THE Little Puddins blog is an inspiring online diary of a Mayo mum living a life unexpected.
Amanda McGuinness, a native of Castlebar, is gaining a fast-growing global audience thanks to her honest writings about her journey as a special needs mother.
The busy mum is living and loving her life bringing up three gorgeous puddins of her own – daughter Hailey and sons Conor and Jack, who both have special needs.
Throw in her own blog, writing for FamilyfriendlyHQ.ie, HerFamily.ie, Autismawareness.com, TheMighty.com, not to mention a recent feature in Maternity and Infant magazine, an appearance on Ireland Am and an interview with Irish TV in recent weeks, together with setting up the Mayo Autism Support Association, which held its first event recently – well, the only term that comes to mind is ‘super mum’.
Amanda, who is married and now lives near Claremorris, was training as a solicitor before fate intervened in her life.
“Special needs entered my world almost six years ago when my gorgeous Conor was born. It changed me as a person, friend, wife and mother.
“Raising children with and without special needs is demanding at best, heart breaking at worst; trying to be a good mother to all and giving them all your time; trying to help them each understand what living with special needs means to them and hopefully helping it to impact positively on their lives now and in the future,” she says.
The Little Puddins Blog is a window into a world you may not have known existed if you do not have children with special needs. If you are a fellow special needs mother it’s a friendly place to spend time relating to stories you could have written yourself.
As Amanda explains: “I hope through this public platform I will in some way use my voice to better the world of those living with special needs innately, raising awareness of its impact on all the lives it touches.”
You can’t help but be moved by Amanda’s honesty. She recalls how youngest son Jack met many of his milestones on schedule. Then, just before 18 months, the regression started.
“I knew,” she writes. “His words faded, he stopped recognising his own name, wouldn’t play any more. That sparkle in his eye faded more each day.
“When I could catch it I would stare and hope to never forget it in case it would be the last time I would really see him.”
Jack’s diagnosis was a turning point for Amanda. She says: “I realised that I am incredibly lucky in a way this time with Jack’s diagnosis as I have been on this journey now for almost six years following Conor’s diagnosis many years ago.”
When oldest son Conor was diagnosed with autism Amanda felt that there was no one there to offer guided support at that devastating time in her family’s life. She says: “At that time I did not know one other person my age who had a child with autism. I did not know what I was supposed to do next. I looked online at that time and there were no online support forums. There was nowhere I knew to turn to to get the right information, to tell me what I should do now that my son has been diagnosed.
“The consultants will tell you that your child has special needs but cannot tell you what you should do next as a mother or as a family.”
She started her blog only two months ago following Jack’s diagnosis and never envisaged how it would take off – her story on Conor’s diagnosis alone was viewed upwards on 20,000 times within 48 hours of it being published online; that figure continues to rise.
Through the Little Puddins blog, Amanda offers support, advice, real stories, together with tutorials and vital free educational/communicative downloads.
Mayo Autism Support Association (MASA) has also grown out of the blog.
“I receive emails and Facebook messages everyday from parents asking for advice, asking to meet me,” she explained. “I realised there was still a need for a Mayo county support group where parents from all over the county could support each other either online or in person.
“I realise I don’t have all the answers. I am still learning as my boys grow; their needs change. I decided to set up MASA in Castlebar so we would have a centralised social forum where parents could come along to support each other in a friendly environment.”
There is an associated MASA online forum for parents who cannot make the meetings so they still get that vital support from parents in the same situation.
“I am in a very lucky position as I know what I need to do to help Jack. I have the support of my husband and both of our families have always been a massive help to us on our journey.”
Yet many living with special needs in their family find it ‘very isolating’, she confesses, therefore a focal point of MASA will be organising social events for parents and play dates for their children.
Going on national TV was a bit out her comfort zone but Amanda put her nerves behind her. “I thought, this is a chance to talk about autism, helping to raise awareness about the real struggle so many families go through every single day.”
Amanda says she is always hopeful of the future for Jack when she sees the progress Conor has made in recent years through Western Care in Castlebar and in particular with the help of a school she calls ‘life changing’. Conor attends Knockrooskey National School in Westport where principal Kieran Geraghty together with the staff of the autism unit have helped to change Conor’s life for the better. “He is happy, thriving, thanks to Kieran and Knockrooskey National School,” says Amanda.
Do as Amanda suggests and put the kettle on and join her journey on littlepuddins.ie. You can also follow the blog on Facebook, or check out the Mayo Autism Support Association Facebook page.