For a few years we were just regular first-time parents, then autism appeared into our lives.
Our eldest boy (our first born) loved numbers, letters and shapes. He probably started counting in utero! Aside from reciting numbers and letters, street signs and birthdates, he did not talk much as a pre-school boy.
Like all new parents, we simply thought he was a very clever little boy. Then, when he was 3, he was diagnosed with autism. We still think he is a very clever little boy, but daily life challenges him in so many ways. Around 1 in 160 kids in Australia face similar challenges and for every one of those 1 in 160 children there is a family seeking the path to their child's full potential.
With great zeal we began researching, listening and reading. We attended endless assessments and workshops. We took on the role of defining the most appropriate path for our son's early years as there was no clear map available for this journey.
The path we had imagined for our young family was taking the first of many diversions.
The love and support of his family, our community and a kaleidoscope of therapists has allowed him to grow into the Grade 3 schoolboy that he is today.
He still has autism. He is a charming happy little boy following a sometimes rocky path. He now has an awesome Lego collection.
He has a little sister and she also has developed a love of Lego by default. She would probably prefer discussing ballet and ponies and giant burrowing cockroaches as topics of conversation, but for now is happy to talk Lego to engage with her big brother. Being a 'typical' sibling in our family will be an interesting journey for her too.
They now have a little brother Jeremy, who has just turned four. We thought we knew what autism looked like, and so when Jeremy started talking at the usual milestone we breathed a sigh of relief. By his second birthday he stopped talking, and in fact I wonder sometimes if he did ever really talk, because I can barely remember his voice now.
A few months after his second birthday, Jeremy, like his big brother, had a diagnosis of autism.
Jeremy has not spoken again for over two years now. He does scream a fair bit though, and pretty much rules our house. Jeremy loves to swing, jump on the trampoline and go for long walks with his Grandad.
His brother and sister don't talk to him much because he does not talk back, so they jump on the trampoline with him instead. He is respectful of his brother's Lego but not of his sister's trinkets. We think he would like to join his siblings at play but he just doesn't know how to. Jeremy has not shown any interest in toys for some years now.
Jeremy has spent the last eighteen months attending AEIOU Moorooka.
The realisation that we would need to design and implement another early intervention plan for our second son with autism completely overwhelmed us.
Autism is a spectrum of characteristics and behaviours, so no two early intervention plans will ever be the same for these kids.
Finding a place at an early intervention centre dedicated to children with autism gave us both respite from the rigours of caring for this highly energetic little boy, and also relief that we were heading down a path with a sound therapy model provided by appropriately trained and enthusiastic therapists and support workers. And all under the one roof!
We were exhausted emotionally and physically but for about 20 hours a week Jeremy was safe, he was getting appropriate help and we could re-energise.
The respect paid by the AEIOU staff to our whole family's needs is a key element to the success of their work with these kids. Family's views are valued here, and there is huge benefit in this model whereby assistance extends beyond pure "therapy".
A child with autism, perhaps more than any other child, needs a stable home life. When there is autism in the family though, it can feel anything but stable. Jeremy's time at AEIOU has allowed our family to regain a more balanced family life. It has allowed us to support and be supported by other families in similar situations.
We have great hopes that all three of our children will find their way in the world and be loved and respected as unique individuals.
Jeremy may not make it to our local school to join his siblings for a few years yet. He still has quite a few skills to acquire, but wherever he goes, he will smile at everyone, and we hope those around him will support him and treasure him as we do. Our extended AEIOU family does.
Karen Lovelace and Roland Mollison