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Neurodiversity Celebration Week

As part of Neurodiversity Celebration Week, our wonderful volunteer manager, Sarah, talks about parenting a neurodivergent child and how Little Miracles has helped her family navigate the system and enter a calmer stage in their lives.

"Being a parent of a neurodivergent child has its challenges, especially when you start questioning your own childhood and how your life has been moulded by your own experiences.

Filling out all the questionnaires you get bombarded with at the start of the “Pathway” can be overwhelming. Especially when you start to do them for yourself too…

And while we’re on the subject of the “Pathway” I hadn’t found one professional who could explain this mythical pathway to me in layman's terms until I started working with Little Miracles.

My youngest child has always been a character, I say this with such devotion to the boy who was and is a fighter. Our first challenge as Mum and child was to figure out why he would take 2 hours to get 2 ounces of any sort of milk into him. I was desperate in those sleep-deprived early days of being a Mum of two, my first child his brother had been a perfect baby. Practically sleeping through the night from 2-3 months old. The small one however was a bundle of fury, wanting to be on me or with me permanently, he was and is my little shadow. I now know that’s because I am his safe space, his island in this crazy experience we call life. I offered him the comfort and calm when he needed it most, creating our routine and our days ebbed and flowed with each other and his brother for company. I now understand these were the first signs of his neuro divergence, many children with autism struggle to transition to life in this big scary world and have additional issues with feeding and sleep.

We struggled through this time and made it to pre-school, I was lucky as his pre-school Key Worker was the same one as his brother had. She was an experienced childcare professional but even she was flummoxed by the child who would not talk to her for almost 6 months except for 1 or 2 words here and there. She came to me to express her opinion that he was practically non-verbal and wanted to get SALT involved. I laughed and said but why, he’s taught to take his dummy out and talk when he wants to say something and he says complete sentences at home. Not believing me she let it slide for a few more weeks. One day as I approached the pre-school gates she came running to me, “Sarah!” she shouted. He’s just told me “Look Becca, the leaves are changing colour and falling from the trees. It’s Autumn.” She couldn’t look more gob-smacked by this and agreed I knew my child well. Once we got him talking to his safe person as pre-school, he wouldn’t stop and in his true style he soon became a favourite of his Key Worker and she was so upset when he left for school.

School lost him… during his settling in sessions they lost the child that they had already met as his brother was in attendance at the school with his assigned teacher. This was my first experience of school with a neurodivergent child, his brother was totally different to him, that old adage chalk and cheese fit these two well and still does. My small one will forever be a very academically gifted child but conforming to societal norms is not a priority for him. He didn’t want to make friends, he wanted to spin himself around and around to feel dizzy and listen to the rain running through the gutters. He did’t appreciate that he bumps into other children and this caused and still causes issues. I was told he “hits other children.” But when observed by the Educational Psychologist she discovered that he just wasn’t aware of his surroundings and so wrapped up in his own world and his own interests that he would bump into other children by accident but didn’t conform to the societal norms of apologising straight away. These neurotypical children would then report to the teacher that they had been hit. It was a rocky road and I felt like a failure, I had one child excelling and another child who was so bright but they could do nothing with him to engage him. They had a traffic light ticket system for rewards and he would come out of school clutching fistfuls of red tickets with a grin on his face, he couldn’t care less but I was embarrassed in front of the other Mum’s who stood there smiling at their perfect children with their green tickets and praise.

It got to the point where I moved house to take the children to a different school, in fact we moved out of the county. By this time the small one had been diagnosed with ADHD, one of the youngest children in Peterborough to have been diagnosed at the time. The consultant had looked at his ‘Off the Charts” results from his QB test and confirmed it straight away. I had something to hold onto and work with, I had something I could learn about and my strategies and routines at home obviously worked as I saw none of the behaviours his previous school had reported to me. His new school took him on and straight away wanted to look at a further diagnosis of Autism for him, within a year of him being with the school he had a dual diagnosis. The SENDCo was a god send, she went through everything with me via Zoom as some of this was during the lockdown days of the pandemic, school even lent me an iPad for his learning and it really made a difference to our lives that school was so supportive.

Primary school went by in a whirl wind, he had his own 1-2-1 and he loved her, affectionately calling her Mrs CB rather than her full name. He was “borrowed” by other teachers to help tutor younger students on programming and he found his place in the school and was very happy, I was so proud of my son. We then had to navigate moving up to senior school. There was one school we visited and it would in all our eyes have been perfect for our smart and individual little boy but they rejected his application, I was so upset and felt like the world was against us again. Why couldn’t they see the amazing academic child I have? Why did they only assume they would see his behaviours that only manifested when he was struggling with societal pressure? He was offered a place at another mainstream school, one I wasn’t keen on at all but who said they could “meet need”. We went to the meeting and tour and then had a chat with the Head of Year 7 and the SENDCo. The SENDCo asked him “So are you coming to our school?” I replied instead, “Well you haven’t given us any choice, you have said you can meet need so prove me wrong and meet his needs”. I don’t think they had ever been faced with a parent who knew their child’s rights and was willing to battle as ferociously as I was for my child. At this point due to personal pressures I felt like I was battling the world and that final summer holiday after leaving Primary school was marred by a constant nagging feeling of “Would he be okay?”

I have been proven wrong, all those sleepless nights and worrying that I went through were mainly in vain. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all plain sailing, we’ve had our rocky patches but together with the SENDCo and his teachers we have made it through so far. I couldn’t be prouder of my child, he’s working at a level 9 in Science and he’s only in year 8! All his teachers wanted him to chose their subject for his GCSE options. He’s even trying in PE which is unheard of and his PE teacher couldn’t be happier with him.

I know our journey will never be over and there will be more challenges with each new age but with the help and support of our family, Little Miracles and the school I feel like we are entering a much calmer phase of life and my blood pressure has come down. It’s not easy and there are a lot more worries I have, will he make friends, will he live independently, will he get a job, a career? But I know no matter what he will be as happy as we can possibly achieve and will always know he is loved"

To find out more more about Neurodiversity Celebration Week, click on the link below.