LIVING in a two-bed council house with three children, Terri Richardson’s life could not be further removed from the opulent existence of the Real Housewives Of Cheshire.
But Terri, 40, shares one thing with one of the stars of the ITV reality show.
Like Christine McGuinness, glamorous wife of TV comic Paddy, Terri’s three children have autism.
Terri, from Romford, Essex, says: “I know Christine’s life couldn’t be more different from mine, but the fact all our children have autism means we have more in common than you could imagine.
“Just like her, I am so proud to be their mum. I wouldn’t change them for the world.
“Our kids are wired differently and that makes life really hard, regardless of your financial situation.
“Very few people understand our children and how fiercely we have to fight for them.
"I am so glad Christine and Paddy are speaking out about autism because if a family with their advantages find it a struggle, you can imagine what it is like for others.”
The McGuinnesses announced last week their three-year-old daughter Felicity has autism, like their six-year-old twins Leo and Penelope.
Christine, 31, said: “Going through this journey again does still bring some heartache knowing all three children will face challenges and difficulties that others won’t.
‘He was smashing his head on the window’
“But ultimately I feel confident as a family we are in a much stronger place. We are able to use our experience and knowledge as power, helping us to feel well prepared.”
Terri’s journey has been tough. Her son Joe, now 15, was diagnosed when he was five.
She says: “I first noticed his behaviour when he was two.
“My mum and I took Joe to an Asda 45 minutes away. He was really badly behaved in the shop, grabbing bottles and smashing them on the floor.
Give It Back
THE Sun is demanding more support for children with disabilities in our Give It Back campaign.
We are asking Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and new Chancellor Rishi Sunak, in the next Budget, to reinstate the £434million in funding cut from vital support for these families.
Terri says: “When I saw The Sun’s campaign, I burst into tears.
“It is so important to have a loud voice for families like ours.”
“He used to like shutting the car door but our nerves were so frayed we rushed out, loaded the shopping, then shut Joe’s door ourselves.
“He had a proper meltdown, screaming and repeatedly smashing his head on the car window. The drive home was terrifying.
“Two hours later he was still raging. I said to Mum, ‘We need to go back to Asda’. We did, with him still screaming, then let him shut the car door. He calmed instantly.
“I said to Mum, ‘I’ve heard of this thing called autism.’”
When Teddy was born four years later, Terri noticed a vein would bulge in his neck when he could not latch on to her breast to feed.
She says: “I remember telling the health visitor he was angry. She said a child that young couldn’t be angry.
“Even now that vein bulges when he is in a rage.”
Teddy, 11, was diagnosed with autism when he was seven.
She recalls: “The specialists told me it was learned behaviour, that he was copying Joe. I think they were trying to avoid having to agree the funding.”
When her daughter Piper was born, Terri begged Havering Council for help but was instead told she would undergo a child protection review.
“They thought I couldn’t cope, but any parent would struggle to manage the boys’ violent outbursts while looking after a newborn.
“When the review happened, the panel chairman criticised the authority for bringing the case and said I had done everything right.”
Piper, now five, is going through the same diagnosis process little Felicity McGuinness has just experienced.
Terri says: “Piper has sensory sensitivities that she struggles with so much. She will clutch her hands to her ears if there’s too much noise. And she will cry hysterically for hours at the slightest thing.
“Something as simple as a pen having the wrong colour top will mean she’ll cry inconsolably for an entire day.
“If you interrupt one of her 30-minute monologues, she can’t pick up where she left off. She has to start all over again. That’s pretty draining.”
Terri married husband Andy, 27, who is not the father of her children, in 2017.
She says: “Joe and my brother, Danny, gave me away. “But during the service no one could hear anything. Piper, my bridesmaid, was sobbing hysterically because she couldn’t sit on my lap.
“During my brother’s speech, Teddy was having a meltdown so I couldn’t hear the lovely things Danny was saying about me for the first time in his life.
“The wedding summed us up. Andy didn’t want children of his own — it’s a good job he loves these three so much.”
The daily impact of the children’s diagnoses on the family is extreme. They are woken at 5am every morning with Teddy banging on the floor above them.
'It's so incredibly difficult to talk about the negative side of your children’s behaviour'
Terri says: “He’s like a jack-in-the-box and once he’s up he can’t stay still. That wakes Piper up and if he puts music on she has a meltdown.
"Joe is different. I have to remind him to sit up, then talk him through breakfast and getting dressed.
“Both boys had terrible experiences at schools where they would put them in a ‘naughty pen’ for special needs children if they became unmanageable.
“But after a fight from me, they’re both in schools that suit them and doing much better.”
Terri snapped when she was called to Teddy’s school after six teachers had to pin him down when he ran out of class.
“If he’s experiencing anxiety he runs but they felt they had to safeguard him. Two teachers caught him and pinned him down, he lashed out so two more joined them, then another two.
“If they’d understood autism that would never have happened. He had to move school.
“It’s so incredibly difficult to talk about the negative side of your children’s behaviour, no one wants to do that. It’s brave of the McGuinnesses to do that.
“I don’t want people to feel bad for me. I love my children, I am lucky to have them, but I feel heartbroken about their daily battles.
"Joe will probably be with me for ever. I don’t know about the other two yet. It’s too early.
“My advice is always keep your sense of humour. If you have that, you can survive anything."
What is autism?
AUTISM is a lifelong disability that affects how people communicate and interact with the world.
There are approximately 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.
The condition is usually diagnosed in childhood. The main signs include difficulties with communication and social interaction.
Repetitive behaviour is common from early childhood, and sometimes this can limit everyday function.
Autism can include sensitivity to sensory overload – for example crowds, bright lights or loud noise – and it cannot be cured.
It occurs on a spectrum so children can be more or less affected.
Many people with autism live happy lives if the right support is put in place.
For more information contact the National Autistic Society on 0808 800 4104, or visit autism.org.uk.
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