SHARON Robins’ life was turned upside down the day her three-year-old son was diagnosed with autism.
The mum-of-three admits she was in denial for the first few years, but it quickly became clear to her that life had changed for good.
Nine years later she is now looking to set up a support group to help others who care for people with autism.
RICHARD MENNEAR caught up with the determined mum.
DEVOTED mum Sharon Robins describes her son Lee as the “most precious unique boy” that a family could wish for.
But she admits living with people with autism can be very difficult and puts a lot of pressure on family life.
Sharon, who is also mum to Tony, 14, and seven-year-old Roxanne, said she was in complete denial when Lee was eventually diagnosed with high functioning autism when he was three.
The 41-year-old said: “It has changed my life massively, but we take each day as it comes.
“I was in complete denial and I didn’t want to believe what the doctors were telling me.
“It took me a few years to really come to terms with it.
“I didn’t know anything about it and I felt devastated.
“The main problem was that there was no help; that is one of the main reasons why I want to set up the new group.”
Lee, who is now 12, was first diagnosed at a clinic in Caroline Street, but the family wanted a second opinion and it was confirmed by medics in Prudhoe, in Northumberland.
Lee attended Throston Nursery and Sharon said that came as a big shock to see how different he was to other youngsters.
Sharon, who lives in Hart Lane, said: “His speech was very limited and he couldn’t interact with other children.
“Every word that would come out of his mouth would be a miracle.”
Within weeks he had moved to Kingsley Nursery and Primary School, in Kingsley Avenue, and Sharon admits it was tough going, but he improved there.
She said: “At the age of six he wasn’t saying anything, he just used to make noises.
“He has come on leaps and bounds since then.”
The youngster is currently in Year 8 at Manor College of Technology, in Owton Manor Lane, where he is taught by two members of staff in a specialist unit.
But his mum is hoping to get him into Beverley School, in Middlesbrough, which is a specialist autism school.
Autism is a disability that affects how a person communicates with other people.
It is a spectrum condition so while everyone with autism shares certain difficulties – such as problems with social communication, interaction and imagination – their condition affects them in different ways.
Asperger Syndrome is a similar condition where people have fewer problems with speech, but may still have trouble understanding language while others, like Lee, have real trouble communicating.
Some need a lifetime of support, while others are more independent.
Lee’s high-functioning autism means he does not sleep very well, he cannot socialise or interact with others easily and he needs a set routine.
It has also affected his eating as he does not like the texture of certain foods.
His daily diet consists of slices of buttered bread, crisps, chocolate, mash potatoes and chicken nuggets.
Sharon added: “Lee is extremely clever and he is really good at maths, but he cannot socialise and he needs a set routine.
“That has caused massive problems and it means we cannot go on family holidays or days out.
“It has had a huge effect on the other two children.”
The last family trip was a short break to Centre Parcs three years ago.
Sharon, who said her parents and close friends have been very supportive, hopes that one day Lee, who will need constant support, will be able to hold down a part-time job in an office.
Sharon, who describes her part time job at Tesco as a “release”, added: “Lee is the most precious unique boy that a family could wish for.
“It is a different life, but I do not see him as a burden; he is special and unique.”
In a bid to help others, Sharon is looking to create a new support group for people of all ages called Autism Rights Group Hartlepool (ARGH).
ARGH is aimed at families or carers who look after someone with any form of autism and the aim is to provide information, advice and emotional support.
A public meeting has been organised for Wednesday, October 19, at 9.30am at Belle Vue Community Sports and Youth Centre, in Kendal Road, Hartlepool.
The meeting will be repeated at 6pm and refreshments will be provided.
If there is enough interest then the meetings could be held once a fortnight.
Sharon added: “There are many people in the same situation and it is good to share experiences.”
For more information, call Hartlepool Voluntary Development Agency (HVDA), which is supporting the new group, on (01429) 262641.