The parents of two autistic children speak out about their experiences in the hope of raising awareness in line with National Autism Awareness. GEMMA SHERLOCK reports.
Parenting isn’t easy but when you have two children who have autism the parental challenges can double.
Everyday the Bradley family face new stepping stones, unwanted stares and judgemental comments.
Phil and Amanda Bradley, from Morecambe, have always known there was something different about their boys, Charlie, seven and Alfie, six.
For five years Amanda never heard Alfie utter a word. He would not call out for his parents and didn’t want to play with his older brother.
Amanda said: “The children have always been different, it is hard but the rewards they give are amazing, when Alfie first said ‘I love you mummy’ I cried, this was only when he was about five-years-old.”
The couple took Alfie to get diagnosed in 2012 and within twenty minutes he was told he had autism. Their other son Charlie was also diagnosed with autism in 2015.
Autism is a serious, lifelong and disabling condition. It can cause great difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people.
Amanda explains the boy’s can have a “meltdown” everyday and the simplest things can change their attitudes.
She said: “They can have a meltdown every morning, it does depend on the day, the slightest thing can set them off. Alfie can get quite violent during a meltdown and hits me and throws things at me, he doesn’t mean to because in that moment things will be feeling all over the place for him.
“Charlie has maturity difficulties and is easily distracted and will forget a lot of things, he does come out with so many facts. He is really clever, he is like a sponge and takes everything in but to an outside person he is weird.”
At the time of diagnosis Phil “couldn’t accept the news” and struggled to cope with the attention from the public.
Shopping is particularly hard for the family as the boys struggle to cope with the lights and noises in supermarkets.
Phil said: “The hardest part is when you are shopping and they have a meltdown and the whole shop looks at you, a lot of people look at you like you are bad parents who can’t control their children.
“For example Alfie would start throwing things out of the trolley in Asda and you could hear him screaming outside. I used to storm off because I was embarrassed, I couldn’t accept it at first but now I go out of my way to embarrass those who stare, the ignorance of some people is unbelievable, you shouldn’t have to put a label on your children.”
Amanda said: “We have good days and bad days, if Charlie has a bad day it will affect Alfie and it will just escalate from there. One time I was on the bus and the boys were having a bad day and I heard one woman say ‘oh look at her, young mum spoiling them, she just needs to give them a good slap,’ I am not a young, single mum, I am doing what I have to do to help my kids.”
The family are supported by relatives and friends – some of whom recently did a skydive for the National Autistic Society – and via Morecambe Road School and Trumacar Primary School.
Since attending Morecambe Road Alfie is no longer in nappies and his speech is improving further each day.
Charlie has struggled at Trumacar Primary School and Amanda explains how the lack of understanding around autism led to his bullying.
She said: “Charlie would be in science or a music class and he would put his hands over his ears and scream and the other kids laughed, it was really hard for him.
“The school used to go swimming on a Monday and one of the kids called him fat so he would come home and google ‘how to lose weight.’ But Mr Slater has hit the bullying head on, he now talks to the class and the kids are more aware of autism.”
Although they receive a lot of support the scariest part for the family is not knowing what the future holds.
The couple say Charlie, who wants to be a professional video gamer when he grows up, will go onto higher education and will be able to get the support to secure a job but believe Alfie will stay at home.
Amanda said: “You have a child and you think you can’t wait for the day they get married, it is hard to think all those things might not happen, Alfie could stay like this for most of his life, it is hard and frightening to think what is ahead.
“A lot of help and support you need just isn’t there now, the kids are hard at trusting people and a lot of the clubs don’t work, if it gets too busy they can’t cope.
“But they are my boys, they will always be this way, it is just the norm to me, if it means I am sat on the sofa all day cuddling them, then so be it.”
Phil said: “People have asked us about respite care but we just can’t do that, as long as I am still alive he will never leave home.”
Programmes like The A Word on BBC1 have been raising the autism profile and gives a glimpse into the life of a family who are coming to terms with an autism diagnosis.
But the Bradley couple say the programme is nothing like real life and say they stay strong by relying on each other.
Phil said: “We are still together, sometimes it can be hard and put a strain on the relationship but you just have to get on with life.”
Amanda said: “The kids need us to be strong.
“These are my boys, they have always been different but I wouldn’t change them for the world.”
The National Autistic Society (NAS) states autism is a lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them.
There are around 700,000 people in the UK living with autism.
Asperger syndrome is a form of autism - and people who have it can find it harder to communicate or pick up signals to communicate. If you believe a family may have autism or would like some advice then please call the helpline on 0808 800 4104, they are open Monday-Thursday 10am-4pm and Friday 9am- pm. To receive an information pack text 07903 200 200 with your address.
You should also state if the pack is for a child or adult, autism or asperger syndrome or call 0808 800 4014.
Trumacar Primary School headteacher Paul Slater said: “We have always been very proud to support Autism Awareness at Trumacar and have done so for a number of years now, but this year was even more important because of the misunderstanding some of the children had about Charlie.
“We are pleased to say that through the support given to the other children, and to Charlie, there is a much clearer understanding for his classmates - indeed one of the children who had laughed at his over-excited behaviour during our science week is now making sure he is okay each day and looking out for him.
“We’ve worked closely at all times with Amanda and Phil and have a great relationship where any concerns can be shared and they know things will be dealt with, and it was wonderful to have a special Autism Awareness day this year.
“In fact, at the end of my assembly, in a lovely loud voice, Charlie proudly told me (in front of his whole class) “that was all about me because I’m autistic you know Mr Slater.” How fantastic!”