There are around 700,000 people on the autistic spectrum in the UK according to the National Autistic Society.
The number of those affected by autism is thought to be much higher, though, as it doesn’t consider the difficulties that families of autistic children go through. Autism directly impacts around 2.8 million people in the UK.
Without understanding, those people are more at risk of developing mental health problems and feeling isolated.
Two mums have spoken out about the personal difficulties that accompany an autism diagnosis and the sense of “grief” they felt as a result.
“You think, is it a vaccine? Is it something I ate during pregnancy? Have I not been speaking to them enough? Have I been over-stimulating them? You do go through a period of self-blame and that’s completely normal,” Saunders admits.
“It’s nothing you’ve done, it’s just who they are. As soon as you learn to accept that and go at their pace, things get so much easier.”
Saunders explained that the “limbo” waiting for a diagnosis was the hardest part for her journey. After parents and children have definitive answers, they then have more access to support at school when the parents aren’t around.
“It’s quite important if you can to get that diagnosis for them.”
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Thousands of families with autistic children also have other children, and it’s important to make your child with autism feel comfortable in the transition if there’s a new baby on the way, Saunders believes.
“It’s the little things like letting them help decorate the nursery and putting things in place for me. He has been absolutely amazing and they have a wonderful bond.”
Prosser shared that her first feeling upon finding out that her son had been diagnosed with autism was “grief”.
“Lots of parents experience those feelings of denial. I definitely went through that space of avoiding dealing with it because I didn’t want my child to be different.
“I wanted the typical experience that I’d expected and I think expectations have a lot to answer for.”
Prosser admitted that she bought into the narrative that people put on her. As a teacher and a nursery worker, people regularly told her she’d be a wonderful mother.
“When I couldn’t engage my son in a typical way and he was anxious when we went to do the things that I’d expected us to do, it didn’t quite fit with my expectations. I definitely went through a process of grief.”
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The educational psychologist says its absolutely possible to “come out the other side” but you have to allow yourself time to build resources and connect with other parents.
“For me, finding a local group was really important. It allowed me the chance to go and do things like soft play, horse riding, whatever it may be, but in a context where everybody’s child had some difficulties in managing the situation.”
If you suspect autism in your child, speak to your GP, health visitor or any other health professional your child sees.