An Open Letter to Those That Walked Out of Our Lives After My Daughter’s Diagnosis

 

Dear Friends,

Well, I say friends but that’s no longer the case is it? There are still times I think about what used to be, all the amazing times we had and the memories that we made. The excitement of my pregnancy, the tears of joy and happiness when my daughter was born. How we used to love meeting up with you all, we all had babies around the same age. The first couple of years were amazing. We shared some great times. As our babies turned two it was becoming more obvious that my daughter, Eliza, was different somehow. You were all supportive and encouraging. “She’ll talk when she’s ready”, “Maybe she’s just shy” and similar phrases were offered as comfort and reassurance. Our twice weekly meetups continued as well as attending the same baby and toddler groups.

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Here she is, a few hours old.

Eliza failed her two-year check that is completed by the Health Visitor to make sure children are reaching the milestones for their expected age range. It was no surprise to me or all of you. Life carried on just fine until the day we all met at the park and I told you that Eliza had been referred to a Paediatrician and that autism had been mentioned as a possible diagnosis. Looking back, the silence and the looks were the start of what happened next but as I felt vulnerable and overwhelmed, I’d assumed you were all surprised by what I’d said. A few days later I tried to arrange a meetup in the park, the sun was out and it was a beautiful day. But you were all busy. I get it, life’s busy. After a few days I noticed the lack of phone calls or texts that used to happen frequently. Again, I tried to set up some play day fun, nobody replied.

One day, on walking home from town, I bumped in to two of you separately. You two changed our lives that day. Friend ‘A’, you asked if we were well as you’d not seen us at a couple of coffee mornings at ‘B’s house and would we be going to so and so’s party at the weekend. It was clear to me that we’d not been invited to a few things. In some ways I didn’t mind, I never expect to be invited to everything. But something about the way you looked at me suggested you knew more than you’d let out so far. As I walked home with a sleepy Eliza in her buggy I bumped in to you. Let’s call you friend ‘C’. You were the one full of sympathy. You were the one telling me how sorry you were that my child wasn’t normal. You did the head tilt to one side accompanied with the “awwww but she looks so normal doesn’t she”. I tried to explain that Eliza was normal thank you very much and that she was just different. Then you said the words that I’ve never forgotten to this day. With your hand on my shoulder, sympathetic eyes staring at me you said “Why don’t you adopt her out and get on with your life….. you can always have another baby”. I never replied to you. I didn’t know how. I felt like my heart stopped beating for a few moments, my breathing slowed as I tried to process your words. My daughter hadn’t even been diagnosed and people were leaving us and telling me to give her away. I remember just walking away from you and looking down at my beautiful child, wondering how anyone could even suggest what you did. After that day pretty much all invitations to meetups stopped coming. Eliza was no longer invited to birthday parties.

I’m going to Fast Forward seven years now and tell you a little of what you’ve missed out on.

  • Eliza is very academically able and excels in computers, English and Maths.
  • At 9 years old she reads at age 11-12 years.
  • She’s learnt to play a brass horn and piano recently and took part in a small concert in assembly.
  • At 9 years old, she was asked to be an ambassador for a clothing range that promotes Autism Awareness & Acceptance.
  • She can swim, run, ride a bike, roll down a hill and all the things your kids can do most likely.
  • Eliza has friends. She loves parties, going to the cinema and theatre. Despite anxiety and living in a judgemental world, she’s finding her place and loving life.
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Eliza age 9

There is so much more you’ve all missed out on and all because you were frightened by a word. Autism. It really isn’t a word to be feared you know. Eliza might be different to your children in some ways but she’s not less of a person because of her diagnosis. If you’d stuck around you’d see the incredible, intelligent, beautiful girl she is. You’d hear her terrible jokes and fall prey to her slightly sarcastic tainted sense of humour. She’d infect you with her big cheesy grin and giggles and she gives the best hugs ever. You’ve missed so much, and you hurt us deeply. I really hope since then that you’ve thought about it and explained what autism is to your children because the likeliness is there will be autistic kids in their classes at school. We’re living a great life without you. It’s just a shame you didn’t stick around to enjoy it with us. I used to feel so much pain when thinking back on those days. But that’s just wasted time in my mind and you don’t deserve to occupy that space any more.

From the friend you deserted & and her awesome daughter

 

***This blog was originally written for the Firefly Website and can be seen here: The letter on Firefly

 

 

 

My fears for the future for my autistic daughter

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Every parent has fears about the future, it’s natural to worry about the unknown because we want to protect, guide and support our children as much as possible and for as long as possible and the future cannot be predicted. I have the same worries as most parents – finding the right schools, finding out she’s being bullied and a whole bunch of other things. When you have an autistic child, a whole new bunch of fears come in to the picture.

Eliza likes to chat about the future, she loves to be involved and it helps her anxiety if she can openly talk about things. We’ve already been talking that she’ll go to a new School one day as she outgrows her Primary setting. She’s ten this year so we’re talking High Schools as this coming September when it is EHCP review time, we’ll also start planning for the changes to come when she’s in her final year. Now we all know there are not enough schools, let alone schools that will be able to meet her needs. Hence, we’ve already been in contact with some and are hopeful they have space for her when transition time starts but it’s a worry that there won’t be one for her.

Every week I hear of services and therapies being cut back due to lack of money. Eliza’s current school provide pretty much all she needs including speech therapy, occupational therapy and they even helped us get on the SEN dentist treatment list. But it won’t always be this easy. What will be available for her when she’s ready to leave school? What services will still exist? We already know about the fight to move from DLA to PIP, they certainly don’t make it easy that’s for sure. I want Eliza to be as independent as possible, she has already told me she doesn’t want to live at home forever and she’d like to live in some kind of supported living arrangement. Again, there are nowhere near enough of these places. I’m hopeful that more will exist, or a suitable alternative.

My biggest fear is knowing that I’m not going to be here forever. I’m not immortal, I will die one day, and I want to make sure she’s had as much guidance, love and support as she can to help her take on this crazy world as an adult. She is strong, confident and intuitive but also vulnerable. Vulnerable to those that could take advantage of her kind nature. Vulnerable to those that could manipulate or bully her. Vulnerable to her own feelings, she’s an empath and feels extremely deeply so we often talk about this and come up with ways for her to help her control the strong emotions she feels, how to process and filter through them and most importantly, how to take a step back and allow her own well being and mental health time for calm and recovery.

She’s only ten this year, but Eliza’s already overcome so much and she’s aware of how much we have to fight for services, therapies, school placements, EHCP’s. She’s a confident and very academically able child, she understands more than most people assume. I will never stop encouraging her to have her own opinion and to stand up for what she believes in because one day she’ll be doing this without me.

 

*** This was written for the Firefly blog which can be found here: Fears for the future

The day she was born, I changed

There are so many moments in life that define you. Sometimes you don’t even see them until long after the moment has passed. Memories are triggered by certain words, feelings, photographs, smells, tastes, a conversation….. and so many more things and often reflecting on the past can lead to the realisation that ‘Wow, that was a moment that changed my life’. One of those biggest moments for me was the day Eliza was born.

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Here she is, a few hours old.

Eliza is ten this year. She was my first pregnancy and a joy to carry, I was never sick and bloomed throughout the pregnancy. She was a horrendous delivery, one of the scariest days of my life as well of one of the most beautiful. Eliza’s my first born. She entered this world in a dramatic, feisty diva style way and is a beautiful, confident, independent young lady that still retains that feisty diva side but with added pre-teen attitude and a sarcastic tainted sense of humour that she may have inherited from me. Having a baby changes you, of course it does, but sometimes in ways you don’t realise until you actually look back to that moment. There are the obvious physical changes and emotional changes but sometimes random little things too. For example, films or TV shows I used to love and watch before she was born I can’t watch now. It’s like my entire emotional workings has been rewritten and rewired with extra sympathy, empathy, fear and love than before. I feel so much more deeply. That probably sounds bizarre to some of you but I can’t imagine it’s just me that feels this way.

The day Eliza was born has helped create the person I am today. Despite my strange emotional reboot, I am so much stronger and confident. I feel a love that I had never felt before, for her and her younger brother (Yes despite the horrendous delivery, I did eventually go and have another baby and he made her delivery look like a dream! That’s a story for another day). I don’t view the world just through my own eyes anymore, I view it both through them and with them in mind constantly. I’ve tried things I probably would never have done without children. They are my world, my most precious loves.

 

This was written for the prompt ‘The day that changed me was…’ for the ‘Finish the sentence Friday’ group hosted by Finding Ninee and Mardra Sikora

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Another New Year

How did 2019 arrive so fast? In the blink of an eye it is here and everything is back to ‘normal’ after a very festive period. The first week of January was stolen from us by the winter sickness bug, both children as its victims. Eliza coped really well considering she hates feeling and being sick. In fact, she’s got the patient thing perfected by really playing on it to her advantage. “Mummy, can you bring me a teddy…… can you get me a drink please……. I need ice cream…… because I’m poorly”. Each request met with a cheeky grin when she felt a little better. I’m glad the bug has gone away. I’m very glad it never grabbed me as well! A day of cleaning every single surface and floor made me feel a whole lot better after a week of germs.

School has been back for one week already. Just like that, a brand new term started. Eliza came home today with two awards. One for excellent reading and the other for completing 10 metres front crawl in swimming. She’s had a great first week back although the first few early mornings were a struggle and she actually napped on the journey to school. She has homework to do this weekend, write an essay about her Christmas holidays. Eliza is not a fan of written work, her fine motor skills are poor so she struggles but she loves Christmas, I mean REALLY LOVES it, so she’s happy to write all about it. We might be in January, we might have taken the tree down and all decorations, but she’s still singing Christmas songs and watching Christmas films and asking how many sleeps until Santa comes again. Once we get to the summer holidays (wow they seem so far away in July and August) she knows her favourite times are about to start – Halloween, Bonfire Night & the whole run up to Christmas. First though, she has a birthday to look forward to. In March she enters the double figures…… 10!!! She’s so ready, I’m so not! How is she growing up so fast?

2019 will be whatever it is. I’ve entered it with a fresh mind, no expectations or demands but a hopeful and positive attitude. This time last year I was in a dark place, needing therapy and medication to help me get through everything. A year later and for the first time in years I actually feel like me and I’m remembering who I am. It’s refreshing so I’m taking that with me this year. Working on me a bit more as I’m an expert at neglecting my own needs and putting other first. I have some amazing friends and family behind me so feeling very loved and lucky.

Enjoy your year, whatever it brings you. The past is called the past for a reason, don’t waste too much time pondering what should be left behind. No matter what the years brings, chase it and embrace it. Forward is the way, always forward.

This has been a blog prompt from the great ‘Finish the sentence Friday’ group based around ‘OMG, It’s January!’ and hosted by the fabulous Finding Ninee and Undiagnosed but okay

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Ten photo’s I just can’t delete from my phone

This week in ‘Finish the sentence Friday’, the prompt is ‘Share 10 photos from your phone’ so here they are (It took me a while to choose ten as I have hundreds saved on my phone!!). You’ll see there is no theme or pattern, my photo’s are as random as daily life.

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This is Rockingham Castle, about fifteen minutes drive from my house. Small but incredible. I’m a real History geek and I love visiting castles and historic buildings. I visited this one over summer during my 6 days of being child free, when the kids went away with their dad. The weather was incredible and I had the company of a friend I’ve known for more than 25 years.

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These two argue and fight as siblings do but they have a beautiful bond that sometimes I’m lucky enough to capture in a photo. Noah loves sitting with Eliza but even at the age of four, he understand and accepts that she doesn’t always cope with contact and she needs her space. They really do love and understand each other.

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Noah visiting one of our local Country Parks. We’d painted rocks with colourful pictures and uplifting quote on, and hid them for others to find on their walks. I love that time of year, when greenery is starting to show again but there are still crisp leaves on the ground. Warm enough to not need a huge coat but cool enough to get a hot chocolate in the cafe after.

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In June of this year I visited Scotland for the first time in my life. Edinburgh was amazing, I loved the Castle and the historic streets. I visited the cafe where J.K Rowling wrote Harry Potter when she was poor and not famous at all. I walked the streets that were supposedly the inspiration for Diagon Alley. I saw men playing bagpipes in kilts and a guy dressed as William Wallace. One of my favourite photo’s is the one above. It might not look like much but that building you can see in the distance was where Mary, Queen of Scots was kept prisoner many years ago. You can read about it here On the 2 May 1568 Mary, Queen of Scots escaped Lochleven castle. Yep, I love history.

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Eliza is always so happy to see Chris who runs Autistic Not Weird, he’s become a close friend of ours and we are lucky that we get to see him fairly often thanks to him living only one hour away. He is one of our very favourite humans. The frame they are holding was made by me. I love arts & crafts. I made one last year and again this year so I think I started some kind of birthday frame tradition! Eliza is so comfortable with Chris, confident enough to tease him (in a fun way) and she even has her own nicknames for him. He is a friendly, caring and fun guy that advocates so hard for autism awareness and acceptance. He’s also an incredible writer and I have had the privilege of reading most of his work to date. His first novel is going to be published very soon, you can check that out here (Yes shameless plug and no, I don’t care because I LOVE this book) Guerrillas by Chris Bonnello It’s a book full of Characters that are the heroes and they have various special/additional needs including autism, PDA, ADHD, anxiety and down syndrome.

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Back in January, Noah and I went with his nursery on a trip to London. We had an amazing time and visited The Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. A day filled of space rockets, pictures of the moon, dinosaurs, skeletons…. he had a great day. First time on a coach for him as well as first time in big, busy and huge London and he coped really well and wants to go back again another day.

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Back in 2016 I was able to see and walk through the carriages of the Hogwarts Express. I’m a huge Harry Potter fan so this was super exciting for me. It was the first time you could walk in to No.4 Privet drive too (And I did, and I was all emotional!!). I’ve been to the Warner Bros Studio Tours three times now, It’s time I booked visit number four…

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One of my favourite places to visit in London is The British Museum. I’m a Classical Studies student so this is where I get my geek full on lol. I can spend hours in the Roman section but the place you’ll see me the most is where the Ancient Egyptian statues and mummies are. There are so many amazing photo’s I could keep on my phone from the museum, but this is the one that I love. Who is she? She is Hathor and she’s always fascinated me for many years. Twelve years ago I beat anxiety and a fear of large amounts of water to get in a tiny wobbly boat and sail across to the Temple of Philae. Why? Because it’s linked to Hathor. As we touched land I cried (partly the relief that I could get out of the boat, mainly because I was actually standing there at the temple). “Hathor was the golden goddess who helped women to give birth, the dead to be reborn, and the cosmos to be renewed. This complex deity could function as the mother, consort, and daughter of the creator god”.

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This time last year I did a graffiti tour of London with a friend. She needed photographs for her photography degree and she wanted some company. We had a great day and very sore achy feet from covering miles and miles of London. I saw this on a wall next to some other posters and graffiti and just loved it. It speaks for itself really.

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I LOVE THIS PHOTO. Taken on Eliza’s 9th birthday earlier this year and with all three of us being a bit cheeky. I love it because it reminds me no matter how down I feel when depression kicks in, I have these two little humans that are my world. When my anxiety is taking control, I look at photo’s like these. These are my babies. I grew them. I raise them. I keep them safe. They are everything. We’ve been through so much yet look at us all.

 

This week’s prompt is hosted by Finding Ninee and Sporadically Yours


 

 

The time I found myself in a heated discussion about high and low functioning autism

***This started as a Facebook post here but a few people messaged and asked for it as a blog so here it is***
Recently I ended up in a rather heated discussion in an online parenting support group about autism. In particular the difference between high and low functioning. Now first of all, I’m not a fan of the word ‘functioning’, I detest it but as this quote fit what I was trying to explain at the time (plus some of Eliza’s own paperwork describes her as ‘low functioning’) I’ll use it just to explain my point. The photo below is of Eliza and Chris from Autistic Not Weird. Beautiful photo isn’t it? Eliza’s diagnosis on paper is written as “Autism Spectrum Disorder and moderate-severe learning difficulties”. On more than one report she’s also described as ‘low functioning’. Chris has a diagnosis of Asperger’s (And yes, I have his permission to post this photo etc).

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The heated discussion I ended up in was a post about varying levels of autism, where people ‘sit’ on the spectrum as such but a small bunch of individuals were harping on about if you are high functioning you should lose the diagnosis label as you don’t deserve it. One lady in particular, I argued with at great length after she announced on the post that any child or adult that was considered severe autism or low functioning should be institutionalised so the Country could save the “wasted money given to the retards who don’t know what to do with it anyway” (Her words!). I was so angry with the whole conversation. The use of the R word alone was down right degrading and disgusting but to suggest those that are lower functioning should be locked away? And those that are high functioning should no longer be considered autistic?

Every single individual is different. Every single one! But high functioning does not mean that person doesn’t struggle. It does not mean they need no help or support and often they carry on unsupported because they are expected to which is damaging. Have you any idea how hard it is to be pressured in to being ‘normal’ because you are high functioning and that means society assumes you have no troubles or issues? And should you dare to have any issues, it’s assumed that you either need no help or that you are faking it or ‘not that bad’….. Let’s flip to the other side. Low functioning. This does not mean lack of intelligence, lack of understanding or that these children and adults are less than others. Eliza reads older than her years, is learning piano and brass horn, makes hilarious jokes and is very academically able with the correct support in place. But according to that person in the group, we should lock her away because she was discussed in a report as ‘low functioning’?

I’ll stop here because reliving that argument is making me angry and ranty! As much as I detest the word ‘functioning’, this quote sums up what I was trying to get across in that group. But I’ll just add that by no means is Eliza ‘low functioning’. It was a term used by certain individuals who chose to write her off at a young age rather than wait and see exactly what she was capable of.

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What a difference a diagnosis makes

When Eliza was diagnosed with autism, it was a relief. A relief because I knew she was autistic anyway but that single piece of paper with her diagnosis on was a key, a key to open the way to the specialist education, therapies and interventions that she needed. She was only 3 years old but early intervention is so important although not always available and the sadness and reality these days is that support services are being cut daily and budgets slashed so many children are now being forced to wait years for an appointment let alone a diagnosis. I know she was diagnosed at the ‘right’ time both personally and when all the services she needed were at our disposal. We were some of the lucky ones before the SEND crisis started spiralling out of control. The reality these days is that children and adults are being failed. They are left to wait, made to fit in, expected to adapt without support and this is damaging.

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When Eliza was diagnosed, she had already been using Makaton sign language and began using PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) to aid her communication. Her favourite word was ‘no’ which she could speak and sign perfectly! But when out in public, strangers would often stop and chat in the supermarket queue and many quickly judged Eliza for not replying to them, assuming she was rude. Often when I explained that she had very limited speech and was autistic and needed time to process things, we’d get replies including “She’s just trying it on, she’s fooling you”, “Oh but she’s a girl, she can’t be autistic” and “I’d not put up with that, I’d have her talking by the end of the day….”. Often Eliza would reach for the PECS cards I carried in my pocket or on her bag and point to pictures of what she wanted or what she’d seen. She was communicating yet the sight of these picture cards used to make people turn away and whisper, some would just stare at her and loudly ask “Can’t she speak then?” which would then send a lot of eyes towards our direction and often lots of sympathetic head shakes. The reality is that a lot of people do not understand autism, communication aids and or anything that they don’t see as the ‘norm’ and when they see a child or adult that is different, attitudes are usually ignorance or pity.

When Eliza was diagnosed, we lost contact with a lot of friends and even some family over the following couple of years. The child that had been attending parties and play dates was suddenly left out, despite the fact she’d never been anyone or anything different to the beautiful and funny girl she always had been. But diagnosis somehow made a difference. Suddenly Eliza wasn’t Eliza anymore to them. She was ‘the different one’ or ‘the autistic one’. Whether through ignorance or lack of understanding we were excluded. Eliza was excluded. Some family didn’t understand (some didn’t want to try to either) and we were given the “She’ll grow out of it, you’ll see” and “You read about this in the papers, parents getting their children labelled so they can claim extra money”. YES THAT ACTUALLY WAS SAID TO US! Family seems to assume that as they are family, they can say whatever they like without repercussions. Just because we are related doesn’t give you any right to be rude, ignorant and judgemental. The reality is that everyone has their own expectations of what is ‘normal’ yet many don’t wish to understand or at least try to realise that, actually, Eliza is perfectly normal thank you very much. She’s just different in the way her mind works. A diagnosis opened some doors for her regarding therapy and school but it also closed some with friendships and relationships.

When Eliza was diagnosed, it didn’t stop her doing any of the following –

  • Making friends and maintaining those friendships.
  • Learning to swim.
  • Reading at a level 2 years above her own age.
  • Taking control of her own anxiety and facing her fears of being in theatres, cinemas and restaurants.
  • Learning to play a brass horn and also learning piano.
  • Telling awful made up jokes about farts and burps.
  • Becoming an Ambassador for an Autism Awareness & Acceptance clothing line Just Ausome
  • Being asked by Chewigem to review and share feedback about their products.
  • BEING ELIZA, BEING DIFFERENT AND NOT LESS!!

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Thanks for reading. This was a prompt about ‘A reality I’d like to change is…’ from ‘Finish the sentence Friday’ hosted by Finding Ninee and Sporadically Yours