Living with autism Case studies The Eales family When Gillian’s son James was diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum at four-years-old, she admits it was a relief. ‘Up until then I thought I had given up a good career to be a mum and I was absolutely rubbish at it,’ she reflects. ‘People thought he was being naughty. I think I was known as the shouty woman in the red coat. I was always having to shout loudly to stop James bolting into the road. ‘His brother Alastair suffered too. He was rarely invited to parties as people were scared I would bring James when I came to collect him.’ Today mum Gillian and dad Richard could not be more proud of James, 20, who is in his second year at the University of Hull studying computer science and living independently. He has come a long way since he was born two months prematurely, ‘I was told it would take him two years to catch up with his peers so I didn’t worry too much when he could only sit propped up on cushions on his first birthday and he didn’t walk until he was 20 months. He didn’t really talk much and it was noticed at the baby clinic that he was behaving differently to other two-year-olds and not interacting with the other children. ‘When James went to playgroup he didn’t fit in, he was like a mini hurricane. At nursery, he could reach the taps in the low basins for children – three times he flooded the place switching them all on because he was fascinated. It was recommended we get James tested for autism and he was diagnosed just before his fourth birthday with an autism spectrum disorder.’ By this time Gillian was trying to manage with both boys – James then four and Alastair just two, ‘It was difficult as James needed to be watched over. He had no sense of fear and he didn’t sleep through the night until he was seven-and-a-half. ‘We knew James could understand things, we just needed to know how we could communicate with him. We wanted to help James, we could see he was intelligent and capable so we wanted him to be stretched so he could reach his potential.’ The family visited Daisy Chain in its first two years when James was seven, ‘There was just the farmhouse then and some animals. The garden was brand new. We attended some workshops, the parent support group and a course and really benefited from that experience. ‘It helped us when James began to become more aware himself of being different, that his brain worked differently to his peers. He learned many social skills at Daisy Chain among other young people with the same condition. He went to the social clubs right through to adult club where he even mentored other members of the club who were having problems. ‘Daisy Chain helped give him the confidence to do a presentation to his peer group at school about autism.’ Now the family is delighted that James has settled into university, ‘We knew with the right support he could achieve his goals, explains Gillian. Once his place was confirmed at Hull, James attended an open day just for new students on the spectrum. He had first year accommodation in a sheltered flat with just one other student and a warden so he had support. This year he is sharing a flat with one other student but he doesn’t need warden support. It’s fantastic to see him doing something he loves and living independently. James says… Growing up with autism meant I always saw the world differently, causing me to not always understand the situations around me. It also meant that I was an easy target for bullying during primary school. Luckily, I had a great amount of support and when I started to learn about my diagnosis of autism near the end of Year 6, Daisy Chain started to become a large part of my life. Daisy Chain provided me with a course to learn about autism as a condition and methods I could use to help me deal with everyday situations and stresses. Not long after Daisy Chain established the teenage support group which allowed me to meet people my age who were also on the autistic spectrum without that additional stress about your condition as you knew everyone was in a similar situation. This teenage group also allowed me to do several different activities both on special occasions and during the week such as white-water rafting, going to visit the animals on the farm, cooking in the kitchen, doing arts and crafts, and playing games with friends. These group sessions were a great respite from studying at secondary school and sixth form. It also gave me the chance to talk to volunteers about any stresses and concerns I may have about work or personal situations and I will always be grateful for that support which continued to the adult group before I left and went to study at university in September 2016 where I am continuing to grow and do well.