Autism diagnosis 'not the end of your world' says mum

'Not the end of your world'

When Mel's second child was around two years old, she realised something "wasn't quite right".

Her son wasn't reaching the developmental milestones in the same way as his older sister, and his behaviour was very different.

"The truth is we had probably begun to realise the differences much earlier," she recalls. "But it was never an overnight revelation that 'something was wrong'.

"It was more a gradual realisation that milestones were not being reached as expected and, indeed, some were very different from what we had experienced with our first child, who is neurotypical.

"Our son was not responding to his name or making any baby babble like other children the same age, although he did pull himself up and begin walking - without ever crawling - at about 10 months."

Assuming he was hearing-impaired, Mel booked a hearing test along with a developmental assessment at Westmead Children's Hospital. His hearing was perfect. But he met all the criteria for autism spectrum disorder.

That two-year-old is now 10, and his younger brother, who is eight, is also on the autism spectrum. Both boys have been diagnosed at Level 3 and require substantial support. The 10-year-old has recently been diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome, and the younger boy with Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD.

Neither boys are medicated as Mel, and her husband have opted for therapeutic methods to manage their numerous challenges.

Mel believes the fact she was a teacher helped her cope with the diagnosis and what that meant for her family. "I'd had experience with children on the autism spectrum but did not have a lot of knowledge about it in terms of how it manifests and the lifelong prognosis," she said.

"But, I was positive about it because I knew it was not necessarily a limitation on life. My attitude was - well, this is how it is, let's deal with it."

Both boys attended a regular local preschool where staff, Mel said, went "above and beyond to cater for them".

An early intervention service was also a key player in helping the family navigate the options available to them in the days before the NDIS.

"We were given help to apply for a support class placement in a mainstream public school for our first son," Mel said.

"We decided to go with a mainstream class with integration funding for a support teacher for our second son. There is a lot of help available for families if parents are willing to reach out and go looking for it."

If there is one message the mum of three has for the general public, it's this: Don't judge, ever!

"Please realise that behind the anti-social behaviour you might see in the supermarket is a child who is struggling with a plethora of sensory pains and fears," she said.

"With them is a parent who dreams of their child making friends, being able to go shopping, enjoying school and eventually, one day, working a job and living an independent adult life."

And she wants to assure those who have children on the autism spectrum that "it is not the end of the world".

"The journey has changed, but it will certainly improve with time. Reach out, talk about your situation to as many people and as often as you can. Be kind to yourself as a parent when the going gets tough. And it will get tough - and you will mess up. But it will not be tough forever, and sometimes you'll get it right. Things will get better!"

World Autism Awareness Day is on Friday, April 2. For information, go to autismawareness.com.au.

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