My children do SUFFER from autism and I think we need to understand that.

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I have just outraged and angered an entire community by saying that. Before you pin me to your dart board and vilify me on social media please spare me a few minutes of your time to hear me out first.

I adore my children. They are my heartbeat, my reason for being, my everything. I think they are the most beautiful human beings ever created, they are talented, hilarious, kind, amazing and every single day they make me proud.

They also both suffer from autism. I use ‘suffer’ deliberately.

Dictionary.com defines ‘suffer’ as:

verb (used without object)
1.to undergo or feel pain or distress:
2.to sustain injury, disadvantage, or loss:
3.to undergo a penalty, as of death:
4.to endure pain, disability, death, etc.,patiently or willingly

So sticking with the dictionary meaning let’s go through this. Not all apply to autism but here are the ones that do for my children:

Number one to undergo pain or distress. My children both undergo this due to their autism but in very different ways. My daughter feels very real pain when she experiences sensory overload and certain smells make her physically sick. Loud noise hurts her ears and someone walking past her in school is like them sticking needles in her. Her pain is real. Not understanding social situations distresses her to the point she has panic attacks and cries. My non verbal son experiences distress and pain daily as a direct result of his autism. The simplest of things changing or even a door open anywhere in our full street and he will self harm and scream for hours. He just can not cope and has no means to communicate why. That to me is pain and distress not just for him but for us too.

Number two: to sustain injury, disadvantage or loss.
Loss of ability to speak both consistently for my non verbal son and in certain situation for my daughter due to extreme anxiety; that is loss and disadvantage. To be excluded from social events because you are so limited in your interests or find social situations so complex and difficult is loss and disadvantage. To have the level of learning difficulty my son has where at 8 he can not write one letter or number nor can he read is a huge disadvantage in life. To still be wearing nappies at 8 is a disadvantage and loss. To not be able to dress yourself is disadvantage and loss. So yes they suffer from autism according to this definition too.

Number four: to endure pain or disability.
I see autism as a very real disability for both my children. They are unable to do what others in society take for granted. My son will require 24 hour care all of his life. My daughter has mental health difficulties which will require ongoing monitoring for most of her life. Socially they will both require support too. Their autism is life long and they require a much higher level of care than other children their age do. Do they need to ‘endure’? Yes I believe they do. A school day is huge for them both to cope with. The demands placed on them, the sensory difficulties faced and the continuous transition from outside to inside and different rooms puts massive stress on them both and it takes huge strength for them to get through every day. Autism causes them mental and physical pain at times in ways many of us don’t quite understand.

My children live in a world that is different to them and confusing. Their communication difficulties and social struggles make everyday a challenge. They struggle, they endure and they face difficulties. They are suffering.

It is apparently not politically correct to say anyone suffers from anything. The negative connotations associated with the word suffer make some people very angry. I am not dismissing that at all. Yet I am left with a big concern: If we continue to only allow people to use positive and politely correct language when referring to autism like it is ‘just another way to see the world‘, or ‘it is a gift‘, or ‘it is a difference to embrace‘ then are we doing an injustice to those who are in fact struggling daily, in pain mentally or physically as a result of their autism, and suffering as a result of inflexibility, social confusion and misunderstood repetitive movements like flapping?

My children need support. They need people to help them through their struggles. If that means I come across as negative saying they suffer from autism then so be it. Sometimes I have no choice but to break the taboo in order to get the support my children desperately need.

If by stating they are suffering it causes people to want to help, or makes them think about how they treat them then I feel it is justified.

I tell my children everyday how wonderful they are, how precious they are, how loved they are. I celebrate their achievements and accept them but I refuse to sugar coat their struggles and I want to honour them both for the way they cope in all the ways they truly suffer as a result of their autism.

They suffer from autism and I think other people need to understand that.

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He is there

imageCompanies often have silent partners. Many businesses and charities do too. It is a highly successful strategy that brings stability, maturity, and grounding to an organisation.

Yet people are quick to judge when it seems a marriage has the same balance.

Sometimes I go to meetings for my children on my own. I send emails on my own and answer and make phone calls mostly on my own.

But that does not mean I am truly on my own. You may not see him, but my ‘silent partner’ is there. My children have a father. I have a husband.

And there is a reason why he is more ‘behind the scenes’ than some people would like.

Everyone copes differently. That does not mean that any one way is right. And we all have different strengths.

I find social situations quite enjoyable. My ‘silent partner’ does not.
Meetings rarely make me nervous or intimidated. My soul mate finds them heavy, frustrating and stressful.
I find talking openly about my children’s difficulties fairly straightforward. Communication is one of my strong points. My husband finds this difficult and draining.
I quite enjoy form filling. For my partner this is like sticking pins in himself.
I find multi-tasking comes as second nature. For my lover this is confusing and he would much rather finish one task before moving onto the next. Interruptions like unexpected phone calls, cancelled meetings and children’s illness cause him to become anxious and flustered.
It is second nature to me to put the ‘right’ jumper on the right child, make sure the food is not touching on the plate, and do up the buttons on their coat in the ‘right’ order. But the stress of ensuring things are ‘just right’ for our autistic twins can become overwhelming for my husband. The slight change of detail can throw either one of our children into a screaming meltdown that lasts all night, so his fears are both real and understandable.
Homework is a mystery for my partner. He struggled though school and finds modern ways of doing things confusing.
Dealing with a screaming child who can not speak limits my partners patience. And I totally understand that. I am far from perfect and my patience runs thin at times too.

It doesn’t help that both our children have complex needs. They both thrive on routine and have rigid ways of doing things. They are more relaxed when the same person does the same thing everyday. They need the same words used, the same voice, the same physical touch and way of doing things. So they both cling to mum as if their life depended on it. In many ways it does.

But they know, just as much as I do, that dad is still there. He may seem in the background. But he is there.image

Some of you will be saying right now that my ‘silent partner’ is just a typical man. Some may be annoyed he is leaving more to me. Some of you may even wonder if he understands it all. A few may even feel he doesn’t care.

Let me tell you something: He cares. He loves. And he sees. He is very much here.

But there is something I feel people should know about this very important ‘silent partner’ in my life: My husband has neurofibromatosis type 1. The exact same genetic tumour producing condition our son has.

Some of his struggles are due to his upbringing, his personality, his age, or his lack of support in school. But some of it is because he has NF1. That affects his way of thinking, his behaviour, and his personality. It is part of him. It makes him less confident, means he struggles more with some academic things and he may seem less social. It is all too easy to judge his ‘silence’ as lack of caring or interest. That could not be further from the truth. I never knew he had NF when I married him. But even if I had it would not have affected my love for him.

Sometimes the most amazing support comes from someone just silently holding you, listening as you pour out your heart. Often that silent partner is the one with the wisdom, insight and calmness to hold it all together. Sometimes the most powerful thing anyone can do is just be there.

He has neurofibromatosis. He isn’t as ‘in your face’ as I am. He isn’t as known to all the professionals dealing with our children as I am. He doesn’t write in the home school diary, or read the bedtime story.

But he does something very important. For me. And for his children.

He is there.

And we all love him.

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Let silent words be heard

My children live in a different world to me. They have autism. I don’t. They order the world, understand language and process sensory feedback in an entirely different way to me.But because they were diagnosed at just 3 years and nine months and 4 years and 10 months old they were unable to tell me much about their world. So I took it upon myself to learn about theirs.

I bought so many books about autism. And read them all. Around 99% of them were written by people like me who do not have autism but who felt they understood what my children may be experiencing. I went to training courses about autism. They were all run by people without autism too, trying to explain something they have never lived with. But I did find out something very early on: no two people with autism are the same. I already had that figured out with two very different children both with the same diagnosis!

I wanted to know what it was like for my own two children. I wanted to know how best to help them and teach them. I wanted to be part of their world.

So I watched them. I sat with them. I held them. I listened to them even when it seemed like to everyone else there was nothing to hear. And everyday I prayed that one day they would open up to me.

This week my six-year-old explained to me a little about why she never spoke a word in nursery for the two and a half years she attended. Speech and Language therapists diagnosed selective mutism. I had no idea why my daughter was speaking so fluently at home but not at all outside of the house.

It was relaxed, accidental, and natural. As I read a bed time story to her and read a line that said ”Hi Tony!’, called Topsy, but her voice came out not quite loud enough’ (Topsy and Tim start school by Jean and Gareth Adamson). Naomi suddenly opened up. She knew how Topsy felt. She went on to share how that happens to her all the time: She wants to talk but the words just won’t come out of her mouth, how it was like the words just stuck in her throat, and sometimes her mouth could not even open up. She was scared and worried that she would get a row. She was shaking because things were new and different and she seemed so small. Her voice was scared of new people and liked to hide and sometimes she was sure she was talking because she could hear herself but now she realises it was just her brain and not really her mouth. She was worried that once her voice did come out she may not be able to control it and it might never stop. It was like someone jumped into her mouth sometimes and just stole away all the words she was trying to say.

Here I was suddenly getting a glimpse into her world. We had read this story so many times yet tonight she suddenly realised she could identify with one of the characters. And more than any book, or course, or professional input, I got to learn so much more about my daughter, her anxiety, her selective mutism and her autism.

Naomi’s twin brother is totally non verbal. I may never ever get the privilege of a night like this with him. I may never know why he bites himself, insists on mashed potato and gravy at every meal, only ever wants to wear a red school jumper or what keeps him awake all night. So I will have to learn to listen to him some other way.

Last week there was a social media campaign to support and bring awareness of non verbal children, especially those with autism. You could say that for a long time that applied to both my children, but for very different reasons. When Naomi heard about it she was desperate to be part of it. For her brother. But also for all those other children who like her have struggled to communicate with selective mutism.

I struggled to write this week. Writers block? Maybe. Or maybe I just needed to be quiet for a while and let those silent words be heard.

My children live in a different world to me. Both of them want to tell me what it is like. Only one of them can now explain that with words. The other is silent.

But let us listen. Let us put our fingers over our mouths to keep them from speaking. And let those who are struggling have a change to tell us in whatever way they can. Let us hear from our own children. Let us hear from those who struggle:

Let silent words be heard.image