Parents speak of struggles with two autistic children

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It’s been a tough couple of years for Derry couple, Ann Marie and Christopher Coyle, as they have struggled to adjust to their daughter Alice’s diagnosis of Autism and to now must navigate the choppy waters of getting her through her first year at school.

But thanks to the help of the Model Primary School plus COS Autism and, of course, family and friends, the Coyles are finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

Yesterday, their younger daughter Molly also started her first day at nursery and while she has not yet received her official diagnosis, both her parents and several professionals believe she is also autistic, because although Molly is three and a half, she has yet to speak a single word.

The main problem encountered by the Coyle family was, that like so many others, they had to wait for an official statement from the Department of Education before Alice could be given a place in the Model School’s Autism Unit.

And the couple believe that it was sheer good fortune that they had already chosen to send Alice to the Model Primary School, which has an ASD unit and is well equipped to deal with the physical and emotional needs of autistic children.

Alice’s Autism was first suspected after a G.P. visit over toileting issues. At that time the doctor also noticed that she wasn’t making eye contact. And as Ann Marie later discovered “withholding” going to the bathroom is a common indicator of Autism in children.

“The nursery also noticed that she wasn’t chatting and wasn’t playing in the way that she, maybe, should have been,” said Ann Marie.

“Because she was always was with us before she went to school, we had got used to the repititive things that she did and the humming noises that she still makes which are known as ‘styming.’ It’s a comfort to children with Autism because they can’t predict what is going to happen and they need to have reptition and consistency.”

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Without these comforts, Alice, like many other children, can go into what Ann Marie and Chris describe as “melt downs;”something that happened to Alice throughout her first year of primary school before she was given a place in the Model’s ASD Unit.

“The fact that Alice wasn’t placed into the ASD Unit straight away was nothing to do with the school, we would like to stress that and we have had a great experience with school in comparison to some parent’s stories,” said Chris.

“Children must have a Statement of Educational Needs presented to the school before they can be given a place in an Autism Unit and so Alice had almost the whole first year of school in a mainstream class which was upsetting not only for her but of course for the other children.”

“When Chris and I talk about her meltdowns, we mean that she will just become totally unmanageable and this was happening every day at school.” noted Ann Marie.

“I would have to say that it was the worst, most stressful time of our lives and it could have been even worse if the school had not been as brilliant as it had been.

“Alice has sensory issues which mean that the noise of the class and even the school bell, could totally throw her off. We were convinced that she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. To say that life has improved since she has entered the unit is a total understatement.

“She is so content being at school for a full day and is having meals with the other children. Of course, she still has to have her own seat in the canteen,” laughed Ann Marie.

Alice, like a lot of Autistic children is incredibly bright and can memorise large chunks of information with just one viewing.

“We have noticed the leap in her work and reading now that she is in a quiet place with lots of help,” said Ann Marie. “She loves school now but she still has her bad days, however, the staff know exactly what to do and we have become a lot better at dealing with her too.

“When Alice would act out we used to get very stressed and try to stop her but know we realise that is the way that she copes with the world and so instead of getting stressed we just let her ride it out.

“We’ve also learned a lot from Alice’s story which we can use to help with getting Molly the help that she needs. She is different from Alice in that she is a sensory seeker whereas Alice is a sensory avoider. This means that while Alice stands back from things Molly is into everything.

“We hope now that we can get her diagnosis sorted before she starts school. There is some brilliant work being done in terms of Autism awareness but I believe that the next stage for all of us is autism acceptance. I hope that’s not too far away.”