Christine McGuinness opens up on heartbreak and joy of having autistic children but admits she had no help with them

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Some people might see having three children with autism as unlucky, but I think it’s a blessing because I don’t know any different. The pandemic has been extremely hard, though. While it was lovely to spend time together as a family, for children like ours it’s difficult for them to accept change in their routine.

It’s quite sad that they’re now used to staying inside. We’re going to have to really build up their confidence again. Our youngest Felicity developed a severe stutter over the first lockdown, which was never there before. It has got a little bit better now she’s gone back to nursery. They’ve all gone backwards with their speech and communication skills.

I always longed to be a mummy, and even as a teenager I looked at boyfriends I was dating and wondered whether they’d make good dads. I didn’t have a father growing up, I was raised by a single mum, so I always craved that family unit.

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I was 19 when I met Paddy, then a comedian who hadn’t done much TV. We laughed a lot and got on so well. Fourteen years older than me, I thought his partying days were behind him, and decided he was perfect. We married in June 2011.

It took a long time to get pregnant. As a teenager I’d had anorexia for 10 years, which affected my fertility. Then, after a couple of years of trying, I was also told I had polycystic ovaries. Every month was heartbreak.

After four years of not using contraception, we were over the moon to fall pregnant naturally. When the scan showed two heartbeats, well, we’d won the lottery! We nicknamed them our Twinkles and excitedly planned how we’d travel together for Paddy’s work and imagined lovely family holidays.

Of course, the practicalities of travelling with twins was harder than we imagined. So while Paddy worked away from our Cheshire home, I stayed with them. I adored Leo and Penelope, but I didn’t have any help. I didn’t socialise at all, so to be honest I had no one to compare the twins with. I just thought they were perfect and gorgeous – they still are. But looking back, the signs of autism were there.

They walked on tiptoes, refused solid food, and didn’t like busy places, such as soft play. They were oversensitive to sounds, so a doorbell or hairdryer would frighten them.

Whereas most toddlers start saying a few words, our twins were nonverbal until they were four. I desperately longed to hear them say “Mummy”, but got nothing. It upset me every time I went to school and saw another child run to their mum and give them a kiss and cuddle, because mine were off in their own little world.

It fell into place when they were three-and-a-half and we got the diagnosis.

Paddy took it hard and had some therapy. My attitude was, “This is what God’s given us, we love them and will raise them as best we can.” I let off my steam at the gym. By 2016, our third child Felicity arrived.

Like the twins, she suffered terrible reflux and was even hospitalised as a baby, as we tried different types of milk, bottles and then medicine. Paddy slept in the spare room so he could get up for work and I found a night nanny, but there wasn’t a single time when I felt I could hand over the baby! I sent her away and apologised for wasting her time.

When Felicity was six months old she started tensing her body. It’s called stimming when children with autism get excited. It’s a lovely little cute thing, but I thought, “Uh-oh, here we go.” But it was easier by then, because we saw the signs and we knew about autism.

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I never think, “Why me? Why do I have three children with autism?” I am made of strong stuff. I was dragged up on a tough council estate in Liverpool, I can handle anything. I never stop being grateful for having a lovely home and a car that works. But I do think, “Why them? Why do they have to deal with this?” And that breaks my heart.

Children with autism can confuse emotions at times, so they might not smile when happy, or they might laugh when upset. It’s difficult for them to accept change in their routine. So the pandemic has been tough.

Recently, I’ve become an ambassador for Caudwell Children, an excellent charity for autism support that I’ve long admired and am passionate about.

Paddy and I have tried having date nights [pre-lockdown], but there’s so much to organise first we’re exhausted by the time we get out. It’s a bit rubbish, but this is our life right now – it might change as they get older.

We always wanted a big family but it wouldn’t be fair on them to have more. Our hands are already full, and Paddy’s had a vasectomy now. I think I’ll always want more, though.

All mums are amazing in my eyes, our circumstances are a little different to others, but the good times outweigh the bad.

Children with additional needs make you appreciate tiny milestones other parents take for granted. They inspire me to be a better person and give me a purpose in life I didn’t have before. They don’t talk like other children, but when they say, “I love you, Mummy,” it’s the best sound in the world.

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