Alice wrote this blog in October 2014 after her first book TOAST: Autism in The Early Years was published. We are sharing it again as part of Learning Disability Week.
When both of Alice’s sons were diagnosed with autism she had a lot of questions. Feeling alone and lost she set out to find answers.
Since the diagnosis of my two sons on the autistic spectrum, life has taken some unexpected turns.
Tom, now 9, was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome and Dyspraxia at the age of four, and his brother Alex, now 8, was diagnosed with severe autism, aged 2. My whole world turned upside down as I tried to adjust to the challenges this brought.
My experience of raising two boys with a disability has been an emotional rollercoaster, and I have learned to navigate through by finding strength in my own way, more recently by writing a book.
Toast. It is one word which holds so much meaning for me.
Imagine the moment when your six year old child says his first word: “Toast”. Every parent remembers the joy of a child’s first word. Yet this key skill is so challenging for a person living with autism.
Toast also reminds me of the problems my son Alex has had with eating. He has had a limited diet due to his challenges, and toast has remained a favourite as it encompasses the food type he prefers, ‘beige crunchy foods’. Some children on the autistic spectrum prefer a ‘beige diet’, and toast can be the number one choice. I can never see toast now without thinking of autism.
The early years were by far the hardest. I felt very lonely and isolated not knowing who and where to turn to for support. I struggled on alone trying to meet my boys’ needs as best I could, and keeping many of my emotions to myself. I pretended to the world that I was coping but deep inside things were falling apart. After starting to turn to a glass (or three!) of wine to numb the feelings of the day, I realised I was not doing so well.
One day at a meeting I was introduced to the local co-ordinator for Scope’s Face 2 Face befriending service. She asked me how I was doing. No one had asked me that before. All I had been asked is how my children were. Despite trying to put on a brave face the lady could see I was not in a good place, and asked if I thought it could help to talk to another parent in a similar position about how I was feeling. I reluctantly agreed.
Little was I to know that the support I received from Face 2 Face would be a huge step in me finding a path to come out of a dark and lonely place, and to start building a new and different life.
Meeting another parent of a disabled child made me realise how what I was feeling was quite normal, and that my worries were not unreasonable. I needed to start understanding and sharing my feelings so I could approach the journey of caring for my boys with a positive and empowered attitude.
Slowly the pieces started coming together. Meeting with other parents through Scope helped me become part of a community who understood my life. I was no longer isolated.
I learned that as a carer if I did not look after myself, I was no use to my boys, and that I would run out of energy before long. I started to think what I wanted out of life. Of course I would always be there for my boys, but being a full time parent carer did not mean my life ambitions had ended.
I had always wanted to write.
Thinking of a subject to write about was easy as I had learned so much since being immersed in the world of autism. Looking back, I wondered what I would have wanted to know at the beginning of my journey that could have helped prepare me for what lay ahead. I thought of all the questions I would have liked to have asked given the opportunity. I then set about writing a book of questions with answers to all the issues a parent or carer of a newly diagnosed child with autism might have.
Writing my book, started as a project for me to have something I could focus on whilst still being a carer.
Writing became a wonderful experience where I could indulge in my own interest and fulfill a lifelong ambition to write. I realised that unless I fulfilled my own ambitions I would start to feel a lack of self-worth.
I have gained strength to cope with the challenges of raising two boys with disabilities from many places. Some have been from the people around me, and now the strength also comes from within. In sharing my experiences I have found a positive way to channel the emotion and learn to live my life to the full, whilst still being there for my boys.
‘TOAST – Autism in The Early Years’ by Alice Boardman is available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle.