When I was 16, I had pretty much figured out my life. I knew. Everybody else knew. What did we know? Nothing.
I drifted along happily, absolutely clueless and without any inkling that, in the space of ten years, my life would change dramatically. Life changed for the worse, but I changed for the better.
So if I could go back to the year 2000, and have a hot chocolate with my sixteen year old self, what would I tell her?
1. Don't choose to study Health and Social Care at college. Save yourself the time and do the art and design courses that you want to do, because that's where you will want to be when you reach my age (thirty - yikes!)
2. Don't join the Royal Air Force. You will only waste more time, and you don't agree with war anyway.
3. Don't get married at the age of 22. If you do, you may as well tip off the best man - as he is the one who will win the sweepstake on how long the marriage will last (six months, by the way). Thirty, is a much better age to marry - especially to TH - you'll like him!
4. Be prepared. By the time you turn 26, you will be a mum to two amazing little children. You will get little sleep, become an on-call nurse, cook, cleaner, entertainer, maid, teacher and disciplinarian - you are going to need to have strong backbone to do this job.
5. Be prepared. I said this already didn't I? yes, be prepared to fight, because life is going to change for the worse and the best all at the same time! Ten years from now you will find out your son has a lifelong condition, called Autism. He will be non-verbal and he won't be able to communicate like other children, or find it easy to join in with other children.
You will feel anger and frustration. You will question why you? Why your little boy? You will resent 'normal' families with their neurotypical children.
You will feel awful attending parents evening, or the latest school production watching other children doing what you still often feel your son should be doing.
Make sure you fight with the medical professionals to get him the best treatments possible. Too many times have gone by when I have held my tongue. Don't care about what they say to you - fight for him to have the best future possible.
Your son will teach you patience and resilience you have never known, or thought possible. He will beat you down but you will stand up for more.
I would say for numbers one to four, follow each to the letter, but there may be a way to avoid number five, so I will add a sixth.
6. Just because there is a chance (a slim one yes, but still a chance) that none of number five will happen if you follow this advice... don't let ANYBODY get you down!
I didn't know then, but I sure know now.
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