Notice the title of this article isn’t: “how to love your autistic child,” or “how to love your SEN child?” That’s because a challenging child can happen to anyone. Additional needs or not.

Cards on the table: I’m going to come right out and say that parenting my own challenging child is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

It pushes me to my very limits, whilst simultaneously making me feel like an absolute failure. I have never felt so torn in my life. Every tiny decision I make has to be carefully considered. All options weighed up, to ensure it doesn’t end in complete catastrophe.

The seemingly smallest thing can have the biggest knock on effect. We can be having a lovely time one minute, and the playing field can dramatically shift thirty seconds later.

All emotions are felt. Every. Single. Day!

I have to be on my game, one step ahead, the entire time. Otherwise it’s meltdown central. I probably don’t need to tell you how exhausting it is, especially on such broken sleep.

So I thought I’d write down some of the things I’ve learnt on my journey of loving my challenging child. It’s more to remind me than anything else, but I figured someone somewhere might also find it useful.

In the heat of the moment, it’s best to say nothing

Zip your lips and throw away the key. Honestly, in the midst of sparks flying, it is best for all concerned to keep your mouth shut. I’m not ashamed to admit that this is my own biggest challenge, especially during certain times of the month. It’s crucial though. Which brings me nicely onto my next point.

Don’t be afraid to self-reflect

We absolutely must be kind to ourselves, because we ALL mess up. Me usually on a daily basis. However we must also be willing to look in the mirror and admit when something is our fault, so we can find ways to do it differently (and better) next time. Having a challenging child on your hands will test your patience, strength and faith in life. It’s vital to work as a team though, and find solutions to your troubles together.

Offer comfort, but be prepared to give it on their terms

In parenting fantasies, before I had any of my own children, I used to think that spats with kids would be easily rectified. A few hugs, a few sorry’s and voila, everyone has made up. In reality, it simply does not work like this with a challenging child.

They can be spiky beyond belief, and even when they’ve been the root cause of the destruction, they will more than likely think they are the victim. I always offer comfort, but I’ve learnt that it often isn’t taken up when I think it will be. But when they are ready to accept the love, they will come and ask for it.      

Do not, ever, compare your children to each other or to anyone else’s kids

It would be easy for me to get into the mindset that my high functioning autistic eldest daughter Polly is always the most challenging child, but this isn’t actually true. All three of my kids have their moments. 

If 3yo Freddy has had a particularly fitful night, and is running on four hours of broken shut eye, he can be exceptionally challenging. If 5yo Clara is unwell or not sleeping great it has a massive effect over her ability to communicate without screaming in faces. They are so different from each other and other kids we know, that it would be deeply unfair on all parties to compare them.         

Kindness rules

This is obvious, but when tempers are lost and fury is in the air, kindness can all be but forgotten. As the adults however, we need to summon the strength from somewhere, somehow, to rise above it (which I know, is so much easier said than done). If we aren’t being kind to our kids, how can we expect them to be kind to each other?   

Start the day with a clean slate

No matter what happened yesterday, or last week, we absolutely must start each day with amnesia. I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning if I was holding grudges for the things that have gone on inside these four walls. My husband has a great mantra:

“Only love today”

It’s a good one to hold close.   

Respite is utterly essential

Not just for the primary caregiver, but a break from the challenging behaviour is super important for the whole family. We’re only too aware that Clara and Freddy suffer when times are super tough, so it’s essential to give them a break from the doom and misery. A few hours love bombing, going to the cinema or being taken swimming on their own with just hubby or I is a real treat for them. It goes a long way to repair the hurt that they’ve endured. 

As for us parents, life cannot be 100% about the children 100% of the time. We all need a break from the norm now and then, and especially when we’ve got a challenging child on our hands. I also don’t think it’s a bad thing for our kids to see that we have a bit of a life outside of them. 

Are you parenting a challenging child? What have you learnt on your own journey? I’d love to hear from you! 

sorry about the noiseWe live in a lovely house on a private estate, and I’m proud to be part of a proper little community. Just like in the olden days, we let our kids play out and at times it can feel as though the only socialising we do is with the people on our doorstep. This is not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination. We are exceptionally fortunate that many of our neighbours have kids the same age as ours, and lots of us are on the same page when it comes to our outlook on life.

There are of course exceptions to this rule. Like the delightful woman that gave me a character assassination in front of my own children, after a nine hour trip back from Greece last May. Her beef was that we hadn’t informed her in advance that we were having work done on the house in our absence. Unfortunately the workmen had upset her by making a racket too early.

Apparently this was all my fault because I’m “so selfish”! 

She has gone on to complain to us and our landlord a handful times in the last seven months – about the noise levels. Most recently giving my poor hubby a telling off because he had lost his temper and shouted that morning. This woman has one child who has just turned 16, so it’s been a very long time since she’s had experience of witching hours and kids that wake up in the middle of the night. While I don’t care for her one little bit, there is a small part of me that wants to knock on her door and spell out for her how difficult our lives are to muster some empathy.

I want her to know how grinding it is to have a child who pushes you to the end of your tether every single day. How incredibly hard we are trying to stay cool, calm and collected in the face of adversity, but how beaten down by life we feel far too often. And although we are sorry about the noise, it is not at the top of our priority list. We have bigger fish to fry – like getting our daughter to a happier place and helping our family back on it’s feet. 

Oh by the way, did I mention that Polly is autistic? No probably not because her diagnosis came after we stopped exchanging pleasantries.    

I felt so bad for my poor hubby, because I know how hard he’s been trying to not lose his temper. To stay calm and not shout. To follow all the rules and GET. IT. RIGHT! 

Except there is no getting it right is there? All parenting is hard work, but parenting a child with autism is so challenging it’s likely to bring even the toughest of us to our knees

I think it’s too easy for parents to judge other parents. After all they’ve got direct experience of the situation. Or so they think, but they haven’t of course. No-one knows what goes on inside your four walls apart from you and the other people that live within them.  

If you hear shouting and screaming coming from your neighbours occasionally, please don’t assume the worst – that they must be awful human beings who are damaging their children. You have no idea how hard their day has been, and how tough their lives are. 

As for me, I truly am sorry about the noise, and wish it could be a different way.

Really I do. 

One Thing After AnotherI pride myself on my togetherness. My normalness. Some people consider the N Word to be as dirty as the C Word, no not Christmas. I don’t though. With my background, being as normal as I am now is a wonderful thing.

Lately though, I don’t feel very together. I can’t seem to shake my sadness. It comes and goes, and comes back again.

Sadness at the state of the world.

Sadness at what human beings are capable of doing to each other.

Sadness at the big picture.

Sadness at the small picture.

It feels like we take two steps forward and three back where my eldest is concerned, and it terrifies me.

The violence. The spitefulness. The screaming. The pinching. The destroying. The soul destroying.

I can’t bring myself to think about the future because it reduces me tears.

Questions plague me: what if we don’t manage to get her on an even keel? What if it just continues to get worse and worse? What if all the love and good parenting in the world isn’t enough?

What if our family becomes so messed up, and lost among the shouting and throwing and hitting and kicking, that we can’t get ourselves back to happy?

What if we’ve made a huge mistake deciding to home educate

What if so much damage has already been done to my marriage that it doesn’t survive?

These are the thoughts that run through my mind on a loop. Eating away at my sanity and waking me up in the middle of the night when the kids are actually sleeping.

Maybe I’m turning into an emotional wreck?

Maybe it’s the six long years of sleep deprivation getting the better of me?

2015-12-09 08.18.41Maybe it’s because Freddy has been unwell (the pox, poor boy), which has triggered off Polly’s morbid obsession with death that has been apparent since we lost Andy’s granddad? 

Or maybe it’s the relentless one thing after another cycle that our life has been this year? So much stress that I can almost see the god damn cortisol.

I know there is lots to be grateful for. I also know that I’m not a robot thoughI’m not super human. I have my limits.  

So what am I going to do about it?

First and foremost, as I mentioned recently, social media is not my friend when I’m feeling low. I’ve been online less and less these last few weeks and gone entire days without checking Facebook (my main nemesis). This has definitely helped.

Polly declared the other day that she hates me looking at my phone, so this has been the final kick up the bum I needed to completely stop checking it as much during the day. If I miss a blogging opportunity because I can’t answer an email quick enough then so be it.

I’m trying my hardest to not beat myself up and add extra pressure where it doesn’t need to be.

After all these years of doing everything myself and never asking for help, that is going to change. My lovely neighbour has offered to do some arts and crafts lessons at her house, which I’ll be taking her up on soonest. Any offer of the Grandparents coming to help out will be snapped up without hesitation.       

And to end on a positive note, my wonderful friend is taking the girls off our hands this weekend for a sleepover, which will provide a much needed time out. Some breathing space, so we can gather our thoughts and just be for 24 hours.

Only three more sleeps… not that I’m counting 😉 

Sibling loveDecember last year was a dark time for me. My little family were on a constant loop of illness, both the baby and the 5yo’s sleep were in dire straights, and our girl’s behaviour was at an all time low. After a disastrous Xmas Eve Hubby and I read the fantastic book 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child. We spent the entire Xmas holiday doing everything in our power to eradicate our own negative parenting behaviours, which were without a doubt having a massive effect on the kids. After a week of being super calm and not shouting, it became the norm to be calm and not shout, and now three months later I very rarely find myself shouting.

Gorgeous sistersAt some point before all this I was with a wise friend, who told me that her daughter’s challenging behaviour has been the making of her as a mum. Her son was really placid and a super easy kid from the off, and had her girl been the same she said she wouldn’t have had an incentive to be a better mum. Nowadays she’s as much of a self-help junkie as I am, constantly on the lookout to be better than the person she was yesterday. She is one of my main sources of inspiration, and I am truly privileged to have her in my life. 

wpid-wp-1424492401268.jpegIt brings tears to my eyes to think of this conversation, because my friend said to me that I must feel the same. My reply was that no I didn’t, I felt that I was at breaking point and was worried my marriage wouldn’t be strong enough to take the strain our daughter was putting on us for much longer. You’ll be fine she tried to reassure me, but I wasn’t comforted by her words. I was in such a bad place in my own head that I wasn’t able to look at it from a different perspective. I desperately needed to start changing my attitude, and realising that I was part of the problem, but I wasn’t ready to at that point. Thankfully reading the book over Xmas opened my eyes to how damaging my own negative behaviour was to our children, and since then there has been much positive change in our house. I feel as though we weathered a particularly bad storm, and I’m now able to look at it in a less emotionally raw way.  

wpid-wp-1428137452923.jpegThings still aren’t as rosy as you might imagine though. Our girl is a terrible sleeper, which I believe drives a lot of her poor behaviour – she is prone to over reacting and throwing strops rather than articulating her feelings. She shouts and screams in her 3yo sister’s face and often gets physical with her but cannot cope at all if littlest lady throws a punch back. All she wants is to be a big girl, but if she isn’t asleep by 6:30pm all hell breaks loose. I don’t want to demonise her, because she has some utterly incredible qualities too. She can demonstrate such fierce love for her family that it would melt the heart of an ice queen. She will sit for hours and create intricate drawings for us, and completely under her own steam, she made and wrote Easter cards for all the neighbourhood kids. She is a fabulous kitchen helper, and can crack eggs all by herself. Don’t get me wrong she enjoys licking the cake mixture bowl, but will also help me make savoury dishes. I could go on and on and on here, but don’t want to bore you. 

P is becoming the best her http://becomethebestyou.co.ukI think it’s time for me to face up to reality: my girl is not like most other five and six year olds I know. As I wrote a while back over on my other blog, I truly believe that her super clean diet is the only thing saving her from an ASD diagnosis. Reprobate Mum wrote this eye opening piece for Autism Awareness Week, which has been making me think that I’ve been looking at it all wrong. I’m starting to feel that I’ll be doing my daughter a dis-service by not seeking a diagnosis if there is one to be had, because if she is going to stay in main stream education, she is going to need all the help she can get.

Have you been down the long and treacherous road of obtaining an ASD diagnosis for your own child/ren? I’d love to hear from you with any words of wisdom!

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