Posted: 5th November 2021
My name is Chris Rushton. I wanted to share with you, my journey of being a WiRE member and the success that WiRE has given me to date. My story is a clear demonstration of how strength can be found in numbers. I’ll start by telling you my ‘why’, for joining WiRE.
My son was diagnosed with autism at the age of 6. He also has an autism related restrictive feeding disorder, which involves extreme sensory-related aversions to food tastes and textures (tolerating less than 10 foods, often with the same texture or substance). There are approximately 700,000 people with autism in the UK, 150,000 of this figure are children and 90% have sensory issues around food. Therefore, I have no doubt that my personal experience of raising an autistic child is probably a familiar case, to those whom have experience of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). However, what was unique about my story was how I helped my child become comfortable with the life skill of cookery.
Shortly before I joined WIRE in 2016, my son was due to move from primary to secondary school. For most families this is a time of apprehension, but for me, it was a time of absolute dread. I knew that cookery was going to be a timetabled subject in his new school and knowing how my son reacted around foods and change, I foresaw an awkward time ahead for myself, my son and his new school. Therefore, I knew I had just the six week summer holiday to introduce my son to the life skill of cooking. By using a surrogate for food ingredients and then gradually moving onto simple ‘real food recipes’. I helped him to come to terms with putting ‘real food’ ingredients together. He no longer feels upset by some foods touching each other, which is a common trait of autism. I am now very pleased to say that my son progressed so much in his first year of attending his new secondary school; he won Student of the Year and was awarded The Lorna Smith Memorial Cup to take home for the school holidays.
A few months before my son was recognised for his school achievements; I had decided to join The WiRE. When I walked through the doors of WiRE for the first time, I had no business cards, not even a business name. I didn’t even understand what I had to offer others and was unsure if I had a market for what I had discovered. I came with nothing more than an idea that I could help people in a similar situation to me. My previous background was in beauty, so I introduced myself as a therapist, simply because I couldn’t vocalise how I’d just spent the six weeks school transition. Given that I had just come through one of the most challenging times of my life, my ‘game plan’ was just to look, listen and learn. However, on meeting the women of WiRE, I instinctively felt that this was the place I belonged. The WIRE leader at the time was Sue Fry and I found her mesmerising, because what I saw was professionalism delivered with genuine compassion. I was so inspired by Sue that first day, I changed my ‘game plan’ and it became; “I need to know, what she knows”. However, upon meeting more WIRE leaders and fellow members, I have since come to learn that this sincerity is an everyday practice throughout the WIRE.
I’ve been a WiRE member for two years now and I’ve met some truly inspiration women, who have not only supported my journey, but have shared their experience and knowledge willingly. Their support has given me the confidence and drive to understand the business aspects, of a concept that I had stumbled across in my kitchen at home. It is due to the contacts I’ve made at The WiRE, that this simple act of a mother trying to do her best by her autistic child has morphed into a plan to set up a charity, which has a clear and definite way forward.
My journey started when I was asked to give a talk about my idea of using a surrogate for food ingredients to get my son comfortable with the life skill of cookery. This was to be the first time I’d ever really spoken openly about those weeks spent in my kitchen coming up with the concept. Consequently, during the talk, all the emotions that I had suppressed whilst focusing on getting my son through his difficulties; just came flooding out. In that moment a fellow WIRE member, who knew my journey, recognised what was happening and spontaneously stepped in and explained my tears to the on looking audience. I composed myself and through the tears I continued. On completion, my talk was so well received that it led on to an incredible series of events.
Initially, it led to meetings with a number of professionals which work in the field; these included an occupational therapist and a practice of family psychologists who carry out autism assessments and diagnosis. Through these meetings, I came to realise the viability and potential in my approach. Whereas, previously I’d only viewed my work through the eyes of a mother assisting her child, I now had professional validation that I had something, worth pursuing. These endorsements bought a real sense of clarity to me, which meant I could plan ahead. One of the challenges I now realised, was how to obtain long-term funding for my charity. Funding is a familiar predicament of all start-ups! The answer to this problem came from my mentor, Catherine Banks (Wyre and Worcestershire Leader), who suggested that I looked at doing an MA in Autism Studies. This would allow me to test the validity of my concept of using surrogate food ingredients in an academic environment. Furthermore, a Masters qualification would allow me to apply for long term charity funding from autistic organisations that support professionals in their field.
This ‘out of the box thinking’ is a typical example of what you gain, when you’re amongst a group of talented business women. Never in a million years, would I have ever considered doing a professional qualification as a viable solution to long-term funding! Catherine also gave me the advice to involve WiRE members in raising the funds to do the course through a crowd funding page. Therefore I’m offering the opportunity for your business to become a ‘Business Angel’ by investing. This will highlight the work of WIRE which has played such a crucial role in assisting in the creation of such a worth-while charity, but also bring the publicity it deserves, thus strengthening The WiRE’s membership and influence.
You will no doubt agree that my WiRE talk did lead to an astonishing series advents that followed. However, the real surprise came when I’d learnt that a fellow business woman, who had attended the talk, had nominated me for an award! It’s a Heartbeat Award for parents and carers who have shown inspirational love, care, commitment and courage in spite of great challenges. The lady who nominated me, Becky Bryant from Faded to Fabulous (the venue where our meetings are held, in Kidderminster) who is a mother of three children herself, who up until that date, I’d never really met before. Just goes to show, that you never know who could be in the room!
I’ve since learnt that the outcome of the award and I’m absolutely thrilled to say that I won! I have no doubt that there will be media involvement and by following my WiRE leader’s advice and involving the women of WiRE in my fund raising; has the potential to yield further publicity, especially, when you look at the current media surrounding autism, which shows that it is very much a growing concern. I believe that the act of us all coming together to support the research of an award winning concept, not only has the potential of benefiting so many families, but will also send a very positive public message to women. I hope that my story inspires anyone who has even the smallest spark of an idea to join The WiRE, because strength really can be found in numbers.
Please support my research and become a business angel by visiting my crowd funding page www.gofundme.com/ChrisRushton
Photo taken of WiRE meeting held at Stephanie’s Kitchen by Jane Harris instagram account name @janeharris_