Hi, my name is Debbie and I am the author of Aspie in the family, a parenting blog with a difference.
I live in England, am married and have three children, two of whom are on the autism spectrum. Before having a family, I spent many years working as a Personal Assistant to executive directors in various organisations. However, it became too difficult to combine working at that level with my caring duties so I decided to concentrate on my family whilst also studying towards a social sciences degree.
After several years of hard graft, I graduated with a First-class Honours degree in Social Sciences with Politics which I celebrated in a wonderful ceremony at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham. I had hoped to use my degree as a springboard into a new career but sadly I had to give up on those aspirations due to the needs of my family. In addition the changes to the university system (notably the cost) has put post graduate education out of my reach. In any case, as you will find out, my energies have to be used to fight for my children though I still try and find time to work in adult education. As hard as it is, I think it important to try and carve some time out for me; it is too easy to get subsumed by all things special needs.
About the blog
As for this blog, I created it as a way of coming to terms with a very challenging time in my life where I had to fight a long battle to get my son’s condition recognised and supported. It was an emotional and frustrating time as many practitioners that I met did not have a sufficient understanding of autism and often blamed me for my son’s problems. As a result my son was not properly supported by his primary school and he ended up suffering from health problems which left him unable to continue with his education.
As shocked as we were by the harm caused to him, we dug deep and persisted to challenge the local authority for better support and eventually (on our second attempt) we secured a statement of SEN for him. In hindsight though that was the easy bit. Finding a suitable school near to where we lived was impossible and we felt under pressure to place our son in a school far from home. We never felt comfortable sending him to school so far away, not least because of his anxiety travelling away from home. Nevertheless we reassured ourselves that the school (a special school) had a good reputation for supporting autistic pupils and that if our son got over his anxiety he’d do well there.
Our optimism seemed well founded. Our son settled and appeared to be doing well but after a while cracks started to appear in his support and he started to school refuse for significant periods of time. It was hard to manage. There was little understanding and support from professionals and we often felt that we had to defend our parenting as well as support our son. Eventually the school told us they could no longer meet need and that alternative provision would have to be found. We are now trying to work through that mess as well as navigate post 16 provision for him, another mountain to climb!
As for my daughter, she too has been failed by the education system and we are now on the brink of home educating her as we (or more specifically I) can not go through a repeat of my son’s experiences. Her difficulties have been compounded by a lack of understanding of the gender differences in autism and Asperger syndrome. Because of her passivity and her tendency to conform, it has been very difficult getting professionals to see that there was a problem and therefore a need to assess. With perseverance however we convinced them that it was necessary and in 2011 my daughter was finally diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Unfortunately the diagnosis was a very much watered down version of her brothers and hardly reflected her difficulties. Indeed it wasn’t until we secured additional psychological assessments that we were able to reveal the true extent of her difficulties.
However, even with all that evidence her primary school still didn’t support her. Even when she stopped attending school the SENCO refused to apply for an assessment for a statement. Fortunately, with the help of the educational psychologist, we submitted a parental request and eventually my daughter was assessed and given a statement. However, it was too late. My daughter had developed additional difficulties and was unable to cope with school, even a special school. As a result we are now contemplating the home education route. This option gives me control over her environment and it also means I can go at a pace that suits her. This is important because it enables me to support her mental/emotional health which to date has not been properly supported in school. Indeed my experience is that few schools are equipped to deal with the mental health of children and young people such as my son and daughter. Too often education refer you to the mental health services who in turn bounce you back to education. It is an impossible situation to be in.
As a result of my experiences I have become aware of how little support and understanding there is for families like mine. I hope that through my blog, people will start to learn a little bit more about the roles that families like mine play in the lives of our extraordinary children. It is only by talking or writing about our experiences that we can hope to contribute towards spreading awareness of what it is like to care for autistic children. However it is important to note that I write from a personal perspective and that there are many more differing accounts of bringing up children on the autism spectrum.
A good introduction to the range of articles that I write can be found by clicking here.
Get in touch
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy my blog.