X FACTOR winner Sam Bailey has bravely spoken about being wracked with guilt over the way she's treated her 11-year-old son following his autism diagnosis.
Doctors confirmed Tommy, 11, has autism in July, just days before he finished primary school, and after six weeks of appointments with a private doctor.
Mum Sam, 43, who won X Factor in 2013, has struggled since – but not because of Tommy's condition.
She told Fabulous: "I feel so incredibly guilty for all the times I’ve told him off for stuff.
"Now I think, ‘I was so horrible to him’ and I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to make it up to him.
"He’s very emotional and has low self esteem. When he's having a bad day, trying to bring him out of that sadness is the most challenging thing."
Tommy hates getting in trouble and never gives his mum "lip", but Sam says he can have "meltdowns" as he's so emotional.
He shouts at his sisters, has had outbursts at school and at times has missed the bus because it was so loud he couldn't get on it.
All of these situations leave him "a mess" according to his mum, and also don't help another of his issues – cripplingly low self-esteem.
"I’m trying to build his confidence up and tell him how amazing he is all the time, so when someone tries to knock him down, he can hold his head up and say, ‘No I’m alright thanks,'" Sam explained.
"I just don’t want him to get that low that he does do something to harm himself, that absolutely petrifies me."
Mother's intuition told me something wasn't right
Sam is speaking out to raise awareness of Tommy's condition – as she realises parents will struggle to get appointments because of coronavirus.
"Before, I was always worried about Tommy being judged and what people might think," she said. "But I have my ways to deal with him now.
"He wears a hidden disabilities lanyard when we go out. That’s been growing in popularity because of Covid and it’s been amazing, because people see that and think 'OK this child has something we can’t see’ and no-one says anything."
Sam and husband Craig, 47, who live in Leicester, are also parents to Brooke, 15, and Miley, six.
Although her "mother's intuition" told her Tommy needed assessment, Sam faced a one to two-year wait with the NHS, so raised money through social media gigs to pay for private tests.
Sam said: "When Tommy was diagnosed, I felt like a weight had been lifted.
"I just knew there was something that wasn’t quite right in some of his behaviour, I think it was a mother’s intuition.
"It was getting in the way of him enjoying his life, so I'm relieved and it's not going to be a negative label."
I just wish I'd known sooner
While things were hard for Tommy at his primary school, Sam is convinced things are already getting better.
"He constantly felt targeted and bullied. He doesn’t understand banter, so if someone said, ‘Tom you’re such a girl,’ he’d come home and say, ‘I’m being bullied.'
"Two weeks down the line he’d still be thinking about that one comment. He only had a handful of friends, he wasn't one of the cooler kids.
"But he's doing better now he's at secondary school and has got his diagnosis."
As well as being on the spectrum, Tommy has dyspraxia (which affects coordination) and food sensory disorder.
Sam said: "I worry about taking Tommy to restaurants, unless we’re going to McDonald’s, I know he will often refuse to eat anything.
"All his food has to be separated, I have to examine his chips as if they have any marks on them he won’t eat them.
"Eating out with him can be a bit of a nightmare. But we’ve learned not to be angry with him because we understand now – before, we’d be like ‘stop being fussy’.
Christine McGuiness, whose three kids all have autism, has been DM'ing Sam to offer advice since she went public with Tommy's diagnosis.
Sam says it's more important than ever to raise awareness because of the pandemic, and the long wait for doctor's appointments.
She said: "Tom’s proud of his autism because I’ve made him proud of it.
"I say, ‘It’s not going to hinder you, it’s going to make things better for your life.'
"I want to raise awareness. There’s people out there whose children might not have a diagnosis and they need help.
"You can’t even get an appointment at the moment because of Covid, it’s really tough, but they might see something similar in my child.
"I wish I had known this stuff sooner, I really do."
Sam is positive about Tommy's future, especially as they can now put things in place to help him.
What is autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is an incurable, lifelong developmental condition that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others.
It affects around one in 100 people in the UK and is three to four times more common in boys than in girls.
Many people with ASD find it hard to understand other people's feelings and emotions, and they may have difficulty holding conversations.
When they are young, their language development may take longer and they can struggle to use facial expressions, using gestures to communicate instead.
They may also find it hard to connect with other people and to hold eye contact with unfamiliar individuals.
Many children with ASD like to follow a routine, and changes to this can cause distress.
High functioning autism is an informal term some people use to describe those on the autism spectrum disorder.
She added: "I haven’t got any worries about him academically – it’s his low moments, his self confidence and self belief.
"He is generally a happy kid. When he has a bad day, it really affects him and we struggle to get him back on track. But all we can do is be there for him."
You can join Sam's interactive community, Bailey's Cuppa Crew, on Facebook here.
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