balance between keeping my house clean and tidy for the many and varied professionals who visit but also allowing my children to be free to play and be at home. The balance between trying to move my children’s development onwards but also being very aware of thier need for sameness and the huge anxiety that change brings. The balance between encouraging my son to speak when he has no language but also facilitating him by providing a means to communicate that does not involve speech. The balance between wanting to teach my children social rules and conforming to social norms but also allowing them to be the unique autistic individuals God made them to be.

My selfish desires for quality photos of my children on the wall, to celebrate Christmas as much as possible, to see them in nativity plays and shows and to take them to interesting and educational places like museums and castles, to go out for family meals sometimes and visit family. But balancing that with the fact neither of them do social activities, they have serious sensory issues that make going out a challenge,what is interesting to me is maybe of no relevance to a 5 year old who is really just a 1 year old developmentally, accessing places with a disability buggy is a major challenge, and sometimes the best thing for everyone is just the safe haven of home.

It’s a fine balance.

And it doesn’t take much…to upset that balance.

Somedays we get it right. And others we don’t. For example:

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Since he started school in August and started wearing a red jumper as part of his uniform Isaac has insisted he wears red jumpers every day. And every weekend I try and break some of this rigidity by once again attempting to put on other clothes. He screams, bites, cries and becomes very distraught until the battle becomes more than it needs to be. Sometimes as a parent you need to be willing to lose the battle in order to win the war. So the red jumper goes back on.

It doesn’t take much …for calm to be restored.

But some days you really would prefer he wore something else. Like the day I decided to try and take the children and my mum to a photo shoot. A huge risk but something that was a dream for me for years. But also a major hurdle for the children. That delicate balance between my desires as a mum and thier needs as special children. Compromise..we will book a photographer used to dealing with autistic children and take items with us the children really love. So Elmo DVD and DVD player, wooden farm set and Naomi’s favourite cuddle toy of the day, and biscuits! We only lasted 30 minutes in the studio but I got my hearts desire:

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It doesn’t take much…to make my dream come true.

The balance between both dad and myself longing to attend Isaac’s first ever school parents night with the fact that both children would be upset at the change of routine. It would take a military operation to prepare them for the fact gran would be here at dinner time and the need to have a dinner both children and gran would eat, prepared and ready to serve, prior to Isaac having a meltdown because he sees someone cooking and Naomi screaming ‘I don’t like that!’ Oh and not fogetting a 26 mile round journey just for a 20 minute meeting with his class teacher. But the report and pictures and video clips we saw were worth all the effort it took.

It doesn’t take much…to make me a very proud mum.

When we were out at a local shopping centre and for the first time Naomi asked to see Santa. To see her overcome her anxiety and sensory issues to walk into a dark grotto and talk to a stranger. And to hear her being asked a question I knew she may not feel confortable answering. ‘What would you like me to bring you for Christmas Naomi?’ I gulped, held my breath and waited to see how she would respond. “A toothbrush please!”

It doesn’t take much…to please a child.

When we finally got a letter in the post with details of a proposed respite plan to start in the new year. Once again we had to break the children’s routine of going to church every Sunday to take them to a new centre to meet new people who hopefully will look after them both for a few hours once a fortnight starting next month. I could have found myself dealing with two anxious, upset and screaming children. Instead Isaac took great delight in exploring the windows of the room and examining close up a mural on the wall. And Naomi sat and drew a picture with beautifully lined up ordered pencils. While I filled in forms in duplicate giving every little detail about my children and life imaginable. It isn’t easy admitting you need a break. It isn’t easy dealing with disability times 2, 24 hours a day, whilst trying to keep your marriage strong and your bank balance healthy. Knowing there is a chance of a little break next year spurs me on though.

It doesn’t take much…to give me hope.

Naomi being given the nursery teddy bear to bring home and look after for a day. A box full of cuddly toys already but there is something wonderful and special about this nursery bear and all that they sent home with it. So ‘Sarah’ came out for lunch with us because her brother was having a school trip today.

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It doesn’t take much…to make a child feel special.

Recieving an e-mail from Romania from someone who reads my blog. Knowing someone has been encouraged. Knowing you might have got the balance of humour, reality and the sheer joy of raising two wonderful children with special needs. Just knowing that someone cares. Realising that there are other families facing the same delicate balance of raising special children in a society that does not always celebrate them. Knowing you are not alone. Appreciating the time and effort it took someone else to contact you.

It doesn’t take much…to touch another life.

Life is a very delicate balance for us all. Raising special needs children just makes that balance a little harder to achieve some days.

I’m thankful that tomorrow is a new day!

As well as blogging I have been trying to keep a little journal of thankfulness recently. Some days it is very easy to think of plenty to write and other days I have to really dig deep to see the good that has happened that day. But I can now look back at almost a month of written thoughts of thankfulness and I wanted to share some of the things I have been so grateful for and the little tiny seeds of progress that give me hope for a brighter future.

For those of you who haven’t read previous blogs or my history it will make more sense to you to know that I am a mother of 4 and a half year old twins conceived through IVF after a ten year struggle with infertility. Both twins are on the autistic spectrum and one of them is diagnosed severely autistic with global developmental delay, severe learning difficulties and neurofibromatosis type 1. He also has eye problems. Both are still in nappies and one is completely non verbal. During the last month we received difficult news regarding my son’s eye sight, my daughter has been referred for further tests regarding bladder issues and I have been struggling with my own health problems. We are also in a battle with the local authority regarding my sons future education. It is in the midst of all this that I want to share some of my notes on thankfulness. Because it is in the midst of trials that we most need to have hope and stay thankful.

So here are a few excerpts from my thankfulness diary from the last month:

I am thankful for the NHS and for people who choose to work unsociable hours to be able to treat myself and my children.

I am thankful for friends who call, text or e-mail and just say they are thinking of me.

I am thankful I can see my children smile.

I am thankful my son went 24 hours without biting himself today.

I am so thankful my son allowed us to measure his feet in a shoe shop for the first time ever without screaming. This is progress.

I am thankful for a husband who sees all my faults but still chooses to love me and be with me. And thankful that I have a God who is just the same.

I am thankful for the fact my son appears to have good vision out of one eye and has no sign of tumours on that eye either.

I am thankful for transport to be able to make appointments even when we have snow in Spring!

I am thankful to know what is affecting my children and causing them to behave the way they do. Understanding brings knowledge and helps me focus better on how to help them and pray for them.

I am thankful my son said ‘mum’ for the first time. He isn’t saying it consistently yet but it WILL come. Something like this gives me hope.

I am thankful I can hold my children at the start of every day and at the end of every day. Whatever happens in between I can still hold them close and kiss them and whisper “I love you” in their ears.

I am so thankful for my daughter who gets so excited over the little things that others overlook. Her thrill at getting a new dvd makes me thankful for her simplicity and gratitude and love.

I am thankful I got to use the bathroom in peace on one occasion today.

I am thankful for people who have walked similar paths before me and who are willing to guide and help me through challenging times.

I am thankful today for a warm comfortable house, a bed to sleep on and food in my cupboards. 

I am thankful for a God who hears my cries and knows my inmost thoughts.

 

I think being thankful this last month has really helped me cope when things have become challenging at times. On the days when my son screamed for hours, bit himself until he bled and slept for only a few hours. On the days when doctors reports seemed bleak and the children ate very little other than chocolate. On the days when the snow kept falling, the bills kept coming and the pressure seemed immense. On all those days I tried to be thankful. And I then found myself finding a shred of positivity, a glimmer of light and a ray of hope that allowed me to face another day and look at life a little differently. Even if all I could write was:

I’m thankful that tomorrow is a new day!

 

 

I just heard him say ‘mum’!

I’ve just had my mothers day present 4 days early. And it was priceless! My 4 and a half year old just said his first word and it was ‘mum’. Excuse me while I cry.

It’s not like it’s the first time I have heard ‘mum’ said today. His twin sister says it more times than my little ears can cope with some days. But this is the first word Isaac has said. I can not guarantee he will say it tomorrow, or next week or any time after that. But he said it tonight and that is something I will hold onto for the rest of my life. You don’t ever forget your child’s first word. And you especially don’t forget it when you have waited 4 years and 4 months to hear it. This split second will remain in my heart forever.

And the hope it gives me is incredible.

To get to this place Isaac has had learning support at home and at nursery, 14 months of weekly speech therapy, I have attended a four month course on how to communicate with my autistic child, and he has had daily one to one with countless nursery staff and other professionals. I have sang with him, read to him, played with him, prayed for him and did everything I could think of to help him. I have simplified my language and praised him for trivial things like ‘good sitting Isaac’, ‘good walking Isaac’ and ‘super waiting Isaac’. I have rolled balls to him for hours, ticked him to get a reaction, named all his favourite toys, whispered in his ears, stroked his hair and held him close. But most of all I believed in him.

Even though he has been making some slow progress recently I still wasn’t expecting tonight’s miracle outburst. Sometimes you just find yourself in a place where you continue on and wonder if any of what you have been doing is getting you anywhere. And then it happens: breakthrough!

And often when you least expect it.

Tonight was just an ordinary Wednesday night for us. The kids had been to their regular kids club for families affected by autism. Isaac went through his usual transition routine on coming home and the house was pretty calm. Dad started running a bath for the kids and I told them both it was bath time (Isaac’a favourite time of day as he just loves water!). Isaac understood the cue and began walking up the first few stairs to head to the bathroom. I followed behind and on the third step he stopped, turned, looked me in the eye and just said that magic word every mother longs to hear. “mum”. That was it. Nothing else. I could have kissed him, held him, never let him go. But that would have overwhelmed him. Instead I held his hand and we climbed together and headed for his favourite activity of the day. He was totally oblivious to the tears forming in my eyes and the faster beat of my heart. He had no comprehension of the miracle encounter that had just taken place. He was just happy to have my full attention and strip off and get in the water. That’s my boy!

Just two nights before this,when out in the car, his twin sister had asked, out of the blue, when her brother was going to get better and not have autism any more. And despite the fact she caught me unprepared (are we ever really prepared for the questions our kids ask?) I did my best to reassure her that her brother would always have autism but he could still learn to do lots of things she can do like saying words, playing with toys and going to school soon. With her usual 4 year old faith she replied “He will talk to me one day mummy. That’s what children do.” And then she went back to talking away about her favourite DVD characters once again. It wasn’t appropriate or important to correct her or break her faith. If she can believe her brother will talk, then so can mummy. So of course, she wasn’t even phased one bit by tonight’s miracle. She was expecting it so allowed her brother his moment of glory and then, like any child her age, took advantage of mum’s good mood and asked for extra toys in the bath! And the evening continued like any other.

Except something miraculous happened in my house tonight. We had a breakthrough. We reached a milestone. We shared a treasured moment. We overcame autism and neurofibromatosis type 1 and any other name you want to say my son has. He said a word…in context…with eye contact…with meaning. He touched my heart. He just called me “mum”.

Breakthroughs come when you least expect them. Never give up believing. Image