Raising Two Autistic Children and How It Has Affected My Weight

I have never been super model material and that hasn’t ever bothered me. Prior to having children I was a size 12 and my weight wasn’t anything I ever thought about.

I am not prepared to say what size clothes I wear now because I know I am over weight and now I think about it a lot!

At nine months pregnant with twins I weighted much less than I do now, ten years later. The years have not been kind to me that way sadly.

As a new mother my weight was the last thing on my mind. It went even lower on the list when I told the health visitor I had some concerns about my son’s development. At 20 months I took him to see a paediatrician.

That day the paediatrician first mentioned autism and I went home and ate chocolate…because we all know that HAS to make everything better don’t we?

I had secretly hoped my sons struggles with speech, his delay in reaching milestones, his need for routine, his lack of social skills and his continuing rocking was a ‘phase’ he would grow out of. I was struggling with him outside of the house(and inside too where he would scream for hours on end) so I slowly but surely stopped going to anything with him. No toddler groups to be embarrassed at with my screaming child, no rhyme time at the library to watch other kids his age singing when mine could not say a word, and certainly no church when he would never settle in crèche.

The isolation started to affect my weight.

If you are not going out and meeting people what does it matter what you look like? I coped with the isolation by making poor food and drink choices.

Neither of my children were great sleepers. My daughter would only sleep if nursed from the breast and my son could stay awake all night at 18 months and still have more energy that a Duracell battery!

The lack of sleep started to affect my weight.

When you are tired your whole body is lethargic. You haven’t got the energy to cook and wash up so calling a delivery from a take away felt so much easier. It seemed like one less stress to think about in the chaos of life with young twins who consumed me all day and night. Sleep deprivation also meant that if I did manage a supermarket shop I would always forget essentials out of exhaustion. It took less energy to open a can of fizzy juice to drink than to remember how to even make a cup of tea. I was that tired!

Then as the children started nursery speech and language therapists, early years workers and educational phycologists became involved. The thought of people coming into our lives and our home brought so much stress and anxiety that I would cry into my cup of tea while munching on a chocolate biscuit.

Stress started to affect my weight.

The stress of finding a nursery place able to meet the needs of a non verbal child in nappies at three who wasn’t yet walking. The stress of putting the children in transport when neither of them could say if they were being treated well. The stress of feeling like I was always being judged because my children were not like others would make me want to reach for cake and fizzy juice while the children were at nursery or school.

Outside of nursery or school I had no other child care. My son was still screaming at 6 and beyond and the children’s insistence on rigid routines meant I could never ever be away from them. Going to the bathroom caused my daughter to have a panic attack and my son to scream! Everyday was a repeat of the previous one and outside of school we never left the house. I felt I was letting my children down.

Guilt started to affect my weight.

I felt I must be to blame for my children’s struggles since I was their main carer. I would read about autism being genetic and cry myself to sleep. I would read about early intervention and courses and wonder if I was doing something wrong since my child was 7, then 8, now 9 and still not talking at all. I felt guilty asking the NHS for nappies for my child as if I was somehow stealing from them. I felt guilt I was unable to work and pay taxes. I felt guilt at not noticing the autism in my daughter until she too was diagnosed a week before her 5th birthday!

I coped with that guilt with more take always, hot chocolate and crisps.

Food became my comfort when my world was falling apart.

I lost my self esteem, self worth and pride.

It’s taken me years to accept my children’s autism. I have walked through the isolation, the lack of sleep, the stress and the guilt and though things are not without difficulties, I am in a much better place.

Then one day I realised: if I could accept my children’s autism then it was time to wake up and accept how overweight I really was and do something about it.

Now I am slowly trying to lose weight. It isn’t easy though as my children are just as autistic as they always have been. They still only accept me doing certain things, rely on rigid routines, require a very high level of personal care and still struggle with sleeping a lot. I still don’t have child care and we have an abundance of appointments.

But I am making better choices. I am exercising when I can and not ordering take always like I used to. Change isn’t something my children like and it was so easy to settle into our unhealthy rut and stay there.

But for the sake of my autistic children and for my own health I am now slowly taking control of my weight.

I don’t blame my children for my weight issue nor do I blame autism. It was MY reaction and MY choices combined with the social isolation, lack of sleep, stress and guilt that having autistic children brought that pushed me to seeking support in all the wrong places.

I know it’s not going to be easy but one thing having autistic children has taught me is that even when progress is slow it is so worthwhile.

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I could sleep on a bed of nails

Over the years I have done many jobs and worked long hours. At one point I had 3 different jobs at once cleaning, working for the council and doing catalogue sales 6 days a week. But no job has ever had such demanding hours, such little breaks and as little sleep as being a mum! You take your work on holiday with you too! Yes the perks are fantastic and the rewards amazing but right now I am so seriously sleep deprived I really could sleep on a bed of nails.

The twins attend nursery 5 mornings a week for a few hours. That’s on the days when they can go. There is hardly a week without hospital appointments, clinic appointments, check ups or meetings to attend that require us to have them both out of nursery as we can not guarantee to be home in time for the other one getting out at 11:30. We currently have eye clinics every 8 weeks, the optometrist every 8 weeks , developmental paediatrician every month for Naomi, medical paediatrician every 6 months for Isaac, health visitor visits once a month, social work visits, multi-discipline reviews, speech therapy meetings, school transitions and lots of other meetings and check ups to attend. It is exhausting just writing them never mind attending them all.

Then there’s the phone calls from the nursery, the genetic nurse, the educational psychologist, social worker and whoever else needs to keep up-to-date. It’s only June but already the diary could do with being replaced!

We have our own health to attend to as well as the children’s so I too have hospital and doctors appointments and check ups and prescriptions to collect. And now and again the odd blood test to fit in.

It is all so exhausting. But the most exhausting thing of all is the 24 hour care the children need. Last week Naomi was diagnosed with bowel and bladder problems and she is now on daily medication. It would be easier if it was a simple spoon full like her antibiotics for her ear infection the previous week but this is a dissolve in juice affair and she has to drink it all. Time consuming and stressful to get a four ear old to drink a cup of yucky tasting liquid. Every single day. And everyday the same battle. There is no easy way. At four she still needs dressed and her nappy changed too. And as all children do, she needs our time and attention to grow and thrive. But the most incredible thing about this girl is the fact she sleeps. And until you have to survive on the minutest of sleep you have no idea how much of a blessing that is. She naps during the day too. I mean this girl must have her twin brothers sleep gene too since he seems to have no concept of what sleep even means!

Isaac puts a new meaning to the term demanding. From the minute he is awake (assuming he has slept at all that is)he is high maintenance. He wants and requires a high level of routine including still drinking milk from a baby bottle at 4 and a half (but only ever for mum!). He is fickle, and depending on his mood or the amount of sleep he has had he will refuse all food some days except chocolate or ice lollies. Of course, he can not be allowed to do this so you face him biting you, screaming, hitting and head banging some mornings even before he has his clothes on! This is autism. This is everyday life for more people than you might ever know. It is like walking on eggshells every minute of every day. You are just waiting on the next meltdown. The next high pitched squeal. The next attack on his sister. Frustration, sensory overload and sheer annoyance at not getting his own way cause him to change from a placid settled child to an angry upset physical 4 year old in seconds. And you can not reason with him. You just can’t send him to the naughty step. Shouting and getting angry has no effect on him. Your tears would only make him laugh. But he still has to learn. Despite his disability he has to know that sometimes the answer is NO. Two minutes later he will repeat his action again. And again. And again. Repetition is his ‘thing’ so even if the action appears to have a negative reaction he will still repeat it. So we get bitten and bitten and bitten. You have to give this boy credit for determination though. I mean, if mum has said no to chocolate 6 times you just never know she might just give in on the seventh time. You might just wear her down! He does but I just can not give in.

At church he likes to walk. That’s ok you might think. Except he HAS to hold my hand. And walk up and down in straight lines over and over and over and over. Until my head is dizzy and my feet ache. But he won’t let you stop. Unless you want the entire congregation interrupted by high pitched screaming, yelling and a head banging child. What would you choose? Who needs the gym eh? It’s the same in the garden. I seriously know every minute detail of our garden hedge. My husband missed a branch 3 metres down half way across the top when he was trimming it. I have walked miles up and down that garden. The other day he replaced my hand with a flag. I could have kissed that flag. Although after Isaac has tried eating it and chewing it I think I will give that a miss actually.

You would think with eating everything and anything he would wait for his meals. No. He cries and pulls at you and makes all sorts of upset noises until you have finally cooked that meal and put it in front of him. The despite all the fuss and upset at the waiting he will mix it around, chew and play with it, eat about half to three quarters of it and then lose attention and start putting his hand in YOUR dinner and helping himself. Which rather puts you off your meal somewhat. An hour later and we are back to the screaming, demanding and going into the kitchen wanting food again. Sigh. His latest is opening the fridge, licking things and putting them back in. So have I put you off dinner at mine yet?

Dressing is a problem, nappy changes are a problem, chewing things he isn’t supposed to is a problem, trying to escape out the house is a problem, constantly wanting to access water is a problem, and did I say he doesn’t sleep? Oh he has no trouble wanting to go to bed but actually sleeping, well that is another thing altogether! A good night would be 5 hours sleep. But not always altogether. Where’s the fun in that?

These children bring me joy unimaginable. Their every achievement, every new milestone reached brings me to tears of pride and joy. The love I have for them can not be quantified. The lengths I would go to help and support them knows no boundaries. I think about them, pray for them, dream about them (in the few hours sleep I get) and want to spend my time with them. But I have to be honest. And I am exhausted. I could honestly sleep on a bed of nails…but I need to get Isaac to go to sleep first!

Even God had a day of rest you know!

smiling Naomi

garden Trying to eat the garden flowers!

fridge licking the contents of the fridge

flag I was exchanged for a flag…Thank goodness!

cereal Even breakfast is not a simple affair!