Five minutes with… Christine McGuinness

The pandemic has meant constant changes to routine, a situation that can be distressing for autistic children and adults. Mother to three autistic children, Christine McGuinness, opens up to Enable about parenting through a pandemic and the family’s upcoming BBC One documentary.

How has your time at home been during the pandemic?

The children were getting a lot of support at school before the lockdown but then, like the rest of the country, that all stopped. For most parents that was hard anyway; when your children have additional needs such as autism it made things regress quickly.

We found ourselves not only being their parents, but also becoming therapists and carers for them, too.

The children have struggled with the changes around them, and regressed with speech and comments. The kids have also managed to surprise us.

Seeing the three of them do anything new makes us feel like we’ve won the lottery.

Your documentary, Autism and Our Family, will air on BBC1 later this year, why was it so important for you and Paddy to create this?

This is something we have been talking about doing for years; we always wondered if it was the right time or right for our family. We’ve decided to go for it because we want to help people understand autism.

It’s becoming easier to talk about mental health and personal issues, and I want an open discussion for people to be able to understand that there are all levels on the spectrum and it’s not something to be scared of.

We were in a soft play centre a few years ago, when I overheard someone complaining about the noises that my children were making.

By the time my children are teenagers, I would like everyone to understand that is perfectly normal behaviour for autistic children and adults, and not to stare or make comments.

Do you have any advice for parents who are at the beginning of the autism assessment process?

Stay strong. At first, I believed the children’s sensitivity to noise and tip-toe walking were just cute little quirks and I did not realise they were signs of autism.

That was a huge shock for both of us because we didn’t have a clue.

We have researched and also talked about autism together. Leo and Penelope were diagnosed aged three-and- a-half, and by the time my youngest daughter Felicity was six months old, she started tensing her body when she got excited about something – which is also known as stimming and I predicted her diagnosis years before it was given because of what we had gone through with the twins.

Christine McGuinness is an ambassador for Caudwell Children, who can provide COVID-secure autism assessments in as little as six-weeks, with charity funding available for any families that meet standard eligibility criteria. The charity’s autism service is regulated by the Care Quality Commission, for more details visit their website here.

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