There’s no doubt mum Kelly Tearney has her hands full with three children under six and two of them on the autistic spectrum.

Son Mason, six, was diagnosed in 2014 with severe autism, Finley, four, is now undergoing diagnosis and baby Theo is just one.

It’s why she and husband Trevor have wholeheartedly supported the introduction of a pilot social activity day at Daisy Chain for families with higher needs.

"Daisy Chain is somewhere we can go where there is no reaction if Mason gets upset. As he has got a little older we have realised just how severe his autism is. He is completely non-verbal and a very complex child," Kelly explains.

"Mason can become very upset, he can’t handle his emotions and he can lash out. Finley has seen that and it is very difficult to come to terms with as a parent. Mason does react to the stresses of the day and if that happens in public then people will look and even stare. As a parent, you have to accept that.

"With Finley things can be just as difficult but different. He is the opposite of Mason, lively and it is not immediately obvious that he is on the spectrum but that can make things harder. His speech was delayed but he does speak, he can be socially inappropriate – he will be too friendly with people he doesn’t know. I have come to accept that people do look and sometimes stare when a child is autistic and very upset, there is nothing I can do to stop that – just help make people more aware.

"However, I am grateful we have somewhere like Daisy Chain to go to where I don’t have to endure people staring and the new activity days for higher needs are great for Mason and the whole family as he can’t cope with the Saturday activity days when there is more people about. The Sundays are perfect for us, more peaceful and that allows Finley to have more freedom."

It was when Mason was around 18 to 24 months, Kelly began to realise he was not as social as other children. "He wasn’t interested in playing with other children, he started to learn some words then he lost them and stopped speaking. He also regressed with his motor skills."

Husband Trevor, a teacher in secondary education, would come in from work and Mason would not react. He began to think Mason had autistic traits. "I had a google and worked out Mason met about 80% of the criteria," Kelly explains.

When Mason was at playgroup the early years support team was brought in to observe him and a paediatrician then he was eventually diagnosed. "You get a diagnosis of autism and you have no idea what to do or where to go. I was given a leaflet for Daisy Chain," Kelly recalls.

As well as the higher needs activity day, the family use the holiday club for three to seven-year-olds and Kelly attends the parent support group Links and the toddler group with Theo. "Links was the thing that really helped me the most – everyone had been there and done that so it was brilliant to hear from other parents. Also how wonderful and supportive the staff is, they have even gone the extra mile to make personal phone calls when they know we are having a difficult time. They go above and beyond and you feel they genuinely cared about."

Kelly used to work as a barber in Billingham but had to give up work to be a full-time mum. "No-one could really cope with Mason and Finley. I didn’t want to leave work but I had to. Links was a lifeline when I was often just on my own with two small children. I was given support to find out what I might be entitled to financially too which I wouldn’t have discovered without Daisy Chain."

Photo - Victoria Jayne Photography