Paddy McGuiness is currently a host on BBC’s Top Gear – a casting decision that should raise a few eyebrows. Paddy’s playful sense of humour has earned him a loyal fanbase over the years and it is a quality that bounces well of fellow presenters Freddie Flintoff and Chris Harris. While Paddy has a well-stocked supply of gags up his sleeve, the star has also shown audiences his serious side over the years.
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Paddy McGuinness and his wife Christine are parents to three autistic children – twins Leo and Penelope, and Felicity – and speaking on John Bishop: In Conversation With a couple of years back, Paddy gave viewers an insight into what life is like raising two autistic children.
The presenter told the comedian: “It’s very, very, very, very difficult, you know any parent with children with any kind of special needs is very difficult.
“Some days it’s a wonder how we’re still together, me and Christine, because you can’t sort of do the normal things that you would as a couple.”
He continued: “I can count on one hand the amount of times we’ve been on a night out together, because you can’t just have a babysitter. You can’t just say ‘I’ll drop ’em off at me relatives to look after’ ‘cos it’s not like that.”
Paddy went on to praise his wife for shouldering the parental responsibility while he pushed on with his career.
What is autism?
As the NHS explains, being autistic does not mean you have an illness or disease. It means your brain works in a different way from other people.
It’s something you’re born with or first appears when you’re very young and you have it throughout life.
“Autism is not a medical condition with treatments or a ‘cure”. But some people need support to help them with certain things,” says the health body.
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What are the signs of autism?
According to the health site, autistic people may:
- Find it hard to communicate and interact with other people
- Find it hard to understand how other people think or feel
- Find things like bright lights or loud noises overwhelming, stressful or uncomfortable
- Get anxious or upset about unfamiliar situations and social events
- Take longer to understand information
- Do or think the same things over and over
According to Mayo Clinic, a child or adult with autism may have limited, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities.
- Performs repetitive movements, such as rocking, spinning or hand flapping
- Performs activities that could cause self-harm, such as biting or head-banging
- Develops specific routines or rituals and becomes disturbed at the slightest change
- Has problems with coordination or has odd movement patterns, such as clumsiness or walking on toes, and has odd, stiff or exaggerated body language
- Is fascinated by details of an object, such as the spinning wheels of a toy car, but doesn’t understand the overall purpose or function of the object
- Is unusually sensitive to light, sound or touch, yet may be indifferent to pain or temperature
- Doesn’t engage in imitative or make-believe play
- Fixates on an object or activity with abnormal intensity or focus
- Has specific food preferences, such as eating only a few foods, or refusing foods with a certain texture
“As they mature, some children with autism spectrum disorder become more engaged with others and show fewer disturbances in behaviour,” explains the health body.
Some, usually those with the least severe problems, eventually may lead normal or near-normal lives, it adds.
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How to manage family life
As the NHS explains, having an autistic child can put a lot of strain on you and your family.
“You might need to spend a lot of time helping your child get the support they need. This can be very stressful and exhausting,” notes the health body.
It may also be hard to make time for the rest of your family and can affect your relationships with each other.
The NHS recommends a number of steps to take the pressure off, however.
- Ask friends and family if they can help with day-to-day things or just be there to talk to
- Get advice from other parents of autistic children or autistic adults – find out where to get support
- Listen to other parents’ stories – the charity healthtalk.org has stories of parents of autistic children, or you can search online for blogs, videos and books
- Ask your local council for a carer’s assessment – you might be able to get extra support and financial benefits
Think about doing a course for parents of autistic children – such as the EarlyBird course from the National Autistic Society
As the NHS points out you should not feel guilty for taking time for yourself when you can – even just going for a walk on your own can help give you a break.
If you have questions about your child or family, you can call the National Autistic Society helpline on 0808 800 4104.
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