Christine McGuinness’ life with autistic children – and why she wouldn’t change them

Christine and Paddy share three kids
(Image: Instagram)

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And she also explains why no matter what, she wouldn't change a thing about them.

Speaking of her love for her children, Christine wrote: "'I bet you wish you didn’t have children,' someone once said to me.

"How disgusting is that! I couldn’t believe it. Well, actually, no, they’re still my children and I love them so much and I’m so lucky to have them.

"I don’t introduce my kids like, 'This is Leo, Penelope and Felicity and they’re autistic.' They’re just my babies."

Day to day life with the kids

Within the honest pages of her autobiography, Christine details the health problems her kids have.

As well as autism, Leo has vision problem and needs glasses and has to get his eyes checked at hospital every six weeks.

Christine adds: "He’s also got hypermobility, which means he’s really bendy and his joints are quite loose. Physically, he’s not very strong, which is something he might need help with when he’s older. He can run, walk and play, but he gets tired quite easily and his limbs go everywhere when he’s moving, so he has physiotherapy and support in school for that.

Leo, Penelope and Felicity
(Image: Instagram/mrscmcguinness)

Christine's book A Beautiful Nightmare
(Image: Christine McGuinness / A Beautiful Nightmare)

"Probably the scariest of Leo’s health issues is his severe nut allergy, which is quite frightening for us, because a peanut could potentially kill him."

Christine added that Leo has a hilarious little personality, and makes her laugh every single day.

But out of the three kids, he struggles the most with his "meltdowns".

"If something goes wrong in his day, he will throw himself on the floor and have the biggest meltdown and it’s difficult to snap him out of it. It could be something small like the doorbell ringing, or the toy he’s playing with breaks.

"Leo’s meltdowns were at their worst during the lockdowns – they became physical. He started lashing out at me, Patrick and the girls, and physically hit and kicked us. He was hurting himself, too. It was awful, because they’ve always had meltdowns, but never physical like that."

Christine said the meltdowns are something she struggles with, as despite her love for her children, in that moment she has to become their "carer" and detach herself from her emotions.

Penelope was at the centre of a heartbreaking moment for the family during lockdown, when she announced to her parents that she didn't want to live anymore and asked them if she could go to heaven.

Christine penned: "As a parent, you can never prepare yourself for those types of conversations – my seven-year-old daughter crying in my arms every night saying she doesn’t want to live anymore. It was heartbreaking.

"It’s scary because, although she didn’t mean it and she doesn’t understand death, and that you don’t come back, it’s worrying to think she could do something or try to do something when she doesn’t realise the severity of it."

Penelope's autism can mean she struggles to understand things and that she'll sometimes outright refuse to do something that she loves if she's overcome with anxiety.

"Unfortunately, it’s something that’s really common with autistic children and adults, and especially teenagers – they can be overcome with anxiety about things," Christine explained. "It’s something I’m always going to worry about with Penelope, as she’s prone to feeling very overwhelmed."

Christine also worries about Penelope having a social circle at school, as she'll often go off to play on her own.

"We’re just trying to find the right balance of allowing her to get the alone time she needs, because that’s fine, but making sure she isn’t completely isolating herself," she explained.

And Christine describes youngest Felicity as a mixture of the twins.

She said: "Then there’s my whirlwind Felicity. Let’s put it this way, you know when Felicity’s in the house!

"She’ll throw the biggest tantrums, but she’ll also give you the most laughter. She’s a full-on personality that I’ve never come across before."

Felicity is social and confident, but independent and selective about who she'll spend time with.

Christine recently found out she's autistic just like her kids
(Image: ITV)

And Christine also explains in her book how she believes Felicity has coped better with her autism diagnosis, because it happened at an earlier age.

Both Christine and medical professionals didn't spot signs of autism in the twins straight away, but having been through it before, the mum knew what she was looking for in Felicity, and she was diagnosed at a younger age.

She penned: "In a way, I’m glad I had those blissful years of being unaware the twins had autism, because I didn’t have all those extra worries. They were just my children – I loved them and they were perfect. And they still are all of that, but because I knew Felicity was autistic from an early age, I didn’t have that time without the extra concern."

The McDonald's bribe

One of the difficulties Christine has when looking after the twins is their food aversions, something she can completely identify with as she has her own.

And during lockdown, with places like McDonald's closed, it became an even bigger task.

She explained: "It’s common among autistic people and it can last all through their lives; some people get better, some don’t, some get worse.

"For all of my children it’s sensory. It can be the smell, colour, taste or feel of the food."

She added: "All of them eat nearly entirely beige food. Most of the time it’s fries, chicken nuggets and toast. Penelope will occasionally have pizza, but that’s the most adventurous food any of them will try.

Christine wouldn't change her kids
(Image: Daily Mirror)

Christine and Paddy's little angels
(Image: Instagram)

"There’s no lasagne or Bolognese. On Christmas Day, I still served them up the standard chicken nuggets and chips. Even though it might be the same meal every day, and it’s not the healthiest, I’m just glad to see them eat. They’re really particular, and I’ve spent years worrying about their health."

So when lockdown hit, Christine had to think on her feet to get them to eat – and McDonald's stepped in to save the day by sending her boxes to serve up her kids' dinners in.

She said: "One takeaway cuisine the children do love is McDonald’s. It’s quite popular among autistic children and adults, and that’s because it never changes. The fries are always in a red box and the food always tastes the same. It’s beige and dry. You can find McDonald’s all over the world, so there’s that familiarity there.

"When we looked at going abroad with the children, the first thing we said was, 'Let’s check if there’s a McDonald’s nearby!' No parent wants to give their child too much junk, but when they’re struggling with solid food, you’d literally give them anything. They really do let themselves go hungry if you give them food that they’re just not going to eat. You know when people say, 'They won’t starve.' But these children actually would.

"If it’s not food they’re comfortable with, they won’t eat it. That was another problem with lockdown – when McDonald’s closed. I was like, 'Oh my God. They’re not going to eat!' I ended up putting out a message on social media and had thousands of people saying they felt the same. I was so lucky that McDonald’s sent me some of the red boxes, which was an absolute lifesaver!"

Preparing for holiday

Organising a family holiday can he stressful enough, but Christine explained in her book how she actually had to work for a year to prepare her kids for a few days abroad.

Christine had to prepare them for the first holiday for a year
(Image: ITV)

After deciding to take a trip as a family, Christine said the most challenging obstacle she faced was getting her kids on a plane.

She had to prepare them for the flight little by little, taking measures that some would view as pretty extreme.

"But with all the determination I had, I began my mission impossible. I started off by taking them to an airfield almost every weekend to get them used to the sound of the planes.

"To protect them we’d put their ear defenders on, so they could cope with the noise. The first time we went, they wouldn’t get out of the car. But as the months rolled on, we took them to the car park to watch the aeroplanes. Then the next step was to take their ear defenders off, so they could get used to the sounds of the jets.

"Once that proved successful, I arranged a date for them to have a walk around a static aircraft. It was like a model plane, really."

At the same time, Christine was working hard to get the kids used to walking on the sand.

With super sensitive feet, the kids walk on their tiptoes a lot, meaning a trip to the beach wouldn't be easy.

Christine and Paddy started by putting a sand pit in their garden and finally working up to the kids playing with it – when before they wouldn't even touch sand.

The happy family

They worked their way up to going to a play centre and then a mini beach at a shopping mall, and also went to water parks to prepare for the pool.

When the kids were ready, they did a practice run with a getaway in the UK, including a short flight from Manchester to Southhampton.

And in the end, it all paid off with a lovely trip and happy memories.

Christine said: "As they’d conquered their fears, we booked to go to Spain a little while later.

"Again, we organised a weekend mini-break, but there’s no denying it was a more difficult trip. It didn’t feel like a holiday, like what other people have. It was really hot, much busier, the flight was longer and we were in a foreign country where there’s a language barrier.

"But for the first time in their lives, they walked on a beach. That’s a memory I’ll have forever."

* Preorder Christine McGuinness: A Beautiful Nightmare (RRP £20, out 25 Nov) and save £5 with the offer code XA9. Order online at Mirrorbooks.co.uk