OJ’s is a registered charity that provides activities for children with autism, learning difficulties and associated disorders. Our family days and activities are based at various settings around the areas of Longridge and Wyre. We have sole hire and exclusive use of a range of settings during the holiday times and Saturdays. Activities include swimming, ten pin bowling, indoor soft play, outdoor activity centre and Saturday Club. We welcome the whole family and encourage siblings to attend and join in the fun to give a positive whole family experience.
My name is Lisa Donoghue and I set up the charity after experiencing problems with accessing mainstream/public areas with my child who has autism, called Oliver, and my other 3 children. When my two youngest children were babies I came across many difficulties in getting out and about and would resort to staying at home, only tackling trips out that were the most urgent, if on my own with the children.
I would find that some people would not have patience with Oliver which would result in upset within our family. I would be constantly watching the reaction from people to Oliver and if my other children, who were babies at the time, became upset for any reason, then Oliver could become extremely distressed at the noise they were making and scream loudly, becoming very anxious. To the bystander who didn’t understand his disability this would have looked unusual behaviour for Oliver’s age. That would be it, everyone upset, trip cancelled and in the car for another drive round. It got so stressful that during the holidays and being on my own with the children, I would pack a few treats and take the children for a drive, and that would be it….just a drive round and then back again.
Oliver is now 19 and a young man which brings a whole new scariness to this autism life we have in our house. I have met many people over the years through having children….in the primary school playground, children’s activities, etc and it has been difficult at times to ‘fit in’. With that I mean sometimes people don’t ‘get it’, this autism thing, and friendships can become strained or awkward. I say this without any malice to anyone and I think if you are an autism mum you may understand.
When autism throws challenges your way you retreat into your autism family life so that you can cope. I think sometimes that must look quite unfriendly but needed, and some people would not understand your reaction. There are many mum’s evenings, couples get togethers and general social occasions that you miss out on. That may be through less and less invites due to you always having to decline or the fact that you just cannot go as there a very few, if any, people who you can call on to look after your child.
This situation results in isolated families due to the misconception of autism. Autism is definitely a ‘hidden disability’ and one of my favourite sayings is ‘If you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism’. Some of the worst things you can say to us autism mums are ‘Is he like rainman?’, ‘He doesn’t look autistic’, ‘Bet he’s really good at maths and drawing’. Autism is so misunderstood and I aim to make a difference and raise awareness as much as I can through OJ’s.
If you are reading this and you have a child or family member with autism, I’m sure you know what I am trying to get at? It’s not that everyone who you meet is not tolerant of our children, but it’s sometimes the stress of what you feel is going to happen or what has just happened, and how on earth you are going to calm it all down.
We really welcome contact from new families and carers are welcome to bring children, who they are looking after, to our sessions to give the family a short break.
Oliver is now 22 and I feel that my work within OJ’s coupled with dealing with an extremely busy family life gives me the knowledge to help other families along the way. That could be from first diagnosis to dealing with teenage years….I am always happy to speak to other parents who experience similar stresses. It’s always good to talk.