This film was made in 2022

Kaitlin Lawrence’s brother Jamie has been living and learning full-time at Prior’s Court since he was 13, after being taken into care at the age of 10 due to the nature of his autism leading to aggressive behaviours towards his family.

This, in Kaitlin's own words, is her story:

"Jamie is my younger brother who joined Prior’s Court in 2014. Before being taken into care at 10-years-old, Jamie lived at home with me and my parents.

"The main difficulty I found growing up with a sibling who has autism was communication. It took much longer for us to build a relationship, and at times it was frustrating. I struggled to understand why it was so difficult for me to have a good relationship with Jamie, when all my friends had a seemingly easy relationship with their siblings.

"I have never experienced, and never will experience a ‘normal’ sibling relationship, which is something I’ll always think I’ve missed out on. I am 21, and our relationship has been really up and down.

We were close whilst Jamie was at home, however, we grew apart a lot whilst he was away until the start of Covid. I remember Christmas 2019 when Jamie wanted absolutely nothing to do with me, and when he came to visit on Boxing Day he refused to give me a hug or speak to me. It was one of the most upsetting days, however, if my ‘Christmas 2019 self’ could see our relationship now, she would be so relieved and happy to see how close Jamie and I have become."

Life as a young child

"When I was younger, I didn’t want friends to visit me at home because I didn’t want them to see what Jamie was like. It put a real strain on my friendships because I didn’t see my friends as much as other people did, or as much as I wanted to. Whilst Jamie was at home, our lives were dependent on his moods and his behaviours."

"Now I understand so much better the importance of patience with Jamie and knowing that any bad periods of behaviour will pass, sometimes you just need to give him time.

"Family have always understood our difficulties with Jamie, and my cousins and I are really close which has helped me enormously. My parents, Jamie and I could never really go out as a family – we couldn’t go to play centres or go on holiday without being concerned about how Jamie would behave. It meant I spent a lot of time with one of my parents taking me to extracurricular activities, whilst the other was home with Jamie."

Jamie leaving the family home

Jamie originally left home when I was 12 and all I really remember was feeling quite lonely in the house. I guess it didn’t really sink in that he had actually left home forever, and even nowadays I try not to think ‘what might have been’ as it is a really difficult mindset to be in. Jamie is now in the best place he can possibly be in, and we are able to watch him thrive and develop every week. I am so grateful to all the staff (past and present) that have worked with Jamie and still have a vested interest in his life.

"On the outside I think people perceive having an autistic family member as a bit of an inconvenience, but nowadays it can be managed with the right support. I see it as a duck sitting on water – happy and chilled on top, but underneath the leg work that goes into keeping up the chilled front when nothing is ever set in stone is continuous and at times frantic."

Covid as a turning point

"I never thought I would have the amazing relationship I now have with Jamie, and I am extremely fortunate for that. Covid was a huge turning point - Jamie didn’t understand what was happening and got angry when we couldn’t visit him.

"We had to come up with a way we could still interact and provide a good explanation for what was happening as he did not understand what a pandemic was. We started Face-timing Jamie, however, we had to think of many things that you often wouldn’t think about – what would be in the background, would Jamie be upset if he saw his old house, would he be upset if he saw I was living with Mum and Dad, and he wasn’t?

"Facetime ended up being a saving grace. We kept each other company during lockdown, talking about the most random things for hours on end. It took some time, but we grew closer as we chatted more and more, and began to regain a closer sibling relationship, that I had been so envious of when I was younger.

"I feel guilty when I can’t talk to him, and sometimes it is difficult. We don’t always chat for hours on end, sometimes we have to end facetimes due to his echolalia which affects his ability to hold a conversation. Other times he calls me because he is angry, and I have to try and calm him down all the way from my university house. But the days where we get to have a stimulating and interesting conversations about what we have done during the day and what we are doing the next day are ones I always look forward to."

The present day

"We are in a much better place now; Jamie’s transition has been generally smooth, and we had a lovely shopping trip and catch-up a few days ago. I miss him at home so much, but now he is one of my best friends.

"On our Facetimes we have the weirdest conversations that I couldn’t even think about having with anyone else – the other day we went from an explanation of cottage cheese to discussing holiday options in the space of 1 minute… he keeps it fun, and there is always something to talk about.

I always thought of Jamie as just going to boarding school, and it was a coping mechanism that really helped me.

Kaitlin also appeared with her mother and father in another film where they explain their backing for Prior’s Court’s Let Me Shine Performing Arts Centre appeal, which is seeking £900,000 to support the build of the innovative and bespoke arts centre.

Prior’s Court’s ambition is to use the centre to research best practice around providing support to access the arts, and sharing these learnings with others in the education and performing arts sectors for the benefit of people with autism, and their families, across the country and beyond.

For more information, see the fundraising section of our website or the accompanying appeal video.

Prior’s Court has been awarded £10,000 of match funding from Greenham Trust for the Let Me Shine Performing Arts Centre appeal – meaning for every £1 donated via the Good Exchange platform, the trust will match fund that with a £1 donation, up to the value of £10,000.

To donate head to the Good Exchange portal

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