Gay dads Michael and Paul Atwal-Brice have created a support community to help other parents of kids with ‘diffabilities’ after feeling ‘alone’ when raising their severely autistic and epileptic adopted twins.
After being together for 20 years and working with Barnsley Council’s fostering service to provide short-term care for over 20 children, Michael and Paul decided to adopt children of their own, and fell in love with twins Levi and Lucas as soon as they met them.
Michael says: “When we first saw our boys in their cute matching red and white striped jumpers we felt an overwhelming connection. Social workers told us the boys had some developmental delay but we weren’t too sure what to expect.”
Over the following weeks it became apparent to the couple that their children were experiencing more than developmental delay. Levi couldn’t stand or walk, neither child would make eye contact and they would both sit and rock back and forth.
“At two years old, the boys were still using baby bottles and were terrified in the bath. We had several appointments with a paediatric occupational therapist who assessed their speech and concluded after several appointments that they were severely autistic. He told us that they would need life-long support and care. It was earth-shattering. We didn’t know if they could ever have friends or be a part of everyday life.”
Before long, the couple discovered that autism was not the only challenge the twins faced.
“When they were three years old, Lucas suddenly started fitting at home and our world fell apart. This started a new chapter in our lives – medication, more appointments and more unknowns. Shortly after Lucas’ seizure, Levi also started fitting and we were faced with two severely autistic boys with speech and learning difficulties, global developmental delay and now epilepsy. Our lives had been turned upside down. It was exhausting and upsetting.”
Michael and Paul later joined the National Autistic Society’s ‘early bird programme’ to learn more about the condition, and with the help of advice from the programme they explain they now understand autism from their children’s perspective.
“Some things like trips to the hairdressers, cutting nails and brushing teeth are difficult, but our boys can enjoy trips to the park now without feeling overwhelmed by the noise. We feel less alone in a community of people who understand what we’re going through.”
Michael and Paul have since adopted two more children – twins Lotan and Lance – and started their own podcast Diffability on the Dadsnet network. Their podcast follows their challenging journey through life raising their kids and features special guests from the vast array of charities and experts they’ve connected with over the years.
Check it out HERE