A DIFFERENT JOY: The Parents' Guide to Living Better with Autism, Dyslexia, ADHD and more....

Whenever you are going to undertake an expedition into uncharted territory, you would always take a map or a guide to prevent you from getting lost.

Well, parenting a child with special needs (whether they are autistic, dyslexic, have ADHD or any other issue) presents challenges you never expected. You need to be as prepared as possible.  There will be times when you need to dip into a reliable guide to help steer you through the next stage. It might be that you are:

  • Taking your first few steps towards diagnosis  
  • Working out what to do with the diagnosis your child has been given
  • Trying to find the best way to harness your child's interests and abilities to find them something they love to do as a job
  • Worrying about your child being anxious, depressed or worrying about their mental health
  •  Struggling with being judged by other parents in the playground
  • Trying to be positive with the school whilst getting them to do what your  child so desperately needs
  • Feeling like you're at the end of your tether, out of ideas and running on empty
  • Wondering how to help a child who can't or won't tell you what's up
  • Short on information, time and resources to tap into the information that your sure must be out there somewhere
  • Trying to spin the plates to keep your relationships with children, family and friends going
  • Desperate to find the right school
  • Trying to help a child who's being bullied.
  • How can you keep them safe, especially if it's happening online?
  • Need them to learn how to cope with failure and getting things wrong
  • Deeply scared about what will happen to your child when you are no longer around.

If you are one of those amazing professionals who help and support parents to get what their child needs, THANK YOU, you are heros! Please buy A Different Joy to give you a better insight into the strains and stresses that your parents are struggling with. Scroll down to find out more.

A Different Joy provides your roadmap through all of these concerns and more. Need to know more? Want to keep up to date? Join the Different Joy Club for information and support.



The Parents' Guide to Living Better with Autism, Dyslexia, ADHD and More ...

"Easy read and a must read for anyone trying to understand this confusing world"

Fiona Barclay

"In this wonderfully positive and insightful book, Sarah-Jane Critchley looks in depth at issues that parents of children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) face, Unlike other books which can be overly academic and impenetrable, this book is full of real life examples and practical advice.  As a parent of children with SEN herself, Sarah-Jane is a very credible guide through the complicated world of special needs, She isn't just a professional in the field, she has lived it.

Here she shares lessons learned and strategies that have helped in a way that helps and supports but never preaches or patronises.

What is comforting about this book is that takes the emphasis of trying to be a 'perfect parent'.  Bringing up a child with special needs is often trial and error, and sarah-Jane is refreshingly honest about strategies and approaches that have worked for her as well as outlining times when things haven't worked out.  I know a lot of parents will take great comfort from this.

This book would be an excellent starting point for any parent entering the world of SEN.  By the time you get to the last page, I'm sure you will feel informed, inspired and well equipped to continue to meet your unique young person's needs.  Because after all, parenting a child with special needs may be complex, but it's also incredibly rewarding."

Dean Beadle Dean Beadle
International Autistic Speaker

"Warm-hearted book for parents of newly diagnosed autistic children with plenty of sensible advice"

Shannon Coles Shannon Coles
Award-winning Outreach Professional

"As a parent, teacher and SEND advocate this is a great book. I recognised my kids in it & hearing that I'm not alone is always good."

Anita Kirwen-Nye Anita Kirwen-Nye
Director NotDeadFish & London Leadership Strategy

"It is a very, very good read, with a warm, informal, personal tone and a solid professional base. I just wish I had read this when I was Home Start volunteer to a distressed mother with two demanding under 5s.  I'll send a link to her straight away!"


Heta Lumsden Heta Lumsden
Homestart Volunteer

"As a small package can contain a very valuable present, this is a small book that contains valuable information for parents.  The descriptions, explanations and strategies are clear and perceptive such that this is the 'go to' book for parents and grandparents.  I especially appreciated the positive attitude and emphasis on the abilities and qualities of children who have autism."

Tony Attwood Tony Attwood
Author of the Complete Guide to Asperger Syndrome

"Wish this book had been around when my 2 were first diagnosed. What a lovely title! Congrats."

Carly Jones Carly Jones
Film Director, Author, Activist, Mum at Epidemic of Knowledge

“If ever there was a truer sentence than this, I can’t think of it, “People are never a simple proposition, we are a complex, messy combination of the genes we were given, what happened to us in our lives from conception onwards and our experiences – all of which combine to make us the people we are.”

Life is messy. Art is messy. Science is messy, and the surest way to make God laugh is to tell him our plans – because heavens are THEY messy!

Sarah-Jane Critchley’s ‘A Different Joy’ asks “whomever said there were boxes into which we SHOULD fit anyway?”, offering both practical and personal resilience for turning messy into ‘mess-tastic.’

Jennifer Cook O'Toole Jennifer Cook O'Toole
Author of the Asperkids Series

"This book is nurturing like a good cup of tea.

Reading this book through the eyes of a professional in the field of autism, I was struck by its openness, honesty, and very human approach

It takes you on a journey of living with and supporting children who see and experience the world differently from pre-diagnosis to adulthood.  At each stage of the journey, Sarah has shared personal and professional experiences, a wealth of practical tips, resources and sign posting in such am accessible way.

This is an excellent book for parents to support them through their own journey but also for professionals to gain a clear and honest insight into the lives of children with additional needs and their families.

This book champions difference, that nobody is perfect and celebrates children for who they are. I will be recommending this book to the families and settings my team support."

Clare Henshaw Clare Henshaw
Autism Outreach Coordinator, Brent Autism Outreach Team

...An insightful, easy to navigate and very personal guide through the pitfalls of parenting children with 'hidden' SEN - covering everything from diagnosis through to finding the right school; family dynamics to mental health.

Jenny Phillips

A Different Joy: A Parents’ Guide to Living Better With Autism, Dyslexia, ADHD & More by Sarah-Jane Critchley is essential reading for anyone living with or caring for a child who has learning difficulties in the autistic spectrum. It should also be compulsory reading for everyone working with children and young people, in any capacity, whether as caretaker or Head Teacher of a school or as Scout/Guide leader or Youth Club worker.

In her open, personal and informative account of the difficulties and complexities of raising two children with challenging needs, Sarah-Jane Critchley manages to educate without preaching and to comfort without being patronising.

This book is a manual and a counselling session in one. In short sections like Can diagnosis be helpful? and What is neurodiversity? under their clear Chapter Headings, Critchley gives concise, factual information that is unbiased and easy to digest.
She also discusses Divorce, separation and mental health and other personal issues faced by parents under pressure. However, the overriding emphasis of this book is love.

The tone of A Different Joy is personal and often conversational. In her Acknowledgments Critchley points out that ‘any errors in spelling, grammar or punctuation are all mine, and are there to make those of you who enjoy looking for them happy.’ This is the tongue-in-cheek, light tone that the writer adopts on many occasions to avoid sounding self-important or all-knowing. Despite this lightness, A Different Joy is a serious and useful book that offers advice and support, written by the Programme Head of Autism Education Trust.

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Table of Contents

  • Chapter 1: An Introduction to Sane-ish Parenting

    Love is a long-term proposition – We all want our children to be happy – Divorce, separation and mental health – Taking care of yourself – It’s a family affair: siblings, parents and other animals – To diagnose or not to diagnose? that is the question! – Learning about your children so you can advocate for them – Communicating with children who find talking difficult – Working with schools and settings – Parents deserve happiness too: why your life matters – Managing other parents – The world outside your home – Building resilience – Worrying about the future – From surviving to thriving.

  • Chapter 2: Diagnosis, Acceptance and Moving On

    There’s something different about my child! – Where can I go and who can help? – Are there any problems with going for a diagnosis? – Can diagnosis be helpful? – Diagnosis: the waiting game – Diagnosis, grieving and renewal – It’s my fault, why me? – Life after diagnosis: what next? – Learning from the best – Telling your child – New ideas, new friends – Snake oil and real help: how to tell the difference – What if I can’t find what my child needs?

  • Chapter 3: Know Your Child

    Information is Power – What information do you need? – Keeping track of successes – What is a special interest? – How can a special interest be useful to you as a parent? – What’s in the special interest for your child? – Their obsession is driving me mad: how can I manage it? – Special interests and school – Championing your child – Building bridges and finding common ground – A passion can lead to a career – Temple Grandin’s story – Special interests and motivation – Discovering what your child loves – What if the special interest isn’t age appropriate? – Getting anything else done – Building long-term skills –

  • Chapter 4: Neurodiversity - What type of Difference and when Does it Matter?

    What is neurodiversity? – Difference not deficit – Diagnostic labels and changing trends – Wenn Lawson’s story – What are Autism and Asperger Syndrome? – Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD) – Dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and other learning difficulties – Speech language and communication needs (SLCN) – Disability or special needs? – Mental health. What’s the problem and why does it matter? – Single, dual and multiple diagnoses: the joys of disability bingo – Sensory differences: what you perceive is your reality – The difference between boys and girls – Where can I find out more?

  • Chapter 5: Surviving Competitive Parenting - Of Course it's Personal!

    Thunder on the horizon: when someone else spots something you haven’t noticed – Why hasn’t your child…(insert milestone here) yet? – Doesn’t everyone do that? We all do in our family! – Your child is not ‘accessing the curriculum’ – ‘Oh but it’s far too early to diagnose them with….’ – Parents under siege in the playground – Of course it’s Personal! – Dealing with defensiveness – Preparing for meetings: focus on the positives – Stop. Listen. Reflect – The impact of early intervention – Parents’ evenings and how to survive them (the good, the bad, and the IEP.

  • Chapter 6: Stamina - Keeping Going When it Seems Impossible

    Reality bites: it can be hard – Triage; what to de al with first and what next – D.I.V.O.R.C.E. and family breakdown – Parental mental health – Modelling emotional resilience – Exercise and stress relief: free endorphins anyone? – I need someone to listen to me! – How to listen to your child, even if they aren’t talking – Becoming an expert detective – Problem solving skills: testing 1-2-3 – Learning from the best and finding a champion – Great friends, great support.

  • Chapter 7: Family Dynamics, Siblings and Wider Family

    Some things run in families: and some don’t – Meeting unequal demands: everyone wants a piece of me! – Keeping relationships going – Sibling issues – Mothers, fathers, roles and recognising strengths – When partners don’t agree – The  gift of grandparents – Redressing the time balance: if only time travel were possible! – Communication, communication, communication – Everyone gets special time – If at first you don’t succeed, fail forward faster – Friends can be your family too – It may not work for everyone, but it works for us!

  • Chapter 8: Perfect Schools Don't Exist. How to Find the Best You Can

    Know your child – The best in the area might not be the best for you – Balancing social and emotional with education and academic needs – When is a special school the right choice? – What makes a good setting? – What your child’s teachers need you to know – Nowhere is perfect all of the time – When to carry on working with a school and when to move on – Helping a child who is really unhappy – The terror of transition – Nothing lasts forever: moving on.

  • Chapter 9: Bullying, Vulnerability and Resilience

    Why are children like ours so vulnerable? – Good friends, bad friends and manipulation – What is bullying? – Protecting your children online – Anxiety and sensory difficulties – Pain thresholds and sensory overload – Success, failure and the demon of perfectionism – How to support healthy self-esteem in your child – The failure factory and persistence. Edison, Bruce and other stories – Peer awareness, peer mentoring and anti-bulling programmes – Clubs and special interest groups – Understanding emotions, dealing with anger and frustration.

  • Chapter 10: From Surviving to Thriving

    Don’t Panic!- Change is scary but it can be good – Doing the most difficult job in the world with deep joy – Developing and modelling emotional resilience when things go wrong – Different is good, we need different – Uncovering the unique person the world needs to have – Voyage of discovery: celebrate what you have learned – Steering your child through their education – Creating a family where everyone is loved and valued – Living without regret – Dying at peace, knowing that your child will be OK – Learning to let go – Last word and thanks – Connect with Sarah-Jane Critchley – Different Joy Club



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Meet the Author & Illustrator

Sarah-Jane Critchley

Sarah-Jane has been with the Autism Education Trust since June 2008 working with a range of stakeholders to improve educational provision for young people with autism and securing continuous funding from the UK Department for Education of nearly £6M since its inception. She has been instrumental in the development, monitoring and management of a number of workforce development programmes including training that has reached over 100,000 education-based staff in England since 2012. She is the internationally recognised author of 'A Different Joy: the parents' guide to living better with autism, dyslexia, ADHD and more...', has presented on autism education in China and Scotland, and has written for Charity Finance and ICSA. Sarah-Jane is working with colleagues in the UK, Italy and Greece as a member of the Transforming Autism Education project funded by the EU ERASMUS programme. She designed and delivered marketing programmes and training in the management of key clients for the construction Industry and implemented sales and marketing programmes for a newly privatised organisation.  She has had extensive operational and facilities management experience including leadership of over 100 staff and an operational budget in excess of £17M. Sarah-Jane holds a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) specialising in the management of change from City University. She is a mother to two autistic teenagers (a late-diagnosed girl and a boy) and a husband on the autism spectrum.

E M Critchley

E M Critchley was diagnosed with autism in March 2016 at the age of 16.  She drew the illustrations over the course of a year and is currently studying for 'A' Levels encouraged by her cats who sit with her for lessons (the perks of home-schooling!)