It's Friday night and it is a rare occasion.. .none of the teenagers are going out and there are no 'spare' ones either. The house is filled with laughter and all of us are on our hands and knees on the floor, giggling hysterically. The reason? We are sniffing around to see where the smell of poo is coming from! After each one of us has entered the 'orange' room (Ben insists on colour coding everything) and have baulked at the smell that greets us, we decide to go on a hunt to find the offending culprit. In all seriousness we set about our task, each one of us determined to beat the other and find the source ofthe foul smell first. After a minute or so of sniffing, we all suddenly stop, look at each other on all fours, noses to the ground, and collapse into fits of laughter. One thing about the Jackson household.. .life is never boring!
Don't get me wrong. Life is hard and I get tired, depressed and bored despite having so much to do, but all in all if I am asked to describe my life then 'fun' is definitely the right word. How many people are lucky enough to be an integral part of so many personalities, so many perspectives and so many differences? How many people get treated to a hilarious rendition of'Slim Shady' or get to watch such an entertaining version of the 'moonwalk' at 3am? I truly am blessed.
When I meet people for the first time I often silently mouth to myself their next few sentences. I am invariably right. Those of you with large families will, I am sure, be able to tell me the next few sentences without even looking. "Goodness, how do you cope?" This is usually followed by questions about how I stay so slim when I have had seven children, closely followed by a 'joke' about whether or not I had a television or if I have found out what causes it yet. In fact if anyone is thinking those exact same thoughts now, I will get my answers over and done with: Yes I do know what causes it. Yes I did have a television. If you met Joe and Ben you would know exactly why I stay so slim, and I cope, not only because I have no choice in the matter, but mostly because we have fun. It may be different to the 'norm' but most definitely just as much, if not more, fun. There. That gets the formalities out of the way!
When I was asked to write a book about life in the Jackson household, my first response was to question why on earth anyone would be interested in us.. .after all we are just an ordinary family-well to us at least! On reflection however I stopped to consider how things must look from the outside. Most of the time I am too wrapped up in the hilarity of dealing with such a chaotic blend of ages and abilities to even contemplate how we seem to others, but occasionally I do sit back and think what crazy conversations go on between the children and notice that mayhem really is an accepted part of this multicoloured household.
With three girls and four boys ranging from the ages of six to nineteen, life is bound to be rather hectic. However in our house we have the added complication of the fact that each one of the boys has a different shade of an autistic spectrum 'disorder' (I prefer to call them differences). I therefore decided that maybe by writing about life in the Jackson household, I can not only advise parents and carers and let them know, at the least, that they are not alone, but I can also give insight to professionals and extended family members and let them realize that families such as mine may not be quite the same as the 'norm', but are no less 'normal' than any other household...merely different. By opening up our lives in the pages of this book, I hope to carry on Luke's message that 'different is cool'.
I have aimed to write in such a way that you will be able to dip into the book and gain advice that is relevant to your child, family and particular situation - a few mini books in one I guess!
As I actually sat down to write and think about how I could help other parents, my mind was a whirlpool of thoughts about each of the children, their combination of 'disorders', different therapies and interventions, amusing anecdotes and words of encouragement. However there is no smooth and flowing way of writing about such a hotchpotch of ages, abilities and 'disorders'...life in the Jackson household just doesn't flow smoothly - rather it hurtles along like waters rushing for the rapids. Life swirls and spins in a stream of chaos before silently moving on to tumble down the next waterfall. Therefore if this book seems disjointed at times and jumps from one topic to another then please bear with me. Those of you with a multicoloured household will know that that is how life is (and those of you who have somewhat calmer lives - please read on and see how the other half lives!).
As I sit, listen and give advice whilst one ofthe girls goes through a teenage crisis, the moment is invariably interrupted by pandemonium when either Joe or Ben hurtles past and demands attention. As I prepare for a dignified (OK - so rather unrealistic!) family Sunday dinner, it soon loses its dignity and degenerates into a moment of mayhem as one of the dyspraxic boys leans across and knocks food all over the floor. The 'domino effect' extends into every area of life when there is more than one child around and in a multicoloured household of such different personalities and needs, this is even greater.
Learning about autism and all its related 'conditions' is an essential part of the life of any parent, carer, teacher or professional dealing with someone with autism and if I can help in any small way towards making the life of either the child, parent or carer any easier I will be pleased. If I can give an insight to professionals and sceptical family members and make them understand that to have a label such as Asperger Syndrome, AD/HD, autism, dyspraxia or indeed any other colour of the autistic spectrum is not to carry a stigma but merely to provide an insight into the way someone's mind works, I will be ecstatic. In an ideal world, difference will be readily accepted in schools, in the workforce and by professionals in all fields. In an ideal world the education authorities, health professionals and social services will all work together with parents in an attempt to provide support for our unique children and their families. Until then all of us can only work hard to raise happy, healthy children whilst raising awareness at the same time.
For those of you who are parents of a child anywhere on the autistic spectrum, wherever you are on your colourful journey, I truly hope that by opening up my family life I may help you to realize that whilst parenting a child with such differences can often be lonely and disheartening, it can also be rewarding, worthwhile and highly entertaining. I hope that this book may bring you inspiration and provide comfort in the fact that I am not Superwoman - if I can do it - so too can you! Never lose sight of the fact that you are the professional when it comes to your child. You know your children and their needs better than anyone.
If there are any professionals reading this, then first can I thank you for doing so. I pray that reading life from a parent's perspective may help you to realize that children with any autistic spectrum 'difference' can still lead fulfilling and joyful lives and our struggle to achieve this is why we, as parents, often seem to be pains in the butts! We are aware of budgets and your need to prioritize; we are aware of your desire to err on the side of caution or leave things to see how they pan out before you give a final diagnosis. For us parents and for our children however, every day is precious. Every day matters. Each day at school without the right support creates an added trauma not only to the child but to the whole family. Each day without a diagnosis when it is needed in order to access support, is a day in which parents are left wondering and worrying. As professionals, you can help our children most by listening to us as parents, by taking us seriously and by accepting that we know our children and what is best for them. We are not paranoid or over-protective. All we ask is that you work with us and with each other.
Well, now I have issued my summit speech, and explained exactly why I am writing this book, I will climb off my soapbox and introduce you to my family.
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Whenever a doctor informs the parents that their child is suffering with Autism, the first & foremost question that is thrown over him is - How did it happen? How did my child get this disease? Well, there is no definite answer to what are the exact causes of Autism.