When Little Ears Hear More Than They Ever Should

Last summer I showed my then 9 year old how to answer my mobile phone. Her twin brother was having major seizures and she wanted to help me. I tought her to answer and when possible pass the phone to me. Despite being autistic she worked it out and did exactly what I needed her to every time.

She was proud of herself and felt like she was helping.

I was proud of her too.

In the last year she has started to answer calls on the home phone too and is doing a great job of saying who is calling and passing the phone to me when needed. It’s a huge life skill and one which she has been excelling at. Up until today though I had no issues with her answering any calls.

Today I was driving with just the two of us in the car. I was on my way to collect her friend with her for a play date. Not long before we arrived at her friend’s house my mobile phone rang and Naomi readily answered it. Unfortunately it was a call she should never have heard.

Naomi’s twin brother is sick, very sick in fact. He has a brain tumour and is about to have invasive surgery followed by treatment. While I have spoken to Naomi about this in ways she understands (she describes his tumour as slime in his brain) the phone call today was one she should never have heard. Apparently the call started by asking if it was the family of Isaac. Of course my daughter answered ‘yes’. The caller then said that Isaac was to come to hospital immediately to be admitted for an undecided period of time so that he could have some urgent tests and then surgery on his brain. I don’t in any way fault the hospital as they had no way of knowing they were talking to a ten year old but the things said in that call were not ideal for little ears.

The day before I had taken both my children to another medical appointment. This time it was a community paediatrician who had never met my children before. Both of my ten year olds had to sit though a very long conversation between myself and that paediatrician while I outlined my concerns about them both. While the conversation was necessary, once again it wasn’t suitable for little ears.

So many children with additional support needs are hearing things that little ears should never hear. They are in meetings when adults discuss concerns, missed milestones, social difficulties and medical issues about them all whilst their ears can hear. I’ve been talking to my daughter so much about this as I try and help her work through her issues but as she says even sitting in a waiting room isn’t ideal: ‘Even if I was outside waiting or in class it wouldn’t matter as I would still know I am being talked about mum.’

Children hear a lot more than we realise. They overhear phone calls, hear discussions of adults while they play and they hear when medical staff mention things. They hear above TV, YouTube and other background noises. They pick up vibes, atmospheres and worries. Sometimes they even answer calls you would prefer they hadn’t.

I’m trying to help my child process the fact her twin brother is ill but now I need to help her understand and process things she has heard that she really should be protected from.

What goes into little ears changes children. Some of those words become their inner voice, other repeat loudly like an echo for years to come and others affect their self esteem for the rest of their lives.

I’m not a huge advocate of sheltering children from life completely. I don’t think that helps prepare them for the world they will live in as adults very well. However I am a huge advocate of protecting little ears from things that they are not ready to hear yet because their minds are not fully ready.

Right now I am having to work through some difficulties with my ten year old because her little ears heard more than they really should have. Sadly I am not alone.

We put parental controls on technology to prevent little ears from hearing words we don’t want them too, we have children’s TV channels designed to protect vulnerable children from the adult world yet we put our most vulnerable addition needs children in situations daily that cause their little ears to hear more than they should.

Isn’t it time we thought of a better way forward?

Advertisements

My Severely Autistic Son DOES Have A Bright Future

Six and a half years ago when I took my toddler to a clinic and left with a diagnosis of severe non verbal autism , pica and global developmental delay my heart broke. It didn’t end there either. Six months later he was diagnosed with a progressive genetic condition. A year later he added vision impairment to his list. At seven he added an optic glioma, a form of brain tumour and at nine, epilepsy.

As I write this he is ten, with the developmental age of a one year old, the speech of a nine month old baby (he is non verbal), he isn’t yet potty trained and requires round the clock care. He has to be medicated twice daily to keep major seizures at bay. He needs six monthly MRI tests to monitor his brain tumours.

On paper his future doesn’t look good.

I have spent so much time breaking my heart for my son and all he will miss in life. He likely won’t fall in love, get married, have a family, have a job, learn to drive, attend college or university or live independently; all the things parents expect from their children as they grow. He can’t yet write his name, he’s never attended mainstream education and his care needs are so high I have been his full time carer since he was born.

So given all that information how can I possibly say my son has a bright future?

Quite simply this: Quality of life isn’t determined by what other people think.

I thought my child should find a partner, perhaps have a family of his own, get a job, drive, contribute to society in some way and make a difference. I thought he should go to school, perhaps onto college or university then find happiness and fulfilment in a career of his choice.

But who says any of this is a bright future? Who determines these things as quality of life?

In actual fact my son has an amazing future ahead of him, one very different to how I imagined, but even more incredible!

He’s never going to carry the burden of responsibility so he won’t stress about interest rates, taxes, mortgages or company shares.

He’s never going to become embroiled in complex relationships so won’t experience the heartache of divorce or family breakups.

He will remain blissfully sheltered from many of the awful things that life carries with it like murder, abuse, political turmoil, homelessness, drugs or wars.

His simple life will be the envy of many.

His needs will be met, either by carers or myself, for as long as I live. He has a sister who adores him and who I know will do all she can to make sure he is looked after too.

He will spend his future not in the drudgery and stress of daily commutes to work or long shifts but in doing what he loves most. He’ll be taken swimming, the cinema, cafes, shops, garden centres and day trips. It will be like he’s retired without ever having to have done the fifty plus years employment first.

Clothes and food will be provided for him. Other people will arrange whatever finances are required, drive him or support him in transport and make sure he is happy and well.

His future is, in fact, what so many of us would dream of. He will watch what he wants on TV, explore the world via google street map and see family often.

He will, as he already does, be surrounded by love, respect and support.

I’ll take him to as many lifts as he wants because his years of education will be complete.

I am not deluded. I am not just looking at life from rose tinted glasses. I am fully aware that my son will always need a huge level of care and that I may not always be around to give him that. I, more than anyone, understand how vulnerable and naive he is and always will be. I know i will fight budget cuts, endless complex forms to have control of his finances and health needs and that I will likely get little to no respite when he passes from children’s care teams to adult care teams.

This won’t be easy for ME but for HIM the future is bright.

We are so quick as a society to assume that anyone with learning disabilities, severe autism or complex needs is a burden. We see their quality of life as somehow less because it doesn’t follow the tradition path of higher education, work and raising the next generation. We see their inability to pay taxes as somehow awful and view them as beneath others.

My son, and thousands of others, walk a different path in life. They face a future quite different to that which we see as ‘normal’. Yet their future, their existence, their needs, are not in any way less or second class.

My severely autistic son’s future is full of life, love and fulfilment. That to me is the epitome of a bright future and quality of life.

I am looking forward to it and if he understood what the future was I know he would be excited too.

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.

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.

IMG_0791
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?

IMG_2490

The Life Of An Autism Sibling


In the back hall of a church she watched as her brother climbed a toddler slide. As he sat at the top of the slide flapping he lost his balance and fell off. He was shocked and shaken as he laid there confused and hurt.

While the adults checked him over his sister ran around the room looking for all his favourite teddies, then sat beside him stroking his hair and whispered: You are ok. Don’t be sad. You are ok.
She is smaller than her brother, weaker than him physically, and much more timid in nature.
Yet she is strong. 

She is the sister of a child with autism and that is something very special. 
She copes with screaming and has learnt to be a peace keeper.

She copes with a brother who is controlling and she has learnt to compromise.

She copes with a sibling who rarely sleeps and she has learnt to rest as and when she can.

She copes with the unfairness when her sibling does not understand rules and she has learnt patience and maturity beyond her years.

She copes with aggression and responds with peace.

She copes with his iPad on full volume and responds by showing him how to plug in earphones.

She copes with people staring at him and she smiles at them and puts her arm around her brother in support.


She copes with getting less attention than she deserves and has learnt to play herself to cope.

She instinctively knows and understands now when he is experiencing sensory overload and leads him to a quieter place.

She opens snacks for him because she knows he does not have the co-ordination to do it himself.

She has learnt that he can not join in her games and copes with that disappointment better than many adults would.

She fights her brothers corner.
She keeps him safe.

She changes the TV channel when he screams at a show he does not like.

She even makes hand dryers work for him because she knows how much he likes them.

The life of an autism sibling is not easy. They are often over looked and expected to cope. They miss out on so much because of the needs of their sibling and have to adjust to family life dominated by an invisible condition. A lot is expected of them beyond what other kids deal with.

It takes strength to cope when your brother screams daily. It takes strength to understand certain toys can not be bought because they pose a danger to your sibling. It takes strength and maturity to realise and accept that having friends around to play may be more difficult than it is for others.

To watch your brother or sister struggle with something you do easily and not boast about this, to stand up for your sibling when others mock them, to cope with public meltdowns and not be embarrassed: you are amazing! 
Let’s hear it for the autism siblings! You all deserve the lime light for once!

My children have autism: I need therapy more than they do.


I remember the very first day I admitted to myself that my children were struggling. They were both 18 months old and neither of them were walking. One never gave eye contact not did he interact much and he had no language. The other could not crawl or roll or even pull herself up. Both relied on routine for everything!

 
I remember one Friday late afternoon making a call to my health visitor and leaving a tearful message on his answer phone.
Looking back that afternoon epitomises the entire point of this blog. Here was I in tears worried about my children while they were happy sitting on the couch watching TV.

 

They were happy…it was me who was sad.


As time went on and appointments started piling up for them both it became quickly apparent that I needed to do every bit as much as my children. Occupational therapists gave ME exercises to do with them, speech and language therapists sent ME on a course while the children were happy at home in their routine with babysitters. The paediatrician gave ME advice while only briefly examining my twins. Early intervention support relied on ME doing more with the children to ‘bring them on’. It felt clearly that I was to blame.

 

While my son scanned object after object across his eye line repetitively, happy doing his own thing, I was silently breaking my heart. When all the other children ran into nursery while my daughter needed carried in, I was the one who emotionally struggled.

 

When my non verbal, not toilet trained, highly delayed son started full time school years later he settled much quicker than I did. He assumed everyone would look after him while I knew otherwise. He had no awareness of the danger of getting into a taxi without mum (he hardly acknowledged who I was) nor any concept of what school was and just went with the flow. Meanwhile my anxiety rose to a whole new level knowing I was unable to know anything about his day, who he was with, what he had eaten or wether or not people were looking after my vulnerable baby.

 
I needed support to help me with that constant anxiety. 

 
When my son has extreme meltdowns lasting hours and he is unable to communicate why, that affects us both. The fact I now have an 8 year old who I still can not communicate with on any meaningful level has damaged me.

 
I need help to work through my feelings of failure. 

 
When I see other children riding bikes, playing with friends, going to dancing or any other of hundreds of ‘normal’ things both my children really struggle with my heart breaks.

 
I need people to understand that some times I need to mourn for the things my children will never achieve.

 
My body is carrying a heavy load. I am on full alert 24/7. I have professionals watching our every move, quick to point out if they feel my children’s struggles are down to my parenting. My mind is constantly alert thinking of our next appointment, the next thing I need to prepare my children for or the next person I need to chase up. After years that affects your body and your mind in ways you can not control.

 
I have had counselling and also have to take tablets to keep depression at bay. My thyroid is whacked and my blood pressure keeps rising. My adrenal glands are failing.

 
My doctors tell me to ‘rest’ but autism never rests. As a parent to two children with autism I can not afford to rest. There is no time off.

 
My children are generally happy. The world they live in is safe and predictable. I need to keep it that way to protect them. They need me. The reality is they always will.

img_0128
They are perfect the way they are. They don’t even see themselves as different. It is because I am NOT autistic that I see things differently. I see how they could be mistreated and abused. I see them struggling to get jobs. I see my son requiring support all his life and never living independently. I see their vulnerability. I see their lack of social understanding. I see their need for constant routine. I see their naivety.

 
They don’t need therapy to help them cope with any of that. But I do. 

Five Christmas gifts to give to a special needs parent

img_6161

I used to think it was only children who were asked in December ‘what would you like for Christmas?‘. It seems as a parent I still get asked this. I tend to answer like most parents do with a simple ‘oh I have everything I need already thanks’ or the soppy mum variation of ‘my kids are all I could ever want and more.’

Both are true to an extent. My life is very full of smiles, blessings, love and joy but as a full time carer for two children with extra needs life is also very full of other things like hospital appointments, meetings, therapy and endless paperwork!

So what would be good Christmas presents for a special needs parent like me?

How about the following:

1. A listening ear.
We all have our own burdens to carry and none of us are without problems in life, yet so often we become so engrossed in our own busyness we forget to take time to listen to others. Giving me your time to just talk while you listen without judgement or trying to ‘fix’ things is one of the greatest gifts I could get all year round. Come visit me at home while we have coffee, or sit with me in the hospital waiting room. I may seem like I am coping but silently I pray for someone who cares enough to listen to my worries and my struggles. If you can’t physically be with me being at the end of a phone or even letting me let off steam via email or message is such a precious gift. You may not be able to wrap up your ears under the tree but if you could loan me them sometimes that would be amazing.

2. A shoulder to cry on.
Some days are just overwhelming. Some mornings by the time I have managed to get the children safely to school I am exhausted and emotional. Lack of sleep, worry for the future and constant battles on behalf of my children become weary. I, like so many other special needs parents, long for a safe and tender place to cry where we feel free and accepted to pour out our hearts. We need that release in order to gain strength to face another day. We need to let the stress come out in our tears knowing there is no shame in showing weakness. Could you be those shoulders? Will you let me cry without question and hand me the tissues without needing to tell me I am over reacting? That would be a gift that can not be measured this Christmas.

3. An encouraging word.
Few people truly realise how negative the world of special needs parenting can be. Forms ask for things your child is unable to do, assessments focus on your child’s shortfalls, teachers comment on how your child is not hitting targets like the others. Hospital appointments bring news that breaks your heart and even the simplest appointments like the dentist are utterly draining. Then add the guilt that your child can’t talk, or walk yet or play like other children. While other children achieve at sports, or drama or art your child excels more at loud outbursts, screaming endlessly or staying awake all night. Encouraging words are few and far between in my world so a little text, or message or a simple smile goes a long long way to helping brighten my day. An unexpected card saying ‘I care’ is like an oasis in a drought. It is beautiful, precious and priceless. You simply can’t give this gift often enough to a special needs parent.

4. Practical help.
I would never expect anyone else to have to see to my children’s personal needs nor do I expect anyone to be up all night long with them. However, there are some small very practical things though that anyone can do for a special needs parent that can make a huge difference. How about holding the door open when you see them pushing a wheelchair? Or holding the lift to save them waiting longer with a distressed child? If you see them carrying a child into a car seat in the supermarket car park why not offer to take their trolley back for them? These small gestures of kindness mean the world to someone who often feels ignored or invisible. Kindness and practical support never ever go unnoticed to a special needs parent and they restore our faith in humanity. Christmas is an ideal time to make a special effort to help the special needs parent as places are busier, louder and more chaotic than usual but remember a little help all year round would never go amiss.

5. Finally be respectful.
It is so easy at this time of year when the weather is awful and time is tight to just park in that disabled space for two minutes while you just nip in for bread. You may never ever think of doing that at any other time but for me as a parent of two disabled children this is a time when I need those spaces even more so. The same with the disabled toilet. I understand this time of year means most public toilets have queues and you don’t mean to upset anyone. However, these facilities are so precious to families like mine and our loved ones need that space and privacy to have their personal needs met by someone else. We don’t have the privilege of being able to wait. Please don’t push that disabled trolley away in your haste to get to the smaller on at the back. Having a soaking wet trolley may be annoying to you but to those of us who rely on specialist seating for our disabled children having an icy, snowy seat prohibits us from going shopping at all. Your thoughts and respect at Christmas mean a lot.

I realise now I do actually want a few things for Christmas this year. I want friendship, time, love and respect and those are not things money can buy, yet they are the most special and perfect gifts any special needs parent could want not just at Christmas but throughout the year.

Could you give me any of these? Do you know a special needs parent who could do with some Christmas magic? Let them know you care today. It could make this Christmas the best one they have ever had.

img_6168

This post first appeared here