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Stories About Autism

Why it’s ok for my 8-year-old to still use a pram

I’ve been pushing Jude along in a pram for 8 years now. There’s nothing wrong with his legs, he can run, bounce and jump just as well as any other child his age. So when we’re out and about, some people can find that hard to understand, and don’t always react in the way you’d hope they would…..

Last month I took Jude away for a week to Southwold. He’d been having a very stressful time recently, we were just about to move house, and school seemed to be too much for him to handle. We were also having some challenges connecting. For some reason, he had become very aggressive towards me and anxious when we spent time together. So, I decided to bite the bullet and get away from it all and have a week of just me and him.

We stayed walking distance from the beach and the pier, as I was hoping we could spend as much time as possible out and about, enjoying the seaside. The first day we were there, I packed up our supplies, took Jude by the hand, and started the 5-minute walk towards the pier.

We didn’t even make it halfway. The moaning and complaining began within 30 seconds, this soon turned into slaps on my arm, scratches, and before I knew it he had broken free and was trying to bounce on his knees in the middle of the pavement. I literally had to scoop him up off the floor and carry him back home, fighting me all the way.

Jude’s anxiety levels were off the chart, going for a walk just wasn’t going to be an option.

Luckily, (or unluckily) this wasn’t the first time this had happened, so I knew how to handle it. I also knew that the only way we were going to get to enjoy the beach is if we used his pram.

So, for the next 7 days, we went everywhere by car or pram. And, by day 2, things improved significantly. I started to get my happy Jude back, the fog descended, and we had lots and lots of fun.

However, because we were using the pram a lot every day, I began to realise something.

When you’re pushing an 8-year-old in a pram you get a lot of people staring. You get a lot of sympathetic smiles, knowing nods, or people looking the other way in discomfort. By the time we reached the end of the pier there would be lots of surprised and shocked faces as Jude would get out and run around at 100mph!

When people see someone of Jude’s age in a pram they assume there’s a physical problem with their legs. That, or you get a lot of judgmental looks and whispers behind your back, as if it’s bad parenting to still be pushing him around in a pram. As if I’m choosing to make my life easier by pushing him around. If I had just been a stronger, more disciplined parent then he wouldn’t be in that pram. But that’s so not the case, we need the pram for totally different reasons.

It’s a place of comfort for Jude, one where he feels safe and relaxed whilst confronted with all of the overwhelming sensory stimulus the outside world presents him. Once we reach a place where he feels comfortable enough, he’ll get out, knowing it’s still there for him to retreat to if he needs it. If he’s had enough he’ll simply climb back in, look back at me, and gesture for me to get moving. It’s time for us to get out of here!

About a year ago we stopped needing it. Ear defenders and a weighted rucksack seemed to do the trick, making him feel secure enough to walk around. But right now, with his anxiety levels at an all time high, we’ve had to start using the pram a lot more. And that’s ok… If that’s what Jude needs then that’s what he needs.

So if you see someone who looks too big for a pram, stop and think before you judge. There’s no need to stare, it may be different to what you expect to see but that’s ok. Different is ok

A smile is nice too, but please not one in sympathy. I respect the compassion you want to show, but it’s ok, you don’t need to feel sorry for us because things are different. Just accept us how we are, and help us feel welcome

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