The Stephens Family's Story
Chase was born in September 2009. He was beautiful, attentive and a very easy baby. Chase hit all his developmental milestones with ease, and we thought we had the ’perfect’ child.
But at around the age of 18 months Chase began to slow in his development and small, and odd behaviours began to appear.
When Chase was two we found out I was pregnant with our second child. By this stage I’d come to the realisation that in the past six months there had been no real progress in the area of speech. Chase was still not attempting any language, he would not mimic any speech sounds or words - at best we got grunts and non-verbal gestures from him to communicate his needs. Chase began spinning. He stopped looking at us; his eye contact was minimal and fleeting when it did occur. We would visit friends and the differences between their children and Chase were very noticeable. Chase would not engage with his peers, it was like he was in his own little world.. He would fixate on things and his healthy and varied diet disappeared. I remember breaking down one night and crying to a friend because I felt that Chase was different and that there was something wrong with him. It was at that point that I could see we had to seek help and get some answers.
And so began our journey of diagnosis, which was a long, exhausting and frustrating process. From GP's to hearing tests, blood tests, paediatricians, health nurses, occupational therapists, speech therapists and Inclusion Support for kindy. We just wanted answers. Finally, in June 2012 Chase was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). After the initial shock and denial, my husband and I were actually relieved that we had an answer and something to move forward with. I went into ’teacher mode’ and began to research, make lists, and sought therapy, intervention and assistance.
At work, I had a little boy with ASD who would come to the kindy for three hours once a week. This followed his part time program at an AEIOU centre. I immediately enquired about AEIOU on the Gold Coast and attended an open day. We decided that it would help Chase to be in an environment that would nurture his learning, encourage his growth and help him develop in all his core areas all the while supporting us as parents who were new to the world of autism. We were put on the waiting list for 2013 and had our fingers crossed.
The good news came in December of 2012 and Chase started at AEIOU full-time in January. Chase was starting at AEIOU full-time.
Day one – 14 January 2013, we dressed our little three year old, red headed boy that didn’t look at you, couldn't play with others, couldn’t communicate and was struggling with toilet training. He began the PECS program and speech followed soon after. One of the happiest days of our lives was hearing our little boy say "mum" or "dad". After just three months Chase was able to say "I love you mum". Our hearts grew with pride that our little man was moving in the right direction and the work the dedicated and supportive staff were doing was working.
I’m also the mum of a typically developing child, and when all the milestones are reached and surpassed, it’s easy to see how you can take them for granted. But for me and my husband and every other parent of a child with ASD you don't take the small and simple things for granted, we cherish and hold onto them as they do not come along every day, month or even year. It was a huge moment for us, and every member of our family when Chase spoke his first words. Another special moment was when I arrived to pick Chase up early one afternoon. I peeked around the corner of the window (as all us mums do), and saw Chase and his class gathered in circle-time listening and watching Barefoot books. He was enjoying the experience so much, and was smiling and singing a few words, dancing and clapping. When he stood up and took another child by the hands and they began to dance together, the smile on my face must have been huge and tears began to well in my eyes: my son was engaging and playing with another child!
It was at this time AEIOU launched the Take a Hike Challenge. My husband said ‘let’s do it’. The way we see it is that for us, one of our first concerns was financial, and if that was true for us then it would most likely be the case for other families in the same situation. So what could we do to help? We could hike! So we entered three teams in the Take a Hike 40Km Challenge: Team Chase (friends and family), Team Munchkins Childcare (my work colleagues and work parents) and Team Coomera Magpies (my husband’s AFL team).
We were 45 people committed to raising funds to help assist AEIOU Foundation. Over the month of fundraising our teams were successful in raising just shy of $15,000, a great contribution to the fundraising total of $64,000. . This money will help other families like ours be able to access the AEIOU program. I can tell you from our experience that any help in regards to finances goes a long way when you have therapist, paediatricians and all the appointments that children with ASD might need to assist in their therapy.
Our journey at AEIOU continues and after six months in the program our little red headed boy is a changed child who plays with his peers, speaks freely (although his speech is still developing), engages with others, sings, dances and looks at you when you speak. He is teaching his little brother how to sing the alphabet. The spinning is gone and his toileting is work in progress. We had a friend over recently who had not seen Chase in about 5 months and when Chase put together a sentence using his PECS folder, engaged her in his conversation and gave her a hug and kiss goodbye she cried with so much joy in the progress he’s made.
I am truly grateful and love seeing Chase so happy and smiling... Chase will continue to attend AEIOU this year and next and then it is our hope that he will attend mainstream school.
Early intervention is the key. As a mother and an educator I can say with 100% certainty that if you create and search for opportunities for early intervention you will see results regardless of how big or small. We are testament to how the AEIOU program has helped Chase and our family, and for that we are so thankful.
By Tamara StephensBack to Stories