Being a mum of two incredible boys, one of whom has autism, coupled with researching vast amounts of media pertaining to the subject, one might think I would be able to impart a lot of wisdom on this matter.
But the truth is, I don’t. Yes, I am particularly knowledgeable on the subject; I’ve seen every pediatrician/health care advisor known to a parent. But beyond all of that and the advise from grandparents/other parents, I’m simply a mum; full of love and care, but also worry. I am a proud parent who thinks the world of her children, just like any other parent out there. As such, I question who I am to tell others how to raise their children and advise them on how to tell those children about their siblings or how to tell those siblings why they might not understand their brothers or sisters. I found past advice given to me as a young inexperienced mother, rather frightening. I felt the anxiety run through my veins the second someone started a sentence with “why don’t you try…?” I’m sure all parents can relate to that in some way. I found some advice or stories to be overwhelming, making me question my actions. It was felt like a heat that traveled through my body, like a colony of ants, once they reached my head, that seed of doubt was planted.
So for this reason, I will say that there is no right answer as to how you tell a child about autism. So if you’re a parent or a teacher perhaps, trying to find out how to explain autism to a class, know that every situation is different. Every child or adult with autism is unique, like the intricacies of a snowflake; it can only be treated as such. A person with autism has their own personality, individual sensory connections, specific interests/passions and different social struggles.
My son Alfie, who is soon to be seven, was diagnosed with autism when he was four and a half. In our house we don’t really talk about autism. Alfie’s brother Seth is a year younger and without explaining anything to him he understands that Alfie struggles with speech and for this reason he is very supportive towards his brother. He understands that sometimes Alfie’s needs might be more important in certain situations. He once told me that he felt sad that Alfie couldn’t speak and to that I responded that each day, Alfie gets better and is learning and moving forward. I told Seth that we can all have abilities that we struggle with but can also have special talents. Alfie is fantastic at maths and is incredibly switched on with the world around him. He has managed to learn and adapt as to how to communicate his needs without forming full sentences. Sometimes I use an example to other children; that it’s a lot like being on holiday whereby you cant quite speak the language, you want to make friends but don’t quite know how to communicate your thoughts to them, so you might feel frustrated and will often hold back in social situations. That’s a lot like how a person with autism feels. In our family we embrace being different, I encourage the boys to feel proud of who they are and praise any passions and interests, as well as teaching them to always to be kind. This journey was the inspiration for my children’s book ‘Alfie’s Way’; I felt there were a lot of books out there explaining autism but not many that celebrate it. I wanted children to read my story and hopefully relate and feel proud of who they are, as well as for parents to understand that a diagnosis doesn’t define their child; it’s simply one aspect of them to embrace.
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X Factor winner Sam Bailey recently talked about her son's autism diagnosis on Loose Women, so we caught up with her to discuss it further, in particular what advice she can give to other parents as we head into a new lockdown, further increasing the strain on struggling families... to read more click HERE