Yvonne Freaney case: Autism support 'vital' for parents

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Yvonne Freaney
Image caption,
Yvonne Freaney killed her autistic son Glen

Life for autistic children can be isolating and full of confusion, and frustrating for the loving parents who care for them.

As Yvonne Freaney stood trial for the murder of her 11-year-old autistic son Glen, other parents will have wondered how she could have killed her own child.

She was cleared of murder after admitting manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

But as she awaits sentence on 10 June at Cardiff Crown Court, hers is not an isolated case.

Earlier this year, Satpal Kaur-Singh, 44, was jailed for seven years after killing her autistic son by making him drink bleach at their London home.

Ajit Singh-Mahal, 12, "was dependent on his mother for all his needs", could not speak and had difficulty getting around outdoors.

Kaur-Singh, who also drank bleach on the day of the murder, rang 999 to say: "I've just murdered my son and I've tried to kill myself," adding that she had been thinking about "doing this" for years.

Such tragedies shed some light on the struggles that parents of autistic children face every day and experts say they underline the importance of giving the right support.

Autism affects about 133,500 children in the UK, including 6,707 in Wales.

Image caption,
Yvonne Freaney denied having murdered her 11-year-old autistic son Glen

It is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with others and how they make sense of the world around them.

Autism is a spectrum condition, meaning that while some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support.

The National Autistic Society Cymru's national co-ordinator Shirley Parsley said there was more to be done in helping parents.

"The critical thing is that people get the right support at the right time," she said.

"Families face a wide range of problems because autism is a spectrum disorder. Everybody's autism is unique to them so the impact is different for different families.

'Awareness is critical'

"In the home there might be issues with sleep or diet or behaviour. Problems can be verbal or non-verbal, an autistic person can have a learning disability or be highly intelligent."

NAS Cymru runs a helpline for parents and has a growing network of branches run by local volunteers. There is a range of activities available, including coffee mornings, peer support, family activities, befriending schemes and play sessions.

"Families can talk to people who have been through similar things and can tell them things like 'we've found this works or that works'," said Ms Parsley.

"And the children get an opportunity to interact with their peer group."

She added that children with autism "find social interaction difficult, finding it difficult to understand people's emotions and feelings... reading facial expressions and body movements".

"That makes it difficult to form friendships. People can be quite isolated and that makes them anxious which can come out through behaviours," she said.

Although support is available for parents, "everything can always be improved" and "awareness is critical", said Ms Parsley.

"Parents tell us they sometimes struggle to find the right support at the right time," she said.

"They always want people to understand what autism is and how it impacts on families. People are talking about autism more, but there is more to be done.

"It's about recognising and listening to their experiences. The child or young person may have been fine in school but their behaviour manifests at home. They are like a bottle of pop by the end of the day. So the parents are seeing somebody who is not sleeping or has eating issues and all the worries that come with that. What's being seen by the outside world might be very different.

"The earlier you can get the support the better," she said.

The National Autistic Society Cymru's parent-to-parent helpline is 0808 800 4106. Lines are open Monday to Friday from 10am to 4pm.

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