Review: Why building a nurturing environment is vital for supporting autistic young people

with Cathy Wassell, The Autistic Girls Network

It’s time for another book giveaway! We have TWO copies of SEND parent, Cathy Wassell’s new book, Nurturing Autistic Young People, illustrated by Eliza Fricker. The book is described as “A Parent's Handbook to Supporting Newly Diagnosed Teens and Pre-Teens”. Cathy runs The Autistic Girls Network, and her book is published by JKP. She’s here today to tell us about the book — Please note, this giveaway is now closed

Building a nurturing environment for your autistic child by Cathy Wassell

…many in the charity I run, Autistic Girls Network, navigated their child’s toddlerhood and early school years with none of those aha moments. They didn’t distinguish meltdowns as anything more than toddler tantrums, their child was verbal to the point of exhaustion, and there were no rows of lined up cars. Looking back now though, their parents will be able to remember a particular event or behaviour and say ‘Oh so THAT’S why!’

Excerpt from the Nurturing Autistic Young People

The experience of getting recognised as autistic is different for everyone, but it is affected by your age, your environment, your mental health and your supporters. Someone who is diagnosed at two is going to have a different life experience to someone who is diagnosed at 17 amid a massive mental health crisis. And they are going to be different again to someone who is diagnosed/recognised at 50, or even at 83 as happened in our Facebook group a few months ago!

When my own children were diagnosed in their teens, first as autistic and then with other neurodivergencies (none of which had been spotted or referred by professionals), I looked for advice on how to support them. There wasn’t much out there that resonated with our situation, which we now know was due to autistic burnout. We certainly didn’t know then, and if any of the many, many professionals involved knew they didn’t tell us (spoiler alert: they didn’t know). 

Book Cover

The book I wanted to read

So my book Nurturing Your Autistic Young Person is the book I wish I’d been able to read then, when I was mired in the battlefields of school, hospitals, CAMHS, Intensive Support Teams, EHCPs and Flex Learning, all while trying to keep my child’s head above water. At this early stage of our journey, we don’t realise that we’re not alone; that there are thousands of other families going through much the same. We haven’t yet gained the comfort of those thousands of families holding us up, because we’re told that our child is fine in school, that this kind of thing has never happened before, that we’re somehow not parenting right.

It turns out that this late diagnosis is more and more common, particularly in those that present in an internal way, who tend to mostly be girls. It turns out our child is NOT fine in school. In fact, they are so anxious, school is traumatising them more and more to the point they may actually become unable to attend. It also turns out that we’re parenting just fine thank you very much, and that since at least one of us is likely to be neurodivergent we’re probably parenting in a much more appropriate way for our neurodivergent child than all those neurotypically-framed parenting courses they tried to send us on.

It turns out that our child’s mental health is deteriorating before our eyes because nobody had realised they were neurodivergent and they are trying to battle through a world designed for neurotypical brains and senses, without any support and feeling they were somehow deficient or broken. The recognition that they are autistic, not a broken neurotypical person can be powerful and empowering. It can also be negative when there is still such a stigma attached to autism and other neurodivergent differences. If you or your child are still in the negative, be comforted that the empowerment stage will come.

Be your child’s champion

Your role as a parent, regardless of your own neurotype, is to champion them until they are ready to champion themselves, to learn as much as you can and spread that knowledge to close family and friends so that your child becomes surrounded by people who understand neurodiversity, who know what reasonable adjustments they are entitled to, and who can provide them with the environment they need to thrive, both emotionally and in a sensory way. In particular, they need people who understand the importance of passionate interests for autistic people and are willing to join them in that interest, or at least dip their toes in, even if they don’t feel they can dive in headfirst. Being able to talk about and practice passionate interests is a form of autistic joy and likely to play a large part in your young person’s emotional regulation.

There’s a lot to take in, and that’s why the book is written in the form of a handbook you can dip in and out of, and revisit when that section becomes more relevant to your situation. Reviewers talk about lots of aha moments:

“I wish I had read this incredible book many years ago. My daughter - aged 13 - had a late diagnosis and this (hand)book is exactly what I need to be able to understand and support her better. I'd gleened bits and pieces of information about autism over the past few years, and especially the last few months - but it's all here (and so much more) in one book, written in a clear and understandable way. So many 'aha' moments. Cathy Wassell's book seems to have everything covered from co-occurring conditions to sensory stuff, with lots of practical advice on how to nurture and advocate for our autistic young people.”

Book review

So while you may dip in and out of it, reading some sections may provide you with your own aha moment where you realise that section is more relevant than you thought! What’s important is the change in understanding that can take place to build the best environment to nurture your autistic young person.


This giveaway is now closed

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