Nina nad her mum, Surrinder Sandham-Bains.
Tantrums can be normal for any toddler, but when Nina Sanham-Bains was just two years old, her tantrums were unmanageable and coupled with not smiling or making eye contact and diminishing speech. Natural motherly instinct meant mum Surrinder sensed something was wrong.
“We hoped it may be jealously, as we had a new baby, a little sister for Nina. But she was diagnosed with autism just before her third birthday. I had no idea what this meant for our beautiful little daughter. The news was devastating.”
The years that followed diagnosis were a mixture of confusion and isolation for the Sandham-Bains family. Grandparents had to come to terms with the fact that Nina would not simply ‘get better’, plus there was the common misconception that only boys can have autism - making things harder still.
There are an estimated 500,000 people Britain with Autistic Spectrum Disorder and only one in every four is female. Because of this, misdiagnosis is common as the usual symptoms present differently in girls. “Every special school we looked at for Nina only had autistic boys in the classrooms,” said Surrinder. “So we decided on mainstream schooling with the one-to-one support she was entitled to.”
Now seventeen, Nina is very beautiful, with striking looks, a love of retro music and talent for drawing. Despite this, bullying at primary and secondary school has had an impact – Nina was cruelly teased and intimidated by her peers and her sister, Misha, also suffered.
The family is close and works together around Nina's issues. Her extreme reactions and distress at breaks in her normal routine can lead to loud outbursts of anger and frustration – extreme behaviour to outsiders, but most of the time, Nina is fine.
“I’ve not always felt positive, but I’ve learned so much from Nina,” said Surrinder. “The whole family has grown from the experience, bringing us closer than perhaps we would have been. Life is not how I imagined it would be – but I don’t grieve now like I used to: life on the whole is good for us and for Nina too.”