FOR a child with autism, everyday life is a struggle. Sometimes it’s just easier to hide at home. Strangers in the street stopping to speak to them, a dog barking, or an alarm,can all cause extreme anguish to someone on the spectrum.

Receiving a diagnosis for their child can be a huge relief for parents. The disapproving looks of old ladies in the supermarket as their child lashes out, throws tins, and screams at the top of their voice, seem easier to bear when you know the reason behind it, and that it is not just that you are a Bad Parent.

When I was told, after a ten-month conveyor belt of assessments, observations and appointments, that my daughter was on the autism spectrum, I sobbed, huge, racking, convulsing sobs of relief and sadness.

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But I was lucky. As Paul Williams, MP for Stockton South, and his Stockton North counterpart Alex Cunningham pointed out in a Parliamentary debate last week, some parents in their constituencies have to wait up to four years to get to that moment.

A diagnosis, official confirmation of autism, means ripping up the parenting rulebook and starting again. Normal rules just don’t apply here. Trust me, I’ve lived it.

I’m learning that a child on the autism spectrum will not change. You can teach them some coping strategies, and how to recognise the simmering signs of anxiety, but you have to change your world to keep your child calm, and safe, and as free from anxiety as it is possible to get.

For most people, with little understanding at all of the condition, they don’t see how these children’s senses can become overwhelmed to the point they crescendo into – quite literally - primal fear. This state has to be avoided at all costs. In this state the child will not hear, they won’t see, they will fight, or they will run, like their primitive ancestors when faced with danger.

In this state, there is nothing anyone can do. You just have to ride out the meltdown, which seems like an inexplicably mild word to describe pure, white hot fear.

I knew my sparky, funny, beautiful little girl wasn’t like the others. Her clothing labels and every jumper itched unbearably, she felt pain deeply, she fought sleep so hard. She couldn’t sit through a film at the cinema. A dark circus tent once nearly finished her off. But she is quiet and bright and kind. As a girl on the so-called high-functioning end of the spectrum, no one else saw there might be a problem until she reached the age of nine. Girls don’t always show the symptoms which ‘fit’ an autism diagnosis, which is still centred around boys. If we lived in Stockton, she wouldn’t have been diagnosed until she was halfway through secondary school.

A diagnosis isn’t the end of the battle. It’s the beginning. I applaud the MPs for standing up and trying to make a difference for the one in one hundred people – and this is a huge underestimation – that have autism spectrum disorder. The Government has agreed to measure autism waiting times, which currently have no official targets. Hopefully this will lead to targets in 2019 or 2020. It’s a first step but it will take some time. And meanwhile, there are thousands of families playing the waiting game. Waiting for their battle to begin.