SEEING Christine McGuinness' powerful Instagram announcement this week about her third child being diagnosed with autism, Kate McMurdo could barely contain her own emotions.

The mum-of-two from Swansea in Wales has a nine-year old son, Lewis, who is autistic with severe learning difficulties.

"She really sums up a lot of the feelings I have,” Kate, 37, tells Sun Online, her voice catching with emotion.

"I love their positivity and how they embrace their children's differences, and show their love and bond is so strong."

In a heartfelt Instagram post addressed to her children this week, Christine McGuinness, wife of TV presenter, Paddy, became an inspirational role model to parents of children everywhere diagnosed with autism.

Instead of bemoaning the fact that all three of her children have autism, Christine’s post celebrated their unique family and called her six year-old twins Leo and Penelope and three year-old Felicity “perfect.”

Christine, 31, wrote: "I am so proud to be your mummy, you are everything to me. All three of you are thriving with ASD [Autistic Spectrum Disorder].

"I will never try and change you, you are perfect as you are."

Unable to walk, go to the toilet or feed himself

Kate says she is so impressed by Christine because she knows too well how challenging it can be to raise an autistic child. 

For the first two years of Lewis’s life, Kate took care of him alone, as she had split from his biological father when she was pregnant.

Although Lewis wasn’t diagnosed as autistic until he was four years old, Kate instinctively knew something was wrong.

"He didn’t reach his milestones like other children did with walking and talking and I thought that if I did enough early on, if I put in enough or if I just kept working through the situation day and night, that I could almost fix him in a way,” she says.

“I tried so hard but nothing I did seemed to work.”

Kate went through a period of beating herself up, wondering if there was anything she did during her pregnancy – that smidgen of alcohol she drank, or the naughty food she ate – had affected him inside her womb.

“I kept thinking: 'Could I have caused it? Was it my fault?' It wasn’t helpful but I suppose, as a mum, that’s what you do,” she says.

When she tried to put Lewis in nursery at 18 months, it was a disaster and the support was almost non-existent.

Lewis couldn't feed himself, go to the toilet or walk, but would shuffle around on his knees – with staff unable to keep him contained in one area.

Kate quickly realised they weren't equipped to look after her son, with the single mum asked to fork out extra money for a one-to-one teacher.

"They were struggling to place him because in many ways he was like a baby and yet he was too old to go into the baby section of the nursery,” explains Kate. “There were just so many issues and I felt like I lived on red alert the whole time, always on edge, waiting for something to go wrong.”


'I have to constantly prove how disabled Lewis is'

When her son turned two, Kate met her partner, Alastair and the couple went on to have a child together: four-year-old Isla.

To give Lewis a better future, the family moved to a different county and enrolled him in a new school.

As he’d still not been given a formal diagnosis, Kate was desperate to make sure that Lewis’s needs were taken care of and understood and she created her own 11-page document of all his concerns and gave it to the school.

Despite reassurances her son would be well taken care of, he faced "horrible" prejudice.

"There was a teacher who was absolutely horrendous to me and Lewis," she recalls.

"She used to say things to me like 'he is watching you walk away so that he can have a poo on purpose' – but Lewis was not mentally capable of doing that at the time. He's still in nappies now – that's how disabled he is.

"When people see somebody in a wheelchair, they understand that disability and the adjustments that need to be made; a ramp, a disabled toilet, wider doors – but when it's a mental disability, especially in children and especially when it's combined with autism, there is a stigma attached to their behaviour. I have to constantly prove how disabled Lewis is and that's an awful feeling."

The new Erin Brockovich

Realising her son needed more support, Kate felt helpless.

She knew Lewis needed a place in a very expensive, special school, which the family couldn't afford.

Desperate, Kate decided to take her son’s future prospects into her own hands and signed up for a Graduate Diploma in Law at Swansea University, determined to fight the local council herself.

Her studies meant she sometimes slept just two hours a night while juggling family life, but her passion for Lewis’s future meant it was worth it. 

After completing her studies, Kate took the local council to court and won, securing a spot for Lewis at Gwenllian Education Centre, a school for autistic children in Kidwelly.

"The court case was about all of the battles – in health, social care and education – all of the fighting I've been doing since Lewis was eight or nine months old,” says Kate.

"The system is so unfair and it means that parents are really disadvantaged and discriminated against."

The savvy mum has since been compared to Erin Brockovich, the infamous environmental activist who took on power giant PG&E after they contaminated groundwater in her town and caused local residents to develop serious illnesses like cancer.

"Erin Brockovich is one of my favourite movies, I absolutely love it,” says Kate. “It's such an incredible story because everyone loves an underdog and she's just an amazing woman. I'm very flattered to be compared to her but I don't know if I deserve that accolade."

On a mission to change the world

Since getting her legal degree and sharing her story with the world, Kate has received countless messages from fellow autistic parents asking for help.

"I was very proud of myself when I graduated, but also of my husband for really trying to hold the fort when I was less available,” she says. "I've had a lot of people contact me, dozens through Facebook and Twitter, asking 'can you help me, this is my case, this is what was done to my child'."

Kate has applied for grants to do a PhD and wants to use her research to help others, but she's also in talks with Swansea University about setting up a legal clinic where parents can come to seek support and advice.

“My love for Lewis is my intrinsic motivation – he urges me to keep going,” says Kate. “I just want things to be better for us parents out there.”

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