My Ten Year Old Son Doesn’t Know What Christmas Even Is

As his twin sister races downstairs eager to open another door on her advent calendar, excitedly counting down the days to Christmas Day, you watch TV flapping like any other day.

As your twin sister practices Christmas songs after school in preparations for her Christmas show in two weeks time you watch the same ten seconds of lifts on you tube and rock in your seat as you always do.

Christmas means nothing to you.

No letters to Santa, and definitely no visits to any grottos.

No decorating a tree with the family or even any concept of what tinsel is.

No singing Christmas carols or dancing to seasonal pop songs as they play in the shops.

It all means nothing to you.

Your world is oblivious to the hype, the busyness, the traditions that consume society at this time of year.

You would eat turkey and all the trimmings if it’s put in front of you, but you would equally eat any other meal presented too. It’s just food to you, nothing more, nothing less.

My autistic ten year old has no understanding or interest in Christmas. He is still consumed by his own world, dependent entirely on routine, not communicating verbally at all.

Honestly, some days that breaks my heart. I know we should not compare children as each child is unique and individual but at Christmas you want your child to be excited, happy, expectant. Instead my son is uninterested, unconcerned and unaware.

Christmas isn’t his ‘thing’. Neither is Easter, his birthday, the tooth fairy or any other number of occasions you can think of. None of it enters his world.

He won’t write any Christmas cards (he can’t write any letters let alone his name) and he likely won’t receive any either, family events and get togethers are too much for him so I stay home with him. The only Christmas event he will come to is the church service but even then he gets very upset because it’s different to how he perceives church to be. He doesn’t know Christmas carols and he wants the usual songs he is used to back.

He doesn’t like the changes.

He doesn’t like new stuff.

He doesn’t like Christmas.

I can’t change that. It’s who he is and how he is. I could cry my eyes out every day for years but it won’t change things. I’ve had a decade of crying and wishing things were different. I have accepted that Christmas just isn’t something my ten year old understands nor does he wish to partake in it.

Even if I bought him presents he would never open them. He’s never opened a birthday or Christmas present in his life.

I could pretend it’s all ok. I could move a tree near where he is and take a picture and pretend he’s part of it all. I could put seasonal clothes on him and imagine he chose them. I could buy and wrap stuff for him and dream that somehow the magic of Christmas would change him overnight. All that would do is break my heart more.

I don’t need that. He doesn’t need that.

So while I decorate my daughters bedroom with her and revel in her excitement, while I buy and wrap gifts for her eagerly looking forward to seeing her face on Christmas morning, while we sing and laugh together as we practice Christmas songs the other side to my life is that I am playing down everything as much as possible to keep my son at ease.

I walk a fine line of trying to celebrate and embrace Christmas with one twin whilst ignoring it’s very existence with the other.

My son has severe learning difficulties, severe autism and epilepsy. He can’t speak. He can’t care for himself.

He is full of life, full of fun and the love of my life.

But at ten years old he still doesn’t know what Christmas even is…and he most likely never will.

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A Nine Year Old’s Letter To Her Disabled Brother

Dear Isaac,

I know you can’t ever read this but maybe one day I will read it to you. Maybe one day you will understand.

Tonight when you moaned and screamed when I was trying to watch a video you made me grumpy. I still love you even when I got mad at you and I am secretly glad you are well enough to scream and moan now.

The last two days I have watched you have lots of seizures and I have been so worried about you. I worry you might go to hospital or you might faint. When you have lots of seizures I don’t like going to school or leaving you. I call your name to try and wake you up. I prefer you wide awake and acting normal. I miss your screaming and being noisy when you have seizures. It’s like you are there but not there. You scare me but I still love you. I pray God will stop your seizures soon because I want you better.

One time I counted you had at least 7 naps in one day. I played card games with mum and dad and still you didn’t wake up. That made me sad. I missed you that day so much.

When you have a bath I really want to play with you and have fun but just as I start to have fun with you you push me away and makes me cry. Why do you do that? I wish you could talk to me and tell me. I would understand. I love you.

I love going on trains with you and going to the park. You are always happy in those places. I know you love me pushing the roundabout for you. I like seeing you on the swing too because I got you that swing for you, though I know you will never understand that. I did it because I don’t think life is fair to you and its better when you are happy. When you are happy I am happy too.

You keep me awake with his noises at night and wake me up early. I forgive you. Always.

You kill my fish by feeding them. Feeding fish is good Isaac but maybe not with talcum powder, toothpaste, trains and bubble bath! You do lots of naughty things like use felt pens on the armchairs, tipping bins, pulling pictures off walls, wandering away, and you always have to be first in the house. You make mummy and daddy sad but I want to tell you it’s ok. We all forgive you. We all love you. Sometimes we might be mad but we always forgive. We know you don’t mean it, though I have some baby fish now so it would be good if you just let ME feed them. Would that be ok?

Sometimes you get more attention. Mum is always bathing you because you scream and throw things if she doesn’t. You always want to go out even if I don’t want to and it sometimes feels like you always get your own way. It’s not really fair but I still love you.

You can scream very loudly. You hit me all the time. Please can you be gentle? Until them I will be patient while you learn.

There are things you can’t do. You can’t talk or write or read. I know you can’t read this but maybe you will understand if I read it to you. Maybe.

You can play just in a bit of an awkward way like tipping things on the floor or eating teddies. You only sometimes cuddle me but that’s ok.

You can be funny though. You try to push the roundabout AND get in it at the same time! You throw your fork away when you have finished eating because you forget we can wash them. You put your fork in-between your toes and then pick up food with your fingers. That’s clever and funny. You put your iPad behind your bed and think it will magically charge there. You chew charging leads and then wonder why they don’t work anymore. You make me smile and I really love you.

You never walk to school because it’s 14 miles away. You get star of the week more than me because there are less children in your class. That’s unfair! You get it for silly things too. But you never have show and tell. That would be funny because you can’t tell anything anyway. That must be hard because I know you want to say so much.

You are always on google maps. I think that’s amazing and clever. Some people don’t think you are smart but you are.

You never get to be secret student like me. My school is doing secret student now and I was secret student today in my class. When I was chosen I thought of you. Would you know what that is? The more I get bigger the more I wonder about things that you might never do or understand. You know what though, I think they chose me deliberately because I was having a bad day. I went to school crying today because you had some of those seizure things again and I want to make sure you are ok. I can’t be a good sister if I am at school can I? I’m sorry I left you.

My friends don’t understand what it’s like having a brother like you.

Sometimes I don’t want them to even know about you. I worry they would say nasty things about you because you are different or say nasty things about me. My best friend knows about you though. She worries that you may hit me but I don’t like her questioning things about you. It’s hard to explain about you because you are just, well, you are just very special and sometimes precious things are best kept secret. Is that ok?

Sometimes I love you Isaac. Sometimes I hate you. It’s hard having a brother like you but it’s also easy having a brother like you. It’s hard to live with you but its easy to love you. Really easy.

You are my friend sometimes and a bully other times. I wish we could be friends more. I am going to try and help you do that.

You teach me how to be patient and that it’s ok to be different.

I want to be there for you when you are bigger. I want mummy to teach me to care for you. Please let me do that will you?

Please try and keep learning. I believe in you. I will teach you. I can do dividing with remainders now and everything! But what I am most happy about doing is making you smile.

You are the best brother in the world even when you make me cry. I know I make you cry too.

You help me. I help you. How does that sound?

If you can’t say yes just sign it please.

It’s ok because I understand.

With love,

your sister Naomi

How one 9 year-old Described her Brother’s Autism in just a few pen strokes

There was nothing special about Thursday evening as I worked my way through the typical bedtime routine for my 9 year old twins. They had already had a bath, clean pyjamas on, eaten some supper and now they had moved into their separate rooms ready for stories, kisses and pre-sleep chats.

It’s hard to split yourself in two (or three, or four even if you are blessed with a quiver full) but my daughter willingly lets me see to her brother first most nights. She sacrifices so much for her autistic brother and this is just another example of how she puts his needs before her own daily. While she amused herself quietly with what I assumed was some colouring in or reading I continued on to settle her somewhat hyperactive brother next door.

I read the same story as always. He chooses the same story every night despite the fact he has a whole basket of books in his room. His autism means routines should never change and repetition is very much the name of the game. Unlike his sister he isn’t going to talk to me at bedtime about his school anxieties or fall outs with his friends. He has no friends. I have no idea what goes on at school (or anywhere he is out of my care) and at nine he has no spoken language. I hug and kiss him. I get nothing much in return. One day I might, but not tonight. I tuck him in, leave the room and turn off his light.

As I go next door to his sister her eyes light up as she clutches a little piece of paper to give to me.

“Mummy, I’ve been thinking about Isaac tonight. Can I show you something Mummy?”

And at that she handed me this:

I asked her to talk to me about it.

Mummy, these are the wires in my head. One is the talking wire, one is the brushing my own teeth wire, one is knowing my times tables in maths wire, one is knowing how to write wire, this one is playing with friends wire, this is the knowing how to read wire…”

She named all twelve straight lines she had drawn and said how for her, like most other children, she was able to do all of the things she listed. She talked about how some of her wires connect right away and others took time but they ‘knew where they were going’ and as she gets older and learns more ‘new things’ she will have ‘more wires that know where to go and connect up straight’.

I was amazed that a child could be so aware, so astute and so insightful. I let her continue on.

‘And this, I think, is my brother’s wires mum. He finds everything so hard doesn’t he? This is his talking wire mum. Look it goes to the connection for brushing teeth. No wonder he can’t talk when his brain gets confused like that! This is his writing wire…it’s supposed to be connected to the writing one at the bottom but instead it’s connected to the playing with friends wire. It’s all so hard when your brain gets confused but I know he is trying! I mean everything must be so hard when the wires are all jumbled up like this!’

I looked at her with tears behind my eyes. If anyone will advocate in life for her brother when I am gone it will be his sister. She understands him like no other.

My daughter knows I write. So I had to ask her.

“Naomi, is it ok for mummy to share this with other people? Is that ok with you?”

She smiled and in her usual determined way took the sheet back from me and pointed to her strokes again.

“Only if you make sure you tell everyone that it’s ok to have autism. Make sure people know Isaac does HAVE wires. He has a brain. He is trying. If I could make his wires straight Mummy I would, do you know that?”

I hugged her tight and kissed her forehead. She doesn’t want her brother to not have autism. I know that. She just wants to hear his voice, be able to play with him, brush her teeth beside him, write stories with him and practice her times tables with him like she does her friends from school.

She might want a brother with straight lined connections, but she could not love her autistic brother more if she tried, with crisscross jumbled wires and all the wonderful quirkiness that that brings.

Her understanding maybe over simplified in many ways but her fierce protection and love can never be denied.

I keep looking at that piece of paper.

She’s so right. My son is severely autistic with significant learning difficulties. He will need care all his life. But she’s spot on: he still has wires. He still has a brain. He can learn. He has potential. Life maybe much more confusing for him with wires that go different ways to what ours do but is that such a massive problem?

Maybe, just maybe, having straight lined connections in your brain is not for everyone. The world would be a very boring place if all our brains looked the same after all.

Learning to be tomato

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I am blessed to have a beautiful house. It has bedrooms,  a kitchen, a bathroom and a family room. It has walls and a roof and doors. I pretty much get to choose who enters my house and I can choose to close the curtains and blinds and doors and have privacy whenever I wish.

Yet in so many other ways my life is open to all, in full view and often seems like my every move is on show. In so many ways I live in a glass house.

When my children were young babies one of them was not gaining weight as fast as they should have been. We were scheduled to have a home visit every single week by a public health visitor for the first year of my twins life. An entire year of having someone see your children at home every week. Some visits lasted up to an hour. The only concern was my daughter’s weight yet our home had to be opened for unexpected visits at all times. That was the start of one wall of my house turning to glass.

By the time my twins were 18 months we had our first referral to community paediatricians. This put us ‘in the system’ and started more home visits by speech therapists, learning support staff and nurses who all entered my house regularly. I felt like I was on show having to keep my house fit for visitors at any time while trying to raise two very young children. A second wall of my house seemed to quickly be changing to glass for everyone to watch how we were living, playing and raising our children, all because they were not reaching milestones as everyone else felt they should.

Eventually the children began nursery and we were expected to attend courses about parenting and autism and attend regular meetings with the nurseries. As wonderful as it was to learn it also opened my family up to more people, and every interaction with our children had to have a purpose and a goal and we were even videoed several times in our own home. Sometimes it really felt like we were animals being watched in a zoo by all the professionals. A third wall of my house had now changed from brick to glass. As more people saw into our lives it got hot at times and stressful. It felt like there was such a lack of shade and privacy at times.

Three glass walls are hard to handle but while one remains brick and the roof remains covered there was still time to be alone. That is until the children started school. In order for their needs to be fully met we had to enter the new arena of school support. This meant multiagency meetings, school meetings, parents nights, school diaries and homework. Right before our eyes the last of our walls changed from brick to glass and our every move seemed controlled by our children’s difficulties.

Now we are in the realm of requiring more support. As the children have grown and their needs increased things like respite, befriending and budgets are now being banded around. Where you aware of how much of your life requires to be put on the line in order to access these things? There is no ‘sign here’ and we will give you it. Assessments are thorough, long winded and often extremely personal. You have to become vulnerable, lay yourself on the line and be scrutinised constantly. You have hoops to jump through and boxes to tick. In doing so the roof of my house, my only privacy and shade left, suddenly became made of glass too.

So my beautiful house has changed from bricks and mortar to a hot, cramped and open-to-all glass house. In order to help and support my children so much of my life and privacy has had to be sacrificed.

So how do we support them through this when our house has constant professionals visiting and calling and we have so many forms to complete? How do I enable them to have a childhood free from stress and invasion when so many people are involved in their care? How do I cope living in a glass house due to my children being disabled?

We are learning to be tomatoes!

We need the support of schools, nurses, occupational therapists, social workers, speech therapists and others besides in order to fully support our children. That means opening up our home, our lifestyle and our ways to many people. So we are going to use this to our advantage.

Tomatoes thrive in a glass house. While everyone watches on they grow, mature and become ripe due to the intense heat and pressure of living in that environment. Tomatoes are sweet, balanced and healthy despite being subjected to intense heat. They are versatile and popular.

Glass house living when you are raising children who have challenges is difficult, but by becoming tomatoes we can use our unusual circumstances to refresh others in many ways from soups, drinks, sandwiches or even tomato ketchup!

Sometimes I feel cut up or squashed but however you look at it I am blessed.

I am blessed to live in a beautiful house even if at times it seems like it is made of glass instead of bricks.

Is your other kid normal?

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‘Is your other kid normal?’

How would you feel if someone asked you that?

Before I let you know how I reacted to that I want to start by looking at the dictionary definition of ‘normal’.

According to The Oxford English Dictionary the word ‘normal’ means: conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.

In other words this stranger was implying my son is not standard, or usual, or what was expected. He does not fit societies stereotypical idea of a seven year old. He is different. He is unique. To the stranger he stood out as exceptional and out of the ordinary.

Do you know how proud that makes me of my son?

I love that he is different. I love that he does things in his own way, at his own time and he has no concept of following the crowd. I delight in the ways he shows excitement by flapping, making high pitched noises and spinning. I smile when I watch him making his own delicacies like pizza with custard and yoghurt with mashed potato. I find it refreshing how he would rather watch lift doors than spend money on toys. I dance around with him in glee at watching yet another person use the hand dryers in the public bathrooms.

He is funny. He is loveable. He is energetic. He gets bored clothes shopping and thinks he knows better than me at times. Those are all ‘normal’ things that seven year old boys do!

He has brown hair, Hazel eyes and a love of technology. He is average height and weight for his age and even his shoe size is right on target!

So why would a stranger ask me if my other kid was normal?

She looked at my sons disability. She looked at the fact he is unable to speak. She looked at his poor balance, his different mannerisms and noises and she saw him as less, not conforming and not typical. Her question implied I should be sad for having such a unique child and craving a child without any such challenges. Maybe I should be sad I have to see to his every need at seven? Maybe I should be broken hearted he is not yet potty trained and not speaking?

I refuse to judge this stranger. Why? Well a part of me used to be there. My heart ached for the things my son could not do. My body ached pushing him around in a chair for all the years he could not walk. My ears would love to hear his voice.

Now I see my son differently. I see him as beautiful. I see him as wonderful.

He IS normal. His sister is normal too.

Normal according to the dictionary is conforming to a standard. If you see the standard as being human then there really is no such thing as not being normal.

So do you want to know how I replied?

I simply smiled and said softly ‘Yes. I am blessed with two amazing children. Thanks!’

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When an angel captured love

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Do you believe that dreams can REALLY become true?

I do.

Many years ago I visited a friend’s house and my eyes were instantly captivated by a large family photograph mounted on their wall.

‘Wow’, I thought, ‘I would just love to have something as amazing as that of MY children one day.’

Fast forward twenty years and that dream has always remained with me. But the challenge of ever having that dream come true seemed to get slimmer every year. Yes I had the children, but taking an everyday picture of them both was a big challenge let alone getting them into a studio! Eye contact was an issue, understanding instructions another issue, posing impossible, and the bright lights and flashes a trigger for sensory overload and seizures. Beautiful professional photographs just one of the many things families like mine with ‘special’ children have to sacrifice at times.

But then I met an angel.

She read on my Facebook account how I was so emotional and grateful that one of my children’s schools had gone out of their way to allow my children to have a school family photograph taken. When your twins are separated by 14 miles in their education and one school does not even have school photographs taken you realise how this simple act could mean so much to me. What seems a ‘normal’ occurrence to most families became a real act of kindness to me.

Then an angel replied with seven simple words, ‘I can do one better. Call me.’

I spoke to the angel about my children. Did she understand how hard this could be? Would my children even get out the car on the day? Was she aware they have poor balance and co-ordination and would be unable to pose? Did she know my son could scream the entire time we were there? What would happen if my daughter would not smile due to her anxiety? I was as anxious as my children. Would my dream be about to become a reality? Would it be possible to capture love on a camera?

With the skill, patience and dedication you can only get from an angel my children not only coped but they SHONE!

I had a dream over 20 years ago and that dream has come true. I met an angel one day. She thought she was photographing my children but in actual fact she captured love in its purest form. She took two children who find life challenging and she found their beauty and personalities. She transformed everyday moments into priceless memories. She gave my son a voice when he has no ability to speak. She gave my daughter confidence that can not be measured. She took an everyday family and made us feel like we were royalty.

Do you believe dreams come true? My dream came true the day an angel captured love:

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Sometimes angels have names. This angel is called Amber Northfield Studio Boo.She took my dream and she made it come true. I can not thank her enough.

Now which one do I put on my wall?

When other people get involved

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The uniforms are bought, the bags packed, and the children prepared to once again start a new term at school. It is with great anxiety and fear that once again I release my children into the hands of others to be looked after and educated for six hours a day, five days a week.

For the last seven and a half weeks I have pretty much been with them both 24/7 and even though that has brought pressure and stress at times, it has also been a relief to not have to deal with other people and schools for a while.

Now that is all about to end.

Once again other people are about to get involved in my life.

When other people get involved…

1. It is easy to feel like a failure.
While I know my children have thrived this summer under my care there will be teachers and therapists within my children’s schools who will only see the fact that their development has not been stretched perhaps as much as the would have liked, or they have not been challenged educationally or encouraged to socialise with others their own age enough.
Then there is the fact other families will stand in the school playground boasting of holidays abroad, play dates with friends and new skills their children mastered over the summer which my children may never achieve.
Being around other children the same age as mine and seeing what they can do and say has a way of making me feel like an utter failure within minutes, even if unintended.

2. Everything suddenly becomes a big stress.
In summer we ate when we were hungry, if we wanted to have pizza for lunch instead of dinner we did. We ate out now and again, we took packed lunches and went out for day trips and we had fish and chips at the end of a busy day. But now my children are returning to school where one barely eats and drinks and now food will become a huge stress again.
Now the professionals are back involved there is also an expectation to ‘move the children on’ in areas they have become stuck at and we are expected to follow “proven” methods or be criticised even when these may not be right for our child. Stress!

3. The pressure to perform becomes huge.
Did anyone care if my son wore an un-ironed t-shirt last week? Returning to school brings with it a pressure to have children dressed smartly, in uniform, and arriving on time, having eaten healthily and slept well. All of those things are major challenges for my children with sleep difficulties, sensory issues, limited diets and no understanding of time. Forgetting homework, leaving the packed lunch at home or not remembering PE kit has you instantly marked down as a terrible mother and raises my daughters anxiety to a level that makes her ill. There is pressure to keep up with the other children in the class and do weekly activities too. Having other people involved in caring for your children puts so much pressure on us all.

4. I lose knowledge that is vital to communicate with my children.
My son is non verbal and both my children have social and communication difficulties (autism). Being with them all summer has meant we have learnt to understand each other. My son would only need to find a photograph to show me and I would immediately know what he was trying to communicate because I was there with him and I know what he enjoyed. When other people get involved I lose that vital connection and no school diary or ten second talker can make up for the fact I am not with my child and therefore I have no knowledge of what he is trying to communicate. He may have heard a song at school he wants to hear again and I am expected to just ‘know’ and because I don’t we have hours of self harming, frustration and upset all round.
Neither of my children can properly communicate to others when they are hurt or where. Neither will adequately communicate when personal needs require to be met or that a food may make them feel sick. This is the bit I hate: that not knowing and having missing pieces that they can not explain to me and I have no means of working out.

I know there are some advantages of having other people involved though. It is important my children become more flexible and less rigid in insisting only I can meet their needs. They also do need to learn independence even if they will require support throughout their life. There is also the fact that having some professional involvement can actually help by bringing new ideas, support me and help access resources that can make a difference. We just need to learn to communicate, trust and work together.

I need to let go. After almost eight weeks with my children that is hard. But for my children’s sake and my own it really is important…

To let other people get involved.