We recently announced the super-exciting news that James Hunt, founder of the blog Stories with Autism, will be our new BAPS Ambassador. James can’t wait to meet everyone in October and, in case you are wondering how he started his blogging journey, we caught up with James to find out more.
MFON: When did you make the decision to start blogging?
James: I used to read a lot of blogs and I found it really helped me. Back in 2014-15 and in the early days of my boys being diagnosed, I was trying to make sense of it. I didn’t really know much about autism, or what that meant for them or us, and I came across some pages on Facebook and just started to feel this connection. I began to recognise myself or my boys’ story in what I was reading. I used to always find it hard to talk about it with friends and family. It’s easy to become isolated – we didn’t go to that many social occasions because of Jude and Tommy’s needs. I couldn’t explain what life is really like. A one-off meeting in a pub for an hour doesn’t really feel like the time or place to try and explain how complex life is in that moment. I felt I could never really get the words out and do Tommy and Jude justice and explain what life was like.
I thought I could share something and publish it, and then friends and family could read it in their own time and go away and process it. Then maybe they would ask me questions when we next saw each other or by message. That was the idea, to do a few updates, and it then became a lot more – something that I never expected.
MFON: How are you expanding your community?
James: I’ve started hanging out on Tik Tok a little bit. There’s a whole different community on there. I’ve found that really interesting. I’ve built a community on there, completely different to other platforms. I’m hoping to attract some of those people who talk about special needs to BAPS.
You use whatever platform works for you. It might be on Twitter, writing long threads. I do some live sessions – I’ve got a supporter channel on Facebook and we do fortnightly meet-ups, talking about things for an hour or two. I do Q&As on Facebook and Twitter, too.
MFON: How did the relationship change with the people around you once they started to read your blog?
James: It made things so much better because they wanted to understand. Seven or eight years ago, things weren’t so openly spoken about like they are now and I don’t think other people really had an understanding of what was going on. They were able to do their own research off the back of it and, as a result, they felt more comfortable to talk to me about it and to ask questions. Instead of zero, we were meeting halfway, so they could say, ‘Oh, I saw Jude and Tommy did this last week’ rather than having no idea, and it’s about talking about the hard things as well as the good things. It might be the lack of sleep or the first word that was said – it made it so much easier having that chat beforehand.
MFON: Which platforms would you recommend for other parents/carers to use?
James: Nowadays, there are so many options. When I started, it was actual websites, which so few people use these days. Now, I spend a lot more time on Facebook and Instagram than on my own website, and now you have the benefit of people being able to do that, you can create Tik Tok videos and talk about what life is like. If you like writing, you can do a long Facebook post. There are so many options on how you can share your story and how you can get started. You can post once a day or once a week, whatever works for you, and I think it’s about doing what you’re comfortable with. It doesn’t have to be for thousands of followers; it can be to touch your local community and help people around you know more about your family. If you look at it as sharing what you want to – and know that you don’t have to copy anyone else or share as much as everyone else – if you’re comfortable with that, then I think it’s a really important thing to do.
MFON: Your network has grown so much! What’s it been like having people reach out to you and make contact?
James: It’s been so rewarding, having people reach out to me and share their own challenges, or the things people want to learn about. From my own experience, being able to tell them, because my boys are two years ahead of them, that they might be going through something very similar, does make such a difference when you can have those one-to-one conversations, or chat in the comments, or share a post that someone else wrote on the same topic. It feels really rewarding. The community has grown a hell of a lot – I used to respond to people every day but now it’s never enough. I spend hours every day on the blog now, responding to people, etc. It’s a blessing having such a big community but still it’s never enough. I really do want to answer everyone because I know that, within, there will be a really important message, because someone is struggling and they really need some support. It’s just taken a bit longer these days because there are just so many messages.
MFON: You help so many people by listening to their worries and concerns, but how do you balance that with your own mental health? That must be quite a lot to take on?
James: Yeah, it can be. When life can be a little bit tougher, it can pull you down a little bit. If I’m reading messages from other people which are hard, if I feel I am pulling down, then I do take a break. I will maybe share just smaller amounts or maybe give the messages a few days off. At the end of the day, we have to look after ourselves. As much as I do this to raise awareness and help other people, I have to look after myself and Jude and Tommy first.
On the flip side of that, having this page has done so much for my mental health and I’ve probably spoken about things that I would never have spoken about. A few years ago, I could not talk about autism without getting choked up and upset. That was just the phase I was in. Now I talk about it quite openly – online and with friends and family – and talk about the challenges. As time has gone on, I have got more open to share. It is scary. It’s scary when you hit publish on the first post and on the 100th post! In the early days, I would be like, ‘Ah, I want to delete that.’ There are things that are quite personal and open and then there are things that are just everyday run-of-the-mill events that happen. It is a form of therapy for me. If it’s something that is personal to you, whatever the subject, then I think it can be a really good form of therapy. Essentially, I’m either writing things down that are on my mind or I’m talking them into the camera and it’s the same as talking to someone else.
MFON: How do you decide how much to share?
James: It’s learning to be honest. Sometimes you do overshare, and you learn from it and think, ‘Right I’m not going to do that anymore.’ Things change as well – there’s part of your life when you think you aren’t going to do that anymore. I always try and give an honest account – for example, last week was awful and this week has been really good because of this and this. I think it’s important on all social media to be genuine when your audience is made up of parents who are looking for that little bit of comfort or to see their own lives in other people. If all I spoke about was the good times, then parents/carers would think they are doing something wrong. If I was only sharing the bad times, then parents/carers would be thinking it’s awful having an autism child, and it’s not. Yeah, it’s challenging, but it’s also really rewarding and amazing, too. But you have different days.
MFON: When you discovered BAPS, what was it like meeting other parents?
James: The first BAPS event was the first time I met any bloggers in real life. It’s a strange thing, social media; if you start talking about different topics in your area, then you start talking to people who have similar experiences as you, and then you start to feel that you get to know them and you have never met them. You then turn up at the event and you’re like ‘Oh, it’s you!’ It’s amazing. I’m still really good friends with people I met at the first event. Because we are spread out all over the country, we probably would never have met in real life if it wasn’t for BAPS. It’s a really important event. You can see the friendships coming out of it.
MFON: What’s your key goal in your ambassador role?
James: I think it’s to attract more people to the event and to knowing about it – the different categories, getting new bloggers involved. There are lots of people I speak to in this community who need to be nominated. That’s what I’m trying to do. Not just bloggers but parents/carers as well. There are many parents who follow me who it would be excellent to have nominated. It will be great to bring some more awareness to BAPS.
MFON: What’s your advice for parents who may be reluctant to take time off and attend BAPS? How can they manage those feelings of guilt?
James: That’s a topic people message me about all the time. When we are so dedicated to trying to help our kids, there aren’t many people we can trust to look after them and give us a break. We feel guilty – even if we are meeting our friends for a few hours or going to a gig, it can feel like a big thing. I don’t get to do these things as often as I would like to. I don’t go five years without doing them – it’s maybe three or four months in between an actual night out. It’s so important. Whenever I’ve done it, it charges me up again. The first few times you might feel a bit guilty but, if we can get the childcare in place, we need that break and time off. We need time to recharge our batteries.
Being in an environment and around people who live a life similar to yours and who understand the challenges can be really empowering. You come away buzzing. I’ve felt that if I’m at a coffee morning with 10 parents. Then you go to an actual event like BAPS, where you get a whole night off, have some music and some dancing and everything else. It’s such a great atmosphere and you can relax with people you might never have spoken to before but you will have something in common with. For me, I am lucky and I do have a large community, and within that I have made some very good friends over the years. For a parent who doesn’t blog and doesn’t have that connection online, they can come to an event and make friends.
MFON: Tell us about your BAPS highlights.
James: Winning! That was quite a highlight! That first year of being nominated for this award that I knew nothing about – I brought some friends and family with me and it was a really amazing night. Amazing to win. That first awards ceremony was special, as it was the first one. It was the first time meeting the other bloggers. Each year going back, there’s a group of people – either seeing each other again or meeting for the first time. All the events have been very special.
MFON: What would be your message on the importance of nominations?
James: If you nominate someone else, you will make their day. For parents who don’t have an online community or people who might nominate them or know about this, be proud of what you are doing. We will then get to hear about your story, find out about what you’re doing and make you part of this special event. People always say they don’t like to ask to be nominated. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. There’s no shame in asking to be nominated, or asking for nominations, or else how will anyone know to nominate you in the first place?
MFON: Has blogging and BAPS changed your perception?
James: Yeah, absolutely. In the early days, you feel very much on your own. You’re going through the diagnosis and future challenges, and you feel like you are the only person in the world going through this. Then you start reading blogs and discover there are a lot of people going through this. In sharing my own stories, I have learned so much. I’ve learned so much about my boys and how they have developed over the years. I’ve learned so much from sharing and the feedback I get from the community about their own experiences. So, yeah, it’s massively changed me. It’s shaped what I want to do. It’s shaped my feelings about certain things, from pre-blogging in 2015 to now. Lived experience is what I’ve learned the most from. I’ve read books, I’ve gone on courses, but it’s lived experience and seeing that every day on Instagram stories. On Tik Tok, on blogs, it sinks in. It helps you understand so much more about being a parent and about a specific disability or a special need and how it impacts on your life.
The BAPS Awards
The BAPs (Bloody Awesome Parents) Awards allows SEND bloggers to be recognised for their talents, tales and achievements. Founded by Bringing Us Together and My Family, Our Needs, these awards celebrate SEND Bloggers everywhere. Click here to find out more…