Interview with Naomi Simmons by Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Naomi Simmons and Ruby, her Large Munsterlander

Naomi Simmons was born in London and is a well known children’s educational author. She was named by The Times as one of the top ten authors of the decade. None of this prepared her for the challenges of parenting children with a range of hidden disabilities including high functioning autism, ADHD and dyslexia. This took her life and writing into a new direction…

What brought you to Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Life blessed me with children with additional needs, needs that I found very hard to understand. I found it  even harder to know how to respond to these needs as a parent. 

Some of the books published by JKP were life savers for me during this time. But I wasn’t able to find exactly what I was looking for and felt that I really needed. How do I parent when conventional parenting approaches seemed to make things worse?

What was it you felt you needed?

Hope! I was full of self doubt and self blame. I had no idea how to deal with the day to to day challenges of meltdowns, shutdowns, school anxiety to name but a few. I felt like a failure. I also needed help with dealing with schools and other organisations that didn’t seem to understand my children’s needs. I needed an approach to all this that made sense to my family’s experience and mainly I needed hope that things would work out OK for my kids and for me.

On one of the darkest of days I made a promise to myself. That if we were to find a way through this and end up with with thriving kids, I would do everything I could to share any wisdom with other parents. If was able to find hope I wanted others to have it too. 

Did you find this hope?

Yes, absolutely!  I started communicating with people who had walked this path personally and were able to speak from their own experience. So I spoke to inspiring young adults with diagnoses like those of my children about what had best supported them during childhood. I also found some lovely parents who had successfully parented kids like mine and had productive ideas to share.

How did this help?

By hearing what had helped others I was able to figure out a new approach to parenting my own children. Thanks to these wonderful people and their openness to share, many things transformed pretty quickly in my home.

So I wrote the book I needed to read when I was going through this. This brought me to JKP as no-one understands neurodivergence better!

I was also privileged to have the ongoing support and consultancy of a number of clinicians who made sure that my ideas were complementary to any professional intervention our child may be receiving. 

And for your children?

It may give hope to others to know that my severely dyslexic son, who was not allowed to do SATS by his school due to apparent ‘low ability’ graduated last year with first class honours from the University of Edinburgh. My other child’s anxiety was so severe that any engagement with life or education was very limited. This one is currently doing a postgraduate degree in philosophy and mathematics. My children are independent, recognise their challenges and work with their strengths.  

If anyone had suggested this outcome to me when they were children I would have thought they were joking!

What hidden disabilities does it include and why are they all together in one book?

I put it all together in one book as children rarely fit neatly into one diagnostic ‘box’. It is reported that 95% of children on the autism spectrum also have at least four other additional hidden disabilities. Diagnoses also can change over time as our child grows up. For this reason, I wanted to find an approach that supports our children regardless of diagnosis as well as for when there is no  diagnosis at all. 

Can you sum up the book’s main message?

Parenting kids with hidden disabilities is all about code breaking – most communication is non verbal and we need to learn what specific behaviours may be saying to us. When we are able to ‘get’ our kids, the best road forward is usually pretty clear. This books shows you how.  

The other main thing is learning that gifts and challenges are two sides of the same coin. For our children’s gifts to shine, we need to fully recognise their needs and do what we can to address them.

Why did you call it ‘Getting It’?

Because when speaking to other parents, I would constantly hear, ‘They just don’t get it’ about schools and other people in relation to their parenting situation. 

So firstly we need to make sure we ‘get it’, which basically means we take our focus to understanding and ‘getting’ our child. We also need to ‘get’ ourselves and our own needs and gifts. For many of us this includes our own neurodivergence which can affect our parenting. It certainly did for me.

What do you hope to achieve from this book?

At the time I stated that if this book helped change the life only just one parent or child, then I would feel it was worthwhile. I am aware from feedback that this has already been achieved many times over. Now my hope is that it reaches the right people at the right time and helps others as much as it helped me.

Are you prepared to do talks to groups on this subject?

Absolutely! I am passionate about this subject and very happy to share what I have learned as well as learn more from parents and professionals.

Any final words?

Yes, just that hope is really about trusting that life will unfold for our child in a way that serves them and gives meaning to their lives. Whatever challenge we are going through right now will pass! 

Raising Kids With Hidden Disabilities: Getting It by Naomi Simmons Published by Jessica Kingsley Publisher 2022.

ISBN: 978 1 83997 155 6

eISBN: 978 1 83997 155 3

Can Parents of Kids With Hidden Disabilities be Happy? The answer is YES!

Can we be happy and have a great life, even when our children are on the autism spectrum, have ADHD, a mood disorder or other hidden disability? I strongly believes that the answer is YES!!

By Naomi Simmons

Can we be happy and have a great life, even when our children are on the autism spectrum, have ADHD, a mood disorder or other hidden disability? I strongly believes that the answer is YES!!   

How to be at peace even if our child is not at peace is quite a challenge.  We are conditioned to believe that we are responsible for our children’s happiness.  

You will have heard the saying, “We can only be as happy as our most unhappy child.”  

This may be true if your kid is going through a rough patch, the idea being that once you sort out your child’s problem you can be happy again. But for us this idea is disastrous!  Our children’s problems cannot be simply ‘fixed’. They are not like a virus that our kid will get over, so that happy life can resume. Our children have serious, ongoing disabilities that may involve them being unhappy, anxious or angry for much of the time.  

If we match their unhappiness with our own, as well as living pretty rubbish lives ourselves, we are unlikely to be very effective as parents or much fun as spouses or friends.

We are probably trying to do everything ‘right’:  being loving, supportive and consistent parents; but our loved one is still seriously depressed, anxious, having meltdowns, is aggressive or cannot settle or study.  

We may feel pretty much like failures and pretty bad about ourselves. If our loved ones are in pain, whether it is emotional or physical pain, as caring parents, we are likely to feel their pain too.  We may feel that pain as much as they do, maybe even more.  We may also feel annoyed that our child’s hidden disability is ruining all the dreams of the family life we hoped to have, all our hopes and plans for the future. 

For me at least, parenting children with hidden disabilities was a push/pull of intense love and intense resentment!  And did I feel guilty about the resentment! We can add to this all the criticism and judgement we may be receiving from others, plus the ongoing fights that may be needed to access educational and medical support for our loved ones, along with the benefits that they are entitled to.  Sometimes the fighting for help is in itself is a full time job.

It is not surprising at all that a happy, peaceful and great life seems crazily out of reach when our child has a hidden disability.

About 90% of postings on the forums are of parents at breaking point, venting their pain and frustrations in the hope that letting of this steam will help them feel better. Other parents, although they so want to help, tend to have little to offer other than pointing out that they are also feeling desperate and that feeling desperate is normal when caring for a child with a hidden disability. 

Our pain is real. Research has shown that autism mothers have the same levels of stress hormones in their body as combat soldiers.  Yes, read that again.  We have combat stress!  And there is no reason to believe that this is any different if your child has any other hidden disability.  

So What Do We Do? 

Clearly we want to help our kids as best we can. But to be effective at this, and find a way to live a happy and peaceful life, we have to give priority to treating our own combat stress as a priority! 

We know that when we get on an airplane we are asked to put our own life jacket on before putting on our child’s life jacket. We cannot help our child if we are drowning.  

And it certainly feels like we are drowning much of the time, trying to catch our breath with all the battles we need to fight, the appointment we have to go to, plus managing our child’s needs, along with the rest of the family, plus earning a living.

We have all heard puerile advice about self care, such as people telling us to ‘just chill’ or to ‘get a manicure’. This can feel very patronising when we are at breaking point.  

So how to we get from breaking point to being happy, peaceful and calm? 

We can use our situation as an opportunity for growth. It is a time to learn more about ourselves. We can learn about what triggers us and how much we are affected by the opinions and judgements of other people.  We can learn to be stronger and more accepting of ourselves and our loved ones. We can learn to be more compassionate, less judgemental and less reactive.  

Although we can not change other people, we can absolutely change how re react to the challenges we facing.

If we learn these things, which we absolutely can, we can find peace and happiness for ourselves, regardless of what is or isn’t happening with our child or how supportive other people are or are not being. And when we get things wrong, which even the best parents will, we can learn from this too and our mistakes can make us even better role models for our children.  

Finding calm, peace and happiness will also make you a stronger advocate for your and your child’s rights.

Parenting is about showing our children the way.  So as we grow and find peace for ourselves, learning from our mistakes and accepting our strengths and limitations, we are teaching our children to do the same. No matter how big our challenges are, our children’s challenges are worse, as they are the ones with the hidden disabilities.  

To lead a happy and peaceful life, they are going to need to learn to love and accept themselves, recognise their challenges, strengths and gifts, just as we are with ours. They will learn that it is OK to make mistakes, that we can learn from them and find out more about our needs. Ultimately we are in this together. We are all perfectly imperfect humans, doing the best we can with the resources we have.   

    Please join us for free tips and support! As a thank you we will send you an exclusive preview from the Getting It: Parenting Kids with Hidden Disabilities, to be published in late 2021.