Raising a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has it's challenges, just ask Katrina, who is not only raising one, but three children on the spectrum.
She shares with us the story of their diagnoses, her supports, and her advice for other parents who are in the same situation.
Tell us a bit about your family –
My family is my world, everything I do is for them.
There's my husband, Alex, who I've been with since Year 12, our eldest Dexter, Kingston (almost 5) and Elsa (almost 3).
We are a very close knit family, very full on and it's very rarely quiet in our home. We love music and the kids will often break out with a dance off in our tiny living room.
Our family is pretty unique and I hope that never changes.
Dex was only diagnosed last year, did his diagnoses come out of the blue or do you know for a long time?
We first noticed some signs when he was pretty small. I very clearly remember him screaming and trying to escape from being lathered in sunscreen at the beach. As this was an isolated incident, we assumed maybe he just wasn't a fan of sunscreen. But as time went by, his aversions became worse. He would become distressed at loud noises, and he had many texture aversions. We were told by so many people "it's just a phase and he will grow out of it." The year before he started kindy, our amazing family daycare educator, Stacey, recommended we have him assessed. In that moment my whole world fell apart, but I think I knew something was different and I'd suppressed it after being told "it's a phase" far too many times. I'm forever grateful to Stacey. She honestly saved my family.
How did the diagnosis come about for Kingston and Elsa?
After we started to see therapists for Dex, I asked our speech therapist her opinion on Kingston as I had noticed he had some struggles with his speech (diction and comprehension.) She suggested we have him assessed for ASD as well, as he was showing signs such as sensory seeking, hyperactivity and stimming. At this point I was used to the process but the waiting was still stressful. During Kingston's assessments, our psych had mentioned that she'd been concerned about Elsa and once we had gotten our heads around it all, we should have her assessed too. She struggled with social situations, meltdowns and had a mixture of sensory seeking and aversions. She also wasn't feeling pain like most others, which concerned me. Her pain threshold is unusually high.
Did things become easier after each diagnosis?
One would think as each diagnosis came to light, it would become easier. It was in the respect where I knew what to expect, however as each child was diagnosed I felt enormous guilt. All three of our kids were on the spectrum. It SURELY had to be something I'd done, right? When Elsa's diagnosis came through, our youngest baby, I assumed I'd be ok. Just a moment where you think "meh. Nothing new." But it felt like I was hearing those words for the first time again. But now, it's just who they are and while it's hard, they are still the same people and that diagnosis helps us get the help we need for them to cope with their day to day struggles.
How do you make time to look after yourself?
It's hard! I try to get to the gym and take care of my body, which for a long time I saw as being selfish because it was time away from my kids. I wrote about why it is important on my blog, and the feedback was just as important as writing it.
You’ve talked about people making comments about your parenting, as if it has caused your kids to have ASD – how can we break down this stigma?
Some of the statements I've heard regarding parenting and pregnancy when it comes to ASD are ridiculous. I've seen people say it's due to "no discipline." Well, no. Unfortunately disciplining or not disciplining doesn't change the way your child's brain is wired. People seem to believe that ASD, ADHD, or anything similar don't exist and it's "made up." The only way these sorts of stigmas can disappear is by raising awareness. This is why I'm so passionate about being transparent when it comes to ASD and how our lives work. If it changes anyone's perspective, it's been worth it.
Who have your greatest supports been – both formal and informal?
One of our biggest supports has been my friends Jodie and Ash. My kids think the world of these two gorgeous ladies and so do I. They'd do anything for my family and I love them dearly.
I also have an amazing network of support online. It blows my mind how you can form relationships behind a screen, and receive the support you need no matter the time of day from people who live hundreds or thousands of kilometres away. My friend Sam who lives interstate has been a rock to me. I honestly don't know how I'd cope some days without her.
And of course our families have been very supportive and will come to help if I say the word. I don't know what I'd do without them. Just when you're on the brink of insanity, they bring you back.
We also have our amazing team of therapists who have seen our children come so far. We are so very lucky to have such amazing people a part of our lives.
What advice do you have for other families raising a child with ASD?
If you need help, ask. I am TERRIBLE at this. I sit there and hope people will see I need a break and if they don't recognise it, I just suck it up and get on with it. But it's tough. And we all need a break. We all deserve to have "me" time. After all, you can't help others if you haven't helped yourself.
To find out more about Katrina's life with her three gorgeous kids,
check out her Blog and Instagram