Bristol mum Caroline Tunnock talks about the impact of autism on family life and the vital support of national children’s disability charity Newlife Foundation which is providing her and her husband with essential equipment to help with the care of their two young sons.
Cody and Tyler Tunnock have both been diagnosed with severe autism, but their behaviours are very different. Three-year-old Cody is outgoing and likes people while his five-year-old brother Tyler is introverted and anxious, not adapting well to new people and places.
Caroline said: “Even the most ordinary of activities involving the two boys has to be organised with military precision and can be difficult to manage. The boys’ 12-year-old sister Shannon has almost become a carer herself, helping us with their daily routines.”
But life in the Tunnock household is about to get calmer, Caroline hopes, with the provision of a second specialist Safespace bed from Newlife Foundation for Disabled Children. Safespaces are, in effect, rooms within rooms, designed specially for children and young adults with behavioural needs.
Newlife Foundation provided a Safespace for Cody a year ago; since then he has gone from waking 12 to 15 times a night to just two or three times. Caroline said: “The difference to Cody’s general wellbeing has been amazing. Previously, when he woke up Cody would repeatedly hit himself against the side of his cot and we couldn’t move him into an ordinary bed because of the risk element. We tried all sorts of things like lining the cot with bumpers but he would just rip them off – and still hurt himself.
“Cody’s sleep disruption was affecting his behaviours at home and nursery; everyone’s noticed the difference in him since he got the Safespace. He needed to feel secure – and the comforting, enclosed environment that a Safespace provides is perfect for him.”
Both boys attend New Siblands School in Thornbury, Bristol, which has been hugely supportive of the Tunnock family and their care of the boys.
Caroline said: “Initially when we had the Safespace for Cody we didn’t think that it would be suitable for Tyler, but as the months have passed – and with the support of his social worker and the school – we now realise that this equipment has the potential to make as much of a difference to his life as to Cody’s. Tyler surprised us one day by independently taking himself off into Cody’s bedroom, climbing into the Safespace, pulling the duvet over him and going to sleep. That was a massive surprise.
“At that point Tyler was sleeping on a mattress on the floor in his own room; we had had to take his cotbed apart because he was injuring himself on the sides. The situation was also having an effect on Shannon, because she would get very upset seeing Tyler hurting himself.”
With the new Safespace set to cost £6,199 and no funding available from statutory services, Caroline decided to give the Newlife Nurse Helpline – freephone 0800 902 0095 – another call. She said: “The Newlife nurses have been so supportive and helpful. As well as Cody’s Safespace, the charity has provided Tyler with sensory equipment which helps to calm and soothe him when he becomes anxious.
“I contacted the nurses again in January, we talked through Tyler’s needs and earlier this month (February) I found out that the application was being fast-tracked.”
Safespaces are bespoke pieces of equipment, designed to fit individual bedroom dimensions, so the Tunnocks can expect a short wait before taking delivery. Caroline said: “We can’t wait. Knowing that Tyler will feel secure and be safe from harm at night will be a huge relief to us all.”
Newlife Foundation for Disabled Children offers a range of services to families of disabled and terminally ill under-19s throughout the UK. For more details go to www.newlifecharity.co.uk
Nationally, it has funded more than £10million of disability equipment for in excess of 6,700 children. However, as statutory budgets are cut, more and more families are forced to turn to charities like Newlife Foundation for help in securing essential items of specialist equipment. So the charity is appealing for ‘local heroes’ to come forward to fundraise or donate towards the cost of specialist equipment for children in their own area.
Newlife is currently working with four families in Somerset, with equipment needs totalling £23,861. If you would like to help raise money to fund vital equipment for these children, the Newlife Community Fundraising Team can be contacted on freephone 0800 988 4640. Any individual or organisation thinking of running a fundraising event is asked to contact the team, who can offer support and guidance.
Pictured: Cody Tunnock in his Safespace (bottom).
Pictured: five-year-old Tyler Tunnock (top).