Fair City’s Suzanne: ‘It’s completely heartbreaking when your child is diagnosed with special needs’
Former Fair City actress Sarah Flood said she ‘cried for about a year ‘ when her daughter was diagnosed with autism.
“It was two years in July that we got the official diagnosis,” the 32-year-old mother, who played Suzanne Halpin in the RTE drama, told 2fm this morning.
“It’s completely heartbreaking when your child is diagnosed with special needs – I just cried for about a year.”
Five-year-old Jennifer was born a very healthy and happy baby, hitting all her milestones in her first year.
The first sign something was wrong, says the brave mother, was when Jennifer had grommets at 14 months old.
“We assumed there was something amiss with her hearing then but at about 18 months, we started noticing that she was very anxious child,” remembered Sarah.
“You couldn’t bring her anywhere – she was happy to go to her minder and to her Nanas and that was it.
She wouldn’t get bold, she would just become really, really distressed.”
Although some of these symptoms started to disappear as Jennifer got older, other signs began to show themselves.
“When Jennifer was two years of age, she got a tub of dinosaurs and a doll’s house as a present,” the mother-of-two recalled.
“She would only allow a certain amount of dinosaurs into the doll’s house and the remainder were lined up in the same order outside.”
Sarah contacted the public health nurse when Jennifer was approximately two and a half who referred the family to an early intervention team.
Sarah and her husband Lar, who also have a two-year-old daughter named Rachel, then met the psychologist who brought up autism for the first time.
“I didn’t know anything about autism at the time,” the actress confessed. “Until we were officially told it was autism, we hoped it would go away.”
“That was the hardest time – I just didn’t know what to do. We felt very much on her own.”
But Sarah maintains that although learning of the diagnosis felt like a ‘loss’ of sorts, Jennifer is still very much “the same child.”
“It didn’t change who she was, she is very affectionate child. She is a very happy child – and that’s all you want for your child. She is an amazing child,” she gushed.
Yet times are tough for the family as Jennifer “has problems with clothing, food and water” and finds it difficult sometimes allowing her boisterous young sister “disturb her space”.
But Sarah bonds with other families dealing with autism at a support group in Swords called Snowflakes.
Jennifer attends Our Lady of Consolation school in Donnycarney at their ASD unit called The Orchard which Sarah finds “great”.
A comedy night to raise much needed funds for this unit is on in Bewley’s Airport Hotel on May 17.
John Williams, an award winning comedian and single dad to an 11-yearold old boy with autism will be hosting the show, ‘My Son's not Rainman’.