Private Renters Deserve Pets Too! By Kelly Grehan

Yesterday was National Pet Day.  A frivolous occasion, you might expect to be marked with humour in a country famed for being full of animal lovers.

But pet ownership is on the decline in the UK, falling by 7% in the last 5 years.  I believe much of this can be traced to the rise in renting.

The proportion of people living in the private rented sector has doubled over the last decade, as rising house prices coupled with stagnating wages have put the dream of owning a home out of reach for many, especially the young.

Around 5 million households, or 21% of the total are living in private rented accommodation, a quarter of whom are families with children.

Renting, is now often a stressful way of life, with renters without security knowing their landlord can raise the rent at the end of their tenancy agreement, evict them, and that they will pay the costs associated with moving.

In addition research indicates tenants are increasingly afraid to complain about poor conditions and disrepair for fear of eviction as landlords seek an ‘easier tenant.’

Pet ownership is another area (of many) where private tenants are denied opportunities taken for granted by homeowners and council tenants.

The benefits of pet keeping are well known.

For example they can offer relief from loneliness –  a growing problem in the UK, which has been recognised as a health issue.

On an emotional level, owning a pet can decrease depression, stress and anxiety; health-wise, it can lower your blood pressure, improve your immunity and even decrease your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Having pets teaches children responsibility, in the case of dogs can be a way of meeting new people and getting more exercise and fresh air.

Being excluded from keeping pets means private tenants are excluded from a traditional and beneficial part of British family life.

The expectation that tenants are not allowed pets, is part of the culture that persists where houses are seen as being the cash cow of the landlord rather than a home.

The fact that landlords have been allowed to ban pets is indicative of the way the UK sees landlords rights as more important than those of tenants: family life and childhood are second to the rights of profiteering.

In February, announcing plans connected to animal welfare, the Labour Party announced that when in power it will bring in an assumed right of tenants to keep pets in their home.

This may seem a minor policy, but I believe it will improve the quality of life for many people.

Inspiration Follows Inspiration By Kelly Grehan

I was 11 when my Primary School teacher said something that has never left me.

Talking about the suffrage movement she said “I hope none of you, but especially the girls, ever forget what others gave up so you would have the right to vote.”

This was the beginning of a love affair with the suffragettes and feminism for me.  

So I have been surprised that some of my fellow pupils from that class in 1990 have gone on to be apolitical and others opposed to feminism.

My experience has always been that to mention women and equality is to be met with a accusations of men bashing and to point out the subjectification of women in the media is to be accused of jealousy.

So, despite being a very vocal person I had not always fought as hard as I could on women’s issues.

Over the last six months, however,  I feel as if I have found my voice as a feminist.

This has coincided with a few things: firstly Kent’s new Labour MP Rosie Duffield has been instrumental in raising the profile of Kent’s Labour women, and very quickly we have formed a network, or what could be called a ‘sisterhood.’

It sounds corny, but it’s true, I feel supported by my Labour sisters, that we are all routing for each other.

I have also started blogging (https://theavengeruk.com/) and increasingly write about my lived experiences and those of my friends, and so by default these are often experiences that could be deemed women’s issues.

This has brought me into contact with a whole new network of women.

I have got involved with 50:50 Parliament, having met the founder Frances, at an event and it has brought back memories of all the reasons I became enchanted by the suffragettes 28 years ago.

Following on from this, myself and my friend Kate this week ran  Women’s Event at Dartford Labour, the first in our time as party members.

I spoke with one veteran member of the party who said her heart leapt with joy’ when she saw the invite because at last the issue is gaining attention.

Armed with the stories about the disparity between men and women at every level of government in the UK we made the case for 50:50 representation.

With our new network of Labour Party women we were able to find four amazingly motivational speakers, who represented the diversity of women in terms of backgrounds (the videos can be found here (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKTFQzBXXEWXQwebXL76jNQ).

Hearing them led to other members telling their stories.

These stories are about lived experiences, and of course, women’s lived experiences are different to those of men, and both need representing.  

What the event confirmed is this:

Hearing women tell their stories inspires other women to tell their stories.

When woman speak up it inspires other women to speak up and so it stands to reason that more women standing will lead to even more women standing for election.

For me this is just the beginning of speaking out for 50:50 Parliament and I cannot wait to see where else it takes me and to all the fabulous women I will meet on the way.

Autism And Transition To Adulthood – Why It Was So Daunting By Matt Lynch

Eight years ago I was faced with the nightmare that every autistic person dreads – leaving school.

The days of only having to turn up where everything else is decided by someone else was rapidly coming to end.

The thought of having to somehow find a job, or more realistically claim benefits and sit around being more and more depressed by the day was only becoming more of a reality that I pushed to the back of my mind.

Procrastinating wasn’t going to help, but as nobody had the answers I was looking for it was the only option I was left with.

Before I knew it the fateful day came and went without much ado.

I remember sitting in the car on the way home looking at the lampposts fly past and thinking “well this is my life done”.

My brain was just full of little bubbles of information, floating around and bumping into each other, and trying to think about this only made it worse.

Thinking of anything would just burst the whole lot at once, which as you can imagine made finding a solution to any of the problems impossible.

As I’ve got older, I’ve learnt to just accept many of the problems and deal with the ones that I can do something about, as there’s no point in worrying about things you can’t do anything about.

However, in 2010 and aged 18 this just simply wasn’t possible.

Today I volunteer for the National Autistic Society local Dartford and Gravesham Branch, local NAS run school Helen Allison and am an autism advocate on a local steering group for Autism; giving advice to local professionals.

It has been a gradual increase in involvement for me and it helps that I am surrounded by people with an understanding of autism.

With the local support groups I help give advice to parents with children with autism, having been there myself and hope to continue to do this to make a position be change for other children and adults on the spectrum.

Matt is the Social Media and Web Officer for the local NAS Branch that he helped establish. Despite the Branch being less than one year old it has been awarded the status of Top 5 NAS Branches in the country. Matt gives talks on autism perspective for the Multi Agency Autism Group.

What Autism And Self Perspective Can Feel Like By Various Writers

We asked two adults with autism how it can feel to have autism and relate to the rest of the world. Matt Lynch and an anonymous writer share those views and a poem.

By Matt Lynch

The Mask I Wear

🌸 🌸 🌸 🌸 🌸

A Poem By Anonymous

I am the one who isn’t enough

And

I am the one who is ‘too much’

The one chastised for things I didn’t mean

So much so that I have no self esteem

Apologise, take ownership of things that aren’t mine

Maybe because it’s easier than being wrong all the time

I stand a better chance of being liked

When my mask is on and I smile

But what about what others don’t see?

The tears and the turmoil, fear of being me

I cannot and will not prove everyone right

So

I swallow my words ands and sit tight

I sit on my hands so no one can see

That I pick my hands until they bleed

Pulling and pulling the strands of my hair

Surely that would make people stare?

That’s not acceptable in today’s digital age

Not the way a mother of kids should behave

So I put my mask on, push down the tears

Hope no one notices my long list of fears

No one can see; my cough is a disguise

Bile rising and the stinging in my eyes

When someone looks with a questioning frown

I just say “I’m tired” with a smile and it works for now

It covers the terror, the panic and the fear

Of the things I don’t make sense of and don’t want to hear

I don’t understand what their expressions mean

So I’ve learned to smile and look keen

Replay it all in my head while I am alone

All the bits I got wrong, I hope it didn’t show

It’s too much sometimes and I want to hide

I need to be better and work on my disguise

Because now my transformation is almost complete

Shy anxious girl to woman of the world

There are two me’s

The one that you see

And the other for those

Unlucky to get close

Maybe one day I’ll fully be able

To transform and in private be stable

Tomorrow will be better I tell myself each night

Tomorrow I will learn how to get it all right

To calm those butterflies

To stop those slipped beats

Until next time, until I am free

Free to be brave enough to be me

In This Together – Anonymous

To my darling boy,

I couldn’t save you today. I couldn’t be there to hold you as the tears fell from your cheeks or make it all better.

Since you were a baby we knew you were different, I remember telling the doctor how hard it was to step into your world and how you wouldn’t let us in. The diagnosis of autism actually came as a relief in the end.

Things moved fast after that, school managed to put in place support, we learned how to communicate with you and how to help you feel safe.

However the one thing we couldn’t prepare you for is the heartache of watching your nursery friend now run off laughing with other friends as they look at you with pity, neither of you knowing how to step into each other’s worlds anymore.

Their needs and communication have now surpassed what you can offer and inevitably they have moved on.

You try and join in but it’s just too much, you cannot understand the invisible rules of making friends, it’s so hard and complicated and eventually you walk away lonely and heartbroken.

The world you were once a part of, the children you once called friends now moving further away as their understanding and expectations of what a friend is changes and you are just not able to keep up anymore.

I come up to you, I wipe away the tear and kiss your perfect cheek. I check my phone, no messages and just a Facebook update of a mum I used to spend time with, she is now busy with the other mum’s and it seems their children are all having a sleepover tonight and making cookies.

I silently say goodbye to yet another friendship and thank god you do not have social media yet.

I turn to you and tell you that I love you, that we will always be in this together.

I remind you that you have so much to offer this world, that you can point out the smallest detail in something that other people cannot see, you are loyal and focused when something interests you and because of that you will excel in your chosen field.

You rarely judge other people or get caught up in social expectations, you accept a person for who they are and would never lie or cheat them.

You are passionate, you live for the moment and despite common belief actually have the biggest heart I know!

But mostly importantly, you are unique and beautiful, and even the loneliest butterfly eventually spreads their wings and finds their place in this world.

In the meantime my darling boy I will always be there for you, we are in this together and I will always be your best friend.

I will help you understand this world and see the beauty within it.

I will teach you the things you struggle to see and together we will make sense of it.

I will forever walk by your side and you will forever have my love.

Love Mummy xx

How you treat one percent of people really matters By Miriam Gwynne

According to The National Autistic Society around 1 percent of the population in the UK are autistic. That might seem like a tiny amount, and while I agree that it is very much a minority of people, I can not stress enough how important it is that one percent matters.

We are only every as strong as our weakest members and everyone is important.

At any point any one of us could find ourselves to be that 1 in 100 for any number of reasons.

Let’s put some of the struggles autistic children and adults face daily into perspective with other groups that are around 1 to 2 percent of the population too and see how important it is that we support everyone, even if they are only 1 in every 100.

Many people with autism face discrimination in employment.

Only 16 percent of autistic adults are in full time employment. Let’s look at that another way for a moment. Did you know that around 1-2% of the UK population have green eyes? What if only 16% of those with green eyes were in full time employment? I suspect that would make headline news, make the government concerned and initiate further research. Autistic people should count just as much as everyone with green eyes.

Many children with autism are denied the educational support they need to reach their full potential.

According to Department for Education figures for England there was a 35% increase between 2015 and 2016 in the number of local authority refusals to carry out EHC (Education and Health Care) needs assessments on children. Lets look at this another way: did you know that between 1 and 2 percent of the population have red hair? Imagine if a third of school pupils with red hair were refused the education support plan they needed ? Would we not be rightly angry about this? Autistic children count just as much as those with red hair. What are we doing to help these children?

Many children and adults with autism are bullied.

A recent survey in the United States found that 63% of children with autism reported being bullied, with many more unable to say due to communication difficulties. No-one should experience bullying but let’s put this in perspective again: 1 to 2 percent of the UK population are vegetarians. Imagine if two thirds of them consistently complained their were bullied because they were in a minority group? Why are we more respectful, tolerant and even accommodating of vegetarians than we are autistic people? How we treat one percent of the population really does matter.

Many children with autism are excluded from school.

The most recent national statistics show that, between 2010-14, there was a 35% increase in the number of autistic pupils excluded for a fixed period and the number of pupils permanently excluded has doubled over the last three years. What if we took another group of people who happen to be in the 1-2% in Britain and used the same statistics? What if there was a 35 percent increase in people with celiac disease excluded for a fixed period from school? Yes they are very different conditions but they both represent a similar percentage of the population. Autistic people deserve the same support as those with celiac disease.

People with autism often face sensory issues that make daily life a struggle.

Thankfully we are getting more aware of this through campaigns such as the too much information campaign by the National Autistic society and seeing an increase in autism friendly shopping times and businesses making accommodations.

A similar proportion of the UK population have food allergies and, of course, despite them only being around 1-2% of the population we are, as a society, accepting the seriousness and concerns they face and starting to address this too in the form of clearer packaging and better understanding.

My point is that everyone matters.

I am not autistic but my children are. They may be in just 1-2% of the population but so could anyone of us if we look at different things like hair colour, medical conditions, blood groups, income or any number of other factors.

1% matters. 1% of nuts in a recipe could kill someone.

1% of your house collapsing could be fatal if it was in a supporting place.

1% battery in your phone may be enough to dial 999 and save your life.

1% is important. How we treat 1% of our population matters so much.

For the sake of my children and all those others in the 1 to 2 percent of the population who are autistic please respect everyone and support autistic people to lead the best and most productive lives they can.

Everyone matters. In fact the less a percentage perhaps matter even more because it makes it different, unique and special, exactly like my children are.

How Autism Awareness Changed My Life By Lisa Mulholland

I am not the same person I was 10 years ago. Before the word ‘autism’ became a reality in my house.

10 years ago my eldest son was diagnosed with autism.

10 years ago my heart broke in two.

10 years ago I had a very steep learning curve and…

10 years ago a whole new world opened up to me; my life changed for the better. I just didn’t know that at that precise moment in time when the paediatrician uttered the words “ Your son has Autistic Spectrum Disorder “…

I nearly fell off my chair.

It shouldn’t have come as a shock. The signs were all there from when he was a baby.

He lined everything up. Sounds were painful to him. He could not get on a train that had windows that looked slightly different to what he was used to. Certain materials were a no no. There were so many signs and perhaps I was in denial but all I saw was my intelligent, unique son.

I didn’t see a ‘problem’.

As a working single mum I would struggle to get him to his childcare before tackling the daily commute into London. I didn’t know what autism was. Sure I’d heard about it. I’d seen the film ‘ Rain Man’ and my son was nothing like that!

But what would I know? All my friends were city workers, civil servants, teachers. None of them had children. I had nothing to compare him to.

So that day at the hospital I burst into tears. Alone and scared . I didn’t know what it meant . A million questions ran through my mind at once!

There was nothing ‘ wrong’ with my boy surely?

And so it went on. The denial. The upset. The tick list of things that he would ‘ never do’ that I now crossed off in my mind.

Little did I know that the list of things I wanted for my son were just preconceived ideas based on my own fuzzy image of how I wanted things to be .

Playing Football, birthday parties, friends coming over, even making friends: all of these things I now crossed off in my head.

All I could see was what I thought autism would take away from him. I didn’t see what it gave him.

Yes he wasn’t interested in football! But guess what? He loved space!! And he could tell you everything about the Big Bang theory and list every single Thomas the Tank Engine train in alphabetical order.

Yes he struggled with friends but he had two. Ok they played alongside him (not with) most of the time but mostly he was happy in his own world. I was just an outsider looking in. Judging by my own standards. How did I know what he enjoyed?

After a while I started to see my son again.

For the first few months every funny little quirk he had, I looked at in a different analytical light. But when I accepted that autism was a part of him and what made him so funny and unique: I saw him again. I saw him for who he was.

The main problem I had with autism was not actually the autism.

Ok the sleepless nights and the meltdowns are very tiring. But when a lovely support worker at the school put me in touch with other parents and organisations that taught me about autism and how to prevent meltdowns and understand I changed my strategy. And it helped. I realised that he couldn’t change so I had to. Slowly but surely I made breakthroughs.

I embedded visual supports, countdowns and prepared him for changes, I explained the what and the whys of the world to him and his anxious, active little mind would settle.

The main problem with autism for me came from a lack of understanding with the rest of the world.

The dagger looks I would get from other parents.

The stares in the shop if he got over stimulated and would lie on the floor.

The school teacher who didn’t understand but wanted to.

And so I realised the key to unlocking my son’s potential and creating a happy and understanding world for him was to forge it and to carve it out by myself.

Explain to the people in the shop.

Talk to the other mums and explain to them too.

Be upfront with the teacher about the difficulties at home.

Look for solutions together.

I am not going to say this was a miracle solution but it helped. I had to swallow my pride and calm my own anxiety and lump it. Something I had never done before. But I had to do it for him. He came first now. Not me.

And it paid off. The parents would smile. They’d show understanding towards my son and that filtered down to their children. I found a group of friends who would listen to me and in the end the teacher and I would work together and put on a united front to my little boy.

So when I went into battle over school placements and navigating the very complex system of obtaining a suitable education for my son, it became easier to do because I found a tribe of supportive mums and autism mums. And we kept each other sane. And picked each other up.

When my third child presented with a more severe form of autism I was calm. I’d already fought battles both outside and inside my head.

I’d already found a way to celebrate the small tiny things.

I knew the system inside out and I knew how to get support right away.

I knew that comparing him to neurotypical children would only break my heart so I accepted instantly that he is who he is.

And do you know who helped me put it into perspective? My eldest autistic child.

He was just 11 when told him that his youngest brother Finley had been diagnosed with autism and global development delay.

His response amazed me then and still does now 2 and a half years later:

“ Mummy don’t worry!!! Everyone travels on different roads. We all reach the same place in the end. Most people take the motorway. I take the A roads mostly. But Finley is just off roading. We all get to the same place and he will get there too so don’t worry”

Well what could I say to that?

So! No, I am not the same person I was 10 years ago.

I am a much more positive person these days. Autism has taught me that the little things matter . It has taught me to think outside the box and look at everything with childish curiosity. It has taught me what is really important in life and I couldn’t be prouder to be an autism Mum.