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I know only too well how hectic life can get,
being a proud mother of four beautiful children as well as
a vocal coach and a television presenter.
Don't worry, we've still got another question to go...
But it's nothing compared to the challenges my family and I face every day at home.
Two of my girls have been diagnosed with conditions
on the autistic spectrum.
This means they spend a lot of time
confused as to what's going on in the world around them.
Their senses are bombarded
and they often feel that no-one understands them.
This can lead to explosive behaviour and feelings of utter isolation.
So, as a parent, I fully understand the relentless challenges faced
by families dealing with autism.
Can you touch your head? >
Touch your tummy? >
Nicola's seven-year-old daughter Claudia was diagnosed with severe autism three-and-a-half-years ago.
Her autism affects her ability to communicate quite significantly.
Her speech is very limited.
Can you say, "swimming"?
'Because of her lack of understanding, that leads to a lot of confusion, frustration,'
and can lead to a lot of aggression.
Certain frequencies of noises can really upset and distress her.
She is seven-and-a-half years old,
but in the house she requires constant supervision.
For families looking after a child with autism,
every day is a challenge.
But like a lot of parents, Nicola knew nothing of her daughter's condition.
I felt quite lost and remember saying to my GP, "What can you do?"
And the GP saying, "Well, it's not really medical, there's nothing I can do."
So I did feel that I was quite on my own with it.
Every day, someone comes to Claudia's home to help her
with the skills she needs to make her way through life.
Well done! You can go on the trampoline. Well done.
Half-a-million people in the UK have some form of autism.
It is a lifelong neurological disability that affects
how a person communicates with others and makes sense of the world around them.
But very little is known about the best way of helping
these individuals and their families.
This is where Research Autism helps.
They're a charity dedicated to improving the quality of life
and outlook for those affected by autism.
Joe has Asperger's - a form of autism,
but he was only diagnosed with his condition when he was 20 years old.
It's such a frightening and lonely experience when you are growing up,
and you are different to other people.
There is a feeling of being left behind and I just wish
I could put across how lonely and scary it is.
You know there is something wrong, something different.
You just feel like you're the failure, it's your fault.
Like many people living with autism,
Joe developed other health problems as he was growing up.
I'd have anxiety and depression throughout my life.
I think my perception can be faulty, which causes me to be anxious.
For Joe, life became so difficult to cope with that, at 19, he attempted suicide.
I was just desperate for somebody to understand.
I felt isolated, I felt villainised.
I felt like I was a bad person, not accepted, didn't have any friends.
Didn't know where to go in the future.
I was a cry for help.
But there is a charity that is trying to help people like Joe.
Research Autism is the only charity exclusively dedicated to
research into the effectiveness of therapeutic,
social, behavioural and other treatments in autism.
Through their work, the charity help to develop
practical solutions to the problems that are faced every day.
I've come to meet Lea and her seven-year-old son Luke
who has Asperger's Syndrome.
Like 70% of children with autism, he has problems sleeping
but hope may be at hand.
How does a lack of sleep affect Luke's learning?
At school, he just can't cope, he's so tired.
He gets wound. Everything gets on top of him. He's in the classroom,
he can't cope, he's tired.
It all builds up and he runs out the classroom. He's had panic attacks.
He's got himself in such a place he can't breathe.
The more he is stressed, the more he feels his lungs are filling up
-with water and he is just joking.
-How does it affect you?
It impacts hugely on the family. I work full-time as well.
So I am up with Luke in the night.
You feel you're walking around with weights on your shoulders.
You just feel tired.
So what kind of ideas have you tried in the past to help him
-get to sleep and sleep through the night?
I'd rather not have him on medication.
I'm hoping we can find alternative methods to try and help him sleep.
One of Research Autism's key areas
is helping children with these problems.
Here at the Evelina Children's Hospital in London, Dr Paul Gringras
is leading a project that could provide a solution.
Particularly for children, the importance of sleep is huge.
A lot of important brain development goes on while we're sleeping.
Called the Snuggledown Project, the team are trying
a sensory weighted blanket designed to help children like Luke.
Inside it, this blanket has actually got steel shot,
so it makes it very very heavy.
It gives comforting, deep pressure throughout the night.
We have these wristwatch-type devices.
They have a clever little motion sensor inside that tells us
when the child was asleep or was awake, basically.
If we can increase the amount of sleep that these children get
even by half an hour a night,
we would expect there to be daytime behavioural differences.
Luke is just one of a number of children about to start using
Lea is hopeful it could make a world of difference.
If Snuggledown works, what would that mean for Luke?
It would be lovely if it worked.
He would just feel happier. I think he'd excel more at school.
It would give him more energy
and I think life would be a lot easier to cope with.
Research Autism is making a real difference to people's lives.
Through their research, they're gaining a greater
understanding of the needs of people living with the condition,
helping them to overcome the challenges they face
and helping them to realise their potential.
You want a tickle? Again?!
Claudia has recently been part of a Research Autism study to help
gain better insight into her condition.
Real evidence-based research into the best kind of
education approach or the best way to approach behaviour management
would give you the confidence to try those different things.
Knowing that you're more likely to succeed.
85% of adults with autism aren't in full-time paid employment.
But with the right support, there is hope for those looking for work
and trying to lead an independent life - like Joe.
Through the mentorship scheme they have, Research Autism can help...
young adults maybe avoid some of the situations I've been into,
speaking to people like me, Research Autism can put that information
forward for ideal practice.
I think that is the key to how we can help people in future.
With your help, Research Autism can provide the life-changing
research that people with autism and their families so desperately need.
Please go to the website...
where you can donate.
If you don't have access to the internet, then call...
If you can't get through, then please, please, keep trying.
You can also donate £10 by texting donate to 70121.
Texts cost £10 plus your standard network message charge.
The whole £10 goes to Research Autism.
Full terms and conditions can be found at bbc.co.uk/lifeline.
Telephone calls are free from most landlines.
Some networks and mobile operators will charge for these calls.
Or if you'd like to post a donation,
please make your cheque payable to Research Autism and send it to...
..writing Research Autism on the back of the envelope.
Remember, if you are a UK taxpayer, the charity can collect Gift Aid
on your donation, worth another 25%.
Just send in a note saying you want your donation to be subject
to Gift Aid, include the date, your full name and address.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd