Family reveals the joys and challenges of caring for a child with autism spectrum disorder.TONI BRIENT April 7, 2014 3:11am
In the Almond house, it’s not unusual for the entire family to celebrate when Matthew, 7, asks for an apple or goes to the toilet.
Like many little boys, Matthew loves Spiderman and playing games with older brother William, 8.
But about 18 months old, mum Kelly Almond noticed there was something different about her youngest son.
‘‘I didn’t know much about autism,’’ Mrs Almond said.
‘‘But I knew enough just to know that something wasn’t quite right.’’
During the next year-and-a-half, the family visited speech therapists, psychologists, pediatricians and other medical professionals.
By Matthew’s third birthday, he was diagnosed with autism.
Autism Awareness Australia estimates one in 100 Australians have an autism spectrum disorder; a developmental disability which impacts a person’s ability to relate to their environment and interact with others.
Peter Fitzpatrick, 11, attends Cobram Special School with Matthew, and is also autistic.
Peter is non-verbal — another common trait of autism — and communicates with body movement.
‘‘He’s a really happy kid,’’ said mum Kim Marshall.
‘‘He loves water — drives me nuts with water. I’ve had my house flooded a couple of times.’’
Ms Marshall said she put locks on her cupboards and fridge, because Peter didn’t have the same understanding of danger as other kids.
Like Peter, Mrs Almond said Matthew had trouble grasping concepts his peers picked up quickly.
‘‘The pincer grip on a pencil; it took us six months,’’ Mrs Almond said.
‘‘My niece, she just did it herself.
‘‘Toilet training; where it might take three to six months to teach a child to toilet train, (it took us) two years.’’
Matthew attended Trikki Kidz in Barooga and completed an early childhood education program at Verney Rd School in Shepparton before starting his primary years at Cobram Special School.
While he could say ‘Mum’ before his first birthday, Mrs Almond said his speech stopped until he was about five.
‘‘We’d have visual clues, because he’s very visual,’’ she said.
‘‘He’d talk in chunk words — if he was looking for his bag, he’d say, ‘Bag,’ instead of ‘Where’s my bag?’.
‘‘Since he’s been (at Cobram Special School), I can have a conversation with my child.
‘‘Still, he talks in that chunky language, but we can do it back and forth and we can understand.’’
Mrs Almond said the diagnosis changed her family, but through support from groups like Autism Victoria, they were tackling the challenges together.
‘‘We have learnt to see the world through Matthew’s eyes,’’ she said.
‘‘Over the years I have been asked questions about Matthew and autism and have been happy to answer what questions I could.’’
The family participates in Autism Awareness Month, participating in charity walks and raising funds to support other families like them.
They install a blue light globe on their porch during that month in support of the global awareness campaign: ‘Light it up blue’.
● Wednesday, April 2, marked World Autism Awareness Day. For more information, visit www.autismawareness.com.au
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