A HEARTBREAKING thought flashed through Paul Scholes' mind as he watched his son “punching, kicking and screaming” during another outburst: “He might have to go into care”.
It was a testing time for the ex-England midfielder, who initially kept son Aiden’s autism diagnosis a secret before becoming an ambassador for differently-abled children.
Paul admitted his struggles for the first time this week in the new BBC documentary Paddy And Christine McGuinness: Our Family And Autism, which airs tonight.
He recalls getting the diagnosis ahead of a Manchester United match but didn’t tell anyone – even after he missed an open goal during a “terrible performance” and was dropped for the next game.
The father-of-three and Claire Froggatt, his wife of 22 years, knew there was “something wrong”with their son before being referred to specialists by doctors.
They have accepted that Aiden, now 16, will likely never be able to talk or live independently and is “never going to be neurotypical”.
Instead, they celebrate every achievement their “amazing, happy boy” accomplishes and say it makes them “so happy” and proud.
“We took him to a place in Oldham and that the first time I thought of autism as it had signs around about the things autistic children tend to do," Paul said.
“We got the diagnosis when we were playing Derby away and I was shocking. I was terrible. I didn’t want to be there. My head was gone.
“I was worrying about autism, reading about autism, doing everything I could and I was terrible.
“The next game the manager pulled me in and said, ‘I’m leaving you out tonight’… I didn’t play very well. I didn’t tell anyone, I just kept it in.”
'Horrible thoughts' after outbursts
Paul felt unable to speak about his personal problems and feared it could be seen as a sign of weakness in the “very macho world of football”, which isolated him further.
For many years, the footballer held on to hope that one day his son may be able to speak but has since accepted “it’s never going to happen”.
Paul recounted some of the challenges the family faced, including trying to give Aiden a haircut, and at times felt they may need additional support.
“When you’re trying to cut his hair I’ve had him in a headlock [and] it’s disgusting,” he said.
“He’s biting your arm, you couldn’t wear a T-shirt because me and Claire were just full of scratches all the way up.
“You don’t know what’s causing it, you've got no idea. I don’t know if you just learn to start seeing the signals and then you stop it at that source before it happens.
“You do think about horrible things… I remember he used to come home and he used to go ballistic every day and so we’d let him outside and left him there.
People look at you in a totally different way but you’ve just got to think, ‘Ah f*** ‘em, I don’t care what they think’
“He was punching, kicking, screaming and I’ve never said this before but I’m looking at him thinking, ‘He might have to go into care, I just don’t know how do you handle that?’”
Paul admitted there were “some terrible times” while adapting to their son’s needs but also some magical moments too that he’s immensely proud of.
The former footballer-turned-coach has shared both with his 755,000 Instagram followers.
One clip from two weeks ago showed Aiden laughing excitedly as Paul tried to teach him to say “England! It’s coming home!”
In another touching father-son moment, the teenager beamed at his dad, who held him in a tight embrace, before pulling him and yelling: “Big squeeze!”
'Amazing, happy boy' despite 'terrible times'
Paul gave insight into a world that parents of neurotypical children may find unusual – like taking celebratory pictures whenever his son eats a new type of food.
“Aiden used to be a nightmare, he’d only eat two or three things but now… he’ll try loads of things, he started trying things like Chinese,” he said.
“It’s like he’s eating a chicken curry there, noodles and some chips, let’s take a picture. You’re so happy.”
Paul admitted his son probably has “a bit of a weight problem now” because of his love for new foods but insists: “I don’t care, as long as he’s eating.”
In the past, he worried about what other people would think during his son’s outbursts but now he’s accepted it and moved on.
Paul said: “He’s never going to be neurotypical but he’s great and you have to accept that.
“Look we had some terrible, terrible times but as he is now, he’s amazing. He’s a happy boy.
“People look at you in a totally different way but you’ve just got to think, ‘Ah f*** ‘em, I don’t care what they think.’”
Those wise words stuck with Paddy, whose three children have autism, says he has only recently felt liberated since talking about it.
“The biggest thing is not caring what people think and I don’t care what people think either, but obviously I do,” Paddy said.
“I used to get het up if anyone mentioned the word autism to me. I didn't want to speak about it, I didn't want to think about it.
“But now I’m finally talking about autism, I wish I hadn't spent so much time trapped by the feeling of it all.”
For information, support or guidance in the UK visit the National Autism Society's website here.
Paddy And Christine McGuinness: Our Family And Autism airs at 9pm tonight on BBC One.
What is autism spectrum disorder?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is an incurable, lifelong developmental condition that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others.
It affects around one in 100 people in the UK and is three to four times more common in boys than in girls.
Many people with ASD find it hard to understand other people's feelings and emotions, and they may have difficulty holding conversations.
When they are young, their language development may take longer and they can struggle to use facial expressions, using gestures to communicate instead.
They may also find it hard to connect with other people and to hold eye contact with unfamiliar individuals.
Many children with ASD like to follow a routine, and changes to this can cause distress.
High functioning autism is an informal term some people use to describe those on the autism spectrum disorder.
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