Meet theJdkfoons

Parenting Children With Asperger's And High-functioning Autism

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Ladies and gentlemen - let me introduce to you the Jacksons. Full of fun and laughter, trials and tribulations, chaos and catastrophes - we could never be described as dull.

There is one word which sums up the Jackson household perfectly and that is 'chaotic'. Parenting in itself is no easy task, but when you have adolescents, pre-adolescents and many shades of the autistic spectrum all under one roof, then life can certainly be.. .colourful!

I have seven children, all very special, all very much loved and all very different - seven different colours of the rainbow. There are four boys and three girls; the boys all being various colours of the autistic spectrum. In our house we have dyslexia, dyspraxia, Asperger Syndrome (AS), Attention Deficit, Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), Sensory Integration Dysfunction (SID) and autism to add that extra 'oomph' to an already manic family.

Matthew, at nineteen years old, is at the stage where he is trying to decide what to do with his life. He is a sergeant in charge of Marine Cadets, has achieved his bronze and silver Duke of Edinburgh Award and is well on the way to getting his gold. He holds first aid certificates, GCSEs, has completed a pre-uniform course which gives him the equivalent of three A levels, and is living proof that dyslexia and dyspraxia don't need to prevent someone from achieving, either physically or academically.

Rachel is seventeen and is, in many ways, the opposite to Luke. She loves to have people around her, likes nothing better than to chat about trivia with her friends and her appearance is extremely important to her. She has a passion for the most up-to-date designer clothes and is stunningly beautiful. In fact she manages to come downstairs every morning looking as if she has just stepped out of a magazine. Needless to say, endless streams of admirers are also added extras in the Jackson household! Though multi-talented and an excellent singer and writer, Rachel's greatest strength is in art. She has astounding talent and it seems to be a foregone conclusion that she will carry on to art college after her A levels and pursue a career using her artistic flair.

Sarah is nearly sixteen years old and can only be described as 'an individual'. Like her sisters, she too is truly beautiful. She has an honesty/bluntness that can only be applauded and is self-assured and confident in a quiet unassuming way. Sarah has the organization and self-discipline that the rest of us don't seem to possess and is quietly working her way towards her GCSEs with the promise of excellent results. Like Rachel, Sarah is a gifted artist, producing some amazing pieces of work. Sarah's main talent, however, is in languages. She is convinced that she is going to use her talent with languages in her career and I have no doubt at all that she will. When Sarah sets her mind to doing something, she always follows it through.

Next, meet Luke (if you have not already done so). Luke is fourteen years old and has Asperger Syndrome and dyspraxia. He has written two books now and is well on the way to finishing his third. His second book, Freaks, Geeks and Asperger Syndrome, tells of Luke's perspective on life, Asperger Syndrome and the difficulties of adolescence. Luke's main passion is computers. Over his life Luke has had 'obsessions' that have come and gone, some lasting for quite some time, some disappearing as quickly as they developed. One thing he has been consistent with however is his love oftechnology. He states in no uncertain terms that he will have a career working with computers, probably web design. I am sure he will. One of the positives of Asperger Syndrome is perseverance.

Anna is thirteen years old and is very much like Rachel. In fact Anna aspires to be all that Rachel is! She is beautiful and popular and likes nothing better than to sit for hours chatting to her friends on the phone. Anna and Sarah both love to dance and spend hours working out dance routines. Like Rachel and Sarah, Anna is a talented artist. Her main talent however is for creative writing and in particular, poetry. As you can see, I have included at the end of this chapter the full poem that Anna wrote to end a documentary called My Family and Autism, made by the BBC about our family recently. This probably describes us all as well, if not better than I can.

Joseph is ten years old. Now how can I describe Joe? Joe is lovable, funny and creative. Joe has severe AD/HD plus many added extras. Life around Joe is never boring. If I could think of an ideal job for Joe it would be an entertainer. He takes the limelight and dances, sings and makes people laugh everywhere he goes. Despite being wildly hyperactive, like anyone with AD/HD, Joe 'hyperfocuses' and the subject of this immense concentration to the exclusion ofall else is his drawing. Joe draws the most impressively detailed pictures, all from cartoons and computer games. He has just started writing short stories which give amazing insight into his mind and I have no doubt that Joe will go on to do great things if he gets the support that he deserves.

Ben is six years old and is autistic. He was initially on the severe end of the spectrum, non verbal and totally engrossed in his own silent world. He too has many added extras and never ceases to amaze me and all the professionals who have and are working with him. Diagnosed originally with cerebral palsy, Ben didn't walk till he was over four years old but yet now he spins around kicking and flailing his arms and legs around in a bid to copy our Taekwondo moves. He didn't talk at all till he was nearing five but yet now he chatters away constantly. Strangely enough, Ben is now extremely hyperactive with very poor concentration for anything other than the computer - a turnaround from a non verbal, virtually immobile child who sat for hours doing nothing other than line up pegs and cars and a testimony to the fact that autism is nothing if not unpredictable. The happiest child I have ever come across, Ben never fails to bring a smile to the face of anyone he meets. One day I sincerely hope that Ben will be able to tell his story for himself!

I suppose I had better say a little about myself. Married at a young age, the children and their difficulties were totally absorbing and I considered them to be my 'job' in much the same way as my husband had his. To me, maybe unfairly, I was always a single parent in my mind, and divorce was inevitable and eventually became a reality. Although I have spent numerous years studying and gaining many qualifications and although I work hard to raise awareness of autism, Asperger Syndrome, AD/HD and related conditions, I am primarily a mother wanting the very best for her children.

Now that I have introduced the children in my own way, here is Anna's poem. I think she may actually describe us all far more succinctly than I have!

Meet the Jacksons (a poem by Anna)

My name is AnnaJackson. It is an ordinary name. I have four ordinary brothers. One of which has fame. (Well not really but he does write books) I live an ordinary life In a pretty ordinary place, I have a super mum though, She's the one who made me ace! Mum cooks and cleans and stays up all night My brothers they don't sleep, She does crazy dances and helps us all And has a first class honours degree. (Though I don't know what that is?!) Joe is quite hilarious But very annoying too, He pinches then destroys our stuff

And pees all over the loo! (He does a great moonwalk though) Luke is rather boring He talks extremely slow He s written two books already So he must be clever though.

Ben is so adorable He refuses to wear clothes He flaps his hands and likes to spin, But I bet there's loads he knows.

Matthew is so clumsy, And also he can't spell. He jumps about and bosses us But I think he does mean well. My sister Rachel loves her clothes

She s pretty as can be, Of all the clothes she likes to wear Her favourite s Miss Sixty

Sarah s very pretty too Though moody as can be, We dance together and have a laugh And cook pasta and cheese for tea. Well that's all about theJacksons, Though there is one thing you should know Remember always that Different is Cool (that's a quote from Luke s book!)

And that I love them so! Now here s a final word though Just in case we meet, My name is Anna Jackson And I m the one who likes sweets!!

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