Girls Grow Up…

…so let’s talk about girl stuff.

Let’s start with the obvious – little girls grow up to be big girls!  What is not so obvious though is how to support our girls on the spectrum as they approach and hit puberty.

Autistic girls may need more support and preparation for all the changes that come with growing up.   Not only is change hard but the hormones raging around can manifest in different ways, particularly behaviourally.  This can be very confusing and unsettling so an increase in anxiety around puberty is not uncommon.  Anecdotally girls on the spectrum are more likely to reach puberty at a younger age too, so being prepared is key.

You know your daughter best so you will know what approach will work best for her, but generally I’d say making the information available to her in a calm, neutral way is important so that surprises don’t happen. I think a lack of preparation is generally more traumatic than any potential anxiety in knowing about what is to come.   I also suggest non ambiguous language when discussing anything connected to puberty.  Use factual words like ‘period’ rather than euphemisms or slang like ‘Aunt flow’.

If you are at a loss and worried about how to support your daughter as she approaches puberty here are a few ideas:

Books

Remember our girls usually like facts so this is why I suggest books as a starting point.   I don’t think you can ever be too young to start having knowledge, in age (or cognitive) appropriate ways, about what growing up will entail for you and your body.  That is why I believe having books around that your daughter can dip in and out of at her own pace is important.  The visual, and demand free aspect of looking at a book is often easier than the demands and intense emotions (eg embarrassment, confusion) associated with a personal chat with you.

There are a huge number of books out there to help, suited to all ages, so search around.  Your local library will also have books like;

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Whats-Happening-Girls-Facts-Life/dp/0746069952/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1519643404&sr=8-1&keywords=what+is+happening+to+me

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Girls-About-Periods-Growing-Up-Stuff/dp/0340878282/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_14_img_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=1ZX4S7GFA5X1ZNK1Y76Z

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hair-Funny-Places-Babette-Cole/dp/0099266261/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1519643732&sr=1-3&keywords=hair+in+funny+places

A book I recommend specifically aimed at girls on the spectrum is;

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Whats-Happening-Ellie-conditions-Sexuality/dp/1849055262

Underwear

As girls’ bodies change, the need for different sorts of underwear can bring its own challenge.  The feeling of a bra can be insufferable for sensory sensitive people.

Seam free underwear is widely available now and starting with vests, then crop tops/sports bras may help a transition to bras. Build up wearing them for twenty minutes initially, or only overnight, or only during sports, and work her way up to longer.

Remember though that many adults don’t wear bras so ‘pick your battles’.

If her breasts are small and it causes more aggro to try and wear one, is it worth fighting over?    As her breasts become larger and/or she takes part in sporting activities it may be more important to find an option that works for her.  Again be led by her, and seam free may be a good starting place.

Most supermarkets and many high street clothing stores stock a range of seam free/seamless underwear and it is widely available on line too.

Examples are;

http://www.marksandspencer.com/seamfree-matching-items/p/ds04540a74fa838173c23ea97e7dba99b5?prevPage=plp

and I know a few who would particularly like this zebra print from Marks and Spencer😊

https://www.peacocks.co.uk/girls-2pk-seam-free-brief-blk-bl.html

http://www.smartknitkids.com/Products/undies.html

https://www.sensorysmart.co.uk/

Sanitary Products

The biggest change is of course when periods start.

Everyone reacts differently but on the whole, forewarned is forearmed.

The sight of blood can evoke an extreme stress reaction but preparation can ease the trauma.  Others will take it entirely in their stride.  Either way she will take her lead from you, so calm positivity rather than panic, pity or dread is the way forward!

Having rehearsals with pads is a good idea to get her used to the feeling.  Practice showing exactly how to put a pad in her pants. Details like when, how, why, how often and what exactly to do are important.  Clear conversation about how to keep clean is also important.

You can’t let any embarrassment cloud any instructions.

Being open regards to your own periods, if relevant, is also helpful.

Having relevant products in the house from early on is important too to get her used to seeing them, handling them and having them.

‘Sanpro’ companies do specific teen ranges and the little starter pack from Lil-lets is the ideal introduction;

https://www.lil-lets.co.uk/products/teen-range?gclid=cjwkcaia_c7ubrajeiwapczi8f3dafajdezrh9ynxu5hzgq0lo41ane3kplopgbr1njo3c2h6o8g3boc6zcqavd_bwe

Many sensory sensitive girls don’t tolerate disposable pads but there are alternatives available to try like reusable pads (and depending on age and flow; cups and period knickers).

There are a huge number of companies out there with their own variation so look for what matters to you, be it fabric/pattern/environment/supporting a small producer etc.

Some suggestions are;

https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/551005602/interlabial-pads-random-set-of-5petal?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=lorraine%20makes&ref=sr_gallery-1-1

http://www.cheekywipes.com/cloth-sanitary-pads-kits.html

https://www.babipur.co.uk/reusable-menstrual-cups-pads.html

https://www.earthwisegirls.co.uk/reusable-sanitary-towels-c-1.html

http://www.honouryourflow.co.uk/

http://www.boobalou.co.uk/information-2/information-advice/cloth-menstrual-pads/

http://luxurymoon.co.uk/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=3

https://wuka.co.uk/

(*disclaimer – these are not recommendations as I do not have first-hand experience of these products)

There are also websites/YouTube channels dedicated to periods and becoming a teen;

http://www.becomingateen.co.uk/home

https://www.youtube.com/user/beinggirl

https://tampax.co.uk/en-gb/tampax-articles/my-first-period?gclid=CjwKCAiA_c7UBRAjEiwApCZi8co7Li25icBYuqFd0zzW3qE6oXj–bxVYEhVbIWcd1ma3yZ6iK3U3xoCMnoQAvD_BwE

Calendar

Encourage tracking from day one.  Teach her to log her period days in a diary/calendar so she can identify a pattern.  This will help manage any potential anxiety especially once a pattern presents itself in terms of regularity.

A diary will suffice but there are apps out there designed for the purpose.  Word of warning – just check they are age appropriate content wise before setting her loose on one.

 

Finally, remember that she is still your little girl even though she is turning into a big girl and, this is the harder bit, remember her hormonal outbursts are as much a cry for help as her new-born mewling was not that long ago!

 

Image features;

Marks and Spencer underwear http://www.marksandspencer.com/seamfree-matching-items/p/ds04540a74fa838173c23ea97e7dba99b5?prevPage=plp

Lil-lets teen range https://www.lil-lets.co.uk/products/teen-range?gclid=cjwkcaia_c7ubrajeiwapczi8f3dafajdezrh9ynxu5hzgq0lo41ane3kplopgbr1njo3c2h6o8g3boc6zcqavd_bwe

What’s Happening to Ellie Book https://www.amazon.co.uk/Whats-Happening-Ellie-conditions-Sexuality/dp/1849055262

 

***I have not been paid to promote or endorse any products mentioned in this article.

 

 

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The Importance of a Diagnosis

“The lack of a diagnosis, or label, gives rise to such confusion and uncertainty that the impact on mental health is well documented.  One could argue therefore that a label or diagnosis isn’t just a privilege but a necessity.”

I’ve been meaning to write a post about this since I started this blog.  I have so much to say that I let myself get distracted to the point of saying nothing.  I couldn’t decide how to frame it, contain it and get it all across.  Today I have decided just to start and let it spill onto the page.

There seems to be some confusion amongst some people we come into contact with during our journey.  Mainly professionals or workers on the periphery, to be honest, rather than anyone intensely associated with our journey, but there is this faction of people who think a diagnosis is a ‘label’. *add negative connotation and sarcastic tone of voice for dramatic effect!

These are some of my thoughts about this.

What is so wrong with labels?  We are all labelled and categorised throughout life.

Some examples that I am or have been labelled with are; First and most obviously my name but also; Mother, daughter, wife, sister, chef, writer, blogger, carer, painter, reader, foodie, friend, crohn’s patient, driver, shopper, customer, consumer, swimmer, ‘A’ grade student, winner, loser, runner up, interviewer, interviewee, applicant… you get my gist.

What these labels all have in common is they are descriptions of me.  Not necessarily me in my entirety but in the context of the use of the ‘label’ the relevant part of me in that moment.  None of them devalue any of the others. I remain all of me which ever description you use.

So when it comes to a diagnosis of Autism why do some people suddenly assume it’s a bad thing?

As Carly Jones so eloquently stated “A diagnosis is an absolute privilege…to have the correct label is amazing.  All these differences are not deficits”.

A diagnosis is a privilege – one regularly hears people reporting relief at finally having an answer to something after a period of ‘not knowing’, whether it is medical, mental, emotional or academic.  The certainty of a name, a definite – a label, is unquantifiable.

The lack of a diagnosis, or label, gives rise to such confusion and uncertainty that the impact on mental health is well documented.  One could argue therefore that a label or diagnosis isn’t just a privilege but a necessity.

The correct label empowers someone to accurately describe themselves.  It gives them a ‘club’ to belong to and answers the basic human need to ‘belong’.  It gives them [part of] their identity.  Self-Identity is critical to self-acceptance and mental well-being.

It also gives validation to their experiences.  Acknowledging what they have described and their account of their life.  It illustrates that they are seen, heard and believed.  It is validating and it is accepting of their true self.  It is empowering.

It provides useful shorthand to describe something to others.  It acts as an access key to supports and assistance.

It also prevents the opportunity for mislabelling.

Have you ever been wrongly labelled?  The injustice and extreme frustration of being falsely labelled can have devastating consequences.  Imagine being given the wrong medicine because of the wrong medical diagnosis.  Imagine being falsely accused of something you haven’t done or even falsely imprisoned.

I wonder if the people who think labels aren’t important have never been mislabelled?  Maybe you only feel the power of a label when you have been mislabelled or remain unlabelled.  In other words lacking the one you need, the one you deserve, the right one.

I will always fight for a diagnosis for my girls.  Whether they are diagnosed or not, they are who they are.  Their autism doesn’t disappear just because a doctor hasn’t called it that yet.  I believe getting a diagnosis is acknowledging their true identity and giving their experience a name.  In diagnosing, or as some would say, ‘labelling’ them, I am showing them how much I love them for who they are.  That is the key for their future, their self-acceptance and ultimately their self-worth.

Is Understanding SPD the key to helping someone experiencing a meltdown/shutdown?

Please enjoy my article published in emagazine Crixeo for October which is Sensory Processing Disorder Awareness Month.

https://www.crixeo.com/sensory-processing-disorder-autism/

 

 

Why Funding Matters

As regular followers know Tiny Miss H suffers from hypermobility and hypotonia.  In real terms what this means is she isn’t as physically competent as her peers.

Technically, she has now incredibly reached her major milestones (after years of intense therapy) but she is neither confident nor consistent with her abilities and as a result mainstream activities are often not suitable for her.

We work hard on her physio exercises – we have equipment in the playroom and incorporate therapy into her play all the time.  We work hard, make it fun and get results but it doesn’t compare to being out and about taking part, socialising and having the variety of classes that most children access.  So we also have a blend of activities outside the home that we attend, to support her development as well as give her some fun.

She takes part in a mainstream ballet class and this works well.  At this age it’s fine because she is in a class with children younger than her who are at the same level.  As she grows older we will see whether the difference in her ability and stamina impact on her ability to keep up and attain the levels alongside her peers as they progress.

She also takes part in mainstream gymnastics – the exercises are adapted to suit her and she takes breaks in between to fully rest so she is not overdoing it.  Again there is a range of abilities and ages so at the moment she is not too conspicuous in her differences to the other children.  The classes are very taxing for her, loud, crowded, fast-paced and very hard for her.

However she is beginning to notice her differences and comment on them.  They are making her sad.  This obviously impacts on her self-esteem and confidence which is already very shaky.

The teachers worked so hard with her to achieve an assisted forward roll in class so she could get her first certificate.  She hasn’t been able to do a forward roll since so I think it’s a grey area!  The boost to her esteem of being awarded that certificate far outweighs the importance of whether she actually qualifies for it!  I think its lenience rather than cheating and I’m OK with that.  It works for entry level at age five.  But as she gets older and her peers progress at a rate unmatched by Tiny – what will happen to her self-esteem?  That’s why boosting it now is so important and I am so grateful to the teachers for their generosity.

Tiny has also been attending a motor co-ordination class which she was referred to by the physiotherapist. It is targeted for children with additional support needs and differing abilities.  She loves it.  She always goes in enthusiastically and works her hardest.  She’s relaxed and herself.  The activities vary each week and she can see her own progress.  It’s a smaller class than any mainstream classes and as a result Tiny gets the individual, personalised help she needs to complete each activity.  She also gets time to take things at her own pace.  And she is the same as all the other children who are importantly also her age.  She recognises their struggles in her own and she recognises their achievements as much as her own.  She’s with her tribe, she belongs. It’s a lovely atmosphere with kind, supportive staff who have been specially trained and who obviously care about all the children.

This is currently the only input we get from physiotherapy.  I manage her therapy at home and to be honest am not qualified to know how to progress each exercise or to adapt to target new areas safely.  To be quite frank I’m making it up as I go along.  I’ve learned loads from watching the professionals and implement it successfully at home but that is no substitute for the years of training and qualifications the experts have.  I’m not enough for my daughter to keep progressing.

Sadly until she falls behind significantly we won’t get outside help.  There just isn’t the funding.  She’s not ‘disabled enough’ I’ve been told.   I’ve shot myself in the foot, because I’ve done so much to help her she is now too able to get any help, yet she still needs help… we slip through the net.  We are in effect punished for our hard work and proactive early intervention.  The lack of external recognition for her hard work is disappointing. Her persistence at her therapy is to be applauded and she deserves recognition for her incredible achievements.  For me fire-fighting after we have hit rock bottom isn’t an option.  My whole philosophy of parenting is that of ‘early intervention is key’.  After she was diagnosed with ‘never likely being able to walk’, with the input and support we used to get we (I) taught her to walk – that didn’t come from nowhere.  Without the constant input she will fall behind and cease to thrive.  So there is no let up and I’m happy for that but I need support, I need help and I need guidance.

So I was desperately sad to find out today that the motor co-ordination programme is stopping due to lack of funding with immediate effect.  Tiny cried when she found out.  So did I.

It is not just about her physical development, it is about her emotional development and her mental health.  It’s about so much more than being able to stand on one leg with her eyes shut, it’s about being able to stand on her own two feet amongst her peers.  It’s about self-worth and it’s about giving these little people an equal chance at achieving their potential.

If you are in a decision making position with regard to funding of any sort please understand the full consequences of your tough decisions.  It really matters.

“A Very Bad Day”

“It’s been a very bad day Mummy” was the phrase repeated continually yesterday evening after I collected Little Miss H from school.

Standing in the playground I knew it had been.  I could tell by her gait, by her facial expression, by the purple bags under her eyes against her too pale skin, by the sadness of her aura.  As she slowly walked towards me, scuffing her boots along the salted concrete of the playground, her eyes downcast, her hand up to her mouth chewing her sleeve and her water bottle hanging forlornly from her other hand, I knew we were in for a tricky evening.

I suppressed the urge to say “stop scuffing your boots” (do you know the damage the salt does to the leather?), or “stop chewing your sleeve” and instead just held my arms open for her.  She doesn’t usually like public displays of affection especially at school (“It’s against the rules to hug and kiss at school”) but I could see she needed some overt love.

She didn’t come into my arms for a cuddle but she was demure and allowed me to touch her arm.

Her water bottle had been broken that day and she was frightened she’d be in trouble.  Mostly though she was just sad.  Disproportionately heartbroken actually.  You see change is hard for her.  Saying good bye to things is really hard.  Her stuff is her portable safe space that she attaches so much love and importance to, it keeps her grounded so to have a piece of it broken is like someone throwing a brick through your window.  It is devastating for her.

Of course I reassured her that the broken water bottle could be replaced.  [No it won’t be the same one, it’ll be a new one but you can choose it.  No I can’t fix the old one.  Yes I know X person gave it to you for your birthday and yes I know it’s the fourth one that’s broken in however long. Yes I know it matched your pencil case and yes I know it was a ‘Frozen’ one].

With an unexpected burst of energy she was suddenly confrontational.  These shifts come out of the blue.

We were due to take Tiny Miss H to Rainbows and this was suddenly proving too much for her.

She was shouting at me that she didn’t want to take her to “stupid rainbows” and it wasn’t “fair”, that she’d “be bored” and why should she have to go with us just because Tiny had an activity…. And so it went on.  The real issue is she wanted her safe space, she wanted to hunker down after an exhausting day.

The challenge is enabling Tiny to maintain an ‘ordinary’ life, which includes after school activities, at the same time as supporting Little’s needs.  If anyone has the answer on how to get the balance right please let me know.

There isn’t an option, she is eight years old, she was coming with us, so with my arm wrapped tightly around her shoulders we walked towards the car.  The deep pressure, once she’s ready to let me touch her, is very reassuring for her and being hypo-sensitive she needs a very tight squeeze. So it was that I held her as firmly as I could with one arm whilst holding Tiny’s hand with my other hand and walking clumsily as if in a sort of three legged race, bags bashing against my shins, all of out of sync, we somehow managed to get to the car!

That’s when she said it “it’s been a very bad day mummy”

Chats in the car are usually the most successful; no expected eye contact, the crowd and melee of the playground has dispersed and we are away from the source of stress.

It turned out that she had been “mobbed” and crowded around at lunchtime in the playground and she didn’t have the ability to extract herself.  She didn’t know what to do, what to say, who to go to for help.  So stuck in the mob, she drowned.  She’s carried that with her all afternoon.

The physical toll it had taken on her was visible to see.  She was anxious, stressed and absolutely exhausted.

This on top of the broken water bottle made it “a very bad day”.

Within the 7 minute journey home she had told me it was “a very bad day” about twelve times.

This is echolalia, repeating herself is a form of stimming.  It helps her cope with anxiety.

When she has bad days we have a ritual which helps her get from the car to the house and that is a “Mummy squeeze” once in the kitchen – a prolonged super tight cuddle.  It physically hurts me she is so strong, but it is what she needs so squeeze away we do.  I feel like a tube of toothpaste being squeezed, I can barely breathe, she feels like I’m lightly holding her yet I’m using as much force as I can muster!  “It was a very bad day” she mumbles into my chest.

This helps her calm and from there I was able to persuade her that whilst Tiny was at her Rainbow’s Pyjama party we would go and choose her a new water bottle.

Meanwhile she’d also clocked the box of books in the hallway that we inherited a while back from cousins and I’d been storing in the garage.  Luckily they proved a timely distraction!  “It was a very bad day mummy” she muttered to the books as she rifled through the box.

We successfully deposited Tiny at her pyjama party but with all the distraction I had forgotten her cuddly toy and blanket…cue a mini tantrum from Tiny!

Finally extricating myself from the clutches of the Tiny tirade – I escape outside frazzled and on tenterhooks to persuade Little to walk with me to the butchers before going on to buy her bottle.  Reluctant to walk anywhere normally I was braced for the fall out but in response all I got was “It was a really bad day Mummy”.  She was so well behaved in the butcher’s that they gave her a fudge.  She decided it had been worth walking!  “Still a bad day?” with an eyebrow raised, “Mmm” she shrugged, “it’s getting better”.

h2au-fudge

On to the supermarket to buy her bottle, I managed to persuade her to make a practical and useful choice that would withstand at least some playground action without too much argument.  We’d been playful and chatty walking round the supermarket.  Things had turned around.  I was still on edge keeping it light, keeping her happy.  Then we bumped into Tiny’s class teacher who stopped to chat.  The transformation from playful and chatty was marked.  Little Miss went quiet and couldn’t make eye contact.  Out of the context of school, her confidence had melted away and her anxiety kicked in.  To a stranger this would appear as ‘shyness’ but it’s different.

Selective mutism is an extreme social anxiety that results in an inability to speak.  It is involuntary and more than simple shyness.  I’m proud though as she did manage to squeak something to me as the teacher was walking away.  Then straight back to being chatty with me once we were safely alone again.

At the till, the cashier told us the amount and Little Miss repeated it in various voices, over and over and over again.  Anxiety making her repeat the words.  Again, her echolalia.  The opposite if you like from selective mutism.  Still anxiety driven and not necessarily ‘appropriate interaction’.  I could see the anxiety ramping up so a quick distraction technique was needed.  Her forte is maths so I made it her job to tell me how much I still owed each time I produced a coin and that busied her brain but in between each amount she still repeated the total amount in a strange voice.  The cashier was so patient, smiling and friendly and put absolutely no pressure on her, instead only complimenting her on the maths.  The fact there was no queue and no one else around at that moment helped all of us enormously.  I didn’t feel stressed or self-conscious, and Little Miss just did her thing.

h2au-supermarket-sm-to-echolalia

Once back in the car she asked for water and I didn’t have any.  I, almost flippantly, suggested she run back in to buy some.  My genuine intention was to buy time whilst I was finishing putting something away in my bag before going back in myself but to my utter astonishment she said “OK”!

So…We talked about what she would do, where she would go, how to choose what she wanted, where she would pay.  We talked about the change she’d wait for, the route back to the car and the fact I would not move from the spot I was in.  We land marked where I had parked for her to reference it.  It was a HUGE amount of information we covered.

She hesitated. She took the coin.  She ran.  She went round the corner…… I watched and watched and watched, heart hammering and holding my breath until finally there she was running back with a bottle of water in her hand, a smile on her beautiful face, pride in her eyes and flushed cheeks to show for it.

She had gone round the corner to the door of the shop, walked in, turned right to the fridge, chosen still water (not flavoured, not fizzy, just plain , it’s all she drinks), she stood in the queue with two people in front of her and waited calmly (“feeling very nervous mummy” she told me), and when it was her turn the same lady recognised her and helped her through, I’m still not clear whether she actually spoke, but she waited for her change, and ran back to the door, turned left, round the corner and sprinted back to the car “7 spaces down” she told me.  Climbed in out of breath, heart hammering (or was that mine?), asked me to open her water and drank it.  “I’m so proud of you darling” I told her,  “I’m really proud of myself” she said.

SHE DID IT.  I smiled with tears streaming down my face as we drove to collect Tiny.

“It was a very bad day mummy” she told me at bedtime, “but it ended well” we said in unison.

Anxiety vs Avoidance – As a parent how do I know I’ve got the balance right?

The burning question I always have as a mum is how do I know I’ve got it right?  How do I know my decision is the right one?

My daughter’s autism manifests in many ways but one of the main ways is anxiety.  She has enormous trouble decoding the world, processing the information and coping with change.

She can’t explain herself and self advocate when she is experiencing stress and it’s always with hindsight that the facts come out.  While she is experiencing stress she is in survival mode and doesn’t even recognise she is stressed until the stress stops.

This goes some way to explain how she holds it together at school and appears ‘fine’ and sometimes appears better than fine, she’ll be laughing and engaging but still comes home to fall apart.

This week has been so hard for her with staff illness and absence meaning unexpected substitute teachers.  Her week is not going to plan, it’s unfamiliar and the level of stress it causes impacts on everything.  She came home from school last night subdued and tense.  She was pale and clammy and being winter I suspected a bug, I took her temperature and it was normal.  She was not unwell, she is just exhausted and drained from the emotional toll of all the changes.  The evening was erratic, she was vacillating between tearful and angry, she was refusing school the next day and  refused to go to ballet that evening.

I decided to allow her not to go to ballet this time.  I usually push her outside of her comfort zones and insist she sticks to her commitments.  It was her choice to take up ballet and she’s really good at it, she has just achieved a high merit in her exam and was really (rightly) proud of herself. This term every week she’s tried to get out of going to class and I’ve not caved once.  It’s exhausting always battling and cajoling but it’s the right thing to do and furthermore we’ve paid for it, so she’s going!  She can never explain why she doesn’t want to go and I can’t get to the bottom of it so, commit she must.

After all the school changes this week however I felt that rather than fight that battle I’d keep her home and let her rest and hopefully increase the chance of her managing school the next day.

All evening her stomach was churning with anxiety about the following day at school.  A totally new teacher she has never met is taking them and this is all too new.  There are too many unknowns that haven’t been planned, prepared and practised.  It’s overwhelming for her.

She woke up this morning claiming illness.  It’s really avoidance.

My main aim is to get her to

  1. Correctly identify what she is feeling
  2. Correctly describe/label what she is feeling/experiencing

We have spent a lot of time talking about ‘the little boy who cried wolf’ over the years, we’ve read the book more times than I can count.  On an academic level she understands the concept but she is not equipped to manage putting it into practice.  So every time she experiences anxiety she claims illness.

She is eight years old.  Now is my time to teach her to recognise what her body is telling her.  To teach her how to self advocate for that.  To teach her that she will be believed when she says she is  feeling anxious and that it’s nothing to be ‘embarrassed’ about [her words].  It’s our chance to prove to her that she will be respected for the recognising her feelings and limits.  It’s our chance to nurture her, to build her into a strong person who can identify and manage her body’s signals.

We also have to be careful not to be manipulated every time she wants to get out of doing something for any reason other than her crippling anxiety.  She’s very bright, she’d make the connection and employ the tactic if she felt it would work.

So, as a mum, how do I know when to push her and when to nurture her?

Mental ill health in young people is on the rise.  The amount of pressure our children are under is at an all-time high and is in some cases damaging their psyches.  The amount of help available is minimal as the NHS mental health service is at crisis point.  Prevention is better than cure, especially when ‘cure’ relies on patchy service availability.

Autistic girls are a particularly vulnerable group and I’m very conscious of that.

Am I harming her or helping her by pushing her out of her comfort zone, by making her go to school?

What is the right answer?

I’m so proud of her, that today, with my and the school’s help she managed to go in.  I managed to tread the fine line of ‘coaxing without demanding’ well enough to get her to school and then with their help through the door, they are managing her transition into and through this tricky day.

Are they doing it right? None of us truly know.  Are they doing their best? Absolutely.

Am I worried that my daughter is suppressing her anxiety to meet expectations? Yes, very.

Do I feel conflicted about this? Yes, incredibly so.

Suppressing her anxiety is different from coping with it.  Suppressing it is quashing it, ignoring it and denying it which leaves it simmering deep down causing damage and delayed presentation.  Coping means addressing it, solving it, learning from it and leaving it behind.  It’s a fine line to find the balance.  How do I know I’m getting it right?