Cameron is four years old and lives in Scotland with his mum Emma, dad Andrew and his two older sisters. Cameron is the final assessment stage for autism. As Emma explains, “He has issues with sensory processing, speech, hyperacusis and severe anxiety.” Hyperacusis refers to a condition that affects how you perceive sound.

Cameron’s eldest sister also has autism. “We try and maintain a calm household – as much as possible, with a lot of structure and routine that makes everyone feel safe and happy.”

Daily life for Cameron and his family

Emma tells us that for Cameron, and his eldest sister, being able to feel in control of their day is important. “They need to feel as if they have control. Occasions like birthdays and Christmas are kept low key to avoid sensory overload and upset caused by things outside of their normal routine. We tend to avoid having visitors wherever possible, as, although Cameron wants to be social, he finds it exhausting.”

Due to Cameron’s conditions, he struggles to leave the house.

The mere mention of going anywhere causes him to become extremely distressed.

"He will avoid anything that he relates to leaving the house such as getting dressed or getting washed. He has particular spaces he likes to hide in. Sometimes he will start excessively spinning or just randomly running but more often than not the prospect of going outside results in a meltdown.”

Cameron also struggles to engage in certain activities. “If they don’t involve his special interests or current obsession, he has a hard time with transitioning from one activity to the next, especially if it means interrupting or stopping one that is special interest related. Sometimes we end up with a clash between him and his sister, as they both want to spend time with each other, but it needs to be on their individual terms. As they both find reading body language and facial expressions difficult, they can cause one another to have a shutdown or a meltdown, so maintaining harmony between them can be hard work.” 

Challenges for Cameron and his family

Emma tells us that Cameron attends nursery. “Of course, that means leaving the house, and it can be physically and mentally exhausting for both Cameron and myself, and I frequently need to stay with him in an isolated room once we’ve finally made it in order to calm him down. A lot of other children don’t really understand why he is so upset and some are even scared and upset by it themselves.”

“He struggles to make it to the end of the day at nursery, so he finishes a little earlier than everyone and normally has the option for some quiet beforehand. Unfortunately this can mean he may miss out on certain activities. We encounter the same issues when we need to attend speech therapy appointments, which means by the time we get to the appointment, Cameron is too exhausted to participate.”

Emma explains that Cameron’s progress is slow. “He is due to start primary school this year but requires an enhanced transition given that he struggles with so much. Because he doesn’t leave the house, he’s missing out on so many things which a lot of people can take for granted, such as playing in the park, going to the museum, going out for a bike ride, attending birthday parties. He’s missing out on exercise, friendships and lots of learning opportunities. There is a slight delay in some essential daily life skills such as getting dressed and washed as his avoidance towards these makes the tasks very difficult.”

Impact of Cameron’s condition

For Emma and the family, the impact of Cameron’s condition is wide ranging. “I’ve needed a lot of assistance to get Cameron to various appointments over the last year so my husband has had to use holidays or take additional time off work to get us to them. Although his employer has always been understanding, there is a worry at the back of your mind that it might all become too much.”

“We don’t have visitors to the house, and don’t have events, we can’t go out for family activities or even go for a family meal together. People don’t invite us places anymore as we always have to decline. We can’t have babysitters so my husband and I don’t spend any time together, or even go out individually to socialise, as we are too tired.”

“Being stuck in the house all day with limited and repeated activities can take a real toll on mental health. It can also be heart breaking to see how stressed Cameron becomes. Even though he is due to attend school this year, I’m not planning to return to work as I expect I will need to be on call throughout school hours and with the amount of additional support Cameron needs, he wouldn’t cope in an out of school childcare setting.”

How we helped

Emma explains that she first heard about Family Fund through a home visit. “I did a bit of research to see if Family Fund would be beneficial to us and to get an idea of what items would be useful. I happened to notice that outdoor play equipment was an option and watched a video about a family who had been awarded a climbing frame.”

“As Cameron is still at the diagnosis stage, I wasn’t sure if we would be eligible but the information on the website left me feeling confident that he did meet the criteria, so I decided to go ahead and apply.”

Emma applied for outdoor play equipment and a grant for sensory toys. “We were delighted! We spoke to Atlantic Trampolines who were really helpful and it was very easy to order the climbing frame, which we thought would be ideal. We also ordered a hammock with a stand, some step a logs, glow in the dark stars, a wooden calendar and a play board with clothes fastenings on it from Learning SPACE.”

How it’s made a difference

“Cameron responds really positively to deep pressure therapy and pleads with his dad to create makeshift hammocks all the time, so he was over the moon to have a real one, and not only that, it’s large enough to share – if he’s feeling generous.”

“He loves the swinging motion and the sensation of being cocooned inside it. The step a logs are great for helping with his balance and they are textured, so he likes the feeling on the soles of his feet. The bonus of these items is that they can be used both indoor and outdoor”

“The clothing play board is useful for practicing various fastenings without the pressure of getting dressed. The climbing frame has been fantastic too. Not only did he enjoy helping build it, he is keen to get in the garden and swing contentedly for ages.”

“He is getting lots of fresh air, exercise and relaxation. Getting outside is a change of scenery for us and provides an extra place to play. That is really important to me right now. Cameron can’t manage going to play parks, so we’ve brought the play park to him.”