This year, the AEIOU Foundation is celebrating a 'Decade of Difference' - ten years of making a difference to the lives of children with autism through our early intervention program. Michael Kiley is one of these children ...
When our son, Michael, was diagnosed with autism in 2004 at the age of three, our reaction was, “Well, what on earth do we do now?” Autism was a completely new area for us, so we initially needed to research what it was and what it meant for our family. In the meantime we were visiting multiple therapists and a Paediatrician through the Mater Children’s Early Development Clinic and attending a Special Education Development Unit autism-specific playgroup one morning a week.
Towards the end of 2004, things become clearer for us. Another playgroup Mum told me she was enrolling her daughter at a new early intervention centre called AEIOU for the following year. After looking at some information about AEIOU I knew at once that this was the place for Michael. Luckily, Michael was a student in the first intake at AEIOU Moorooka in 2005.
We were so excited about the possibilities for Michael when we saw what the AEIOU program offered. There were so many facets to autism and areas were Michael needed help and we just hadn’t known how we would tackle all those areas individually. The AEIOU program was the answer; it also would provide us with the knowledge and support to be able to support Michael at home. It was great to feel as though we were able to do something pro-active to help Michael.
Although, it wasn’t all plain sailing, at that stage the program was all self-funded so financially it was a large burden. We lived on the other side of town from Moorooka and I worked full time. My husband resigned from his job so he could transport Michael and our daughter to and from school. Michael had major tantrums in the early days at AEIOU as he adapted to the routine and the new environment, however, the staff were amazing with Michael.
Before Michael started at AEIOU he was completely non-verbal, he didn’t interact with us, his older sister or other children, had sensory issues and would have major tantrums for no apparent reason. Michael would play differently to other children; he would line up toys and lie horizontally to watch the wheels of the car spin. He loved being outside but would just run away, again, for no apparent reason.
"The three years Michael spent at AEIOU had a huge impact on him, it transformed his prospects and so many more things were possible for him."
One of the greatest things Michael learnt at AEIOU was definitely routine - turn taking and stopping and starting activities. Michael also really benefited from copying what other children did, particularly with toileting. He learnt to follow instructions, which made life so much easier for us as well, and developed the ability to transition from one task to another He also worked on his fine motor skills and the skill that really revealed itself was Michael’s ability to concentrate on a task which has, again, been great for us but more importantly meant Michael was able to have a sustained interest in an activity.
As he developed these skills and became better able to communicate with us, his tantrums and frustrations lessened greatly.
When Michael was six we transitioned him to Mitchelton Special School. He was still a runner at this stage so he really needed to be in a secure environment. The running eventually stopped when he was about 9 and he transitioned to Year 5 at Eatons Hill State School. Initially, Michael spent about 90% of his time in special education which decreased to 20% special education and 80% mainstream education.
Now, we have a teenage Year 8 boy at Craigslea High School who loves to talk (very loudly sometimes!) and engage with people. There are five other children with autism and an additional special education teacher in Michael’s mainstream classroom.
Michael always has a story to tell and is a very happy young man who is enjoying life. He taught himself to swim when he was about three and loves the sensation of being immersed in water. He’s snorkelled about eight times now, the first time at the Barrier Reef when he was only four or five. He loves car shows, listening to music, playing the x-box and is taking boxing lessons. He learnt to surf on a family holiday to South Africa, kayaks in his own kayak and loves ocean swimming.
Autism does still limit Michael in some ways; academically he is about 2 – 3 years behind his cohort and socially he has very strong ideas and will often say the wrong things at the wrong time.
However, autism also provides opportunities for Michael.
"I believe 120% that Michael was put on this earth to show people you can enjoy life no matter who you are. He is a joy to be around."
He’s making a big contribution to other children with higher disabilities through a mentoring role in a support group we are involved in. Michael is able to understand the children, communicate with them and be their friend in a non-judgemental way. It is just beautiful to watch.
We’re so grateful AEIOU’s early intervention program had started operating at just the right time for Michael. The program really gave Michael important foundation skills to help him enjoy and make the most of life. We don’t know what Michael will do when he finishes his schooling but the options now are far greater than we imagined back when Michael was first diagnosed.
By Marie Kiley
Come and join us on our 10 year Anniversary page for more family stories and a timeline of our milestones and achievements celebrating AEIOU's Decade of Difference.
You can also help celebrate AEIOU's 10 year anniversary at our 'Time to Shine' Masquerade Gala Ball on Saturday 30 May at Brisbane City Hall.
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