The Difference We Make

Thirteen years ago, I was cast on a journey I never anticipated.  My world changed dramatically when my sweet son, Declan, was diagnosed with autism at just 20 months old.

The diagnosis came like a bolt from the blue, leaving my husband and I feeling surreal and numb. We knew little about what it truly meant but were determined to help our precious child.

I started Declan in various therapies, hoping for quick results, but the reality was different. Declan was nonverbal, non-communicative, and mostly unresponsive; it was as if he lived in his own isolated world.

Desperate to find help, I discovered a play therapy centre. Unfortunately, they hesitated to accept Declan because he wouldn’t even sit down, not even to eat. His diet became increasingly restrictive, and he was hyperactive, not sleeping, and utterly out of control. Adding to the turmoil, Declan’s father spent less and less time at home, and I was left feeling lost and alone.

In search for guidance and support, I heard of St Anthony’s Family Care through word of mouth. It seemed like a long shot, given the previous rejections, but to my immense relief, Declan was welcomed with open arms and understanding hearts. For the first time since his birth, I felt that I was doing something right as a mother.

Declan began attending the inclusive daycare at St Anthony’s, and for the first time in years, I felt empowered to help her son. The dedicated staff at the centre offered constructive plans and ways to assist Declan, and I finally had a sense of purpose.

As time passed, Declan’s challenges became more apparent, and he was assessed as having a severe intellectual deficit at the age of three. The professionals told me that my son would need lifelong care and might never speak, toilet train, or engage with others. They advised me to give up and move on. It was a crushing blow.

Declan’s father, unable to cope with the grim news, left us, sinking into a severe depression himself. This period was devastating for both Declan and I, as we grieved the absence of a loving father and partner. In the midst of this turmoil, St Anthony’s was unwavering in their support. Instead of accepting defeat, they championed Declan’s cause alongside me, giving us a sense of purpose and belonging.

St Anthony’s persisted with toilet training, expanded Declan’s dietary range, engaged him in various activities, and addressed his growing list of sensory needs. Slowly but surely, Declan began to make progress. He started participating in weekend activities with Disability Services at St Anthony’s, which boosted his confidence and sense of self-worth.

He built relationships with trained staff who understood his needs better than anyone else could, and he experienced activities that were previously out of reach. Declan’s world expanded, and with it, his ability to communicate.

St Anthony’s continued to support me every step of the way as Declan transitioned to school. They helped me to apply to special schools that were appropriate for his abilities, ensuring that he had access to support plans and the same approaches that had already made a difference in his life.

At the age of 13, Declan continues to access St Anthony’s Disability Services on a regular basis. While he remains nonverbal, he has found alternative ways to communicate. His infectious laughter and unique sense of humour have become his voice, and he uses visual cards, pointing, and gestures to convey his needs and feelings. He even makes eye contact and shares hugs with those around him. He participates in activities like cooking, craft, painting, ball games, and his absolute favourite – playing frisbee.

I have so much to thank St Anthony’s for; they have become an integral part of Declan’s life. I look forward to the future when he will have the opportunity to access St Anthony’s services for young adults, Forge, after completing his schooling.

Alex – Declan’s Mum

Our lovely little girl Evie, born in 2005, was diagnosed with severe autism and developmental delay at age three.

The early years with Evie were very hard. She had severe sleeping problems which kept us exhausted, and her challenging behaviours made it very difficult to go on any kind of outing or see family and friends.

Although Evie had a lovely school to go to, our weekends and school holidays were long, lonely and isolated.

When Evie was about nine years old, some friends suggested we contact St Anthony’s Family Care and, in many ways, I feel that suggestion saved our lives.

From our earliest interactions with St Anthony’s, the genuine, caring and cheerful culture of the organisation was obvious.

Evie first started in the Saturday Community Access program nine years ago. The amazing carers at St Anthony’s, with their gentle and persistent support, enabled Evie to experience so many wonderful adventures – the Royal Easter Show, Chinese New Year festivals, playgrounds, picnics, discos, bowling and swimming, just to name a few!

The St Anthony’s Afterschool Group Program allowed me to keep working at a job I loved, and the Vacation Care program simply transformed school holidays into opportunities for all sorts of fun for Evie and allowed us much needed respite.

Now seventeen, Evie stays overnight in the beautiful new cottages. These stays allow her to develop the confidence to be away from home and challenges her to keep developing her living skills.

In the coming years, as she moves into adulthood we hope she will be able to participate in the Forge Young Adult Day Program.

Over the years, St Anthony’s have been amazingly flexible. When workdays or work hours have changed, when Evie hasn’t wanted to go on a particular group outing or when more help has been needed at short notice, St Anthony’s have always managed to support us.

The carers at St Anthony’s are truly a special group of people, seeming to really understand and enjoy each child for the individuals they are. We are greeted with smiles every time we arrive, and Evie runs in the door, impatient for us to go. Her happy experiences at St Anthony’s are a gift for which we will always be profoundly grateful.

Evie’s Mum

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