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Children’s Mental Health Week
Article 2 – by Shayla Curtis age 14

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Lockdown can be a hard time for a lot of people: isolating, not seeing friends or family, missing out on things you thought you’d be able to experience at this time.

But for a lot of families, being stuck inside becomes almost impossible. Some children or adults who have additional needs may need to go to school and maybe aren’t get as much time learning as they need.

Routines can be essential to most people on the spectrum, and having these routines disrupted or changed can be incredibly hard for those who are used to having structure. As someone who has a sibling with autism, I’ve experienced this struggle first-hand.

My brother Cayden is five years old, non-verbal, and was diagnosed with autism and global development delay in September of 2017.

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Cayden has always been such a loving, cheeky boy with the most contagious smile, which made it even harder to see how different he’d become during lockdown and the affects that it had on his heart-warming personality.

Seeing him so upset and the seeing the impact of being deprived of all of his external support was heart crushing.

It started off as a few difficult days, which then became a constant battle to give Cayden the things he needed in his day to day life.

My younger sister Bonnie is four, and she also strives on routine and structure.

Around the time of the first lockdown, she was coming to the age where she could see the differences in her needs in comparison her brothers.

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This meant that often they were both becoming stressed and upset at the same time,  growing more and more angry off the back of each other as they couldn’t handle each other’s noise as well as their own feelings.

Being the eldest, I was able to see and understand the pain and the stress that my whole family were affected by, especially my mum. I felt helpless, as there was nothing I personally could do to help how by siblings felt and all I wanted was for everything to go back to normal.

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We tried new schedules, new toys or methods to help Cayden but we simply could not fill his need for sensory input.

By this point, my mental health started to take a turn for the worse as I was watching my whole world crash around me.

My family was at crisis point, and I could feel the light at the end of the tunnel becoming further and further away.

I wasn’t doing well mentally or physically, and on top of this I was struggling with keeping up with schoolwork, I was feeling different from everybody else and I just overall wasn’t getting the attention I needed to help me, because of how much pressure my parents and I were under to help Cayden, making it even more painful to get through the day.

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My life felt flipped upside down, and the only outlet I had was to get out of this situation for a while, so I went to stay in Ireland with my grandparent for two weeks to catch up on school and focus on building myself back up again and to have a break from the constant noise and stress that was now my home life.

Being away from it all for those two weeks gave me clarity, and I opened up to my mum about how I’d been feeling and told her that I thought I needed help and she supported me with that.

I came out of that first lockdown feeling like the bond I had with my mum was stronger than it had ever been before, after what we had just experienced together as a family.

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This made me realise that mental health affects a lot of people my age, and to piece myself back together again I needed to speak out.

Talking to people you trust always helps, and there will always be someone who will support you through everything.

So, remember to prioritise yourself as well as your mental health, because even when you think it’s impossible, things will always get better.

Shayla Curtis

 Age 14

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