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Steph's story

Like any mother, 42-year-old Steph Thielen loves her two children and all she wants to do is keep them happy and safe. But some days she admits her autistic sons left her at breaking point. Steph tells us her story
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“They are very different in personality, one is more intellectual and the other is more physical but they can both display challenging behaviour and experience social difficulties. Not being able to communicate their feelings can result in them exhibiting disruptive behaviour, aggression and frustration. There are many challenges in my caring role, but the short version is keeping the boys occupied, happy and safe. If they are not occupied, it’s an open invitation to challenging behaviour.

“I used to feel everything was a battle – I was quite an angry person really. I was too busy trying to sort things out for everyone else and automatically put my own needs on hold. Then, I saw a flyer for a first aid course that Swansea Carers Centre was offering and I realised that if something really bad happened, I wouldn’t know what to do.

“I signed up for it and that opened the door to other opportunities. It was while I was at the carers centre getting help that I saw a poster for the Life Skills programme. I was quite nervous about attending as I hadn’t been on any kind of training for a long time and I was a bit socially challenged, I had been very isolated.

“I was kind of resigned to the way my life had turned out – now I can see it doesn’t have to be like that. The project have made me feel better about myself in so many ways and given me the opportunity to try new things – it’s given me back to me. I’ve reconnected with myself as a person in my own right which is hard to do when you’re a carer because you are always putting someone else’s needs ahead of your own.”

Steph, who also has her sights set on studying for a degree in psychology, welcomed the way National Lottery money is spent on projects like that run by Swansea Carers Centre.

 “Why does anyone buy a lottery ticket in the first place? They buy themselves a little bit of hope. This project gives that same hope back to people who have put their own hopes and dreams on hold to concentrate on someone else’s.”

Swansea Carers Centre’s Life Skills for Carers project was supported by a grant of £369,500 in 2010 from the Big Lottery Fund and European Social Funds - distributed through the Welsh European Funding Office.