My Son's Surrogate Parents Help Us Have a Normal Family Life; Having an Autistic Child in the Family Can Be Stressful, but Assistance Is at Hand. as Share the Care Week Begins, One Parent Tells Ian Parri How Surrogate Families Can Be of Help
Byline: Ian Parri
A S her son, Thomas, finally slips off to sleep in the deep of the night after some not inconsiderable effort, Monya Sheridan could be forgiven for hoping that things will be better tomorrow.
Bringing up four children as a single mother is no easy option, between one thing and another. If the the kids aren't squabbling among themselves, as children do, they'll be wanting their mother's attention when they're unwell or seeking a shoulder to cry on.
Add an autistic child into that volatile mix, and the problems soon escalate so that at times they can appear almost insurmountable.
Thomas, now nine, was diagnosed as being autistic six years ago. Monya's other children are Heather, 11, Jordan, six, and Jamie, who's just 14 months old.
She freely admits that she can often feel at the end of her tether. Thomas can demand so much of her time, when he's not at school, that the other children can sometimes feel deprived of it.
But Monya, from Old Colwyn, recognises that she's luckier than many in having a local family willing to take care of Thomas for a weekend once a month, under a Share the Care scheme run jointly by the Conwy and Denbighshire family placement teams.
``Thomas has got better as the years have progressed, but his behaviour has become more aggressive,'' she says.
``He needs constant attention, and to be watched constantly. He's not aware of dangers, as such, he has trouble washing and dressing himself, and he can't socialise too well.
``He can't cope with too many children being around him, and can't cope with little kids in particular. He says to me, `I know I'm only a kid, but I need to get away from them. I hate them.' ``That's where respite care is so good for him: he can get away from other children. They (the carers) have him on a one-to-one basis, which is nice for him.
``We had a nice family in Denbigh, Yvonne and Steve, but unfortunately they had to give it up. That was awful, because then we had nobody to turn to. But now we've got Mark and Sandra in Dwygyfylchi, who Thomas loves to bits. They spoil him rotten, and he can't wait to get there.
``My other children then get more attention, and we can be a normal family. When Thomas is away, we don't have to stick to a routine; when he's here we have a very strict routine, because he has to know what he's supposed to be doing at a certain time every day.
``Heather gets jealous and says `we don't get that', because his carers really spoil him and treat him with visits to the cinema, or whatever. But if he wasn't having a good time, I wouldn't send him anyway.''
With this week designated as Share the Care Week, and 2002 having been made National Autism Awareness Year, the Shared Care Network has jumped on the opportunity to seek more carers to help out stressed-out families such as Monya's. …