As we mark World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, one mum of three living in Dublin shares what it’s really like – emotionally and financially – raising a child with autism...
Getting the diagnosis
Getting our son diagnosed had a bit of a rocky start. It took us a long time as a family to accept our son was different from everybody else. We first applied through the local nurse for an Assessment of Need, which offers medical advice in evaluating your child to see if they have any special needs. If they decide they do, you are referred onto the Early Intervention Team. We were lucky our son got his Early Intervention through the excellent help of Temple Street.
Support services we’re offered
Once your child is diagnosed early, you are offered a home tutor, who assists your child at home whilst they attend their preschool years. Once the child starts regular school, this tuition comes to an end. If you get your child diagnosed early, you go into what is called the Early Intervention Team. Here you are offered services from psychologists, speech and language therapists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists. These different professionals will give you blocks of therapy, which you have to work on yourself at home to help your child evolve and work on challenges that exist.
A working mother of a child with special needs
We have tried with different options, ie crèche, childminders and au pairs. All these options were a challenge, as they all found it difficult to manage our son. Eventually, I decided to take Carer’s Leave – this is a state benefit you can avail of when you have a child with special needs, allowing you to take up to 104 weeks from work while availing of a career break. I took this leave to help my son improve in every way.
The financial and social reality that goes with raising a child with autism
Raising a child with autism or any other special needs does take its financial toll. We invested any extra savings we had into helping our son improve with private therapies – this is something we decided to do as a family, and it’s the best decision we ever made. Our son in those years has come on in leaps and bounds. If we had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Having a child with special needs has made us go into ourselves and lose a lot of our friends in the process. With all the work that has been put into our son the last few years, we are now coming out of our shell and starting to socialise, and are able to get out more.
Advice to others
What I would like to say to other people is, do not judge other people because you do not know what’s going on. Autism is an invisible disability. Our son is not a bold child – he’s the kindest person we know. I’ve been very lucky to find a group of mums who are very understanding – they invite him over for playdates, they offer to mind him, but they either understood it or they have a child in the same situation. So don’t judge. If you see a parent with a child on the floor, what you can do is offer help instead of judging or giving remarks as you walk away.
Raising our son is a true gift
What I love about our son is his quirky sense of humour; he’s extremely generous, he’s thoughtful – he’s a little gentleman, he even opens doors for ladies. He’s an old man in a little boy’s body. He’s very affectionate – loves cuddles. He’s also extremely intelligent – he knows more than all of us put together. He self-taught himself every county of Ireland, all the countries, all the capital cities, all the planets – so he’s a smart little devil.
More support is needed
If I could wish for something, it would be that the HSE get more resources from the government to help more families in a similar situation. The waiting lists are very long, which is delaying the diagnosis of loads of children. Early intervention is crucial when it comes to autism, as the earlier you get the help, the more the child will evolve.
Children living with autism see the world from a different perspective, but want to play and interact with others the same way as any other child. All they need is the opportunity, patience and the support to get there.
For more information and ways you can help, visit autism.ie.
Photograph by Biljana Martinic, Unsplash