My husband and I have been together for 10 years. We have two girls, Mia (6) and Annabelle (3). We used to live in Scotland and in 2015, we moved to Dubai.
I knew Mia was showing signs of developmental delay from a very early age. When comparing her to friends, I realised the typical milestones were not being met. I noticed small things like not being able to sit up until 10 months. I didn’t know enough about Autism to directly suspect it, but I knew she was delayed in everything. Mia had no interest in toys like other children and she never seemed happy. She finally managed to walk by 21 months, but her gait was incredibly wobbly and it was as if she was always in her own world. If I suspected anything, it was ADHD, not Autism.
Doctors and friends reassured me that some children are just delayed. Finally, when Mia was 2, I made an appointment with a GP to discuss how I was struggling to cope. I had finally accepted that I had been dealing with Post Natal Depression since she was born and I was pushing it under the carpet. Mia’s behaviour flagged concerns and the GP referred her for a developmental assessment.
Mia’s first assessment was quite lengthy and the consultant said she didn’t think Mia was showing any typical signs of Autism. I clung to this for a while and believed that if a specialist couldn’t see it, then it couldn’t be true. When Mia approached 3, the specialist’s opinion changed. I burst into tears. I felt the world and the future crashing down on me. I couldn’t see a future for our family at that stage.
Mia was diagnosed when we still lived in Scotland and getting a diagnosis was not difficult for us. When Mia was diagnosed, the health consultant very firmly told us that this was a lifetime diagnosis and that Mia would not grow out of it. In Scotland, Mia wasn’t severe enough to warrant help on the NHS or occupational or speech and language therapy. There was no private provision, so we couldn’t actually access help if we wanted to. In Dubai, it comes at a huge cost but we can access it if we want and there are a lot of excellent therapists working here.
I didn’t join any support groups while we were still in the UK. I did watch YouTube videos about children with Autism, though. My biggest fear at that point was what the future would be like for her. We moved to Dubai when Mia had just turned 5 and there I found a lovely support group of men and women – all parents of children with developmental difficulties and it was so nice to not feel alone.
The impact of Mia’s Autism is huge. My mum spends her life reading articles and sending me links. Annabelle, Mia’s little sister, learns a lot of behaviour from Mia so this can be really challenging at times. It is also so difficult to spread my time evenly and I do think Mia gets the majority of my time and worries. In the last 6 months, I have been making more of an effort to do more individual things with Annabelle like taking her to gymnastics or ballet.
I don’t like sending Mia to clubs or after school activities as I am scared that the other children or the instructor will pick on her. I think it’s so important for parents to teach their children about others, including children with Autism. The more other parents do this, the less I have to worry about Mia. Autism awareness and acceptance is growing in a great way, but still has far to go.
I have found that I have always cared of what other people think of me and this is not a good trait when raising a child with Autism. The looks, the comments and the judgements I have received from strangers have been the hardest part for me while on this journey. There are times where I find it really tough being out in public with Mia; she has good and bad days, and on a really difficult day this will draw more attention to us.
Most people that get to know Mia, adore her. She seems to form very strong bonds with people which is lovely. She is just a fun-loving child who has an Autism diagnosis. Mia is very sensory and reacts more than most children to sounds, smells and touch. She definitely benefits more from occupational therapy and we also do things with her at home. Treatment is very expensive and so is the cost of schooling – so we can’t really afford additional therapy for her.
We do normal activities with Mia like taking her swimming, to the beach, to soft play, taking her to Bounce and to friends’ houses. She helps me with shopping, cooking and cleaning and her current dream job is to be a chef!
Since diagnosis, Mia hasn’t changed because of being diagnosed. Essentially, it is just a word. She has grown up a lot, though. I have spoken to a few parents who are going through the diagnosis stage and I understand their feelings and what they are going through. Other people need to try and understand what they are feeling, too. Understand that they will go through a definite grieving period, of the loss of the child they could have had. It’s normal to feel this way, and once the period has passed, move forward and enjoy your child – and especially enjoy the quirky things!
I ask myself nearly daily what Mia’s future will be like. My husband is very positive and upbeat about it and I am probably on the other end. He believes she will grow up, get married and have a job and live a normal life. Who knows? Many children with Autism have these things, so for Mia, there is every chance.
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