Dear Special Needs Parent…Please find time to cry

Dear special needs parent,

I can see behind that false smile, the reply of ‘I’m fine, thanks’ and your happy photographs you post on social media. I need you to know something very important as a parent to a child or children with additional needs: it’s ok to cry.

When you pick that child up from school to go to yet another appointment but you feel you are not getting any closer to answers; please find time to cry. I know you want to ‘brush it off’ as just another day and get on with things. I know you need to ‘keep going for the sake of the children’ as you add another outpatient appointment in your diary for a time you know will clash with the school pick up of your other children but you just don’t have the courage to say so.

It’s ok to admit it’s all draining and never ending.

You don’t have to be strong all the time.

Please find time to cry.

When you feel you are the worst parent in the world dragging your crying child to school because they are not coping and you want to help them ‘sort it out themselves’ because you know ‘this is just another incident and tomorrow there will be something else’ but deep down you still doubt if you are doing the right thing. When you worry about their mental health every bit as much as you worry about their physical wellbeing but you struggle to get anyone to take you seriously.

Don’t let the parent guilt consume you.

Don’t ever feel you are alone.

Please find time to cry.

When your child with communication difficulties is attacking you and won’t stop screaming. When you have missing hours you know nothing about and continually worry something has triggered or stressed them but no-one has communicated that to you so you can’t ‘sort it out’ and ‘make it right again’ like you always do. When you feel like you daren’t breathe incase one of your children has another meltdown and you can’t even use the bathroom without an audience.

It’s ok to want privacy.

It’s ok to feel you have lost control and you can’t make everything right for everyone.

Please find time to cry.

When the system grinds you down. When you feel scrutinised and judged by schools, professionals, and the general public. When you are heart sick of writing forms about your child’s struggles because you are trying to see a brighter future than everyone forecasts. When you no longer have any control over where you child can be educated or what therapies they can get because your child’s needs mean someone else feels they should make these decisions for you. When you feel robbed of everyday life experiences and see reminders of this everyday in social media posts and family occasions, please find time to cry.

It’s not a weakness to cry.

There is no shame is saying ‘this is hard’.

In fact by ‘holding it all together’ you are actually falling apart more than you realise.

So find time to cry.

It doesn’t mean you don’t love your child.

It doesn’t mean you are not accepting their condition or diagnosis.

It doesn’t mean you are any less.

It doesn’t mean you are not coping.

It means you are human.

Dear parent if a special need child or children: do yourself the best favour you possibly can today; find time to cry.

I promise you you will feel better for it.

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Why I Struggle When My Special Needs Child Gets ‘Star of the Week’

So my 9 year old son came home from school on Friday with a certificate and photograph in his bag. There was no eagerness to show me and no message in his school diary; it was just there. Of course I am proud of him and told him so and absolutely it will be displayed on his bedroom wall to honour his achievements like his sisters are in her room. That is never in doubt. However, I have to be honest and say I really struggle when my son gets ‘star of the week’ and here is why:

1. It reminds me just how far behind he is academically.

It’s a sobering thought that my son has been at school five and a half years and is still working at pre-school levels in many subjects. The very fact he still has no idea that star of the week is any sort of aspirational incentive to even aim for says it all. He isn’t being modest or shy in not showing me his certificate; he honestly still doesn’t get the whole social aspect of celebrating achievement in any way. His twin sister commented on his award saying ‘well done Isaac but…’ and she went on to ask why he is still so far behind her. That’s hard. You see I live with my child daily and I know he struggles but seeing it on paper seems to somehow make it raw. It hurts. I am proud of my son but sad that he is behind so much. I don’t think anyone wants their child to be 7 or so years behind their peers in any way.

2. It makes me scared for the future.

I try not to think of the future. I live everyday and enjoy the moment but wisdom would tell me that I do need to plan for the future too. I shared my sons achievement on social media and today someone asked me in person what happens to children like my son when they finish education. The reality is my son will likely not be suitable for college and academically will never reach the level required for university. Employment is pretty unlikely too so our current options include him living at home and attending day care services. That’s not what I planned for my child when I conceived him and carried him for nine months, and although I do need to be mentally prepared for this seeing his star of the week award just feels like his future is all planned out and that is scary. His options are limited and seeing his academic ability on a laminated sheet makes that a stark reality. I won’t lie, that is hard to accept.

3. It makes me feel he is being defined by his ability to learn.

When I think of my child I think of am energetic, fun loving, teddy chewing, mischievous little brown eyed boy who does the best squeezy hugs and who loves his food. I think of the child who has incredible gifts in communication despite having no spoken language. I get so much joy from singing along to the songs he plays on his iPad and going to lifts with him. I see a child who gets so excited every time Bing Bunny comes on the TV that he bounces in the armchair he is sitting in. I see a child who could go hundreds of miles to places on google street map even though he has significant visual impairment. I don’t see his lack of ability to read or write or speak as an issue and none of those difficulties define him. So when I see his star of the week award I hope that this is not just how society sees my child either.

My son will always struggle with some things. Professionals and medical specialists have told me it is unlikely my son will ever speak to me. Education have told me he won’t ever attend a mainstream school and college or further education is unlikely. It’s a very sobering thought but with that comes my absolute determination that my son should never ever be defined by his struggles.

So I will stick his award on his bedroom wall and smile. It’s great he has been recognised. It’s great he is making progress but I never forget that for everyone of us life is much more than our ability to learn or how far we go in education.

I struggle when my son gets star of the week because his ability to achieve should never be limited to traditional education. I am raising a remarkable, brave and wonderful child who is breaking the mould in life. He is a star in so many more ways than just trying to write the digit 2. One of the many reasons I write about him is to help others see beyond his academically ability (or lack of) so I will stick that award up and get back to celebrating my son in every other way I do daily.

Don’t ever let educational achievement define anyone. We are much more than our ability to learn.

I Don’t Want To Be An Autism Parent Anymore


The day started far too early. There was no sweet cuddles in bed or a little voice asking for a drink; no I was woken as usual by screaming. I have had day after day, month after month, year after year of being woken by screaming and I don’t want that anymore. 

I don’t want to wake up to a smell that would make you want to vomit and bedding that is fit for the bin more than the washing machine, because yet again it is covered in something that ought not to be seen by anyone else. I am so tired of that now. 

I don’t want to sit on my couch in the middle of the night looking at my child and wondering what I did to have a child who sees no point in sleeping, who at 8 still can’t say ‘mama’ and who still thinks the world revolves around his needs only. 

I love him more than words could ever convey but I don’t want to be an autism mum anymore. 

I want to be a mum who has fun with her child rather than doing therapy with them. 

I want to walk my son to school and talk to his friends instead of sending him in a taxi to a place where I am a stranger to them. 

I want to be able to talk to my child about the fact it is his birthday soon and discuss what he would like to do to mark that day. 

I want to be someone who takes my child to bowling, teaches them to ride a bike or even goes to the movies with them. Instead the only place I ever take him to is hospitals or respite. 

I am tired of missing out on everything. I am tired of never having party invites, knowing nothing about his day at school, having to still dress him, having to take adult nappies and wipes with me wherever I go. 

I don’t want to be an autism parent anymore.  

I am tired of holding my child as he screams in public again. 

I am tired of the never ending judgement, the stares and the horrid comments.

I am am tired of carrying around my broken heart as a result of the interventions and therapies having achieved nothing. 

I simply can not bear the thought of my child as an adult knowing what society is like. 

I am tired of meetings. 

I am tired of phone calls from his school. 

I am tired of fighting for everything but then being accused as having an attitude or people thinking I act like I am entitled. 

I don’t want my child to have autism anymore. This is not a ‘different way of seeing the world’ that he has, or ‘a wonderful gift’. This is a child about to be 9 years old who can not say ‘mum’ or use a bathroom himself. This is a child almost my height who still can’t put his own clothes on, brush his own teeth or dry himself after a bath. This is a child who can never ever be left alone, who has to have everything the same all the time, who self harms and wanders. This is a child still with the mind of a toddler who will require others to look after him his entire life. 

Who would want that for their child? 

Who would want that as a parent? 

Today I don’t want to be an autism parent any more. 

The problem is I have no choice. 

So I strip that bed, bath that child, cook him that breakfast as I always do and let him sit on my knee while he rewinds the same ten seconds of video on you tube he did yesterday and the day before that and the day before that. 

Nothing changes much in my house, except my feelings. 

Today I am tired. I don’t want to be an autism parent today the same way any other parent may feel about not wanting to be the mum of a toddler who tantrums daily or a baby who has reflux or the partner to someone with Alzheimer’s. We all have days when we are just down about the life we have. 

Yet we carry on. We dust ourselves down, search for some positives or listen to some music. 

Tomorrow is a new day. It will probably start off with screaming again too., but maybe tomorrow I will be stronger, more hopeful, more upbeat. 

Maybe tomorrow I will want to be the autism parent I need to be. 

Maybe tomorrow. 

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.

Who sees the hidden young carers?


As her brother climbed awkwardly into the swing she held it still for him as best she could before gripping the chain and gently pushing it forwards and backwards to keep him happy. For all her brother screams and attacks her and makes her life challenging she never stops wanting to help him and support him. She pushed that swing with all her might (he is 21 pounds heavier than she is) until he tired of it and wanted off.

 
The only one who noticed was me.

 
This is just one example of young children who are living their lives as young carers hidden from the eyes of so many around them.

 
Who sees the hidden young carers like my daughter?

Just days before her brother was having a difficult night. He has complex medical and developmental needs and is unable to communicate using speech. He was distressed and agitated and it was taking both myself and my husband to keep him safe and calm. He had just had a difficult meltdown where things had been thrown and broken and as he gradually calmed we were sorting out the mess and chaos surrounding him. As one of us cleaned up broken glass the other went to check on food that had been quickly left cooking downstairs. On my return I could not find my son in his room and neither could I find my daughter. I stood for a minute when I heard a noise I had not heard for days: children laughing!

His sister had decided to run her brother a bath to cheer him up. She had made sure the water was the right temperature and put in his favourite toys and here she was sitting on the toilet beside him checking he was safe like she was suddenly ten years older than her true years.
The only one who knew she had done that was me.

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Who sees the hidden young carers like my 8 year old daughter?

 
Another night recently my husband had popped out for a bit. My son had been bathed and both children were in their nightclothes when my son suddenly began throwing himself down the stairs screaming hysterically. I ran to him and held him tight as I tried to settle and calm him. His anxiety was at crazy levels and he was inconsolable. He was making so much noise I never heard the front door open and I never saw my 8 year old leave the house in just her pyjamas. The first I knew was when my son pulled me to the stair window and my heart missed a beat seeing my daughter the other side of our street closing someone’s front door. The second that door was closed her brother resumed his flapping and clapping like the world was suddenly back to being right again. When I spoke to my daughter later explaining how leaving the house is dangerous she replied ‘My brother needed me. I was only trying to help him.’ (As a side note I live in a very quiet side street and I am fully aware the door should have been locked. Hindsight is a great thing!) 

I was so glad no-one else saw her and I know she won’t do that again. But it still leaves the question who sees the hidden young carers like her?

 
There are young carers groups out there. They do a wonderful job for many young carers. Yet there remains so many young carers like my daughter who are ‘hidden’ due to a number of reasons.

 
My daughter is not recognised as a young carer because we are a two parent family and it is deemed her level of care for her brother is not ‘substantial’ or regular enough.

She is not recognised as a carer because she herself has some needs and it is deemed that due to these needs she is not able to care for her brother.

Until recently she was not considered to be old enough to be a young carer.

It was felt by professionals that we should not allow her to take on the caring role that she herself has readily and willingly taken on.

 
These are just a few reasons why young carers can be ‘hidden’.

 
Statistics say there are around 700,000 young carers in the U.K. That’s the ones who qualify as young carers but what about all the other precious children who are doing more than they should for a disabled or ill family member and no-one sees or knows?

 
I see my daughter so at least I can be there to support her and thank her even if others don’t.

 
There are 13.3 million disabled people in the UK. I wonder how many of them are being cared for today by a hidden young carer?

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Professional Speak Translated For The New Autism Parent 


Picture this: you have some concerns about your child’s development. Perhaps he or she is not speaking much, not giving eye contact, ignoring or over familiar with others or has some behaviours that seem a little repetitive. You decide to seek some professional advice. 

You have now entered the world of ‘professional speak’ where all sorts of professionals will say thing to you that actually have a meaning you may never realise. 
For those just starting out on the autism journey here are some things you may hear a therapist or a doctor say about your child with autism and here is what they might really mean. 

  •  “Let’s see how he goes shall we.” 

What that really means is we reckon you are exaggerating a few things and all will be fine. 

Remember: if your child has autism they will not grow out of it so don’t let this put you off!

  • Shall we discuss this another day?”

Which really means they are hoping to avoid the issue and hope you don’t notice.

Remember: take notes and remind them at your next visit you have something that needs discussing!

  • He/she is very complex.”

Which means that they really are not sure what to do with your child and hoping someone else will take over. 

Remember: if a doctor or therapist says this make sure they are working alongside everyone else dealing with your child so that this is not used as a cop-out. 

  • I’ll see you back in clinic in six months time.”

That translates to they have ticked the box to say they have seen you and they hope whatever the issues were that they will have disappeared by time you get seen again.

Remember: make a note somewhere on when you were seen and start chasing the next appointment in a few months time. Write down your concerns and make sure you are being heard.

  •  “What do you want us to do for you?”

This means they are trying to manage and limit your expectations from day 1 and they are also checking IF they can actually help at all. 

Remember: not every service is right for your child but if you feel a service CAN help push them to do so. Sadly they are often under pressure not to take every case on that is referred. 

  • The next step is for you to attend this course before I can do anything else.

Invariably that will be some sort of parenting course. Sadly it is still endemic to blame the parents before any real issues with the child are even looked at. 

Remember: it is not mandatory to attend any parenting course but often doing them can help and it also shows professionals you are engaging with them. As annoying and insulting as they are at least you can prove you are not to blame. 

  • I was speaking to my colleague about this.”

What this means is they feel they are out of their depth and may be looking to blame a colleague for some new idea or treatment rather than taking responsibility themselves.

Remember: this is YOUR child and if you feel uncomfortable with any professional talking to anyone, be that colleagues or other agencies, then make sure they know! Data protection means you have a right to privacy and confidentiality at all times. 

  • “I was planning to do such and such a test and speak to so and so in due course and get back to you at a later date.”

What this really means is they are delaying diagnosis in the hope at least one other person will state they have not seen signs in your child.

Remember: While basic tests like eye tests and hearing tests are useful and gathering information is wisdom, you can not be left indefinitely in limbo land for too long. It is important if your child does have autism that they get diagnosed and helped as soon as possible. Insist on calling back in a months time to ensure you are not being forgotten. 

  • Have you tried….(fill in the blanks with anything from hypnotherapy, hydrotherapy, ABA, a certain support group in the area, melatonin for sleep and so on)?”

This really means they are hoping you will say ‘ah yes we did this and such a thing is now no longer an issue’ so that they can discharge you. 

Remember: just because something works for others does not mean it will work for your child too. There is no harm is trying a change of diet (providing not harmful) or different forms of therapy, but there is no one size fits all in life and your child may need something totally different. 

  • That’s just all part of autism.”

Ridiculously some professionals seem to think once your child has autism that every other niggle or health concern they have is therefore related even if that is a rash, a headache or as crazy as tooth ache!

Remember: while autism is a complex neurological and developmental condition your child still has a right to treatment for bowel issues, pain and any other medical issues. Do not be fobbed off with the autism card! 

  • You look like you could do with some respite!


This translates as you could really do with brushing your hair and the matchsticks holding your eyes open are rather obvious today.

Remember: if they truly think this make sure they do something about it! Insist they pass that comment on to the right people or explain the process of getting respite!
Finally I will end with this one because of all the comments professionals give me this one angers me the most: ‘

  • We find working with the teachers is a better use of our time that working directly with your child.

Really? What that means is they place way more value on a teacher (who does not have autism) than they do on your child who desperately needs help! 

Remember: while few of us actually enjoy challenging professionals we have to fight for our children. Do not allow system failures to fail your child. 
Whatever therapists and doctors tell you always remember you are the parent. You were the one to raise concerns and you are the one who knows your child best. Make sure everyone is working with you and for you. 
Also note you will sometimes hear those wonderful words we all love so much: ‘

  • “I believe you!”

I hope more of us hear that one than the others! 

The top ten summer stresses for special needs families


At first it is lovely to not have to cope with the school run or never ending packed lunches to make. It is a novelty to be able to put the TV on and not worry that the kids will be late or that they won’t eat breakfast. I am delighted to not have to wash and iron uniforms (who am I kidding I stopped ironing them by the end of September!) and find matching socks before 8:15am.

These are all great things to get a break from and I do not miss carrying my screaming child out to his taxi daily. But I would be lying if I said as a special needs mum that summer holidays were all wonderful. They are not. I find so many things stressful about having my disabled children with me all the time. I am not alone either. 

Here are the top ten summer stresses faced by so many special needs parents today:

1. Lack of changing facilities. 

I want to take my children to soft play, parks, swimming, museums and day trips. The problem is I have two children who still need nappies changed and both are well over the age of being able to access ‘baby change’ facilities. I need changing places toilets and these are so hard to find. For so many families this lack of toilets prevents them accessing places all year round but it is magnified during summer when children want to be out and about in lovely weather and families want to go out together making memories. None of my friends whose children have no special needs seem to even think about access to bathrooms and it upsets me that such a basic necessity for special needs families is so hard to find.

2. Lack of disabled trolleys in shops.

My son has profound autism and other complex needs. I can dream that one day he will walk around holding my hand helping me but it is a pipe dream. In reality he will smash things, scream, run away from me or wander out the store completely. I need to shop even when my children are not in school. Although online shopping is handy there are days I just need to be able to pick up bread and milk but something so simple is so difficult, and often impossible, if a store does not have a suitable disabled trolley for my son. I have lost count how many shops I have had to walk out before I bought anything because there are no basic facilities for my son. In 2017 this really should not be the case.

3. Lack of playing facilities in parks.


My local park is wonderful. It has a swing seat my son can use and a wheelchair accessible roundabout. Sadly this is NOT the norm and if my son is in his wheelchair I often find myself unable to even access parks due to cattle grids and tiny gates and that is before we even get to see if there is any equipment he is even able to use. Parks should be inclusive not just for the mainstream elite. The stress of not knowing your child can access something as simple as a swing in a play park is common for so many special needs families. 


4. Access

Yes even in 2017 there are shops, play centres, public buildings and restaurants that I still can not enter as my son is unable to climb stairs. Many shops also have displays so close together manoeuvring a wheelchair around the shop is impossible. I am denied access to places my son should be able to visit and I should be able to enter due to inadequate disabled access. The United Kingdom is far from disability friendly sadly.


5. Autism friendly hours that are not autism friendly times!

I am delighted that more and more places are putting on quiet hours and autism friendly times. However as wonderful and inclusive as this sounds they are often at times that are so difficult for my family to access. Early Sunday mornings for example are of no use to my family as we attend church and late at night is no use when I have young children who need routine. Instead it would be better to have a quiet day or autism friendly day once a week that enabled many more to access and enjoy places that otherwise exclude so many. 



6. Lack of respite.

Being nurse, therapist, attending appointments and getting very little sleep is draining. The majority of special needs families have no summer respite and little support through the long weeks of summer. This causes resentment for siblings who fall to the wayside and can put pressure on relationships and cause many carers to struggle with their mental health. For special needs families school offers necessary respite which they can not access all summer long. It makes for a very long summer indeed.

7. Inability to use household items due to sensory issues.

I dare you to use the hoover in my house over summer when the kids are home! Or the hairdryer or washing machine. These are items I use daily when my kids are at school but using them in summer causes the kids to scream and lash out in real pain. Parents of children with sensory processing disorder walk on egg shells all summer just trying to keep their house respectable without triggering continuous meltdowns.

8. Lack of sleep.

I can cope when my son does an ‘all nighter’ when he has school as I can rest or nap while he is out. When your child or children need 24 hour care and you get very little sleep that has to take its toll eventually. By week three of the holidays I have no idea of the day of the week or even my name as sleep deprivation kicks in big time. 

9. Lack of support.

Therapists vanish in the summer, as do health professionals and social workers! While I fully respect everyone needs a holiday it can be so disheartening and stressful as a parent to be left without any support all summer long. It is also detrimental to the children who require continuity and routine. Living with a non verbal frustrated 8 year old for seven weeks with no speech therapists is stressful! 

10. Isolation

Places are noisy, busy, expensive (carers allowance is a pittance!), and the general public can be ‘challenging’, making trips out of the house so difficult. Add to that the stress many families face trying to get their special needs child off of technology and even into a garden and you have some idea how stressful summer can be. For thousands of families this leads them to be isolated in their own home, forgotten and abandoned due to having a disabled child. 
With time, money and planning so many of these stressors could be overcome. A little respite, businesses and community groups installing changing places toilets and more shops purchasing firefly trolleys suitable for disabled children and life could be so much different. 

Have a think. What could you do to make summer easier for a family with a special needs child?



This article first appeared here