We were so proud when our seven-year-old daughter Honey was given a school achievement award. But as she went up to collect her certificate, she got down on all fours and started crawling towards the stage.
Walking on her hands and feet, rubbing herself up against people – even strangers – and licking objects is not unusual for our daughter because when she gets stressed she pretends to be a cat.
Honey was diagnosed with autism last year, and she’ll display typical cat behaviour when she gets excited, distressed, upset or overwhelmed.
She’s been known to go up to people in the supermarket and lick their trolley or affectionately rub herself up against them. Goodness knows what people must think, but we tend to just mumble a “sorry” and get on with our shopping.
In some ways it’s very charming. I’ll come home from work and Honey will rush up to me and start rubbing her head against me in a sweet cat-like way which says, “I missed you”. She shows affection in the same way towards her mum Lucy and siblings Quinnlan, 10, Khaleesi, five, and Dexter, three.
Honey just loves cats and I think acting like one gives her the bravery to cope with situations she wouldn’t normally be able to manage, such as collecting a certificate at her school, which is close to our home near Spalding, Lincs.
The problem is she has no safety awareness, and if she sees a cat, she has to stroke it. We’ve had to put a lock on the windows at home because she once saw a cat on the roof and climbed out of the skylight to try to get it, dragging Khaleesi with her.
Autism impacts our whole family – Quinnlan is on the Asperger’s spectrum. He was diagnosed at a slightly earlier age than Honey. He is highly intelligent, but struggles with sensory issues and is prone to huge emotional meltdowns if he gets frustrated or angry.
As a toddler, Honey refused to meet our eyes. We recognised the symptoms straight away.
It’s not easy having two children with problems. Lucy has to cope with them while I go to my job as a locomotive technician.
But the worst thing is how other people judge our children. I’m passionate about raising awareness of autism, and I’d implore strangers to be more understanding when they see a child having a meltdown.
Coming from a military background, where being late is actually being five minutes early, I find it exasperating when we’re always running at least half an hour behind.
But I try to keep in mind that some of the most extraordinary people, including Einstein and Mozart, were probably autistic.
Yes, our children may be wired a bit differently, but nobody wants to be the same anyway, do they?