'Ausome Parenting' Raising Autistic Children: Interview with an Allstate NI Parent

Published: July 6, 2022

Hear from Sabrina, as she gives us a fantastic insight into her experience raising her 2 amazing autistic children.

Mother raising two autistic children.

Would you like to tell us a little about yourself?

My name is Sabrina Lynch and I am a Senior Division leader in the ATSC (Allstate technology support centre), however the title I am most proud to hold, has to be 'mummy' or as my son would say 'mawwmeee.' My husband Stephen and I are both extremely proud parents of two amazing autistic children — Maddison (age 11) and Taylor (age 6).

What were some of the things you noticed in your children that prompted you to have them assessed?

We are all perfect, unique individuals and my two children are no different. In fact, they are quite opposites in many ways.

Maddison met all her developmental milestones growing up and was a very energetic, hyper, honest (very honest), and inquisitive child. In primary 1, her speech may have come across immature for her age and she liked to line up her dolls on windowsills and radiators. She liked specific foods and would prefer to wear particular items of clothing due to their texture. One of the main things that stood out for me which probably prompted the question of assessment was that she found it very difficult to express or regulate her emotions. She would be able to 'mask' at school and come home distressed, exhausted, and unable to calm down/regulate.

Taylor met all his developmental milestones up until 15 months. I noticed he wouldn't respond to his name or maintain eye contact. His speech progressed and regressed (I remember him saying bobo and baba and then nothing… for years). He was quite sensory to water and was like a magnet to any liquids.

When traveling in the car, he would take meltdowns when we stopped at a red light or junction. He loved and still loves cars and all transport vehicles. He also liked to line them up everywhere and became upset if any of them moved an inch. Taylor also found it difficult to express himself and regulate his emotions and found it difficult to cope with change — so much so that even simple trips to the shop, park or family members homes became overwhelming for him.

What gifts do your children have that you'd like to share?

Ironically what makes both my children special is exactually what makes them unique.

Maddison is the most kind, spirited and honest child. She is so confident, and her bubby personality can light up any room. She is so resilient and never gives up on a task, even though it may be challenging and has an amazing memory (not like her mummy)

Taylor although doesn't speak a lot — loves to count and can do so in Spanish and Irish. He has the best attention to detail I have ever seen and also the best sense of direction (again not like his mummy) I also think he will be an amazing athlete someday as he can run as fast as some of the Olympians — so watch this space.

How old were your children when they were diagnosed? What was your response to the diagnosis?

Both journeys to diagnosis have been long and challenging. Maddison was 10 years old when she was officially diagnosed as Autistic. Taylor was 5 years old when he was officially diagnosed as Autistic.

My response to an official diagnosis was simply relief for them in that a diagnosis should open doors to additional support for them and education and awareness for those around them.

What were some of the programs and support that you used to help them grow and develop?

I'd love to say that there were a lot of programs and support networks, however without an official diagnosis some of the programs and support networks were simply not available (just my own personal experience).

My husband and I did attend an 'incredible years' program funded by Barnardos which aimed to support and nourish children's wellbeing. The best part about the course was getting to meet other parents with similar challenges and they all had unique stories to share as well as genuine helpful tips, recommendations of support.

Autism NI was also a great support resource as they sign posted us to a number of resources and even provided recommended support packs for school to support our children's development.

How do you handle being their advocate?

I take pride in being my children's 'voice' and 'advocate.' I wouldn't change them for the world, but I'd love to change and educate the world to make it a better place for them.

Weather that be through multiple emails, phone calls, meetings with various educational and health departments, to simply building more awareness, education and understanding about Autism in our community and work.

What was the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?

Educating the educators i.e. school. Both my children attend mainstream school, and my son Taylor has a dedicated classroom assistant. Firstly, identifying and deciding which school to register Taylor with. He didn't communicate much verbally at the time and started primary 1 during the pandemic. I found that although the teachers had received training to support Autistic children, they struggled to understand and provide the relevant support required until we intervened and pointed them to relevant support resources that could help such as Autism Intervention services etc. Until an appropriate EIP plan was put in place and specialized 1-1 support was implemented there were numerous phone calls and meetings with the school.

How do you manage parenting autistic children while working full time?

Like any other full time working parent, family always comes first. However, managing the needs of two autistic children whilst working full time certainly has not been easy and can be quite the balancing act. Mainly because multiple support areas such as speech and language, Autism intervention services, school etc. will contact me with little to no notice during my working hours and appointments are also during working hours.

I have an amazing husband and we are quite the tag team when it comes to juggling work and family life. I am also blessed to work in a company that is very supportive and allows me flexibility when I need it to prioritize my children's needs, but also to prioritize my own mental and physical wellbeing.

What advice would you offer to parent's who have recently become a part of the ASD club?

I would say first and foremost please acknowledge that you are amazing parents and that 'Autism doesn't come with a manual. It comes with a parent who never gives up.'

Remember that parents also need support sometimes, so don't be afraid to talk to or reach out to various support networks such as Autism NI, a family member, close friend, work colleague, your manager or our internal Ausome ERG if you need to. We are all here to help and support one another and our Ausome parent support network is a great opportunity to have a virtual coffee and chat.