Readers of this blog will know that Lyla's violent behaviour is something I have to deal with frequently.
Thankfully the episodes have become less frequent and intense, over the past three years. But there was an eighteen month period when I was enduring a 3 hour assault almost every single night.
It took this long to unravel the causes of her behaviour- sensory issues, hyperactivity, anxiety and a deficit of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, which has now been corrected.
It's only now that things are getting better, that I feel able to make sense of it. Emotionally, I spent an awful lot of the time in lockdown mode, not really very far from cracking up.
The charity Parentline says that it receives 53 calls a month from parents who's children attack them violently. Having been in this situation myself, I can say that it is one of the most soul-destroying things which can happen to you as a parent and as a human-being.
If we are attacked by a stranger, this is a terrible event and rightly there is recourse to justice and the law. If our spouse attacked us, there are refuges and we can leave them.
But what happens if your child attacks you? Well, just a whole lot of nothing.
It is one of the loneliest most isolating things that can happen. It's hard to talk about it openly as people either avoid eye contact, scuttle away and try to avoid ever speaking to you again or offer advice, which whilst often well-meaning isn't really very useful.
Parenting advice isn't hard to come by these days. Most people experiencing a child's challenging behaviour aren't in this situation because of lack of advice or information.
What's really needed is genuine help.
Getting to the root of behaviour issues in disabled kids can take weeks, months or years and may sometimes be impossible. And in my experience the 'help' offered isn't help it's advice.
That's a big difference, when you're at home on your own, your child has just broken your tooth, is threatening to smash a window and is screaming because they have thrown themselves into the side of a table. What you need is somebody at your side when your child is attacking you for moral support and help protect you and your other children.
For some people, dealing with challenging behaviour is worse than this, they have to give up their kids to full time care because they simply cannot cope- the situation is totally unmanagable. It's a terrible situation to be in and I feel that nobody has the right to judge unless they've experienced the same themselves.
Another outcome is the feeling that you're constantly being misunderstood at best and judged at worst. Other adults seem to feel that 'naughty' children and their parents are fair game and I have to deal with people taking a pop at me over Lyla's behaviour with boring regularity.
Frankly, dealing with the child's aggression is hard enough, without having to deal with the opinions of armchair experts and elderly-relatives. It sucks, really, it does.
But, because we are narcissicistically obsessed with parenting these days, the consequence of having difficult children is that you are fair game to be judged. Usually, there is a very thinly-veiled hint in any 'advice', namely that you're not a good parent and this is all your fault. If only you could do it perfectly (like them), your child would turn into the Sugar-Plum Fairy.
Dishing out advice or gawping or tutting is a lot easier for people to do than actually having to help you.
Sometimes I feel that just witnessing my life pierces peoples cosy karma and they would rather blame me and stare than consider that this could happen to them. I remember once wrestling with a screaming Lyla on the stone steps of the Natural History Museum, trying to prevent her from headbutting them during a tantrum. During the twenty minutes or so this took, I looked up once or twice at the parents snaking around us in the long security queue. Their faces were a picture of sheer undisguised horror- not one person offered to help me and all of them gawped. I almost felt sorry for them as they struggled to make sense of the spectacle unfolding and felt like maybe I should apologise for bursting into their perfect little family bubbles and reassure them that no, their little Johnny woudln't be doing this any time in the near future, the little furore was caused by autism.
But I didn't, because after all, why should I?
Over time, my ability to ride out these situations has significantly diminished. Some people resort to T-shirts boldly declaring their child's condition.
But for me, I feel that it isn't the business of strangers to know and I just try to return their stares with an extra-hard one of my own.
And other times I just go home and cry.
I won't labour the point but putting up with your child attacking you for hours on end day in day out, is just indescribably hideous and waking up knowing you've got that to look forward to can make life feel like it's not worth living.
This is a serious subject which in my opinion warrants more than sub-Jeremy-Kyle-style journalistic treatment.
This is why is why I was on the verge of pelting my TV with eggs the other morning. An item about a seven-year old boy attacking his mother was discussed on UK morning TV programme Lorraine the other morning. Too often, the attitude, even from so-called professionals is Blame the Mother- Blame the Child and sadly this was the attitude here.
The psychologist invited to advise the child's mother was at pains to point out that she was 'a parent too'- which qualifies her to comment on parenting an autistic child in precisely no way at all.
A short sermon on 'setting boundaries' was followed by Lorraine's summing up with this nugget of parenting gold 'well at some point there has to be discipline doesn't there?' Would somebody please give these women a degree in stating the obvious?
Whilst this is mildly annoying, it confirms what most parents of challenging kids feel- that everyone thinks they are to blame. They are bad parents because they haven't disciplined their child enough or there haven't been enough 'boundaries'.
Even though this is clearly nonsense.
So, my challenge to Lorraine is this: stop making cheap TV by putting the boot into vulnerable families. If you really care about the families involved, start a campaign for HELP for families dealing with challenging behaviour.
Maybe then we'll start taking you seriously.
Resources which you may find helpful:
Challenging Behaviour Foundation -their service is geared to disabled people who have learning disabilities, but they will help people without learning disabilities if they can.
National Autistic Society- factsheet on challenging behaviour.