What it is like to parent a child who can never be left alone

When your baby is born you promise them the world. You promise to look after them, keep them safe and be there for them. When they are tiny and lying so innocently in your arms fully dependent upon others to meet all their needs it is so easy to promise them you will never leave them.
The reality is though that children grow. As they grow they need to learn responsibility, resilience, and independence and all three of these require periods of not being constantly supervised by a parent. I want to say I never ever set out to be over bearing, or a so called ‘helicopter parent’ or paranoid in any way.

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Unfortunately though life changed the way I parent my son. He has multiple difficulties and wether I want to or not he simply can NOT be left unattended at any time, even at age 8.
Going to the bathroom is such a huge risk I leave the door wide open so I can see him and hear him, or I take him with me. Simple tasks like tidying the kitchen can only be done if I am able to see him completely or he is in the same room as me. If I leave the house for any reason I have no choice but to take him with me. I can only shower or bath when he is at school unless there is another adult here to watch his every move. Even popping to the car in my own driveway is a risk I can not take most days.
I do not want to live like this but I have no choice. I am fully aware how damaging this level of hyper-vigilance is to my son and to myself but I am actually doing it because there really is no other way. School have to show the same level of vigilance as do his respite centre so it isn’t just me.

He simply can not be left alone, ever.

Here are a few reasons why:

1. He has no language.

That poses huge risks. He can not ask for help, or shout if in danger. He can not ask to reach something that could fall on top of him and he can not tell us where he wants to go. So I have to be with him.

2. He has no concept of danger. 

He would open the house door and stand right in the middle of a motorway and have no idea. He would eat grass or dog faeces or climb out a window. He would play with knives or drink bleach. I can not leave him for his own safety.

3. He sensory seeks all the time.

He seeks out water but can not swim. He seeks out lights…even if these are car headlights. He loves the noise of smashed glass…he climbs…he swings on doors…he bites and kicks…for his own safety and the safety of others he MUST be supervised.

4. He is violent.IMG_0449

One minute he can be the most loving, gently child but that can change in a moment and he can attack someone. While I know some of his ‘triggers’ for the safety of his sister he can not be left in a room alone with her or anyone else.

5. He smears.

As awful as this is to talk about it is real for so many families. Left alone for less than a minute and so much damage is done. No-one benefits from the clear up and the less it happens the better for everyone.

6. He eats everything.

Bedding is a current favourite but we have had clothing, toys, jigsaws, paper, pencils, lego, teddies and money all eaten regularly. The danger of that is very obvious and unless we wish to have a season ticket to the local hospital he MUST be watched.

7. He destroys.

He is the master of opportunity. Sensory seeking, no concept of danger, little awareness of cause and reaction and no understanding of empathy mean he has fed his sisters tropical fish milk, talcum powder, full tubs of fish food and several Thomas tank engine trains. He has thrown and broken expensive technology like iPads and cameras, he has blocked the toilet with all sorts and poured all manner of things into the bath tub. While he may have no understanding of his actions we do and it is vital this behaviour is prevented as much as possible. The only way to ensure that happens is to be always vigilant.

8. He has seizures.

Medically the consequences of leaving him unattended could be fatal. He has had seizures at the top of flights of stairs, outside and during the night. He could choke on his own vomit, badly injure himself or knock himself out. He must be watched.

9. He is vulnerable.

While he may be living in his own ‘bubble’ sadly he is at high risk for bullying and abuse or wandering off. As his mother I have to protect him. That means having to be with him. It is hard to trust when he has no communication to tell me anything.
People tell me I need to relax and that he needs to learn independence. What they don’t understand is that he never will be independent. The level of care he has now is what is likely to have to be in place throughout his adult life. It really is the only way to keep him safe and to keep others safe too.

I am tired. I cry. My life is severely restricted by the needs of another person. If I want my son to stay alive and have any quality of life I have no choice but to never leave him alone.
What’s it like to parent a child who can never be left alone? 
Lonely.

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How Google Street Map Has Given One Non Verbal Autistic Boy a voice

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If there is one thing my son Isaac has taught me in the last 8 years it is this:

 
Communication is much more than words.

 

Isaac has severe autism. He has no spoken language. He has global delay, significant learning difficulties and NF1. He struggles with lots of things in life ,but yet there is one thing he excels at and has done for a few years now: he has taught himself to communicate via google street map!

It is a different way of communicating, but for him it works much better than speech or any traditional communication app.

Wherever I take Isaac, wether it is somewhere he is familiar with, or hundreds of miles away to a place he has never been before, he has a special talent of retracing the exact route once home using just google street map and his incredible memory.
In the summer of 2014 when he was just six year old we went on holiday to a cottage 120 miles from home yet a week later he retraced the exact route we travelled including stopping at the very same service station we took a comfort break at!

I was amazed that a child who has no understanding of numbers or letters and barely turned when his name was called could hold such an incredible talent. I was sure it was a one off.

img_6259He attends a school for children with complex needs and is transported there in transport alone for his own safety due to challenging behaviour and seizures. His school is 14 miles from home yet he takes himself there by memory via google street map every afternoon once home and sitting in ‘his’ chair. I put this ability down to the fact he does the same journey daily. I wondered if he had the location stored.

One day I watched him.

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What I witnessed gave me an insight into part of his world I can never be a part of and which he could never tell me about. Watching him use google street map gave me peace of mind as he showed me step by step the route his taxi goes and even where the car parks to get him out…in fact he even took me to the door of the building he goes into! All without speaking a single word

He uses google street map for his every communication need now.

If he is hungry he goes onto the street map and travels from his home address to a restaurant nearby and brings his iPad to me to show me.
If he wants to go out he uses google street map to show me where he wants to go, from the church he goes to every week, to the train station, and the local park. He takes himself to his grans house and to shopping centres to tell me he wants to go and watch lifts.
He has discovered he can enter a local hotel using google street map and this has opened up new unique ways for him to communicate too.
He tells me when he requires his continence products changed by taking himself to the hotel, going inside and finding the toilets!
He goes into rooms in the hotels and finds an ensuite to communicate he wants a bath at night. When ready for bed he moves around the rooms until he finds a bed and points to it.
He finds my car in the driveway to ask to go in the car.
He finds a clothes shop in the high street to ask me to get him dressed.
When he was highly distressed one day and I could not stop him screaming I put on google street map and he moved around until he found a house with a door open to show me that there was a door open somewhere he could see and this was what was causing his distress! I was in awe of his ability to find such an ingenious way to communicate.

Two weeks ago though he shocked me once again. He was more lethargic than usual and quiet (he may not speak but he makes a lot of noise!). He came and sat beside me and used his skill on google street map to take himself to the doctors surgery! For the first time ever he was able to communicate that he was feeling unwell! This was incredible. I cried. It was nothing serious thankfully but to be able to say he communicated he was not feeling good to a doctor was amazing.

Isaac is not a genius. He can not write his own name, dress himself, read or write or use cutlery. He requires round the clock care. He can not speak one word. He is severely autistic yet he has found a way to connect with others that is as unique and special as he is.

Google street map has helped millions find their way in life but none more so than one non verbal autistic little boy named Isaac.

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How my sons inability to speak is tearing our relationship apart.

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This is something I have never written about before or admitted to anyone, but I have always struggled with my relationship with my son compared to his sister. I don’t love him any less nor do I favour one above the other but there is something that prevents me being as close to him as I am to his sister: his inability to speak.
The older he gets the more it is literally tearing us apart and that breaks my heart.

We are both trying, we are determined to try and overcome this but no matter what we do it is always there lurking like a dark shadow.

We play together, we ‘read’ together (well I read to him!), we share games and we eat together but it is incredibly hard to reach into him when he is non verbal. That breaks my heart. Having no spoken language at all really affects my son so much.

Having no language at all at almost 8 years old has forced him to be more independent.
He can’t ask for help or even ask for something to eat. So he uses his physical skills to open the fridge and help himself or open the front door and take himself out. The other night he took himself to bed because he was unwell. He has in the past brought me a cup or a bottle of juice and I have found him sitting at the table with an empty plate in front of him too. I would love to be able to hear him simply say ‘mummy, I have a sore head.’ Or ‘can I have something to drink please.’. He won’t always have access to the bottle of juice or cup to let others know what he wants.

Having no language is making him frustrated and angry.
imageI know if, like his sister, he could talk about his day at school and let us know what has upset him we could help him calm down and share his day with us. When he looks at a box of toys and points it is incredibly upsetting for him when we continually have to guess what it is he wants and we frequently get it wrong. He gets upset at certain programmes on the television but has no way of telling me why so he gets angry instead. He finds open doors highly distressing but has no means to tell me why so instead he becomes frustrated and violent. Speech would help us resolve all these issues. Some will be quick to suggest sign language or picture communication but these are so limited and his inability to make the right sign or find a relevant picture just make him even more angry and frustrated.

Having no language means he is at the mercy of others to communicate on his behalf.
Could you imagine having a wonderful holiday, printing out all your photographs and yet someone who wasn’t even there with you decides to tell everyone about YOUR holiday without allowing you to say a word? I am certain you would find that irritating and annoying and you would become very cross. This is what is happening every single day when I send my non verbal son to school. Adults dictate what information I receive on my sons behalf and tell me (if I am lucky enough!) about the experiences he has had. It’s not what I want. It’s not what my son wants either! He wants to be able to tell me about his day, his way! When I pick my daughter up from school she tells me about her favourite pencil breaking, the games she played at playtime and the funny shaped banana a child had in their packed lunch box! This is life from her perspective and something I can never ever get from her brother. A huge chunk of his day is a mystery to me and he has no language to enable that gap to be bridged. Have you any idea how difficult and heartbreaking that is for us both? It rips our relationship apart.

Having no language is life limiting for him.
He will never be able to read to me, or to anyone else. He won’t ever be able to use his voice to tell a joke or share a story. He won’t be able to sing or even give me cheek. As he gets older he will not be able to use his voice to ask a girl out or even say ‘I do’ on his wedding day. Asking the price of an item in a shop, asking directions, even telling the bus driver where he wants to go are all going to be difficult if not impossible. He is likely to need someone with him to support him throughout his life. Using a telephone is never going to be easy and connecting with other people will always be much more complicated.

We have tried alternative methods of communication. We spent years trying makaton but he can’t manage the signs himself and is struggling with picture communication too.

I know if he could speak so many things would be different. I know if he could speak we would be so much closer. How do I know this? Because he has a twin sister and my bond with her is strengthened every single day through language. She tells me about her day at school, her worries, her achievements. We play together and I join in her games because language enables us to play together. She reads to me and with me. She can tell me what she wants and I can listen. She shares her emotions, her ideas; her life with me through talking.

The more she talks to me the more we bond. The less my son is able to say the communicate the more our relationship is strained.

I am working on my relationship with my son every day. We have a very special bond and a deep love but there remains an invisible problem between us that is tearing us apart: the fact he is non verbal.

If I could change anything it would be that he would one day be able to speak to me. If only love could make him talk…

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