Friday, 24 May 2024

Mum and dad open up on ‘relief’ after son diagnosed with autism

Difficulty concentrating at school, no eye contact and emotional outbursts. The signs were there from the start.

But it wasn’t until a teacher recommended Chris Woolnough get his son Thomas tested for autism that he finally connected the dots – leading to a diagnosis that would change their lives forever.

Thomas, six, was diagnosed with autism at the height of the pandemic in 2021 when he was just four-years-old. The test came following concerns he was struggling at school. 

Dad Chris, from Sandbach, Cheshire, says the result came as a “relief” to the family – allowing them to fully understand the youngster and offer him the support he needs. 

“I think we were expecting it,” the 39-year-old told the Manchester Evening News. “He’s our middle child and we could see big differences between him and the other children.”

“I think it was a relief and more of a relief when we got the additional support in school. It helped us understand him. My wife has done a lot of courses in autism so it’s really helped.” 

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain.

People with ASD often have problems with social communication and interaction and restricted or repetitive behaviours or interests. People with ASD may also have different ways of learning, moving or paying attention.

Signs of autism in children include not responding to their name, avoiding eye contact, not smiling when you smile at them, getting very upset if they do not like a certain taste, smell or sound, repetitive movements, such as flapping their hands, flicking their fingers or rocking their body, not talking as much as other children, not doing as much pretend play and repeating the same phrases.

Chris, who runs an insurance company, suspected Thomas may have been on the autism spectrum after noticing him struggle in social situations.

“He doesn’t make eye contact when he talks and a lot of it was coming from school,” the dad-of-three added. “He was incredibly difficult and his attention span wasn’t great. “

“We were concerned he would need additional support with day-to-day tasks. It was suggested he should go through a diagnosis.”

“There’s been a huge change in him, but more so as a family. Yesterday, we went to Manchester Museum and he was great at first.”

“But it was really busy and I think had we not had that diagnosis, it would be one of those where you’re like, ‘Come on, let’s carry on,’ but he had sensory overload. “

“We took him to a quiet room for 20 minutes while my wife and other kids went around the museum and 20 minutes later, he was fine. He regulated and he was absolutely fine. It’s really helped us as a family in terms of managing those types of situations.” 

Thomas’ mum, Jane, says Thomas would cry every morning before heading to pre-school. “When starting pre-school, at three-and-a-half years old, attention was drawn to certain elements of Tom’s behaviours that were very different to his peers,” she said.

“The staff struggled to engage with Thomas and the cheeky and charismatic character that we knew at home just simply wasn’t the same child that they saw.”

“At pre-school he played on the periphery, avoided eye contact, walked over toys, struggled with boundaries, struggled to sit still and would prefer to sit under the table. Thomas cried every morning that he went to pre-school. He would often retreat underneath a bench once inside and I often had to collect him due to him being distressed.”

Chris is now set to run a marathon in the North Pole in a few weeks’ time to help raise money for Cheshire Autism Practical Support, an organisation which has helped support the family through Thomas’ diagnosis.

“Just getting there is a challenge but running on snow in [cold] temperatures makes this daunting to say the least,” he said.

“Hopefully this enables me to try to raise as much as possible for Cheshire Autism Practical Support to continue the incredible work they do to help families like ours.”

“When our now six-year-old son Thomas was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, we didn’t know where to turn for help and support. 

“Luckily, we found Cheshire Autism Practical Support who helped us with everything ranging from courses for us to learn more about autism and how we could better support him to dedicated swimming lessons for him.

“I want to raise as much money as possible to mean they can help more people like us and more children and adults like Thomas.” 

To donate, follow the link by clicking here.

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