Martin is six years old and lives with his mum Jo, and younger sister Eva, in Inverness. He was diagnosed with autism when he was four years old, and as mum Jo says, “It was a long process. I’d had concerns from when he was very young, yet it was only when he started school that it became extremely obvious – he isn’t a neuro-typical child.”

Jo explains that every day Martin’s teacher would have to talk to her about Martin’s behaviour. “I was relieved when he was diagnosed, and we were finally offered the support that Martin needed in school to help him fully access and partake in the curriculum.” Martin currently has a pupil support assistant who works alongside him daily. As mum Jo notes, “This extremely beneficial support was put into place after an upsetting and aggressive outburst from Martin at school.”

Because of Martin’s autism, his behaviour can be difficult. As Jo explains, “His behaviour has definitely improved this year, due to various strategies the school has put into place.” Yet for Jo, Martin’s worst meltdowns are, as she says, “Reserved for me. Thankfully, I can handle them.”

Daily life with Martin

“The daily challenges we face range from getting up on a morning to leaving the house without too many meltdowns. I often have to dress Martin, not that he’s incapable of dressing himself, but he gets so worked up trying to get his socks on and his shirt buttoned up that it’s easier and quicker if I help him.”

“Martin is incredibly intelligent. When there’s a topic he’s interested in he’s fully engaged.” Martin is a keen fan of Minecraft, Pokémon and all things outer-space. But as Jo explains, “He often struggles to fully engage or concentrate in class, which is beginning to hold him back.”

Jo is a single parent, and as she says:

“It’s tough, even in the best of circumstances. But being a single parent to two children, one autistic and one potentially autistic, is challenging.”

Jo is growing increasingly concerned about her daughter, two year old Eva.

“I’m a secondary school English teacher, though I’ve had to go part-time. It just isn’t financially or emotionally viable to work full time with the cost of childcare. I always try to do the best for my children. I fill up our weekends with adventures, mainly to stop them from destroying the house. Life definitely hasn’t been a walk in the park. I am lucky though, as the children still spend every second weekend at their dad’s – I get to recharge my batteries.” 

Local support and wider misconceptions

As Jo explains, the support she receives locally has helped both her, Martin and Eva, massively. “We have an excellent local group ‘Friends of Autism Highlands’ who organise lots of free events that we regularly attend, from soft play to trampolining. The children love it and they’ve even made friends. I’ve also met some lovely parents who really understand what it’s like to have a child with autism.”

Yet, Jo notes that there are wider misconceptions when it comes to autism, and how challenging it can be raising a child who isn’t neuro-typical. “Many people in society can’t fully empathise with your situation unless they’ve experienced it for themselves. They see meltdowns as your child acting up, behaving badly or just a lack of parental discipline.” Jo says she spends a lot of her time, “Trying to justify Martin’s behaviour. I do it because I hate being judged negatively.”

How we helped

“I first heard about Family Fund when I was given a post autism diagnosis guidebook in 2018. I wasn’t sure if we would qualify, it’s never a guarantee. But I was over the moon when I received my award letter.” Jo applied for a family break. As she notes, “We received a grant for a break at Haven,” and the family embarked on an Easter break to Cala Gran Holiday Park, just outside Blackpool.

How it’s made a difference

“We all had an amazing break. I took my mum along for extra support, though I think she needed another break to recover!”

The Cala Gran Holiday Park has a range of things to see and do, from an adventure golf course to a climbing wall and outdoor SplashZone. For the family, this meant there were loads of activities to explore. “Martin tried archery and boating, and Eva loved dancing at the kids club. There was so much to see and do, and the children kept talking about how much they loved the holiday and how they can’t wait to go again.”

“It was such a relief to be able to take the children away and offer them some truly magical experiences.”

As Jo explains, breaks like this aren’t easy to come by. “I would never have been able to afford a family trip myself, as the cost of living is so high. They had the most amazing time, and I’m extremely thankful for Family Fund, as it would have been impossible for us to make these memories without your support.”

Find out more about our grants and how to apply