Although Charmaine had been told her foster child Michael was on the autism spectrum before he came to live with her family, she admits she didn’t really understand what that meant or what she could do to support him. “He was only 11 years old, but he was a tall, strong boy and he got so frustrated he could be quite violent” she explains. “My husband and I just weren’t sure how to help him and at that point we simply couldn’t understand what was making him behave like that.”
That’s when Chamaine saw a flyer advertising a coaching course offering specialist coaching training for parents and carers of autistic children. And now, five years later, she’s delighted to report that Michael is doing really well having left her care to live independently about a year ago. “The training we got changed my whole approach with Michael. I realised that the parenting skills I’d learnt bringing up my own children and fostering others just didn’t work with him. Spending time to really understand his needs and what was causing his frustration made a huge difference not only to his behaviour but also to his overall wellbeing and development.”
Charmaine started fostering when she moved to Singapore with her husband George and daughter [name] back in 2004. George runs a church and Charmaine was keen to do something to be part of the local community. She’s now lost count of the number of children that she’s fostered saying, “some only stay for a short amount of time, it can be anything from three months to three years - it just depends on their circumstances. And we often have mother and baby placements that stay for around six months until they can find their feet.”
Like many of the children Charmaine fosters Michael had had a challenging childhood. But he was the only child she’d fostered who was autistic. The specialist coaching training Charmaine did combined a deeper understanding of challenges autistic people can face with adapted techniques and strategies that can help. As she explains, “we had learnt deescalation skills as foster parents but until you understand the person it’s hard to apply any of these.”
“The training helped me identify and unpick a lot of how he thinks and feels and that really helped our relationship. I also realised just how important structure and routine were for Micheal, and learnt how important it was to prepare him in advance so he knew what to expect.”
The changes Charmaine made to her parenting lead to huge changes in Michael’s behaviour. “Before we knew it he was doing well at school, he had aspirations for his future life and a positive attitude. It’s amazing how understanding his needs better and adapting our parenting to meet those needs had such a positive impact.”
And it’s Charmaine’s experience of helping Michael that has led to her continuing to coach others. “Michael is a wonderful young man and he’s doing fantastically well, I’m incredibly proud of him” she says. “And that’s why I’m passionate about continuing to coach autistic people and parents who, like me, can feel really overwhelmed when their child is autistic.”
Charmaine currently lives with her husband, daughter and three girls she is currently fostering. She’s available for 121 coaching with autistic adults and parents of children who have an autism diagnosis through Auternative Coaching.
*Michael’s name has been changed to protect his identity.