Story of hope Mum writes book to help other families after daughter's autism diagnosis
Every parent remembers the first time their child told them they love them, but for Martina Smith it was a poignant and longer wait.
Her daughter, Emma Jaszczak, was four before she found a way to verbally express her love. Emma is autistic and spoke only a few words before benefiting greatly from educational intervention designed for children with the condition.
"The first time she said 'I love you' I think she was four years of age, and that was huge for me. Now she can ask for things she wants and she can tell you how her day was.
"It was one of those really simple things. But it made me feel full of joy to hear her say it after so many years."
Now Martina has documented this and many other personal experiences in a new book.
Autistic Magic With Emma & Mommy details her family's account of having a child with autism and is also crammed with practical information on the diagnosis system in Ireland and the resources, payments and specialists families can avail of.
It was a deeply personal project, putting to use the knowledge she has garnered that has benefited six-year-old Emma and her family.
"I always felt I wanted to write a book but never knew what about," she says, adding that she had the idea after talking through her own experiences with another mother whose child was being assessed.
"My friend had a daughter being assessed and I sat down with her and went through it step by step. And it helped her to know what would happen in the next assessment, who she would be seeing and where she would be going next. I think it made it feel a little less daunting.
"I had had that benefit. A teacher in pre-school had a daughter with autism and she was able to tell me what to expect. It definitely helped me have an idea and sense of what would happen next. Everyone's experience is different but it still helped in a general way."
Martina and Emma's father Pawel, who also have a daughter named Riley, worked hard to secure a mainstream school with special facilities for children with ASD (autism spectrum disorder). She is now attending such a school near their family home in Carlow.
ASD Units cater for the needs of children with autism who are of school-going age and are attached to mainstream and special schools. The pupil-teacher ratio in these schools is far lower and students are also supported by special needs assistants.
The family first noticed that Emma might have some difficulties as she approached her second birthday. They observed she had very few words but started to notice other things as well - for example, when she was overstimulated she would rock back and forth.
They highlighted their concerns to a public health nurse, who put her forward for speech therapy. When the therapist noticed Emma also had a lack of eye contact, she was sent to a specialist team for further assessment.
"When we got the diagnosis everything kind of fell into place," said Martina. "It's very hard as a parent to think there is something wrong with your child, that they're different to other kids."
But from early on, the family resolved to do everything they could to support Emma. She was enrolled in a preschool for children with autism and they quickly started to see the value of early intervention.
Martina, who also blogs on autisticmagicwithemma.com, decided to write the book to share her knowledge and experience with other families and members of the public.
"It was so therapeutic to write it. It also brought up a lot of emotions I thought I had dealt with at the time. I would find myself in tears writing some chapters and angry writing others. It made me realise I was on autopilot, just getting through each day rather than sitting down and thinking about how I really felt.
"A lot of other parents of children with autism says the book reminds them how they felt in certain moments. Often parents don't have the time to think about it in the moment. When I looked back things would come to me that I had completely forgotten about.
"We talk about how it started for us and who we initially met in advance of getting the diagnosis. I talk about what people can avail of payment wise, and that you can get tax relief as well.
"I write about behaviour and things like how we improved Emma's diet, where she was at the start and where she is now at six years of age. I wanted to give people a little bit of hope in where they could be in three or four years."
Emma opted to self-publish the book, which is now for sale on Amazon, and said it has been a huge and valuable learning experience. She's also hoping to bring it to bookstores. "I've never been so far out of my comfort zone!
"It's on e-book format and book format and I'm currently recording the audio format. I had two great editors and a great designer."
- You can check out the book here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Autistic-Magic-Emma-Mommy-Emmas/dp/B08L4P5B75
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