Belfast Telegraph

Newry mum's agony over disorder that forces little girl (6) to self-harm

Martina McMahon
Martina McMahon
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

A mother has said she is at breaking point trying to find a diagnosis for her daughter, who suffers from a severe type of autism.

Martina McMahon (36) from Newry described how she faces a daily struggle with her six-year-old daughter Zoey.

The young girl bangs her head on tiled floors to the point of knocking herself out, vomits when stressed, beats and bites her mother and siblings, and tries to escape from the family home.

Zoey and her twin sister Ruby were both diagnosed with autism when they were three years old, and while Ruby has developed selective mutism, Zoey's spiralling behaviour can only be controlled through food and water play.

The Belfast Trust has informed Zoey's family that she may have the rare genetic condition SCN2A, which is a group of epilepsy and neurodevelopmental disorders caused by mutations in the gene.

Her parents must also be tested to find out if they are carriers of the gene, but it could take three to four months for those results to come through after blood samples are taken.

For the last two years Zoey goes through what her mother calls "head banging episodes", which can last up to a day.

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Zoey trying to jump a fence at her home with a 15ft drop at the other side
Zoey trying to jump a fence at her home with a 15ft drop at the other side

Martina has brought her daughter to A&E at Newry's Daisy Hill Hospital at least seven times and the Royal Children's Hospital twice after knocking herself out. She is now working with the Belfast Trust to figure out the best course of action.

After trying to get answers for the last three years, Martina has been left with no option but to speak out as she fears another local family may be going through the same problems.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph at her Dublin Road home, an emotional Martina said she just doesn't know what she is dealing with. "My child is crying 24/7, headbutting walls and really trying to do damage to herself," she said with tears in her eyes.

"She's only six but she's getting stronger and we don't know what's wrong with her.

"I know it's not just autism. I'm just not me any more. I'm sick of pretending to be okay and putting on a front. My three other children see me crying and in my head I'm saying I just can't take no more.

"I've been to the GP but there's no medication for stress.

"I'm lucky that I have great friends and an excellent disability team, but I just know when Zoey turns 16 I won't be able to do this."

As well as the head banging episodes, Zoey's vomiting has become a major issue as she can make herself sick whenever she wants, while she has a tendency to bite and chew wood.

The Rathore School pupil broke some of her teeth as she bit the garden shed and has recently attempted to escape from her home.

Zoey with her siblings (Zoey far left), twin Ruby, Paudie (8) and Alex (11)
Zoey with her siblings (Zoey far left), twin Ruby, Paudie (8) and Alex (11)

A close friend of Martina's saved Zoey from falling down a 15ft drop over the garden fence in a recent incident.

It has got to the stage where her siblings Ruby, Alex (11) and Paudie (8) are hiding in their rooms when Zoey isn't with her respite family, who take her two nights a week.

Martina added: "I was told that most children with autism bang their heads out of frustration or change but my Zoey is on a different level and there are no triggers for it. I'm afraid for her.

"If one of my other children fell and hit their head as hard as she bangs her head hundreds of times a day, I would be taking them straight to A&E."

If your family is going through a similar situation and you would like to reach out to Martina, she can be contacted on or 07801 258 129.

Belfast Telegraph


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