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Sitting in the living room of Sarah-Jayne Goodman’s cosy 3-bed home, it’s clear the mum-of-two autistic children has her work cut out during the school holidays.

“We’re off out for a picnic later if this rain stops,” the 39-year-old declares. “But going out is like a military operation. Alfie and Charlie have to know exactly what is happening and when – they have to have lots of planning and I write down on whiteboards what we’re doing each day.

“There’s still a horrible stigma attached to autism and people just assume we have naughty children when we’re out and about. I’ve learnt to block it all out now but we often get tutted at and sometimes you can’t help but respond – you want to educate these people. There were times before when I didn’t think I would cope or deal with the outside world.”

Phil Morley, Sarah-Jayne’s new partner and a support worker himself, nods his head in agreement.

The former children’s entertainer and theatre school boss has become accustomed, and now driven, by proving people wrong. When her son Alfie, now 12, was born after 25 weeks with autism, cerebral palsy and global developmental delay, doctors warned he may never learn to walk and talk properly.

Now described as a medical miracle, Alfie lives a relatively 'normal' life and is glued to his PlayStation 3 like most his age. In fact, I find out pretty early on that Alfie is on a ‘one-day ban’ from his treasured console after breaking his time limit the day before.

Sarah’s top four tips for living with autism:

1. General positivity and a positive mind is better than any medication or any advice from a health professional. I do understand it’s sometimes hard to face the outside world but it’s important never to give up.

2. Put yourself first occasionally. This is crucial and you shouldn’t feel guilty for occasionally wanting some time out of the usual routine.

3. Tap into online resources and the vast array of support groups out there. Sign up to a forum, join a Facebook group and do your own internet research. But you have to be proactive – help won’t land on your lap!

4. Focus on what talents and qualities your children do have, rather than what they don’t. It’s about moving forward and unlocking what is there. My boys have excellent manners and respect and that will get anyone far in life.


Two years later Sarah-Jayne gave birth to Charlie, aged 10, who has recently been diagnosed with a less prevalent form of autism. She split from her husband in 2009 and was left to pick up the bill for their 5-bed privately rented property before being forced to move to a tiny 2-bed flat just outside her hometown of Daventry.

“I had a box room and the boys shared the other. It was just so small, we were tucked away and felt really isolated. I was desperately looking for something more permanent and closer to school for the boys. I’d been on the housing list for three years when this home came up with Bromford. My friend literally lives two doors down so I knew it was in an ideal area – close to school, shops and the doctors’ surgery.”

Around this time Sarah-Jayne decided to tackle one of her bucket-list goals and complete a degree through Open University. She graduated from the four-year course in humanities and creative writing in July 2015.

“I’d just graduated and was like what do I do now? I showed a Bromford skills coach my CV because I knew I had doors opening but I didn’t know which route to take. It really helped having that support from the skills coach and my housing manager Claire to guide me in the right direction.

“There’s a new special school for young people in Daventry and eventually I decided I’d love to go into teaching so I gave it a shot and luckily managed to secure a full-time job starting next month.”

But why go out and get a full-time job, I ask, when so much of her time was spent looking after her boys?

“It’s funny you say that actually because the Government were telling me that because I am a registered carer I didn’t need to go back to work. But there’s a terrible stigma about stay-at-home mums and so part of me did this to prove people wrong and part of me just wanted to give it a go.”

Sarah-Jayne plans to gain her teaching qualifications through the Train to Teach programme but it is a personal mission far closer to home which is inspiring her latest career move.

“The new job is quite daunting but ultimately my aim is to play my own small part in helping to end this labelling and pre-judging of people with autism and other special needs. I think that definitely needs to be broken – my boys can go out and work and live relatively normal lives. It makes Alfie who he is and I wouldn’t change them for the world, although I’d probably change the world for them if I could. Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” she adds.

The light rain passing through Daventry clears and almost in unison comes a shout from upstairs. “Mum, the rain has stopped. Are we having this picnic?” Alfie asks rhetorically.

That’s definitely my cue to leave but one thing is for certain: Sarah-Jayne’s love for her boys and knack of overcoming the odds will continue fuelling her desire to educate people about the realities of autism.

Need some friendly advice on your next career move? Simply ask your neighbourhood coach or housing manager for a chat.

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