Thank god for that!

Four words.  Four very simple words with a massive impact.

There is a line in the play The Life of Reilly which is delivered by autistic actor Scott and it says “They say words behind my back that move to my heart and break it”. It’s about thoughtless people, I met some of those today.

The holidays are hard for us, when I say us I think it’s safe to say I speak for many. We are 4 weeks into the holidays the kids are out of routine and back to school anxiety is taking root. I’ve given my Katniss salute to a few when I’ve seen them out and about. Just so they know I know, I get it.

 

Reilly made it really clear today he wanted to get the bus into Town so that’s exactly what we did. I was a bit nervous about it as sometimes Reilly will want a certain registration plate rather than bus number, I am many things but a conjurer I am not. Anyway all good a double decker came immediately and we had a lovely ride in.

He has a route he takes every time and that’s through M & S and then straight to Fenwicks or HMV. Today was HMV for a new DVD. I should really take a camping chair as we could be there all day while he looks at all the covers. He bought Thomas Trouble on the Tracks then led the way back to the Haymarket. No stopping for an ice cream at Mark Toneys or Fenwicks so knew something wasn’t quite right.

A doughnut from Greggs and we got back on the bus. He didn’t want to get on it but seeing as I don’t live in Whitley Bay his choice was out.

It was horrific. From the second the bus moved he screamed literally til he couldn’t breathe. He was shouting go back and clawing at his own skin. He is covered in scratches. Now I knew if I turned around I would see, best case scenario would be 2 different types of reaction. Half bus thinking ah poor woman and child other half wish sh’d shut him up. Worst case would be a bus full of the latter.

A man and woman late 60s ish were sat in the seat behind me. I could hear moaning and would occasionally see her hands go up to her ears. Did I turn around and boot her? No maybe she had sensory issues, maybe there’s more to her story. So I persevered with Reilly. I cuddled him, I kissed his scratches, I explained we had to go home. Not once did I raise my voice or get angry with him. He’s non verbal this is his communication. Me getting angry would achieve nothing. In this situation I have to his anchor and safety net. I could almost hear them willing me to give him a smack.

Worst 25 mins Ive ever had with him. I was sweating, stressed and on the verge of tears. As the couple got off they avoided my eye contact and I heard her say to the driver in a snidey tone “THANK GOD FOR THAT!” Not satisfied that she was getting off the bus and out of the situation but wanting to drum up some comrades of hate, which she didn’t get. one lady said to me some people just don’t get it, they are awful and she’s right.

I did my best for my boy that’s all I can do. Everyone else has the luxury of moving their seat. What am I supposed to do? Get off?

I’ll tell you what YOU can do in this scenario.

  1. Don’t tut.
  2. Don’t roll your eyes to the person across the way.
  3. Don’t do massive loud exhales of breath behind my head you might lose your lips.
  4. Don’t stare.
  5. Say things like I know there’s maybe nothing I can do but let me know if I can.
  6. Be a friend. A knowing smile is enough to top up our batteries.
  7. Don’t judge. This isn’t bad parenting.
  8. If you get off at the same stop offer to carry a bag, ring someone. Our hands are usually full.
  9. Move your seat. If it’s too much I understand honest I do.
  10. Give us a break.

I did mouth out the window WTF is wrong with you which she saw. She just looked at me disgusted. I’m over it now but for the love of Tom people pack it in!

When I eventually got him home I tried to work out what happened. I know he wanted to go back to town and kept handing me my bag. He took my phone and typed this ….

He had changed his mind about the DVD he bought in HMV. Honestly I’m heartbroken. The meltdown was born through pure frustration because he couldn’t tell me. I had put my phone away to hold him on the bus. My little lad and what he does every day deserves a medal of Olympic standard.

I put him in the car, drove to HMV metro centre and changed his DVD. We went to the Disney shop and the lady on the till recognised him immediately from his blog and Facebook which was lovely. We had a Burger King and shoved some wool up the sucker in the build a bear factory (always a favourite).

Up yours old cow on the bus. Maybe some education from playing outside your house maybe useful?

The Life of Reilly coming to a stage near you!

To say I am excited is understatement of the century.
I was approached by a lady called Alison Stanley in April when I began writing this blog. Alison from Red Diamond Theatre wanted to talk about taking The Life of Reilly to the stage! She had already been working on a play about an autistic adult looking back over his life from a small child and how he handled the scenarios that moulded his life. I imagine it to be bittersweet and will touch base with every emotion in the audience.

The young Reilly will be based on my very own little man and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed sharing some of his best moments with her. Some funny, some heartbreaking. Alison is already well versed in everything autism as her own son is also on the spectrum, not the same as Reilly; quite the opposite in fact but like we always say you meet one child with autism you’ve met one child with autism because they are all unique.

Autism has never been more in the public eye than it is now and every new project gets people talking which in turn leads to a greater understanding and an easier life for autistic people and their parents. The A Word has done wonders. All of my friends and family watched it, it opened dialogue that they would never have dreamed to mention before. They get the stress and the utter desperation for normality portrayed by Alison Joes Mum and I have found they are kinder and a little more forgiving than before.

A play about autism would have me jumping for joy at the best of times but a play with traits of Reilly is just incredible. Alison has had great success in the past with plays at the Theatre Royal and the Edinburgh Fringe which were greatly received! I cannot wait to see the results for The Life of Reilly.
I hope you will all support it when the time comes ❤️

 

Trolley & dolly 

As promised I said I would update on the situation with Manor Walks.  North East Autism Society (NEAS) were in the centre this week and delivered autism training to representatives from New Look, O’Briens, Management, parking and security.

I also met its Sarah from Manor Walks and listened to plans for an awareness day throughout Manor Walks to provide shoppers with valuable information about autism and how they can help.   Lesley Cole from Autism Northumberland will help them facilitate this and I think it’s a great first step for some shoppers to gain some much needed understanding.

We also discussed the autism friendly shopping times and a quiet area when things are just too much.

I put forward the idea about the shopping trollies for larger children.  I decided to test the one in Asda out tonight with Reilly.  Why I do this to myself when I’ve been up since 3.30am I’ll never know 😁


As you can see he’s thrilled to be in there 🙈. It was really difficult to push and a spot of WD40 wouldn’t go a miss.  The basket at the front is really quite small so no weekly shops with this one.  If however Reilly had an iPad or similar I think he would have sat quite nicely, the seat is huge.   He had bigger fish to fry today though with the lure of the kinder egg stand and wanted OUT ASAP.  There were a few Judge Judys who had a good stare at Reilly in the new trolley but as always I completely ignored it, 3 stares though and I’ll clip your ankles with it.


We received £100 of vouchers from the security firm by way of apology for the situation with the security guard and tonight he bagged himself a dolly with a bath, a crane, a rapunzel play dough set and a paw patrol action dog .  No gender discrimation with Reilly’s toys.  So no complaints from him tonight fingers, legs and toes crossed for an early night.

Onwards & upwards for an easier life ❤

Autism Northumberland Facebook

North East Autism Society Facebook

 

The lion and the giraffe


Reilly has decided over the last few weeks he will simply not tolerate a nappy unless it has a lion on it.  He wears pampers nappies that come in 2 designs in each pack, one is a lion the other is a giraffe.
I cannot see anything offensive about the giraffe but it sure as hell isn’t going near Reillys butt.  He hides them, puts them in the bin, in the tumble dryer etc.  If he wakes up and I’ve had the audacity to sneak one on him while he’s asleep he removes it pronto and throws it across the floor.


This has resulted in a huge stockpile of 6+ pampers giraffes.  Anyone fancy a swop I’ll do two giraffes for one lion?

You’ve got to laugh.  😩

Important talks with Manor Walks

 A few weeks back my family had an unpleasant, upsetting experience at our local shopping centre. I’ll keep it short – Reilly had a meltdown in Asda and my husband took him out, he bolted through the centre to the other side. A security guard then wouldn’t allow them back through to myself and thing 2 even though my husband explained Reilly had autism and was overwhelmed. The guard was completely unsympathetic, the air turned blue and my husband had to walk right around the outside of the shopping centre carry Reilly at night with cars, lights, noises, darkness etc and it’s a fair distance to boot too so you can imagine the state of Reilly and dad by the time we were reunited.  I got home and eventually calmed Reilly’s meltdown after 45 minutes. Thing 2 left to sleep at Grandmas as he gets upset at Reilly being upset and can’t bare to watch.

I settled myself down with a cup of tea and had a Facebook rant, a huge one. I was extremely angry.  This opened a private dialogue with Sarah Turnbull at Manor Walks and I was invited along to talk to Bruno – Manor Walks Manager, Ian – Security Manager and Sarah to discuss what had happened. I attended that meeting today with my sister in law Kelly, moral support and she’s well versed on autism.

I was thrilled to find out they’d already begun staff training to recognise and understand what autism is with the North East Autism Society and were genuinely very keen to make amends, were very apologetic, absolutely mortified at the lack of humility shown and importantly they also invited me to become an ambassador to work with them to improve shopping at Manor Walks for people with autism and their parents and carers. I say people because this is not just about children. Autistic children become autistic adults at the end of the day and are still affected by sensory issues and the same judgemental glares that us parents are subjected to by other shoppers. The ultimate aim is for Manor Walks to reach the North East Autism Society’s charter standard and meet all their criteria to become autism friendly.

  
I will put 100% into working with them to make visiting Manor Walks less stressful. We decided immediately on an autism awareness day right through the centre aimed at educating shoppers and staff of the issues surrounding autism, we all know a little understanding goes a long way.   A shopping event was discussed too with lights low, music off, autism aware staff on duty etc I know this is popular at Christmas was autism families at Toys R Us stores and has been really successful.

Autism needs to be accepted it’s here to stay. I’ve been told numerous times “he needs a smack” “mine would never behave like that” insinuating I’m a bad parent, I’ve also heard “he’s too old for nappies”.  Well judgey woman and friend thanks ever so much for your autism parenting advice based on episode 1 of the A Word and Rain Man in 1985 but I think I’ll give it a miss and politely ask you to jog on.

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Please let me know of any ideas you would like to see implemented and I will make sure they are passed along at our next meeting. Leave no stone unturned – trolleys, parking, lighting, eating, seating, queueing –  if you think it can make a difference share your ideas. I am confident that this will turn out to be a really positive experience making all our lives a little bit easier.  I will be posting further updates regarding Manor Walks as and when they come up.

There is an excellent charity Autism Northumberland based upstairs in Manor Walks already providing great services and facilities to families affected by autism and well worth a visit. I know their opinions on transforming Manor Walks will be greatly valued. 

The Anxiety Society 


Before Reilly was born I was already a part of the anxiety society. That club that no one asks to join and you can’t terminate the membership, a bit like those gyms you join on January the 2nd and continue to pay for the rest of your days.

 I’ve always had spells of anxiety from around 18 but it was never a constant, when I went on holiday I’d want to come home, I’d get that jelly legged feeling and feel dizzy until I was either a) drunk or b) came home, that kind of thing.

I lost my brother aged 32 in 2003 to a heart condition which devastated us as a family, it was out of the blue, sudden and excruciating. Still is.

Thing 2

After thing 2 was born in 2006 I suffered post natal depression (PND) of epic proportions. If there had been space I would have gone into a unit but there wasn’t so myself and Things 1 & 2 moved back to my parents house where I could start medication, take sleeping tablets and actually rest.  I have no doubts without my parents and some great help from my neighbours and a couple of friends I would not have coped alone and I’m forever thankful for their help to this day. There were contributing factors to the PND. Thing 2 had a  condition called pyloric stenosis which meant he was sick constantly not just baby sick but projectile sometimes 10-15 times a day. I couldn’t leave the house without numerous sets of clothing and no one was taking me seriously and I was palmed off as an overprotective mother.  When he was 2 weeks old I received the news that an old friend had horrifically murdered his partner, my god-daughter, her brother and uncle. This man had been in my home, bought Christmas presents for Thing 1 and I was devastated and disgusted that he’d been near my child. This is no great secret revalation I have done newspaper articles to help others desperately looking for answers around PND in the past.

6 weeks later Thing 2 had surgery on Christmas Eve and I spent Christmas Day sat in the cafe at the RVI eating chips and gravy while wondering how close the nearest exit was, whether someone could remove the elephant crushing my chest and why me? I crashed spectacularly.

That’s the short version. Not surprising I’ve struggled I’ve had my share of shitty cards dealt but I’ll not bore you with the rest.  There’s other things but these are the contributing factors as far as I am concerned. I’ve managed to handle my depression and anxiety pretty well in recent years. For a long time it ruled me, I wouldn’t use public transport alone, go anywhere with friends and gave up my job but a chance meeting with an old school friend who later became my husband in 2009 was my turning point. He has had tragedy in his life too but that’s for him to talk about.IMG_0003

We supported each other , we got each other. I remember being terrified on my wedding day that I’d have a massive panic attack saying my vows and ruin the whole day. I didn’t though it was perfect. I’m still prone to catastrophising for example book a holiday see flashes of plane crashes, lose Reilly for 3 seconds = he’s been abducted then I ruminate about it and end up in a right tizzy, building a cycle of fear and anxiety.

Reilly came along in 2011, 7lb 7.5 oz of gorgeousness and it was Love at first sight. I was terrified right through my pregnancy of PND returning. It didn’t, don’t get me wrong the anxiety was still there but I think that’s my life long buddy and he doesn’t seem to be going anywhere so I crack on and deal best I can. Autism came along though quite unexpectantly, it wasn’t anything I had given any consideration and I wasn’t prepared for its effects.

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Reilly

I suppose the point to this post is that the ‘system’ the parents and children have to go through to have their child diagnosed and get them the right help is nothing short of appalling, I cannot speak for all but I speak for many. I was already capable of slipping into dark places I didn’t need a push in that direction. I have never experienced lows like the ones we faced. It can cause problems with your marriage, work, friends and family. My beautiful Thing 2 did not want to sleep at home as Reilly was so wild during the night and could scream none stop for 4 hours which was causing him anxiety at just 8 years old. Our family unit was slipping apart and it’s still not fully fixed, it’s better but it’s still got cracks.  

Being part of the anxiety society I knew I had to become incredibly strong, official meetings sometimes alone and making decisions were something I cried away from but now it was impossible. I still to this day clock the exits and windows in case I need to get out, fleeing that hot, dizzy unstable feeling that comes with a panic attack. I’ve never had to leave meeting but the fear that I will is always there.

During our experience in finding Reilly a school I don’t know how many occasions we were told ‘you must play the game’ to get the help needed. A game where only the loudest, assertive parents get anywhere quickly. I dread to think how many mild-mannered people are being palmed off to this day. Children not in the right learning environments because there’s no provision available resulting in more meltdowns, more stress at home and more families struggling.  I already felt like I was failing Reilly unable to calm his meltdowns, get him to sleep etc without now failing his future and a right to an education that is right for him. We fought, we read guides on the special needs education system and became armed with knowledge. Having a child with any disability is stressful enough without trying to navigate a minefield of sometimes a load misinformation. Too many tears have been spilled over ‘the system’ not just by us, by many.

I still take antidepressants I think I always will, I can’t polish a turd here; it’s not the best but I attend anxiety workshops when I can and I practice mindfulness. I run an extremely successful charity North East Hearts with Goals with my sister in law set up in memory of my brother. Our charity has impacted on 2 gentleman’s lives being saved which is an amazing achievement and an incredible legacy. I’ve given tv and radio interviews and a presentation in front of hundreds. I never dreamed any of this would be possible. I’ve learned to handle it better, it’s never gone away but I can’t sit back and wait for it to disappear because chances are it won’t.

I still check in at my anxiety society every single day, it’s like a second home! Typical day consists of :

  • Will things 2 resent thing 3 for taking so much of my time away?
  • Who will look after them if we are in an accident?
  • Is his transport driver an (insert horror thought here)
  • Will he speak?
  • Will he live on his own?
  • Why won’t he eat anything but chicken nuggets and ice cream?

And so on ….

To negotiate the special needs maze positivity is crucial, I hate negativity and there’s no place for it in my life. Don’t get me wrong we’re still lost but I think we’re headed in the right direction.  My kids are amazing and all 3 of them and I’m sure will achieve whatever it is they desire and we will endeavor to help every step of the way. I would love to see more help and a fairer, faster system for these families from identification and diagnosis right through to living as independent adults.

Autism acceptance is key. It’s here, it’s not going anywhere it’s just a different way of thinking. Remember when you see that frazzled parent sobbing with a child starfished probably with no pants on that chances are they’ve not slept for a year and are under extreme pressure in every aspect of their life.

Be kind as always.

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Communication frustration 

How do you communicate with a non verbal child?


Reilly understands pretty much everything we say to him. He doesn’t always acknowledge that we’ve spoken but I’m pretty certain he’s heard us none the less.

I’m astounded at how well we manage to be honest, we always eventually seem to get to where we want to be and to what he needs. Probably through years of just knowing Reilly and what makes him tick. Reilly doesn’t nod or shake his head either, these tiny gestures alone could help us 1000%.  It is heartbreaking though during a meltdown or when he is unwell to not be able to comprehend what is happening or how to fix it. Not knowing how his day at school was or whether he’s not comfortable around someone and we can’t put it right.

Reillys preferred method of communicating at the moment is to take you by the hand to whatever he wants. If he’s not happy he screams, cries and throws things. If he’s happy you just know it, it’s there to see he’s cuddley, smiley and an absolute joy.

We tried makaton like Mr Tumble. We attended sessions to learn how to do it. Simple hand signs that eventually Reilly would pick up on and use spontaneously. Problem was holding Reillys eye contact long enough for it to click.

mtw

 

We have used this book More Than Words  (pricey but worth it and will resell) for over a year now to help understand the different types of communication problems and the exercises they recommend.  Its a very good book very easy to read with lots of diagrams and clear instruction.

 

 

PECS (picture exchange communication system) is what we are trying to use at the moment. I bought hundreds of pictures ready laminated from eBay. I attached magnets to the back of the pictures that I thought Reilly would use the most and attached them to a magnetic board. Makes me sound like a blue peter presenter doesn’t it? Far from it, the pictures stay on the board for approximately 1 hour on a good day. Reilly likes to take them all off and scatter them about the house.
PECS does work though and we will stick with it, when he is bored he brings the bus and slide pictures which usually means he wants to go to soft play. He will bring the picture of some chicken nuggets when he wants a trip to McDonald’s but that’s about it for now.  I keep photographs on my phone of places we may visit to limit his anxiety when we go out in the car.  It is important that he understands where we are headed to make him more comfortable and eliminate fear.

 

This is an example of a good PECS board, how it should look.
this however is how ours looks today with added scribbles

Something we were encouraged to do is put the fridge in our garage which is locked so instead of Reilly being able to just go and get what he needs he must communicate to tell us to open the garage door, this would be a winner if Reilly wasn’t so fiercely independent. He would rather create a climbing frame to reach the lock. He’ll pile pans on top of the washing basket or dining room chairs to gain some height. All of our dining chairs now live in the garage and only come out once a year at Christmas.

Other than that it’s guess work and trial and error. Frustration rules the day most of the time. We have locks on the outside of the bathroom to stop Reilly getting in. It’s really difficult to make him understand that yes Lightning McQueen might need a car wash but leaving the plug in and running water continuously is not how it’s done. I could switch the tap off 200 times and he would never tire of turning it back on.

The biggest problem we have at the moment with communication is sneezing and coughing. If I cough Reilly will attack me like a banshee he pulls my hair, hits and scratches. He has had me in tears on occasions.  He’s not that bothered about other people doing it although he has in the past hit me for someone else’s cough. We’ve tried warning him that it’s coming, tried turning it into a game, made songs about it absolutely nothing works, it devastates him. Maybe it’s because some autistic people feel pain attached to sounds, maybe he has misophonia an extreme emotional response to specific sounds.We just don’t know he can’t tell us and its heartbreaking!

This for me is the most difficult part of Reilly’s autism. I cannot bare the thought that we may never have a conversation but I am hopeful that he will talk, it’s not uncommon for children with autism not to talk until later years.  Just try for one day to imagine you cannot communicate with your child and think about how you would get on. I would predict tantrums and frustration from both parent and child because it’s hard! It’s something that I never had to give a seconds thought to with things 1 & 2, I just took it for granted like most of us do.  I’d love to see the day makaton and sign language are brought into the curriculum so all our children can communicate ❤️

not sure whether this is good or bad 🙈 can you guess where it is?