Donnie is 11 years old and lives in Newquay with his mum Michelle and younger sister Anais. Donnie has autism. As mum Michelle explains, “When I was pregnant with Donnie I had the Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS) test. The results showed that Donnie had an extra piece of DNA that they couldn’t account for.” CVS refers to a test that can be offered during pregnancy. It can check whether a baby has a genetic or chromosomal condition.

“Despite the test, when Donnie was born he was perfectly fine. It was as he got older that the issues became clear. He had sleeping problems, behavioural problems and anger issues. When my daughter was born – she is two years younger than Donnie – he became very jealous and his problems were heightened.”

“At the age of four we went through the diagnosis process, and he was diagnosed with autism around the age of five.” 

Daily life for Donnie and his family

Michelle tells us that whilst Donnie struggled with his condition when he was younger, “it’s getting better now he’s older and maturing. He is able to handle himself. From the age of five until maybe eight or nine, it was meltdown after meltdown, rage after rage. He would be very frustrated, never wanted to wait for anything, refused to go places, and wouldn’t want to leave the house. He isolated himself.”

“It’s still hard work and he does have challenging behaviour that has been violent and aggressive, but he’s handling it well and is learning to control his impulses. Sometimes he’ll clench his fists and hold it in. But he is going to boxing now, and it seems to be a good way for him to channel his anger.”

Michelle also tells that Donnie has “anxiety and gets upset and frustrated quite easily.”

This can tip over in school. “Donnie is in mainstream school, and though he finds it to be okay, he can be afraid of others. He’s very sweet and polite, and I’m told his manners are commendable, but because he holds it all together at school he lets out his frustrations at home. There are never any behavioural problems in school, he’s a model pupil. He’s learnt to remove himself from situations if he feels bullied, or if the classroom is noisy.”

Because Donnie has anxiety, and Michelle “has to reassure him a lot”, the school have decided to keep his support low-key. “He doesn’t have one-to-one Teaching Assistant support, but he has support through group work and with his peers. They’re letting him find his feet, and when problems emerge he will receive the support he needs. It helps him feel in control.”

Outside of school Donnie loves technology, and that’s when he is most calm. “He’s got lots of devices, and whilst I know it’s a lot, he needs it and he enjoys it. That’s when he’s the most happy. He won’t watch television or anything like that, but he’ll play his games. He does play outside now and again, and he has a few friends, but even on a sunny day he’d rather stay in his room. It’s his safe space. I do my best to get him out of the house – it’s about finding the right balance.”

Support for Donnie and his family

Michelle explains that “Donnie’s condition can be really exhausting. I don’t get a lot of help from my family who find Donnie hard to cope with, so I bear the brunt of everything and I don’t get much of a break. He goes to his Dad’s once a month for a sleepover, but that’s all, and to be honest it is very tiring.”

“I am a positive person and I take one day at a time. I try to help Donnie as much as I can, and constantly have to reassure him. Thankfully I’m able to work. I only just started working last year when we moved to Newquay. I do eight hours a week, and that’s amazing because it means I still get precious time for myself, and time for the kids.”

“I’m a single parent on Universal Credit, so I’m allowed to earn a certain amount. I earn what I can.” 

How we helped

Michelle has applied to Family Fund since Donnie was five years old. We first helped Donnie with sensory equipment and floor covering, followed by a two family breaks through Inspire. “We have had two caravan breaks through Inspire, which was really helpful.” In recent years, Michelle has applied for our day trips grant. “I’ve applied for day trips for the last three years, and we’ve been lucky enough to secure them.”

How it’s made a difference

I find the grants so helpful. As a low income family there are things that are beyond me.

I don’t have money to save – it comes in and goes out straight away.”

“The day trips have been great because of those reasons. There are days when Donnie doesn’t want to leave the house, and that’s fine, but when he does we can use that grant to go out and do different trips, from going trampolining to a local pony centre that has a range of activities including indoor climbing walls, things like that. It helps his sister too, as she can go and join in with him.”

“This summer holiday just gone I was a bit strapped for cash – and whilst we are so lucky where we live that we have the beaches and local parks – the grants mean we can do something that really interests Donnie. It benefits a lot, and without the grant we would be restricted in where we could go.”

“The next thing on our list is Newquay Zoo. And of course it’s another expense when you’ve got two children, so the grant helps us massively.”

“Every year I look forward to applying, and hopefully getting a grant. We are all very grateful.”

Find out more about our grants and how to apply