This is Our Normal

Do you ever wonder what other people’s normal looks like? How their life differs to yours? Something you consider to be so ordinary but to others it really isn’t? For example, it wasn’t until I went to uni that I found out mash potato on a Sunday Roast was considered weird  (at least in that neck of the woods) and I thought all bathrooms had a bottle of Fairy Liquid in during the 80’s….apparently everyone else actually used bubble bath. Who knew!? 

This week I have been forced to look at our families normal just because of the timetable we have run. Here’s 10 things that are considered  absolutely normal in our house that I suspect aren’t in yours:

  1. Our children (4 months and almost 4 years old) get more post than us. Medical letters, letters regarding education and appointment letters. So many appointment letters, for both kiddos. 
  2. Both children have prescribed medication everyday (and they both love it!)
  3. Getting by on an average of 5 hours (often broken) sleep a night is considered winning.
  4. I get asked regularly what support we get. I have been asked this three times this week alone from professionals. The answer? None. We go it alone (not through choice).
  5. Changing a nappy on a baby changing unit in disabled toilets for someone whose head and torso only just fit on the unit. And he is growing, but facilities for him aren’t.  
  6. Having one child with severe autism which has an impact on every aspect of our lives.
  7. Having another child who has, since birth been in and out of hospital. He has just been invited to participate in the national Genome Project, spearheaded by Birmingham Children’s Hospital because he has a rare condition. 
  8. Using pictures and sign language are  the best forms of two way communication between us and our autistic son.
  9. Parents never having a night off (parenting) together. Ever. We have never both spent a night away from the kiddos together. I can count on one hand the number of nights I have had away (apart from when in hospital having the second).
  10. Finding things lined up everywhere.

What things in your life do you consider normal but to others really aren’t? 

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    Five reasons my son’s Autism diagnosis has made me a better person. ..

    I firmly believe my sons diagnosis has made me a better, kinder person. Here’s 5 reasons why:

    1. Autism has made me realise that kids you think are being naughty might not be. Those kids lying on the floor in the supermarket screaming, or being out of control in a restaurant may not just be being awkward or being naughty. There could be a medical reason such as autism, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder or a whole plethora of other reasons which I wont pretend to understand. The fact is, these kids aren’t always being naughty. The parents do not need another eye roll, they need help and understanding.  
    2. Everybody’s notion of hard is different. To me, my son’s  autism is hard. Knowing I may never hear his voice is hard.  Fighting the system (always) to get help and support is hard. Being sleep deprived is hard. Communication on all levels with my autistic son is hard. But my level of hard doesn’t  make your level of hard any less and my level of hard shouldn’t be any less than your level. Took me a while to appreciate that. 
    3. People will tell you they are ok when really they aren’t. It’s not often people ask how I am and get full chapter and verse, that I’m struggling, that I’m burnt out and that I need help. Not many know that side of me because society dictates when we are asked how we are we respond “alright thanks, you?” also, because I don’t want to burden you or make you uncomfortable.  I set this page up as a form of therapy for myself but also to educate others and to offer support for others following the same journey. It works, I’ve had messages from people saying thanks. 
    4. You’re only ever a couple of steps away, or a couple of wrong decisions away from losing it. Your sanity, your house, everything. Who you are or what you have doesn’t alter it, that’s fact.  I try not to just walk by the homeless on the streets. I stop and have a chat, ask them if they have somewhere to sleep, if they are warm enough, how their day is looking before offloading shed loads of snacks to them.  Autism hitting our house didn’t make me do that, but what it did do was open my eyes to life’s struggles and challenges that people go through. Often with little or no warning your world can be turned upside down. 
    5. Autism has made more accepting of people.  I understand  now more than ever that everyone is different and that’s a wonderful thing. 

    What is it they say? When life gives you lemons, make tequila. Or in my case: When life gives you autism, be kind 💖 (I’ll  take the tequila too please, thank you!).

        ​My Love / Hate relationship with our NHS

        A couple of things have happened this week which has made me reflect on my experience with our NHS. It’s left me thinking, love it or loathe it? 
        As some of you know, it took around two years to get The Monster’s autism diagnosis – that’s pretty good, and we are considered lucky to get a diagnosis at such an early age. He hasn’t been seen by his paediatrician for 6 months and is now due a follow-up.  I am desperate to get the ball rolling on getting  Occupational Therapy and a formal sensory processing diagnosis. This will not only massively benefit him (and us) but will also add some weight for his educational needs and support, which is now urgent given we have some big decisions to make before he is due to start school in September. I have made no secret about this and have spoken to health visitors, his GP and finally on advice that it would be the quickest route, I spoke to his paediatricians secretary. She advises me to call the booking team as nothing was in the diary. This is why I started to reflect, bare with me and I will put some more meat on the bones. 

        I am super greatful for our NHS most of the time. Let me pinpoint just some of the reasons why I LOVE it:

        • I have gone under the knife four times, each time losing a body part and have received good care on (almost) all occasions.
        • We have leaned heavily on it for The Monster and will continue to, likely for the rest of his life. He has had hours of observations, consultations and tests prior to diagnosis alone
        • His 3 month old baby brother (AKA The Small One) is also reliant on it after being born with only one kidney, a poorly one at that. He will be having his first operation later this month. I will be eternally greatful to the nurses that looked after my precious baby around the clock when he was born and in neo-natal away from his mummy. The unsung heroes of the NHS.
        • We are (almost) guaranteed to get a DR’s appointment on the same day we ring. 

        BUT

        Here’s the flip side:

        • Today I made a call to chase up The Monster’s follow-up appointment which is due this month (May). I get told that he can’t get seen until SEPTEMBER as the diary is full until then. I respond that this is totally unacceptable as it should’ve already been booked and manage to get one on 31st July. The booking system is so inadequate and the DR’s are so busy that they simply do not have the time or resources to offer more slots.
        • The Monster only received his diagnosis after me chasing the hell out of most appointments. In fact, right at the beginning of the process when he needed his first speech and language appointment, hearing and epilepsy tests they archived his files rather than sending to the relevant departments. If I didn’t chase, he may have been lost in the system forever. It is worth pointing out that the Dr was mortified that this happened, they only realised when I chased and pointed out it was due to a new system they were using. They advised me to complain. I didn’t. 
        • The Small One had his second lot of immunisations this week. After the nurse injected him, she slipped with the needle and stabbed my leg leaving me bleeding. She apologied, shocked and visibly a bit shaken. I said it was OK, and genuinely was OK with it as it had only been in my healthy boys leg. It could’ve been a different story though.
        •  I had several antenatal scans with The Small One where they identified he had Renal Dilated Pelvis (a poorly kidney), fairly common and should clear up after birth. They stated on the reports they had seen both kidneys (several times). He was born with ONE kidney. Now, I’m no doctor but surely they should’ve looked for the other given that they had identified one was poorly? When I have the time and headspace to fight this, I will campaign to get their scanning paperwork changed. Hearing the words “not compatible with life” when he was only 2 days old will stay with me for the rest of my life.

        I have met some of the most amazing, selfless people working in our healthcare system and for the most part the downfalls have been to systems and procedure. But it’s also evident that these guys are busy. SO busy. I’m not going to get all political. I just wanted a bit of a vent. How about you, do you love or loathe it? 

        A journey down Diagnosis Lane.

        Hello,

        I’m the mum to an almost 4 year old boy who I affectionately refer to as The Monster, and a baby boy who is 3 months old. I’m a long time partner (but not wife as he refuses to put a ring on it) to my other half.

        I often get asked how we knew The Monster was different. What triggers were there that made us question his ‘normality’? Well in short we didn’t realise he was different since we had no comparison. Was he hard work? hell yes. Was he challenging? of course. Was he hitting all his milestones? Some but not all. All sounds pretty normal to me. Nobody had ever told me having kids was easy so I assumed this was ‘normal’. The fact I’d managed to eat toast and have a shower which I’d been reliably informed was impossible when you had a small person meant we were winning, surely!? 

        It was his childminder who raised the flag. She described him as having tunnel vision and very busy. His speech wasn’t coming, he was super noisy but no words and he was mildly delayed at walking, taking his first steps at 17 months. When she told me in no uncertain terms that he was, quote “hard work” it was music to my ears. I thought all kids were this challenging! And so with that we mentioned it to our GP and the ball started rolling….and rolling….and rolling. Here began what was to become a just over two year diagnosis process. 

        In the months that we waited for his first appointment with his paediatrician I raised the flags with The Monster’s health visitors. His two year check was fast approaching and I was now more aware than ever of the things he wasn’t doing. He used to wave but had stopped, he used to say hiya but had stopped. He didn’t have enough concentration to hold a crayon never mind draw a line and he was constantly busy. Sleeping was cheating and being up for several hours in the middle of the night wasn’t an uncommon occurance. Everyone assumed it was normal waking and nothing some sleep training wouldn’t resolve. I finally broke, ringing the health visitors uncontrollably sobbing down the phone after a particularly long stint of about 4 hours broken sleep a night. They sent someone around that day. But they still didn’t get it. The boy did not sleep! This was to continue until the actual day of diagnosis when I was finally granted the magic potion, melatonin. Hello sleep…oh wait, hello newborn baby! 

        At the first paediatrician appointment I was asked a whole host of questions whilst The Monster ran rings around me. He turned on every switch he could find, played with the taps, banged the window and avoided all toys in the room, obvs. At least he was on form and she could see what he was like. We got refered for a hearing test, a speech and language appointment and for an epilepsy test since he was having frequent episodes of staring into space. We waited so long for these appointments to come through that I arranged the hearing test and contacted a speech and language therapist myself. Eventually he had his epilepsy test and it came back normal. After over 18 weeks we still hadn’t heard anything for the other follow-ups so I contacted the paediatrician to find out what the blooming heck was going on, only to be told his records had been archived rather than sent to the relevant departments. Furious. Lucky I had been so pro-active or he could’ve been lost in the system forever. By this point I already had a speech and language report and he was undergoing more hearing tests which at least meant we didn’t have to start afresh. I can’t recall too much from the next appointment with the paediatrician other than to confirm that he needed further assessment.

        In the months that followed we confirmed he had no major hearing problems that would affect speech. He had an NHS speech and language appointment and he was observed at home before being refered to the multidisciplinary team for observations which would ultimately lead to a diagnosis.  

        I did my homework. I read and read and read about autism, I completed countless quizzes online and I watched The Monster a lot. I did all this in secret. I was plagued by guilt for looking so much. What if he wasn’t autistic, what if he was ‘normal’ after all? 

        Communication was becoming increasingly difficult. He was growing physically but mentally and emotionally he was now much behind his peers. He still didn’t talk, he only just started waving and he couldn’t nod to indicate if he wanted something or even if he liked something. We started signing and amazingly he picked up a few. Progress at last. His behaviour was at times uncontrollable and I began dreading going to new places. On one occasion before diagnosis I apologised about his behaviour and said he was autistic. That was the first time I used the ‘A’ word to anyone outside my circle of friends and family. He wasn’t even diagnosed. He had tried to nick someones mobility scooter so I had to say something! I had a lump in my throat the size of a grapefruit and I cried all the way home. 

        Time went by and I had it all but confirmed that he was autistic. I was relieved when the assessments came around. Another step closer to it becoming formal. But what if they didn’t see what I saw, what if in the hour a week that they observed him he was on good form, what if he wasn’t behaving autistic enough!? 

        The assessments came and went and finally D Day (diagnosis day) loomed. My partner and I were handed a 13 page dossier before entering the room. It was tough reading but also made me laugh out loud. They had seen what we see. They had him down to a tee. We entered the room and were granted the sofa whilst the paediatrician and 2 other professionals sat opposite us. Not daunting at all! We went through their report fully before finally being told “He has Autism Spectrum Disorder”.  I think they expected us to crack there and then, constantly asking if we were OK. My feelings? Relief. Sadness. Happiness. Grief. Real.   

        It’s been five months now since The Monster was diagnosed. I still grieve for the child I thought we would have. It gets me some days that I may never hear my boy talk, I may never see him ride a bike, have a partner, get a job, learn to drive, leave home. I’ve learnt it’s OK to be sad sometimes and I don’t feel guilty for shedding a tear about it. It doesn’t mean I love The Monster any less. If anything I love him more. He has taught me to always be kind, to be compassionate, not to judge, to be patient and to be a better person. All this and he isn’t even four. That’s pretty epic. 

        I no longer feel guilt for accessing support and I can talk freely about his autism without feeling like I am betraying him. 

        My name is Lisa and my son is autistic. 

        ​YOU ARE THE UNKNOWN

        You are the unknown in my sons life,

        The wait and see, 

        The summit of a mountain we are yet to climb,

        The thing that needs so many questions, yet gives no answers.
        You are the thief of my sons voice,

        The reason he can’t tell us he loves us,

        The fidgety cuddle,

        The line them up, tower them up, break them up,

        The not always recognised disability. 

        You are the destiny to our lives,

        The unstopabble force,

        The energy that never burns out

        The bounce as near to the edge as you can,

        The countless hours of laying awake in bed.

        You are the most obvious in a crowded room, 

        The unstoppable tears falling,

        The worry for the here and now,

        The worry for the future,

        A spin, 

        A flap,

        A grunt,

        A sign,

        The hide under the covers and get away from it all,

        The squeal at the top of his lungs,

        The uninvited guest who turned up out of the blue,

        The re-writing of our “happily ever after”
        Autism, you are the unknown. The most unknown member of our family yet you’re welcome to take us on our journey.

        Why helicopter parenting is absolutely necessary in our world…

        We live in a world where everyone is quick to judge and everyone has an opinion and is keen to express it. This is especially true when thinking about parenting. Breast feeding, bottle feeding, stay at home parent, working parent, 1 kid / 10 kids, single parent, same sex parents. You name it people judge you for it. 

        I’ve read a couple of blogs recently where so called helicopter parenting comes under fire. Dr. Dunnewold PhD says, when referring to this style of parenting with toddlers…

        “a helicopter parent might constantly shadow the child, always playing with and directing his behavior, allowing him zero alone time”  

        I’m here to defend why we have to helicopter parent our child. You simply can not judge this style of parenting for every kid. The Monster is autistic. He needs to be hovered over.

        We will be the ones hovering over our child at the park, chasing his every move and being in his shadows. 

        Why? The Monster gets so excited when he sees people on swings that he thinks nothing of running in their path, he could be knocked over by them causing significant injury. He picks things up off the floor he shouldn’t and wouldn’t think twice about putting discarded food / drink in his mouth, or anything else could also get put in his mouth due to his sensory needs.  He runs everywhere in an uncoordinated manner and frequently needs peeling from the floor and dusting down after a fall. His attempt to make friends often involves pushing other children, understandably this doesn’t go down well with said children or their parents. He doesn’t understand park etiquette; queuing for the slide? Why do that when he can push himself to the front knocking down whoever is in his way. 

        To make the park an enjoyable visit for everyone, we will follow him, play games with him and teach turn taking. We encourage his independance and follow his lead but we will be in his shadows and guide him when necessary.

        We will be the ones not letting him walk down the road (path strictly speaking) without either a tight grip of his hand and / or reigns on.

        Why? The Monster has absolutely no sense of danger. He also has very selective hearing and will most often not respond to being told to stop, wait or walk. He would think nothing of running into a busy road into oncoming traffic.He will not just walk alongside us, instead he runs, opens and closes neighbours gates, attempts to touch all parked cars and if he sees our car the other side of the road he would run over to it regardless of what’s in his path. 

        It would be nice to be able to take a leisurely walk where he could run to the next lamppost and wait, or run a stick along a metal fence, or take his scooter / bike to the shop but he simply can’t be trusted to do any of these things without us being in physical contact with him. I would consider one of those retractable dog leads if I could get away with it 😁.   

        We will be the ones not able to relax even in the confines of your house.

        Why? There is a running joke amongst family and friends that there is baby-proofing and then there is Monster-proofing. I am so on edge when at peoples houses that I rarely get to have a focussed conversation. He will play with your phones, pull over your ornaments, turn over your TV, destroy your CD / DVD collection and your DVD player when putting several in at a time, he will drink or knock over any cups / glasses, he will put anything that fits into his mouth.  He can’t do gentle, so even his attempt to look – with his hands in typical kid fashion! he is likely to damage / break your belongings (RIP TV number one). He will turn on your cooker, slam your doors, go in your wardrobe, grab your hoover and flail around the house pretending to clean without a care for what he breaks in the process (RIP TV number two),  he will love playing with your housephones, especially when they make a noise. He will yank at your blinds and wrap himself in your Laura Ashley curtains. He will run your taps, bang his hands on your windows, climb on or even in your furniture and go around turning your plug sockets on and off. And that important mail on the side? Yeah that’s probably been shoved back through the letterbox all screwed up and ripped. Those toys you got out for him to play with? They’re still neatly where you left them when we leave, natch.  Nothing is safe. I have to do a risk assessment in every house we enter, often moving your belongings out of reach. 

        Of course, these are extremes and in familiar environments we can relax a bit. They are real life examples but don’t worry, they didn’t all happen in one day! 

        Helicopter parenting still a bad idea? I didn’t think so. Hopefully we can relax this style of parenting as The Monster gets older. We want him to be independent, we want him to grow, to flourish to experience his world without us in his shadows but right now he needs us to guide, teach and protect him. So for now… 

        We’re the pilot and he’s the co-pilot!

        Is it OK to hate my child’s autism? 

        I love The Monster more than I will ever be able to describe. To Infinity and Beyond. To The Moon and Back. I would lay down my life for him. You get the picture. But that doesn’t mean I always like what his autism does to him. Ouch I feel guilty even writing that. 

        It’s taken a long time to admit to myself that there are things that I plain and simply don’t like.  What autism does to him. Of course autism isn’t all bad and I wouldn’t change him for the world. If he could have a magic pill to make it all go away I don’t think I would give it him. 

        There are only two things that I really don’t like. Only two, that’s not bad considering it has a bearing on his whole being. 

        1. Speech. I hate that it has ripped away the ability for him to talk. I don’t know if this is forever but I am a realist and I know that he perhaps won’t ever talk, at least not like a ‘normal’ person. I hate that I might never hear him say “mummy”, he might never be able to tell me he loves me. Telling us he is hurt, sad, happy etc can be done through other means, i.e. body language, signing etc but telling us why is more difficult. I might never get to hear if he has an accent (although to be honest, who wants a brummie accent 😜). I hate that we might never be able to talk over the phone. I even feel sad that his friends and peers can call me by my name yet he can’t. 
        2. Inability to follow instructions / listen! The Monster does what he wants, when he wants contrary to what we tell him. We are forever giving him instructions, more often than not for his own safety. We yell “slow down” a lot. He runs everywhere. we gasp at all the near misses he has because he is going to fast and not looking where he is going. How we haven’t ended up in A&E yet I don’t know*. I feel like I am constantly giving out a negative vibe since “Don’t do that” and “No” are probably the most widely spoken words in our existence! He doesn’t learn from experience so we have to repeatedly give out the same instructions. For example: “Don’t touch the TV” – he’s already broken two and do you think we can stop him messing with it? Not a chance. The most stressful thing in the world is visiting people and new places since instructions to not run wild around peoples houses, to sit and chill and / or play with toys falls on deaf ears. 

          And you thought sleep was going to be up there with the things I hate didn’t you!? 

          Would you admit to things you don’t like about your child? Does it make me a bad person for not liking these things? I don’t think so, I feel guilt of course but autism isn’t all bad. Challenging yes. Happy, unpredictable, fun, quirky and fascinating. Most definitely. 

          *in hindsight I should’ve taken him to A&E when he found the only bit of metal in a soft play. He fell and hit his head good and proper. Even now, about 2 years on you can feel the lumps on his forehead and if he bangs his head (quite often) it’s a cert it will be in the same place!