Our story started nearly 10 years ago when our gorgeous boy Mathew was born. For us, my husband Rob and myself, we had already started to notice that Mathew was developing differently to his older sister Chloe and he was doing different things like looking out the corner of his eyes all the time, twirling and not speaking. It was a good friend who gave us the push to start the diagnosis and within 7 months we had it confirmed that Mathew has Autism and our journey started.
In July 2012 we started at the Autism Association Early Intervention programme (or Little Stars as it was called then) which opened up a whole new world to us and brought some amazing people into our lives. Mathew also attended the Early Learning Centre in Bedford and currently is with the school aged service.
In 2014 Mathew started at Holy Rosary School. He was still non-verbal at this stage but we were lucky to have picked a school that had a special needs (Siena Centre) space that Mathew could attend (not that we knew this when we enrolled our daughter in 2012). Although we already knew some parents and teachers at the school it was still a huge anxiety ridden first term with Mathew but the support from the Siena Centre was amazing and Mathew had a full time aide whenever he was at school (which to this day he still has a full time support). As this was our first year with a lot of families I wanted to do something to explain to not only the parents but hopefully for them to show and explain to their children and what better time than Autism Awareness Week. As the kids were still quite young we created a small letter with a picture of Mathew explaining a bit about Autism and some things that he loved to do like playing in the sand pit – we also cooked up lot’s and lot’s of cookies to put into a small bag (with the note) for the kids to eat.
Each couple of years since we have done something for the class to explain about Autism and Mathew but this year in grade 4 has been the best and most receptive one yet. The plan (along with Mathew’s teacher assisting) was to read a book to the kids before recess then when they returned to class to watch a short video called Amazing Things Happen, a puzzle activity then any questions the kids wanted to ask me.
The day before I got all of the kids gift packs made up and baked 30ish cupcakes for the class with a blue puzzle piece on top. My amazing Mum and daughter and I spent about 3 hours cutting out puzzle pieces and fitting them all together so they would match as well.
On Friday the 5th April with the books that we had received from the Autism Association the teacher picked one to read to the class before recess. After recess I came in to the classroom and watched the video with the kids, then the kids took a puzzle piece each and were asked to write either a word about Mathew or something about Autism that they had remembered from the book or video they could also decorate them how they liked. Once the kids were finished we put all the puzzle pieces together which was loads of fun and amazing to see what the kids had put. A lot of them had drawn or written about some of Mathew’s favourite things to do surfing, trains or his favourite colour. Some of the puzzle pieces were upside down or back to front but I told the kids that that’s what makes each of us unique that we’re not all quite the same and that it’s the same with Autism – no two kids or adults with autism are the same.
Question time is always a bit daunting with what the kids might come up with but wow, myself, Mathew’s aide and his teacher were all blown away from the thoughtful questions from “if you have one child with autism will the next one have autism too” “what stresses Matt out and what does he do to destress himself” and the one that was THE best question “How do you feel to have a child with Autism” Wow wow wow, it gave me goosebumps and made me quite teary to be asked such an adult question by a child as not even an adult would probably ask that. That question time made all the preparation time so worth it.
Although at this stage Mathew is still not aware that he has Autism (I have tried to explain it to him many times) he was in attendance for all of the puzzle activity and the questions and he was included and spoke up when it came to any question that I thought he could answer. Part of the gift pack was an autism balloon for each child which I blew up with helium and stuck to the gift bag – to see a whole class walking out at the end of the day with all those balloons was amazing and the talk it generated was just what I was after, I even received an email from a parent not in my sons class to say awesome job on raising awareness as all the kids were talking about the balloons and what was written on them. I sent out an email to the parents in the class to explain about our autism talk and how fab their kids were and to share the pictures of them all and the link to the video we watched and the response I got back from them was incredible:
Hi Narelle (and Mathew)
Thank you for taking the time to speak to the children. Throughout the weekend, my son
would remember bits of your presentation and tell us all about it, so we can now watch the video (he tried to search but couldn’t find it). I was so pleased to see how much he took on board. What a wonderful opportunity for him… Thank you again.
Thanks Narelle for all your efforts in helping the kids understand autism better. You are a champion Mum!
Although it might seem like a lot of effort the response I got from the class and parents makes it
all worth it.
If you would like to learn more about how our School Aged services can help you, you can contact us on 9489 8900, email us via Therapy.Services@autism.org.au or visit our School Aged services page here.