Michelle Myers

@michelle-myers | contributor
Michelle Myers lives in Cheshire, England with her husband and three kids. Her middle child has a diagnosis of autism and sensory processing disorder. She’s worked with autistic children for eight years in schools and also has a passion about the benefits of relaxation therapy for kids and mums alike. She loves baking, reading and sharing her life with others, as it’s a comfort to know she’s not alone! You can follow her journey at asliceofautism.blogspot.com or contact her at [email protected] .
Michelle Myers

Autism: Learning to Recognize Signs of My Son's Anxiety

My son has anxiety. It is far more than just a bit of worry that can be soothed away with some reassuring words of encouragement. It plays a big part in his life, and it is important we take it seriously. His worries seemed to grow as he was growing up. But at the time we didn’t realize all the different behaviors we saw were driven by his anxiety. And the more we tried to overcome it and force him into situations we thought he should be able to cope with, the worse we made it — because we didn’t take his anxiety seriously. We didn’t realize the effect his anxiety had on his emotions and behaviors. So we bowed down to pressure. Pressure to make him conform to what was considered “normal.” Pressure from professionals who didn’t have the answers we were so desperately seeking. And pressure from ourselves to live up to the perfect family image everyone expected. Pressure to fit our son into society’s neat little boxes. But in fact, we quickly learned that the key to us being able to move forward as a family unit was far more about us learning to accept and embrace his differences as much as anything else. Learning to understand that his anxiety was a part of him. We had to learn how to unpick his behavior to see what was really going on underneath the surface. Sometimes you can see the signs of his anxiety, even if you don’t know him inside and out like we do. It might be etched on his face, in his body language, in his movements. At times it seems to me like it completely takes over his body. But his anxiety also has a side not everyone sees. This kind of anxiety disguises itself and takes many forms, and shows many faces. We find ourselves putting labels on our children to give meaning to behaviors we may or may not understand, like “challenging behavior,” “disruptive,” avoidant.” But I fear that these labels might box our kids in, making us set rigid expectations for them in a world that should actually be far more flexible for children on the autism spectrum. I think what we should be doing is looking at how we, as the adults, respond to our children’s anxiety. How we reflect on our own practice, honestly, and without fear of criticism or failure. Believe me when I say that over the years I have made many mistakes. I have got things wrong, and spent many a sleepless night thinking how I could have handled things better. But when I think about it, those mistakes taught me so much. We need to ask ourselves if we are flexible enough (because when fire meets fire, no one wins, I can tell you). We also need to be sharing good practices, sharing our successes and our failures. Working collaboratively with parents, and talking to colleagues openly. Bouncing ideas off each other in order to support our children effectively as a team. We need to see beyond the labels. Understanding that often their behavior might be telling us that something is wrong. And often if sensory issues can be ruled out, then a potential factor might be anxiety in disguise. Anxiety can make kids isolate themselves and withdraw, often getting overlooked, confusing us to think that all is well, but their parents report seeing a different child at home. Anxiety can cause headaches or the feeling of being sick. Anxiety might affect a child’s ability to follow verbal instructions or pay attention in class. I think we need to be open-minded and far more flexible. We need to see beyond the behavior and play detective. We need to think outside of the box and make real accommodations in the classroom that are meaningful and not just ticking a box for a policy. We should understand that one size doesn’t fit all, and every child is different. And see things from the child’s perspective and not just our own. And hopefully, as a result, it will help ease the inner anxiety my son and kids who feel similarly might experience. A version of this post originally appeared on Kathybrodie.com. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Image via Thinkstock

Michelle Myers

Autism: When My Son's Special Interest Affects His Mental Health

Sometimes being a mum to a child with additional needs can feel like being at the funfair. There are moment of immense joy and excitement, thrills and laughter. Those are moments behind the memories we treasure forever, the moments that give us strength. But then there are also moments of fear and anxiety, self-doubt and even worry. Some days I am the smiling mum waving proudly as my kids ride the carousel. Some days I am the driver in the bumper cars, knocking obstacles out of their way. And some days, like today, I am sat behind them on a rollercoaster with no control over what’s happening, wondering how we are going to get through this. This is the situation I have found myself in. You see, my son’s special interest has decided to take us on an unexpected rollercoaster ride into the unknown. No one talks about this. It’s become all-consuming and life-changing. I have always encouraged and celebrated my son’s special interests. They are what makes him unique, and they are very much a part of who he is. I have never seen them as a threat before. They have always been a way into his world for me. They have allowed me to share precious moments of connection with him, and they have always been a way of engaging him with the world around him. But over the last few weeks, his all-consuming love for animals has opened the doors to obsession. It has quickly seeped into every aspect of his life, filling him with fear and anxiety. Why do humans eat animals? Why is there such cruelty in the world? How can we let this happen? His obsession and anxieties have stopped him interacting with people, made him confused and angry and taken away his ability to function in school. How could I let this happen? How did I not see the warning signs? I feel like I am the top of that rollercoaster, useless and scared. How can I help him see that his obsession is making him feel so sad? His love for animals has become something I now fear. He won’t eat, he can’t talk about anything else, and I feel like he is losing himself. The special interest I respected and admired has become an obsession that has affected his mental health drastically. Services around mental health and autism are chronically underfunded and not often talked about openly, which often leaves families like mine feeling helpless and alone. I know there are many parents like us in the same position — scared, overwhelmed and worried for the future. I know I have to ride this rollercoaster with him. And I know that I somehow have to find the strength to fight for services to help him feel better. I will do all that because I love my son. My children are my world, and I will never give up no matter how insecure and alone I may feel. My son’s mental health is important, and it should be taken by seriously by the government and policy makers. Because there are thousands of families like mine who are put on waiting lists and are left struggling to do the best for their child. Struggling to help them with their mental health, feeling alone and isolated and often battling with their own mental health issues as well. And I know deep down that I can’t beat myself up for not seeing this coming. All I can do is my best. So for now, I will hold on tight and keep going. As scared as I may be, I will never give up, I will never leave him to face any of this alone. Because I am his mum, his safe place, his home. We’re on this rollercoaster ride together, my darling boy. Hold on tight, buddy. I’ve got you. Follow this journey on A Slice Of Autism. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here. Image via Thinkstock Images

Michelle Myers

'Just Keep Swimming': When Special Needs Parenting Feels Overwhelming

“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming… ” Who have would have thought the Disney character I find myself relating to isn’t a princess trapped in a tower but a blue fish with a memory problem? As a mother to a child on the autism spectrum, believe me when I say we often feel like we’re swimming against the tide. You see, support services don’t always come easy for children like my son. It can be a daily struggle getting the right help. Our family life is anything but “normal,” and we often deal with judgmental glares. It can all add a lot of pressure. I have to admit, sometimes it all feels like too much. I feel like I’m drowning. I wonder where I am going to find the strength to fight another battle for my children. Ironically it ends up being the most mundane of things that make me feel like I’m going to sink — like the washing up for instance. Last night I walked into the kitchen to face a mountain of dirty dishes. I took one look at it all and immediately felt defeated. Defeated by the chipped bowls and coffee-stained mugs. I slammed the door muttering some obscenities I won’t repeat here and stomped off to bed in a right old sulk. But do you know what? When I tentatively opened the kitchen door this morning, that mountain of dirty dishes wasn’t half as bad as I had thought it had been. My mind had been playing tricks on me because I’m a pessimist, you see… always thinking the worst. What I should have done last night was said, “So what!” It’s quite freeing really, going with the flow. And when I think about it, more often than not a positive can be found in most situations. Even leaving the dishes. So what if I go to bed with pots in the sink? In the grand scheme of things does it really matter? No is the answer to that because my hubby might give in and buy me that dishwasher I’ve been after for months if I let them pile up. Tactics that is! So what if I’m not one of the seven million people watching Sunday night feel-good TV? I can fast forward the ads when I watch it later in the week anywa y. That equals happy days. So what if my morning shower happens at 10.30 p.m. at night because my mornings have to focus on getting my son to school with as little stress as possible, not the state of my hair? I mean I was never a morning person anyway. So what if the hubby and I have to book a day off work to have date afternoon because we can’t get a sitter at night? We can often get a good two-for-one deal midweek at the local Harvester pub. So what if we have to take family occasions in turn as big family gatherings are overwhelming? It means we get to spend some quality time with our daughters when it’s our turn to attend, and the spouse at home gets remote control rights all evening. Bonus! So what if we holiday in the same place year after year because we need to stick to consistency? At least that way we always know what to expect so there are never any nasty surprises or cockroaches under the bed. So what if my shoes of choice are not heels? I usually have to dash to intercept a child or remote control from flying across the room. I can’t be dealing with blisters at my age now so it’s comfort all the way for me. So what if I have to be home by 10.30 p.m. on a night out as my son worries about me if I’m not back by the time the news has finished As I have gotten older I am glad of it, to be honest. I would much rather be tucked up in bed with a Horlicks anyway. So what if I had to give up my job? One door closes another one opens, as they say. I would never be sat here talking to you if I was still at my day job. So what if the most communication I can get out of my son is via text because he finds talking about how he feels f ace to face so hard? I can screenshot his messages and keep them forever as treasured memories… and use them to embarrass him at his 18th. So what if I spend half of my day filling in forms and phoning people to get my son’s needs met? If I’m honest, it’s making this mama bear all the stronger for it. Grrrr! So what if my son only wears certain socks due to his sensory issues? When we find ones he likes we buy five pairs. And that means I don’t have to spend hours hunting for those odd ones the resident sock monster likes to hide from me. So what if we have watched “Harry Potter” 100 million times? At least now I know what spell to use in case of an invasion of Dementors – “Expecto Patronum!” So what if my son has to go to a special education school? That’s where he is best placed to learn and grow. He’s happy and accepted and feels like he belongs there. – And after all that’s all we ever really want for our children isn’t it? So what if I lose some friends along the way due to our restricted social calendar? True friends will never leave my side, and I would rather have two or three true friends than 10 who just want me for me drunken handbag dance moves. So what if we are not a “normal” family? Who needs normal anyway? I’ve learned not to believe Facebook’s perfect family portrayals. Everyone has their own story and challenges no matter how perfect their lives may appear on screen. So what if my son is autistic? He is still the same little person, no matter what. The diagnosis may have come as a shock to me and even knocked me sideways for a little while. But my son is unique and wonderful, and I’m not going to let other people’s judgment affect how he feels about himself. So what if people don’t agree with my choices? They are not living my life and don’t have to walk a day in my (comfy) shoes. So maybe next time if you feel yourself sinking, try saying “so what?” and swimming away. Feel the freedom of being carried by the tide for a little while. Picture yourself floating off on an inflatable bed, cocktail in hand, and humming like the little blue fish, “just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.” Us mums don’t always have to swim against the tide, you know. It gets exhausting after a while. So from one blue fish to another, “When life gets you down, do you know what you gotta’ do?” Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming! Image via Facebook / Finding Nemo This blog was written for Special Needs Jungle. The original post can be found here.

Michelle Myers

Special Needs Parenting Roadside Assistance Metaphor

Imagine your body is a car engine. Sometimes it ticks along quite nicely, cruising down the smooth road with no bumps, potholes or distractions. When your engine is purring like this you can relax and take in the view, enjoying the ride as you go. For my autistic son, this smooth road is his comfort zone. On this road he is at his most independent and communicative. He knows where he is, it’s safe, familiar and predictable. He needs nothing more from me than simply knowing I am there in the background should he need me, like a roadside assistance card in his back pocket. He knows I’m there to fall back on. Now imagine you didn’t sleep well at all last night and you’ve been awake for hours worrying about something, so your engine is running a little sluggish today. The road has become harder to maneuver, and see you’re way past any obstacles. The bright sun could be dazzling your vision or the traffic may be building up around you, and you can’t see your way through. Your engine begins to overheat, and you need help. When this happens for my son, it becomes harder for him to be independent. His vital functions start to slip, and his ability to communicate steams away from him. His engine overheats, and the alarms set off telling me there is an unseen problem occurring. My role as his parent then becomes like the recovery truck that restarts his engine. I patch him up and follow him home to make sure he arrives safely. Or I become the onboard Sat-nav that talks him through the busy city center in a calm voice to get him home in one piece. Finally imagine yourself speeding along an unknown road and your brakes won’t work. You can’t stop yourself. You’re no longer in control of what’s happening to you or your engine, and panic sets in. You feel like you could go over the edge of the cliff at any moment. Or your engine becomes so overheated that you can’t carry on anymore. You’re at crisis point, and all functions shut down. For my son, this is where I become the emergency services that recover him and get him to safety. My tool kit of love, instinct, and resources enables him to scramble to safety and begin to recover. I carry him home and protect him from the glares of ignorance that pave the way on this road. I forward think, and helicopter around him ready for the explosion that could come at any second. On high alert (just in case) at all times, my adrenalin is pumping and I can feel his pain as if it were my own. This is our daily life. The road my son is on from minute to minute dictates how his engine will cope. The environment is the single biggest factor that controls his ability to function in our neurotypical world. He has good days and bad days, and so I float in between being the recovery contact card in his back pocket to being his blue flashing lights of recovery from hour to hour and day to day. But sometimes as a family we step out of our comfort zone for more than a few hours — like we did this week on our family holiday. A week on an unknown, unpredictable bumpy road. So this meant my son’s engine was on overdrive for not a few moments, hours or even days, but for a whole week. His little engine was working really hard every second of the day to cope with every new smell, sound and sight he faced. And as a result, I was on high alert too… 24/7. Unlike when we are at home and he is in his comfort zone, on holiday I didn’t have time to build up my energy and recoup myself. So by day five, both my son and I were tired. Tired on being on high alert all the time. I became aware I was becoming snappy with him, and finding myself wanting to withdraw more and more. I got cross with myself for feeling like I needed a break. But simply put, I needed some roadside recovery. My engine was running low. I needed a top up too. How could I be the recovery truck 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with no break and no top up of fuel? Just as I recognize and meet my son’s needs day to day, I too need to learn to recognize my own engine a little better too, and do something about it before I overheat. My advice to fellow parents is this: find something that can be your roadside assistance card. Whether it’s a coffee break, a TV program you can escape into, or family member who can babysit while you have a bath in peace. We all need a little help sometimes. We’re all human, and the bumpy roads we all find ourselves on can take its toll at times if we don’t take the time to have our own recovery procedures in place every now and again.

Michelle Myers

Celebrating the Birthday of My Son With Autism His Way

Presents and toys, birthday badges and party invites. Balloons and banners, fancy dress outfits and homemade cakes. Silly games of pin the tail on the donkey, musical statues, and “Who’s the best dancer?” A hot sweaty house full of giddy kids high on fizzy pop and cup cakes. Class friends having a ball as they fling themselves around on an oversized Minion bouncy castle. And my son laughing and smiling in the middle of it all. The playground moms huddled around a table, laughing and gossiping about the antics of the chair of the PTA at last week’s school dance. Enjoying a glass of wine and picking at nibbles while declaring the diet starts tomorrow. We air kiss as they leave and walk down the driveway and clamber into their family cars. I collapse in a heap on the sofa happily content as I watch him delve into his pile of presents. Filled with a sense of relief he has enjoyed all the fuss and everyone had turned up. This is what birthdays are all about for kids, aren’t they? We plan lavish events so we can boast about having the mobile zoo at the local church hall for our little kiddo’s special day. Unwritten protocol states we have to invite the whole class to the party, even the ones we don’t really want to be there. And then on the big day, we pack our kids off to school, wearing a flashing birthday badge and holding a bag of goodies for them to hand out at the end of the school day. Well, at least this is what I used to think my son’s birthday would look like when I daydreamed about his future all those years ago. In fact, 12 years ago this very day I was pacing the floor of the maternity ward waiting anxiously for the surgeon to give us the all clear to for my planned C-section. I was 38 weeks pregnant, tired and hungry. But none of that mattered as we were hours away from meeting our little baby boy. I couldn’t wait to hold him in my arms, and my mind was full of all the possibilities that lay ahead. Where have the years gone?  I, for one, am not the same person I was back then. And my little baby boy is now 12. I quickly learned as my son was growing up that birthdays for him wouldn’t look like the images I had created in my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I tried. For many years, I forced him to conform to my idea of what his birthday should look like. I booked the church halls, invited the class and made the cakes. But my son would cry, he wouldn’t want to join in and he wouldn’t want to open his presents. Then the invitations stopped coming his way, and the moms in the playground didn’t become the friends I had once expected they would. We had become the ones who weren’t invited, and those that did try to invite us didn’t know what to say to me when I had to make excuses for him not being able to go. When I would ask for the exact itinerary of the afternoon’s events or when he would get upset and cry in front of all his friends, they would look at me with a puzzled sort of confusion that I will never forget. But I have adapted. I have had to learn that my idea of a perfect birthday isn’t the same as my son’s. So there may not have been a cake in sight today or a donkey pinned on my living room wall for that matter. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had a nice day! He ate his favorite food with his tea with one of his closest friends, played on his PS4 and devoured a whole chocolate brownie with delight. There was no flashing birthday badge pinned to his school jumper or treat-sized chocolates for his classmates this morning. But that’s OK! He woke up and his smile melted my heart. He enjoyed his birthday croissants and a cup of tea while reading the texts from his family, giggling at the lovely messages they had sent him. There was no giant bouncy castle or dainty cupcakes today. But I’m OK with that because he was. He has bounced on his trampoline, snuggled in his new sleeping bag and brushed the salty popcorn out of his teeth with his new vibrating toothbrush (for longer than he’s ever brushed his teeth before — bonus!) I have to be honest with you: The process of learning to accept this difference hasn’t been an easy one. Sometimes I think, “If only,” but then I see his happy face and get such joy from seeing him flapping with excitement as he slides into his new sleeping bag — and those feelings slip away to be replaced with all-consuming pride. His joy of life is infectious at times like this. So now I find myself giggling at the things I wrap up as presents sometimes — ice pops, popcorn and shaving foam spring to mind. But it’s what my son loves. It what makes him tick, so why not? And part of my journey as a mother is learning my son’s journey is his own. It’s not mine. I am merely along for the ride. It’s his day, not mine. So this weekend instead of booking a mobile zoo for the whole class, I’m taking my little man to his favorite zoo for the day, so he can spend nine hours doing what he loves surrounded by his favorite animals — free, happy, flapping and loving life! Happy birthday, darling boy! Follow this journey on A Slice of Autism. The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines. Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Michelle Myers

Understanding How My Son With Autism Sees the World

You look may look at my son and see a child with autism. Or you may look at my son and think he doesn’t “look autistic” at all. But when I look at him, all I see is his bright toothy smile, his infectious giggle and the long locks of brown hair he seems to hide behind when he talks to people. I see my son! (Who has autism.) One of the wonders of humanity is that two people can look at something and see very different things. It’s all a matter of perspective. You could see a hurdle where I see a challenge. You may see sadness where I can feel joy. You may see difficulties where I see strength over adversity. You may see weakness where I see bravery. You may see a puzzle where I see wonder. You may see a label where I see my son. If all you see is the label when you look at him, then you are missing out on so much! But this is the complex world my son has to navigate his way around. And as his mother, I had to learn how to support him to make sense of it all. How could I do that when we live in a world in which people’s opinions differ so vastly, and their past experiences shape how they interact with him? How could I understand how he feels and help him make sense of this world, and help others see who he really is? Simple… I had to change the way I viewed my son’s world. The ups and downs, the highs and lows, and the challenges he faces daily. Not to mention the inner strength and talents he has within. I had to change my perspective and try to step into his shoes to see the world as he sees it. You see, people may think he just chooses not to leave the house and is a “recluse.” But imagine a world in which complex interactions and going beyond the safety of home floods you with all-consuming anxiety that can make you feel physically sick. Now can you understand why stepping outside is so daunting for him sometimes? People may think he doesn’t understand what they are saying, so they talk over him or ignore him completely. However, try to imagine how it feels to struggle following the ebb and flow of conversations. Not knowing how and when you are meant to respond, or what people’s facial expressions actually mean. I feel it’s no wonder he avoids conversations with people who don’t know him very well. People may think he has no sense of humor or can’t take a joke. But instead, try to imagine living in a world where people say things they don’t really mean and make jokes about things that just don’t make sense. It’s not that he doesn’t have a sense of humor, he is really funny and makes people laugh every day. In fact I say he has a giggle that is infectious. People may think he wants to control things. For a second, just picture how it feels to not be able to predict what is going to happen next, and how out of control this would make you feel. And maybe then you will realize why he feels the need for control or routine. He may have difficulty seeing the bigger picture of what’s happening around him and seem like he is in his own world, and people might think he is ignoring them. Just remember that his world is rich and full of intense experiences. He sees and feels things so vividly that sometimes it can be hard for him to switch his focus to anything else. Sometimes people think he is rude or that he doesn’t care about other people’s feelings. Try and keep in your mind that people’s rules can seem unwritten, confusing and mysterious. Imagine not being able to understand how other people feel, what they could be thinking or even that they are giving clues about their emotions through their body language. It’s not that he doesn’t care, he just doesn’t experience emotions like you do. Just imagine… Michelle and her son. How would you feel if you had a really creative mind full of amazing ideas but no one recognized your potential just because you didn’t have the words? How would you feel if you had so much love to give, but people didn’t know because they didn’t enter your world to feel it for themselves? How would you feel if you could see the beauty in the things other people might ignore and people dismissed the things you were passionate about? How would you feel if people wanted to change you, and said that the things you like to do weren’t socially acceptable? How would you feel living in a world that doesn’t recognize the potential that lies within you because of a label? Imagine… Just for a minute, put yourself in his shoes! How frustrating must it all be at times for him? If people don’t learn to see things from a different perspective, my son’s perspective, then they may never see the wonderful talents that lie within him. They may never see beyond the challenges and labels he faces, to view what he has to offer the world. And this is why I do what I do. This is why I fight so hard to raise awareness, understanding and acceptance. No matter what day or month it is. Because autism is part of who he is, but not all he is. I want to open the window of perspective and blow away the cobwebs of ignorance, so my son can hopefully live in a world that is far less confusing, much more aware, and has a greater level of acceptance than ever before. It’s all just a matter of perspective. Follow this journey on A Slice of Autism. The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment someone changed the way you think about disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Michelle Myers

How Parents Can Help Autistic Children Who Self-Injure

I can remember like it was yesterday — the day we were told my son is autistic. I have to say, I was overwhelmed by my conflicting emotions. I didn’t know how to feel, what to do or how to react. I was numb. In the days that followed, it began to slowly sink in, and really, to be honest, nothing had changed. Except deep down I felt a sense of relief that I had been right all along. And at the end of the day it was just a label. My son was no different; he was still him. Life ticked on as usual. What I did next I presume all parents do at one time or another — I found myself with the laptop on my knee Googling “autism.” I just couldn’t help myself. And oh my goodness what a load of rubbish there is out there on the Internet. It’s enough to scare parents half to death. So much misinformation and ignorance to be found with every click of the mouse. It made me want to wrap him head to toe in cotton wool to protect him from the world. I also vividly recall sort of mentally ticking so called “symptoms” off like a list. Well yeah, he does this. And I suppose sometimes he does that too. Oh, but no not that… He never does that. I comforted myself when I stumbled across the links between autism and self-injury. Children who do that must be really “severe,” I thought to myself. I was wrong. The anxiety that lives inside my son kind of moves and shifts; it confuses and lulls you into a false sense of security. Its symptoms can increase and decrease according to its environment. And “high-functioning” label didn’t mean my son got a free ticket to bypass the more worrying and far less talked about sides to autism – like self-injury and anxiety. I soon realized his anxiety could consume him. I love my little man more than life itself, but if you told me if I could lessen his anxiety somehow, my reply would have to be, “Where do I sign up?” If the doctor had told me that one day in the not-so-distant future my son would have self-injurious behaviors (SIBs), I would have cried there and then. No one wants that for their child, autism or no autism. But this is exactly where we found ourselves last year, drowning in an ever-spiralingwhirlpool of anxiety. This vicious cycle engulfed him, and I just couldn’t drag him from the darkness. It broke my heart. If I could, I would have swapped places with him in a heartbeat; I just wanted to take his pain away. He became so consumed by his anxiety that it became extremely challenging for him to learn at school. Just the process of getting there was draining him. So we put his world on pause and reduced his school attendance to two hours a day. We had to reassess everything and modify his environment drastically for the sake of his mental health. It was a long and slow journey to recovery — I mean months, not weeks. But we had fun. We went swimming and dive-bombed in the deep end of the pool, savoring each experience and taking our time. We walked the dogs and got wet and muddy; we baked cakes, making a right old mess of the kitchen. And yes we learned math and English, but in his own way, not mine. Until slowly day by day he began to laugh and smile a little more. He has started at a new school full-time and is genuinely happy there. So his anxiety has shifted again; it no longer consumes his every waking thought. I knew what my son needed to get better; the world needed to mould around him. And the people around him needed to be flexible, following his lead, truly accepting him for who he was, and then and only then he would trust them to keep him safe and let go of his worries. I fear that too often our kids are bent so much to fit into our world that they simply snap under the pressure, and this is where they encounter so many problems. Too often, the education systems are just so inflexible. So you see, now I will never take anything for granted or make assumptions about autism ever again. I will never again think my son cannot possibly be affected in certain ways, and I will always look beyond the label. Self-harm/self-injury affects approximately 50 percent of people with autism at one point in their lifetime, and I strongly believe we should be talking about this more than we do. It shouldn’t be something only discussed in the doctor’s office or behind closed doors. As hard as this has been to share, I hope by reading it you can be stronger than I was, and act sooner. Don’t let your child be bent to snapping point. It’s truly my biggest regret. My son is proof that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, our kids have somuch to teach us about living in the moment; the dark days can become distant memories. And I am learning that my son has far more to teach me than sitting down and Googling “autism” on my laptop can any day of the week. All I have to do is learn from him, follow his lead and be strong. Follow this journey on A Slice of Autism. If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources. If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The Mighty is asking its readers the following: What’s one part about you or your loved one’s disability and/or disease that no one talks about? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Michelle Myers

To the Mums on the Playground, From ‘That Mum’ Who Avoided Talking to You

Dear mums on the playground, You may not know me well, but I was the mum who skulked past you with my head hiding under my umbrella or under my hood just to avoid having to talk to you for many years. I was that mum the class teacher always wanted to come and talk to at the end of the day, with a knowing look that something had happened that she needed to tell me about. I was that mum whose child stopped getting invited to parties. I was that mum who never came to the PTA meetings or mums’ nights out, who wasn’t part of any mums’ “group.” I was that mum who was often running late in the mornings, looking hassled and exhausted at drop-off time and never had the time to say hello to you. I was that mum you would whisper should discipline her child better. That’s me. I was that mum. I want to tell you what I should have said back then on the playground — that I had grown tired of feeling like an outsider when I stood by myself day after day. I was tired of feeling your eyes watching me when the teacher came out to speak to me yet again, and that things got so tricky for my son that he had to leave. I felt alone because I was not one of you. I didn’t fit into your “group.” But I really did want to be your friend. I wanted to meet for morning coffees and chat about where we were going on holiday that summer. But I couldn’t — and not for the reasons you may think. You see, I was that parent the teacher always wanted to talk to. But not because my child was naughty, as I imagined you were thinking. It was because he found mainstream school incredibly tough. And this led to his behavior being deemed as “challenging” by his teachers, because he couldn’t follow their instructions or fit in with the rest of the class. And I can understand why my child never got invited to parties. It’s not that he didn’t want to attend your child’s party when we declined. It’s because he just found it all too overwhelming and would often get upset when he did go. So we stopped saying yes, and then the invites inevitably stopped coming. And yes, I never made it to PTA meetings. Not because I didn’t want to, but because usually I was busy filling in forms, attending meetings with someone on my son’s team, at an appointment or having to explain myself to yet another professional who was looking at my parenting because my son didn’t have a diagnosis at this point. The reason I was always in a rush in the mornings was because my child had severe school-related anxiety. Some mornings it could take me 30 minutes just to get him to put one sock on. He needed routines, visuals and social stories just for me to get him through the school gates. I had to drive the same way each day and pray there would be no traffic, as that made his anxiety worse. And when it was non-uniform day or cake sale day — well, those days were even trickier for us to get to school. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to join in; it was just too much for him to cope with. I’m thinking back to that time you saw my son so anxious and so upset that he felt the need to run away and kick the wall when the fire alarm was going off at drop-off time. On that busy playground, you all stood and watched us. I had to stop him from escaping, so he lashed out as a way of protecting himself. No one came to help us; no one came to see if we were OK. We now know my son has autism. For a long time, I felt judged — judged by parents, judged by school, judged by professionals. I was that mum who walked with her head down. I was worn down and defensive as a result of all the stress. I became too tired to face anyone, so it became easier to avoid you. To walk past you in the playground and hide behind my umbrella. But I am now several years down the line and no longer have to do the school playground thing because my son attends a school that best meets his individual needs, which means going to a school in a different area — so he gets a taxi there and back. That’s why I left so abruptly last year with no explanation or goodbye. He needed to leave as his anxiety had consumed him. And I couldn’t face telling any of you. I know any judgments you made, if you made any at all, were because you didn’t understand. I mean, how could you if I kept my head down each day and didn’t attempt to let any of you into my world? I never gave you the chance. I did want to — believe me, I did — I just didn’t have the energy as I was fighting for my son on so many different fronts at the time. And for that I am sorry. Now I have found my “group.” I may not have felt like I fit in on the playground, but I have found a whole world of online support out there from fellow special needs mums. With them, I don’t have to explain why my son finds school so hard because they experience it each day like me. So it’s natural and comfortable with them. But if I’m honest, sometimes going out of our comfort zone does us good every now and again. You see, I was guilty as anyone all those years in the playground — because I judged you. Those mums will never understand, or they’re watching me again, I would tell myself, so I kept my distance. That was wrong of me. I assumed you were judging me, but I never really took the time to find out. No mum should ever walk with her head down, because we’re all doing the same job. It’s tough, and we all want what’s best for our kids, whether they have special needs or not. And we special needs mums have just as much to offer as a friend and member of the school community as anyone else. We just have to make adaptions. So if you recognize some of yourself in my story — be strong, be brave and be honest. Don’t be like me and leave it until it’s too late. Take those brave strides across the concrete and hopscotch and talk to each other. You may be surprised what lies behind the façade as there is always more than meets the eye. And who knows what kind of friendship can blossom from huddling together under the shelter of a shared umbrella on a soggy, wet afternoon in January? You won’t know unless you try! A version of this post originally appeared on Kathybrodie.com. Follow this journey onA Slice of Autism. The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines. Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Michelle Myers

When I Decided to Tell My Daughter About My Depression

“Mom, why do you look so sad?” This was the question my 10-year-old daughter asked me yesterday while we sat on the sofa sharing a minute of calm in our normally hectic house. “Do I? Ah, I’m just tired, sweetie,” was my mumbled reply. It was a lie. I have depression and was having a really foggy day. She looked at me with a sort of puzzled, yet knowing look that made me think she didn’t believe a word I was saying. I couldn’t take her gaze any longer, so I jumped up and quickly asked who wanted a biscuit. Once in the safety of the kitchen, it took all my strength not to blubber over the custard cream as I grabbed the biscuit barrel down from the shelf. Just breathe, I told myself. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t let the kids see you cry. You see, I thought I had been doing a pretty good job at keeping my depression from the kids. I’ve been holding things together and taking my medication like the doctor said. I was getting through each day and gradually starting to feel better. But my 10-year-old daughter saw right through me. I was exposed. She could see a deep sadness etched in my face. Despite my makeup. Despite the home-cooked dinner awaiting her after school. Despite the bedtime stories and snuggles we shared that day. She could see me. It’s a strange thing really, when I think about it. No matter how hard I try to paint over the cracks, they are there. And people who know me well must be able to see them despite my best effort to hide it all behind my blusher. Even my 10-year-old daughter sees it. My depression is part of me. It doesn’t ever go away, even when I’m having a good phase. It’s always there. It’s etched in my every wrinkle and smile. And she didn’t know what it was, but she saw it. So I’ve decided that tonight, when she gets home from school, we’re going to share a slice of cake and I’m going to talk to her. I will follow her lead and answer any questions she has, no matter how awkward I feel about it. Because I know she knows I’m hiding myself from her, and I don’t ever want her to feel like she has to hide. My daughter has dyslexia, and this can really affect her self-esteem. I don’t ever want her to think people won’t accept her for being honest with them. Our mental health and hidden challenges should never become something we brush o ver with makeup like they don’t exist. I’m not ashamed of my depression. How can I be? It’s part of what makes me who I am. And in many ways it’s helped me. There’s real magic in connecting with someone who just gets it, who understands how you feel and doesn’t need anything in return. She needs to know that in darkness there is always light. That true strength of character is shown when we accept and embrace the differences we all have. She needs to hear the positive things about my depression. She needs to hear I’m proud to be me, and maybe then she’ll be less anxious when she notices mommy looks sad. Sometimes, as adults, we feel bad when we don’t have all the answers. We want to magically make everything better for our kids, pretend like it’s all hunky dory. But I don’t want any of my children growing up feeling ashamed of who they are. I want my daughter to be proud of herself and proud to overcome any challenges life throws her way. And I can’t do that by pretending it’s not happening to me. Her innocence yesterday made me realize I need to be more open with my kids. In order for them to learn to love themselves, I have to love me. They need to see that love means opening ourselves up to other people, and being accepted for who you are unconditionally. My depression will ease — it always does. And it may ravage me again at some point, I am certain. But the difference is that next time when my children ask me why I look sad, I will be honest with them. I’m not ashamed of who I am, and I’m going to try my hardest to help my daughter love herself for who she is. I don’t want her to ever be ashamed of what makes her, well, her, whatever that may be. Michelle and her daughter Follow this journey on A Slice of Autism.

Michelle Myers

Advice for Special Needs Moms During the Holidays

Taking care of yourself this Christmas is important, folks. Please remember we don’t need to be superhuman. We will laugh and cry, have ups and downs, good days and days we are relieved just to see the end of. Don’t beat yourself up when things feel too much. Give yourself a break every now and again to meet a friend for coffee when the hubby’s home, walk the dogs, go to the supermarket or catch up on the soaps (if you can). Take people’s offers of help if you’re lucky enough to get them. Family often want to help and can often feel helpless not knowing what to do. It could be taking siblings out for a bit, doing some washing for you or walking your dogs. I know I can sometimes feel quite trapped over the holidays, so take any offer up. I know I will be if any come my way. Online shop. Enough said. If you can’t get a sitter (let’s face it, it’s pretty unlikely), have movie night with the other half over the holidays, maybe a meal deal with a bottle of wine. I know for us it often comes way down the list of priorities, but I need to remind myself how important it really is to do every now and again. Let people know if you need to talk. Bottling things up won’t help. Make the most of your friends and family and tell them if you need a hand. Honestly, it’s not failing; it’s called being human. (And I have certainly been there and worn the T-shirt many times before, so you’re far from alone — honest.) Use your online support network. We understand how it feels, and we’ re probably feeling the same as you. Sometimes all we need is a quick chat with someone who gets it, and then we can get on with our day. Acceptance can go a long way in helping us get through the holidays. Be happy your life is chaotic and always eventful; trying to see the funny side of things really can help. This is half the battle of feeling happy, as looking at others and wishing our lives looked like that does us no good at all (usually their life is never as perfect as it seems anyway). If you feel like you’re having more bad days than good and the fog isn’t lifting, it could be worth seeing a doctor. Our mental health should not be taboo. I’m on antidepressants, and I’m not ashamed in the slightest to tell anyone who will listen! Because I’m important, too. In order to be there for my kids, I need to look after myself. I learned that the hard way. So please don’t suffer in silence and feel ashamed. Be proud of what you do on a daily basis and look at it as something you just need to do to fill up the tank when it’s running low. Remember, no one’s life is perfect, folks. We all have our own challenges to deal with. So smile and remember you’re doing a great job! Our kids are amazingly unique, and yes, life is challenging, especially at Christmas. But make the most of every day, whatever comes your way! Hold your head up high in pride as our children continue to teach us a new way to view our world and show us how to love unconditionally, as only children can. Follow this journey on A Slice of Autism. Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images