Sam Bailey: ‘I feel sick about how I disciplined my autistic son’

The former X Factor winner reveals her guilt for not realising sooner that her 11-year-old son, Tommy, has autism – and says she’s still learning how to cope

sam bailey

by Lisa Blake |
Updated on

She’d long had a feeling that her son Tommy, 11, was different to other kids his age. X Factor star Sam Bailey noticed how he liked his own space, was prone to tantrums when he felt overwhelmed, avoided sports in school, struggled to tie his shoelaces, and couldn’t turn left or right when learning how to ride a bike. So, last summer, worried Sam and her husband, Craig, finally decided to get Tommy assessed and he was diagnosed with autism and dyspraxia, a developmental co-ordination disorder.

Now Sam, 43, says she feels guilty that she didn’t recognise his condition earlier.

“It makes me feel sick that we were telling him off,” Sam tells Closer. “We’d say things like, ‘You can’t ride a bike yet; you can’t do your shoelaces up’. We didn’t have a clue!”

sam bailey
Sam has opened up about her family ©Getty Images

Sam and Craig are also parents to daughters Brooke, 15, and Miley, six, and Tommy’s diagnosis has made a big impact on them, too.

“Miley’s picked up on how different we are with Tom. We’ve cut him some slack and helped him out a bit more. We were in the car the other day, and Miley said, ‘Mummy, I want autism’, and I said, ‘Why?’ And she replied, ‘You don’t ever get told off’. So she’s seeing the difference in the way we’re treating him.”

She adds, “Tommy hates noise, so I’ve got him some noise-cancelling headphones. I feel terribly guilty as a parent for not picking up his behaviour sooner. I’ve always known Tommy was different in certain ways, but I didn’t see it as a mental health issue or anything like that. I’m going to try to get him everything he deserves. We’re all learning, it’s like I’ve started over again.”

Tommy’s diagnosis came at a difficult time as Sam, who lives in Leicester with her family, continued to remain in partial lockdown after restrictions temporarily lifted for the rest of the country on 6 July.

Check out: Sam Bailey's celebrity mates...


Sam Bailey's celebrity mates

Simon Cowell1 of 3
CREDIT: Getty Images

Simon Cowell

"It'd be nice to see him get married to Lauren [Silverman]. That would be a wedding party made in heaven. Imagine if he got all the winners of The X Factor to sing… Oh my God, I'd be there, front row, singing, Oh Happy Day!"

Katie Price2 of 3
CREDIT: Getty Images

Katie Price

"People never see the real Katie. She's made mistakes, like everybody, but you only have to look at her children to know she's a good mum. She's got no filter, but I love that about her – she says it as it is. One thing I will say is when she's not drunk, she can really sing! She's an amazing person deep down."

Sharon & Kelly Osbourne3 of 3
CREDIT: Getty Images

Sharon & Kelly Osbourne

"I haven't spoken to Sharon all year. I send the odd text message and I've sent the odd text to Kelly, too. She looks amazing, and so much like her mum."

sam bailey
Sam has opened up to Closer magazine about lockdown ©Liz Gregg

“Lockdown has been tough,” Sam admits.

“When the kids were allowed to go back to school that first time round, Tommy stayed at home because we were waiting for his assessment. He doesn’t really come out of his room anyway, as that’s his safe place, so to try to get him to do school work at home was a nightmare.”

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Sam has previously spoken out about the ways she helps her son cope with his condition. She said in November, “I’m trying to build his confidence up and tell him how amazing he is all the time, so when someone tries to knock him down, he can hold his head up and say, ‘No I’m all right, thanks.’

“He wears a hidden disabilities lanyard when we go out. That’s been growing in popularity because of Covid, and it’s been amazing because people see that and think ‘OK, this child has something we can’t see’ and no one says anything.”

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But there have also been positives for the family being at home together.

“We built a pub in the garden,” she smiles. “Well, Craig and some of his mates did – I was on tea duty! It’s called Eddie’s, after Craig’s dad, who we lost in 2017. It’s mainly for Craig to watch football in as it has a 60-inch TV, but we’re all using it in different ways.”

She adds, “The kids literally come home from school, drop their bags and run into the ‘pub’. Miley pulls the blinds down, puts the disco balls on and has a little disco on her own. I’m obsessed with Designated Survivor on Netflix at the minute, so I sometimes watch that in the ‘pub’, while Brooke is into Gossip Girl and she’ll binge-watch it in there, too.”

Sam was due to run the London Marathon this year for Leicester Children’s Hospital Appeal, but after it was cancelled due to the pandemic, she plans on doing it in 2021 instead.

“I’m not fit at the moment because of lockdown and cake!” she laughs. “But I’m going to do it next year – that’s my focus now.”

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