Wonderful Women: Mum of three, ASD and Faith

This Wednesday we have a great feature from Caroline. She has three children, and has been a mum for the last 23 years, but has been caring for little people for a lot longer!

  • Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hi, I am one of three children. I was born in 1960 – At the time you don’t think you are in an iconic decade! I went to Chichester to do my Teaching Degree. At that time I had no idea I was being equipped to raise my future children. I taught for 13.5 years before this privilege came to pass.

  • One of your sons is diagnosed with ASD. Can you tell us what the process of getting his diagnosis was like? Did you know much about ASD before he was diagnosed?

As a parent, you are very aware if there is anything not quite right with your child’s development. James was a very active child, with little concentration. Although he started to talk, he didn’t start with the classic words; Dad and Mum etc, but stared at bright things. His first word was “star.” He went from eating everything until he turned 2 years old, then became very fussy and certain foods made him hyperactive.

 He went to playgroups and nursery but he played how he wanted to. He found it difficult to do school type activities and wouldn’t draw or write anything until he was 5 years old. He loved energetic play. Once on a trampoline it was difficult to get him off. His fine motor skills were not so good. James didn’t sleep well he didn’t sleep through the night until he was 2 and a half. I asked for James to be seen by a professional on starting school. 

From his medical exam, anomalies were present and he went to the hospital for tests. They thought him too young to be given the label ‘autistic’. He also saw the Nutritionist at the hospital as he ate so little.

 His Special Needs Coordinator who came from London when J. was in Yr 3, verbally spoke of his behaviour being ASD. It was only when he refused to go to school in Yr 5 that the school paid more attention. James did not disrupt the class as his hyperactivity had become anxiety. He couldn’t cope any longer being in a school setting and was referred again to the Child Development Team by the school. Still nothing for another year. Even though we pushed, nothing happened until he was properly assessed before going to Secondary School.

 His test results were classic scores. His language scores were very low. He got a Statement of Education. Very frustrating! Six years waiting, but we were so pleased with his diagnosis. He wouldn’t manage without extra support. He had some specialist language tuition as well to try and catch up. Bullying was ongoing in some form and James was only safe if he didn’t go on the playground. 

From the age of 5 onwards I learnt everything I could about Autism. Watching programmes, You Tube videos, Autism charity pages etc. and being a teacher helped, as you learn a lot about child development.

  • Do you have any advice for families going through the diagnostic process?

Don’t give up! Keep pushing. See your GP. We went along the educational route and it took longer. In many ways you are teaching teachers about Autism because it isn’t always on the Teacher Training Syllabus and unless they have someone they know with it, they don’t know what to do.This May have changed now.

  • How are you helping your son transition from being a teenager to being an adult?

Liaising with the College. Each student is unique with their own needs. James has a Health and Education Plan with set things the College needs to put in place for him. Our role is making sure tutors know these. Exam support is vital as he has his exams in a room by himself or small group, with more time. James uses a computer or laptop. At home we make sure we give opportunities for him to express where he is having difficulty and how we can help with hygiene, eating properly, the importance of sleep, finishing college work on time and not handing it in late, the need for social input and relieving sensory issues. Etc. We also make sure we communicate any issues to the college immediately so J. Doesn’t become stressed.

  • Have you had to face any stigmas since your son was diagnosed with ASD? What were they and how do you respond?

Yes, we have been seen as over protective. People who don’t understand Autism would see you as doing too much for your child.

The alternative is to watch your child vegetate as they don’t want to do anything that they are not comfy with.Fear of going to school, fear of going out, fear of going to a friends party, fear of crowds and being fearful of loud noises – James’s sensory difficulties only exasperated these situations. James’s carefree hyperactivity turned into anxiety from the age of 8 years. Before that he was seen as naughty and unable to access and participate in the more academic areas of school. Only certain members of staff could settle him if he was upset.

I am very sensitive to the comments made by people. Having the diagnosis changed that. I went from a back foot position to making those around us aware of his difficulties and making sure he got what he needed from his teachers and support staff. I have always explained his difficulties but with the diagnosis you speak with more conviction and authority.

  • it can be challenging enough to care for someone with additional needs, but you’ve also spent time caring for your husband at the same time. What motivates you on a difficult day?

My faith motivates me on a challenging day! Love and forgiveness. Only God sees all you do when no one is around. He helps me daily to do what I need to do and gives me the wisdom to do it. This is true today too. This is not easy though, but perseverance and discipline of the mind is important.

Prayer is so important. Philipians 4 v5-7 continue to be with me daily.

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:5-7 ESV

I just love being a mum. All aspects. When you do something you love for people you love you go the extra mile.

  • You work with an amazing group called TLG. Can you tell us what they’re all about and why you decided to get involved?

TLG stands for Transforming Lives for Good. It is a Christian Charity. My children are grown up now but the joy of working with children is still just as strong. This is a way to help a child and have the joy of helping them.

As a coach I get to support one child, once a week for one year. The child may have a difficult home situation or a difficulty in school. We come alongside the child and support them through it.

  • What are your favourite pastimes and hobbies?

My hobbies are jewellery making, crochet and various arts and crafts. I also love to sing and dance and do Pilates.

  • If you could give your younger self some advice, what would it be?

Take one day at a time. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Enjoy each day and focus on the good. Put your relationships first.

  • Is there anyone who inspires you that you’d like to nominate for our wonderful women feature?

I’d like to nominate my friend Diane. She is a wonderful mum to 6 children, she runs a children’s group for the church and has lots of students stay with her over the summer!

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Wonderful Women: Being a Single Mompreneur

This weeks Wonderful Women Wednesday is with Claire Middleton, a single mum of three who runs a popular salon based in Hythe which recently won two bronze awards at The Kent Health and Beauty Awards 2019

Claire was nominated for this feature because she makes being a business owner and a single mum of three look easy, no matter what challenges she faces Claire powers through them and is a true inspiration to others.

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Claire I’m 42, single mum of 3. 2 of my children are autistic, 1 child has severe anxiety . I Have lived on the marsh all my life.

2. What challenges did you face when you became a single mum?

The challenges I faced were pretty much the same as any other day as I was always the supporting parent apart from the mental health effect that it had on my children as well as myself.

3. What did you do prior to running your own buisness?

Prior to running my business I had completed a course in beauty as I wanted to further my career also hair extensions. I love cooking so I completed my NVQ level 2 in catering too before taking the leap into opening my own shop.

4. What inspired you to run your own business?

I woke up one morning and thought to myself it’s what I want. I wanted to make my children proud of me and decided to take the leap to help with my anxiety and confidence.

5. How would you describe your journey to where you are now?

The journey had had it rocky roads not only in business but health issues too. When you’re self employed it gives you more incentive to get up and go to work rather than having a day off sick because if you don’t work there is no income.

6. What is the best part of your job?

Every part of my job is the best part. I deal with the best clients in a lovely environment and happy work staff means a happy salon

7. How do you balance being a mother and running your own buisness?

There are times it’s very hard balancing being a mum and working full time but you work around it and make it work to the best of your ability. I’m lucky my children are that much older and they are able to stay at home on their own.

8. Your salon recently won TWO bronze awards at the Kent health and beauty awards, could you tell us more about that experience?

I am very proud to be nominated for the awards and even achieving a bronze award in Kent is more than I would ever of dreamed of.

9. What advice would you give to new mums?

New mums be proud of yourself, make sure your child is your number one and never let anyone say you can’t do it . There is no such word as CANT

10. Is there anybody else you’d like to nominate for our wonderful women feature? Anyone who inspires you?

I think I will pass on that one I’m enough 😉

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Wonderful Women: Mum of three, brain surgery & ASD

  • Although we are ‘Mummykind’, put being a ‘Mummy’ aside for a second and tell us about you!

Hello, I’m Rachel. I’m currently not working because I’m recovering from brain surgery. I’ve been working on some minor home improvements as I let my standards slip a little bit when I was poorly! I enjoy gardening, spending time outside, looking after my small menagerie of animals and enjoying the company of my beautiful granddaughter!

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  • How about your children? How old are they, what are they up to?

My youngest is 13 and in Key Stage three at school. Then we have my 20-year-old son who is off to University in September, where he will study Urban Planning. My eldest is nearly 24 and a Mummy to my Granddaughter, she enjoys writing and promoting Mental Health awareness.

  • What are your favourite and least favourite parts of being a parent?

My favourite part of being a parent is seeing my children genuinely happy and succeeding. I love the relationship my children and I have. When all else fails, I know I can depend on my little family and they know they can depend on me. They all have a fantastic sense of humour and there is honestly never a dull moment when any of us are spending time together! My least favourite part is when my children are ill, especially when I nearly lost my daughter when she was giving birth and also when my youngest had severe viral encephalitis. It has also been awful seeing my children being bullied to the extent it has impacted their mental health.

  • When did you first consider that your youngest child was different?

When he had just turned two, he suffered multiple convulsions that lead to a prolonged period of him not being able to breathe. After this period of ill health, his character and behaviour completely changed. He was still our little boy, but he wasn’t quite the same anymore. The specialist said that the period in which is brain was shutting down could have well have led to cognitive changes, causing ASD.

He started to stare at the washing machine as it spun around. If he was ever in a small space, he only ever wanted to escape – he’d run into walls and try to climb out of windows. He was sensitive to sound, touch, to having too many people around. We’d have to cut the tags out of his clothes, including his pants and socks. He was withdrawn and easily overwhelmed.

  • How difficult has it been to get him the help and support he needs?

It has been virtually impossible to get him the help he deserves. Despite showing typical signs of ASD and related disorders, he wasn’t diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder until he was nearly seven years old.

Getting that diagnosis took continual visits to the GP, countless visits to our local specialist, support from his primary school and other trusted people’s supportive documents. He has been declined 5 times for a Educational Health Care Plan (EHCP) as he isn’t “Autistic enough” despite being “too autistic” for mainstream school, according to his specialist provision at school. He has many struggles with not only ASD, but ADHD, APD and even some aspects of Tourette’s (to name a few!) – but he is high functioning, which hasn’t helped at all with his EHCP.

  • Describe a typical day to us? What are your biggest daily struggles? What are the highlights?

Mornings are so stressful – we have a minute by minute system of what we need to do to get him out of the house on time. It has taken 18 months of almost literal blood, sweat and tears for us to find a routine that works for him. We face multiple difficulties like him struggling with shoelaces and his tie because he doesn’t like how it feels. His anxiety levels are so high that he can’t get the bus to school, so he must be driven. He is almost done with his second year and still not doing a full school day.

He has started doing more mainstream lessons as he prepares for his GCSEs. The highlights are when he comes home happy, when he has learnt something new that he’s excited about. He does so well academically despite his difficulties that in most subjects he’s on the same level as his neurotypical peers. He is really interested in Physics and has a keen interest in space… hearing him talking about something he is passionate about makes me so proud.

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  • How has the past year been for your family?

It has not been the easiest of years! This time last year my brain condition was affecting how I thought, how I walked, how I talked – I was using a stick and wheelchair. I wasn’t myself at all. I had surgery for this at Kings in December and I’ve been recovering well since! I am so thankful that I had that surgery done when I did, it’s been life changing.

My husband had a DVT which lead to a life-threatening DVT pulmonary embolism, causing permanent lung damage – he’s been placed on medications for this and since then he’s been much better.

My son’s specialist unit at school has closed, so we’ve been in lots of meetings regarding a new smaller provision that is being piloted. We’re hoping this works well for him and helps him feel secure enough to continue to achieve.

There have been so many mishaps and incidents – I’m just thankful to have my family and my dogs by my side!

  • How have you managed to cope? What do you do to unwind and relax?

My family inspire me to keep going, as I said before, when all else fails, I still have them, and they have me. We try to get away on holidays whenever we can. I love a good soak in the bath, or a cup of tea and a chat. You can’t go wrong with either of those!

  • What hopes do you hold not only for your youngest child, but for your whole family?

Understandably my youngest causes me the most concern, above all I just want him to be happy on whatever path he chooses to take. School, work, college? If he’s happy and fulfilling his potential, I couldn’t be happier! I hope my eldest son does well at university and enjoys his chosen career. I hope that my daughter finds an answer to her many medical problems, so that she can live a happy and healthy life with her little girl. After all, I believe the most important job in the world is brining up happy and healthy children.

  •  Do you have anybody you’d like to nominate for our Wonderful Women Wednesdays?

I’d like to make a couple of nominations, if that’s okay? Firstly, Maria of Mummykind – I admire her fight to save the world for future generations. She is an excellent influence and recently won an award for her green thinking! I’d also like to nominate my Mother, Angela for a different perspective on parenting and to incorporate and include ladies from a further range of backgrounds.

Do you have anyone you’d like to nominate for our Wonderful Women feature? Let us know!

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