When Natasha Lee's third son was diagnosed with autism, she had enough experience with the condition to know her family would be just fine. Around 700,000 people in the UK are affected by the developmental condition.
Here, Natasha pens a letter to other mothers whose children have been diagnosed as autistic to let them know that they too will find happiness…
Maybe you’re like me, someone who grew up wanting a family, or maybe the family you have isn’t the one you imagined… My story started when I fell in love with Ric, then 25, in August 2002, and became a stepmum to his son Michael, 4. He couldn’t talk, was uncomfortable in public places, and lashed out over the smallest thing.
‘He has autistic tendencies,’ Ric explained. We had to learn how to cope and enrolled Michael at a special school. Over time, we learnt what triggered him and found our feet. Then, in December 2007, our son James was born and everything was up in the air again. Perhaps you know the feeling. A mother’s instinct..?
As soon as James came home, my gut told me that something was wrong, as he was almost silent. By two, he could only just walk, never mind talk. He’d kick and punch me – I even ended up with a bloody nose during a simple nappy change. ‘Something’s wrong,’ I told Ric. We went to the doctor and were referred to a specialist paediatrician. There, James was diagnosed as autistic.
Whatever went through your mind when you heard those words about your own child, I can sympathise. For me it was an overpowering mix. Relief that we had answers, worry for James’ future, mourning the life he’d never lead. Yet again, we had to figure out James’ triggers, and how we could adapt to make his life easier. Thankfully, being diagnosed at a young age meant he began counselling early, which helped.
When I fell pregnant with our third child, I wondered what was in store. But when George was born in June 2012 he hit all his developmental milestones. Until, aged two, it was like someone took away his voice. He stopped talking and had no concept of danger. One day, after I’d caught him launching himself from the dining table to the hard tiled floor, I asked myself the question… Could all three of our children be autistic?
When George was five, we went through the diagnostic process again. And again, we were told our child was autistic. I’m not going to say life has been easy but I want to say to all you mums out there going through similar situations – things do get better. In that moment, when you get the diagnosis, it’s so hard to imagine a future for your family. But I am here to say that you can have one. And it can and will be happy! You’ll find what works for you.
Our boys don’t like lots of people, loud noises. Instead of cinema trips, we make a den in the living room or hand out chocolate and have our own movie screenings. And we are so, so proud of the young men that our lads are becoming. Michael, now 22, works and has a flat of his own that we help him with. James, 12, loves Quantum Physics, and every night we’ll play ‘question time’ instead of a bedtime story.
George, seven, loves Godzilla. To me, the boys are superheroes. Their brains can make sense of things I’ll never begin to understand. I tell them so every day. And now I’m telling you. Being average is boring. Being special is great.
National Autistic Society wants to get people talking more about autism. Get information and tips at autism.org.uk