When Sian Conway looks back over the years as her daughter Tara grew up with Asperger’s, she hardly believedshe would be sending her off to University.
But that is just what she has accomplished as Tara, 18, has started a psychology degree at York St John University.
‘It’s amazing and I am very proud of her, the whole family is proud of her. It was a very anxious time getting her ready to go and wondering how she would manage, especially living in a flat within halls with people she didn’t know.
‘The university ran an early start for people with extra needs so they could settle in a couple of days before everyone arrived and that really helped. It’s been fantastic to get her to this point, studying a degree away from home.’
Tara was two when mum Sian knew there was something different about her, she says, ‘At mother and toddler group, she was like a whirlwind, she would ignore me. She would cut clothes and curtains, bizarre behaviour. I thought it was the terrible twos. Then nursery would not take her for more than hour. It was her reception teacher that first said she thought she could be on the autistic spectrum.’
Despite further referrals but because Tara’s academic progress was not impaired, she was not initially diagnosed with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. ‘Tara had no friends at primary school. I would cry every night that she was in that playground on her own,’ Sian admits.
The situation got worse when Tara went to secondary school, ‘She was constantly being put in isolation because they thought she was a naughty child. Eventually we managed to get her Asperger’s diagnosis and change her school. Then she began to flourish, they understood her and she was able to access the full academic curriculum.’
Despite some hiccups in college, Tara got through her studies and is now enjoying her higher education course. She travels back home to Billingham regularly and independently but Sian says, ‘I can tell she is ready to return to university after the weekend. We are so proud that she has managed to achieve all this.’
Sian and husband Stephen have two other children – Morgan, 15, and Shannon, 13 and they have used Daisy Chain for over six years joining Saturday and holiday activity days as well the Sibz Club and Links parent support group. ‘It was amazing knowing we were not on our own, Sian explains.
‘As we would approach the farm and drive over the level crossing, we would feel a weight lifting and we were where we belonged, everyone was in the same boat, no-one judged you, they understood. Daisy Chain had a massive impact on me and the rest of the family, not just Tara,’ Sian says
‘Over the years we have been pushed to our limits. It’s hard for people who don’t come into contact with autism to understand what families go through, the meltdowns, the strategies you need as parents to still set boundaries and consequences to encourage positive behaviour. Daisy Chain has been there for us and we are so proud of what Tara has achieved.’