The McKinnon-Sharratt Family's Story
Right from the word go – Brett and I knew that life with Felix would an adventure.
At birth he spent time in special care, by 3 months he’d undergone his first surgery to correct his club feet, by 7 months we’d discovered his anaphylaxis, and by 12 months he was a popular regular at Gold Coast hospital where he’d stay during his bad bouts of asthma.
While his health was our primary concern, we had also started to wonder if something else was going on.
Looking back, we can see that Felix never made real developmental progress.
When he turned one, I told our doctor that I was concerned about Felix. That he seemed docile, he hardly made a sound, and as hard as we tried to engage him - Felix was completely uninterested.
He told me that it was way too early to be concerned and he encouraged me to take a yoga class and try to relax. But as Felix grew older and we saw no improvements that feeling that something was wrong never went away.
I trolled the internet looking for answers, and the more I typed in Felix’s behaviour, the more the word ‘autism’ would appear.
By 14 months Felix’s paediatrician also shared our concerns and we decided to take him through the diagnosis process. Months later and just as Felix was about to turn 2 we were back at the paediatricians and as expected, Felix was diagnosed with autism.
Although we knew what was coming, we weren’t at all prepared for the reality.
We had expected to hear that Felix had a mild form of autism - that he’d need therapy but he would soon learn to talk, he’d then go to a typical school, go off to uni and live happily ever after.
At worst, we thought he’d be socially awkward and may take longer to learn than has peers. But when the doctor told us Felix appeared to tick all the boxes for the severe disability we were left in a complete state of shock.
He said we must be prepared for the fact that Felix may never talk, he may have an intellectual impairment, and it is likely that he will always need full-time care.
We sat there in complete silence and in a state of utter disbelief. Not for one second had we contemplated that this thing called autism could have such a profound effect on our son.
He told us we must act now and get Felix intensive therapy as it was the only way to improve his development – and the best place for Felix would be AEIOU Foundation.
While we were shattered, Felix’s diagnosis would also be the greatest of motivations. No matter what it took, we would get Felix the help he needed to thrive.
The very next day I rang AEIOU and shortly after we attended an open day, and we were so impressed by what we saw. We put his name down and waited for a place to come up.
At home we got the ball rolling by arranging hours of expensive intervention, but Felix would make his therapists wish they’d chosen a different career. Despite their best efforts, Felix didn’t show any signs of improvement and as the months crept by his condition seemed to consume him.
He’d begun to make a continual groaning noise, he’d scream in any new environment, he hated the being around other people, he hardly slept a wink, and he’d started to cover his ears like he was in pain.
By the time Felix turned 2 ½, we had become desperate. But, that’s when we got the call we’d been waiting for - there was a spot available for him at AEIOU.
We knew their biggest hurdle would be finding a way to connect with him.
And ever so slowly as the months ticked by we started to see Felix change. At home Felix was giving us cuddles and not trying to put us in a head lock. He was calmer, more engaged and he seemed so much happier.
Somehow the staff at AEIOU had found a way to tune into ‘planet Felix’ and they were able to teach him the foundation skills of learning.
This was no easy task. Teaching Felix basic skills like “touch nose” or “point to mum” may take a typical child a few minutes to master, but for Felix to understand such a simple instruction would take him several years.
It was painstakingly slow, required a lot patience, but ultimately their persistence paid off. Fast forward almost four years and Felix is unrecognisable to the boy we took to AEIOU all those years ago.
Among a long list of amazing achievements, Felix can dress and feed himself, brush his teeth, clean-up his mess, he’s doing 50-100 piece puzzles and my personal favourite – Felix has finally learnt to use the toilet!
Then there are the miracles – he has learnt to communicate through the use of an iPAD – he asks a talking program to ask us for food, drinks, cuddles, and toys.
He’s so close to talking that I’m increasingly nervous he may have picked up some of mummy’s colourful language – oops!
Jokes aside, what Felix has been able to achieve is made even more remarkable by the fact that he does in fact have an intellectual impairment.
His doctors tell us they are amazed by his progress, how he is achieving things that his level of disability should make near impossible. Parents literally stop me to say they can’t believe Felix is the same boy, and to be honest, neither can we.
2014 marks the end of our time at AEIOU and we will be forever grateful for the life changing impact the foundation has had on Felix and our entire family.
His progress has meant we are able to look to the future with hope that Felix will be able to live as independently as possible, even have a little job, a girlfriend and just be happy.
On behalf of my family we would like to give our heartfelt thanks to everyone at AEIOU, for their dedication to Felix and for helping to transform him into the little superstar he is today. Without doubt sending Felix to AEIOU has been our family’s greatest investment and we hope sharing Felix’s story will give hope to other families who are at the start of their own autism experience.
- By Selina Sharratt and Brett McKinnonBack to Stories