‘I wouldn’t wish this on anyone..’

Elizabeth, with Jake, left, and Reece
Elizabeth, with Jake, left, and Reece

Like any mother, mum Liz Hardman loves her boys. Here, she talks to Marion Ainge about the challenges of bringing up two autistic sons

At 23, Elizabeth Newsham became engaged to Tony Hardman, 27. Like lots of young couples, they looked forward to getting married and having a family.

Photo: David Hurst Jake Hardman

Photo: David Hurst Jake Hardman

But Liz and Tony, of St Annes, couldn’t imagine the challenges which lay ahead.

For after their first child, Zachary, was born in 1988, Liz and independent financial adviser Tony, 61, went on to have two more sons, Jake and Reece, both of whom suffer from autism.

Liz, 56, who works part-time at St Annes Library, says: “Tony and I met at a snooker night at the St Ives Hotel.

“We started going out, he proposed on New Year’s Eve at the Hole in One pub, and we married just over a year later.

Tony and I happened to watch a TV programme about autism. We recognised the similarities and specialists confirmed that Jake had this condition

“Sadly, we lost our first child in the early stages of pregnancy, but in 1988, Zach, now a 27-year-old plumber, was born.

“Two years later, Jake arrived. As he developed, we could tell his speech wasn’t very good.

“Tony and I happened to watch a TV programme about autism. We recognised the similarities and specialists confirmed that Jake had this condition.

“We were relieved to have a diagnosis, but had to move forward with sadness, thinking about the life he was going to have. I was expecting my third son at the time and during my pregnancy, I hoped and prayed that it wouldn’t happen again.

Photo: David Hurst'Reece Hardman

Photo: David Hurst'Reece Hardman

“But at 18 months, the new baby, Reece, wasn’t talking and we found out that he, too, was autistic. We were devastated.

“We just had to try to get on with it. We have a good marriage and traditional values, but we’ve had to be strong ourselves to cope with all the challenges.

“Reece’s speech has never really progressed, but as his mum, I can understand him. He has a happy disposition.

“He loves watching cartoons, and YouTube and sings along to the songs he knows.

“Jake likes DVDs and sometimes he helps out in a charity shop, putting things on shelves. He helps with washing up at Dobbies Garden Centre, too.

“Over the years, Tony and I have taken the boys on walking holidays to the Lake District. They all like horse-riding, bowling and swimming.

“This year, we took Jake and Reece to Ullswater.

“They both love steam trains and seeing animals at wildlife parks.

“People do stare at them, but we’re used to that and just ignore it.

“Three times a week, I take Jake and Reece to Caritas Care in Preston in the morning and pick them up at 3.30pm.

“We’ve brought up all three of them in the same way, as far as possible.

“It’s been hard looking after them for so many years, and I’m getting tired. Reece needs 24-hour care.

“At one point, the three children were all under five years old, and Tony was working away.

“We’re looking for supported living places for them in this area, so they can have some independence, but Tony and I want to make sure we’re happy with their environment.

“Tony and I can hardly ever go out together.

“Respite care is provided during the year, when we can have a bit of a break, and I have a week’s holiday with my girlfriends once a year.

“We don’t begrudge a minute of the time we’ve given to our boys, and we’ve done our best, as we love them like any parents love their children.

“But I wouldn’t wish this situation on anyone – not even my worst enemy.”