2 April 2014

Autism Awareness Day

Hello, Flossy here! Today is April 2nd and 'World Autism Awareness Day'. 'Autism' was always just a word to me. I never thought I would have to use or get to know the word. The only thing I knew about Autism, was from reading the book 'The curious incident of the dog in the night-time', by Mark Haddon (which by the way is an amazing book.

When my son was diagnosed with Autism at the age of three, I felt an array of emotions from enormous relief, confusion and utter grief. I knew nothing about Autism, and felt we were very alone in a scary new alien world. I read every book possible, and trawled the internet for answers to my sons behaviours, whilst trying to cope with the everyday chaos that ensued from his frustrations. Every day was a battle of wills. He would want to get in the car by the left side, when I wanted him to get in the right side. He would scream and throw his food across the room, if a fish finger would dare touch his mashed potato. He would growl and hide under tables at school if anyone came near him. Doctors told me it was highly unlikely he would make friends, that he would only use very basic language and it would be incredibly difficult to toilet train him, due to his bowel being affected by the Autism. This news shattered me at the thought of his limited life, and for me selfishly, never truly having all of my son. I spent about six months grieving for the son I would never have. 

I went on various courses offered by the NHS and the National Autistic Society and to my surprise I wasn't taught how to deal with my son. I was taught how to see things from my sons perspective. I was shown that an Autistics brain is very visual, so I worked on 'to do' lists for my son, for everyday routines by drawing pictures. Together, we used the 'PECS' system, which are flashcards with images on. If my son wanted a drink he would show me the 'drink' card. We also used some basic sign language in the early days so he could communicate with me.  Once he was able to interact with me, he calmed down, and we began to get some control back into our life. 

'Flossy and Jim' Autism Awareness Poster Campaign

With the use of pictures, structured routines and an iPod for blocking out loud scary noises, we were set. Our house was like a bootcamp in the nicest way - we had strict routines and everything had to stay the same visually. If something was about to change, we would introduce it slowly and with a lot of preparation. When Summer was coming and the hot weather began to creep up on us, I would trim a slice of sleeve every day off my sons long sleeve t-shirts, so that one day he would be ready to wear a short sleeve t-shirt for the summer.

'Flossy and Jim' Autism Awareness Poster Campaign

My son was non-verbal until the age of four. He surprised me one day by quoting a 'no-win, no-claim' advert word for word, with an American accent. Considering he couldn't even say 'mummy' at this point, this came as quite a shock. The week after that, he hacked into my online banking, and transferred the total balance of my account (which luckily wasn't a lot) into his child trust fund. My son was unable to talk, yet he could work a computer like an IT expert, and set up our TV with the digital channels, DVD player and surround sound. 

My son is ten now. He is happy. He has friends and he is well liked. He continues to talk over and over again about Pokemon, but I think most ten year old boys are the same! Anyway - I'm glad I know that the strongest Pokemon is called Arceus and that Espeon and Umbreon are the only Pokemon that can be obtained by more than one evolution method! 

I don't grieve for the 'son I never had' now. I have ALL of my son, and more than I could ever imagine, and I am grateful for this everyday.

'Flossy and Jim' Autism Awareness Poster Campaign

Throughout the last ten years, I have met a lot of Autistic families, and have seen the world through a new set of eyes.  The Autistic people I have met are highly intelligent, to the point where something has to give. In most cases, it happens to be the ability to communicate and interact with others. In the cases I have seen, Autistic people are incredibly honest and don't beat around the bush when communicating. They tell you how it is and don't care if you like it or not. 'Thanks for that Christmas present, but I hate teddy bears'. Well…at least that person, won't waste their money buying any more teddy bears! 

'Flossy and Jim' have written and illustrated a book about Autism, called the 'Extra Ordinaries'. It is a book of ten characters, and each character is a trait of Autism. Each character is a superhero. Superheroes have incredible strengths, but like every superhero they have a weakness, whether it be the ability to communicate or having to have a strict routine. I'm hoping the book will be published and will continue to be used for social stories. I hope that today on 'World Autism Awareness' Day, the world will become more aware of Autism. I hope that everyone can see that Autism is not a terrible disease, its just a different way of seeing the world. 

“Being different is what sets you apart from everybody else in this world. It allows you to be unique. It allows you to process information in ways that people will never understand, and see things in ways that others would find unimaginable. It allows you to break free from the mould of society. You are not the same as anybody else, yet you are no different to anybody else. You are YOU… Don’t ever change!”