‘Celebrating Difference: Autism Is A Diffability’ by Larissa Hill – published in Great Health Guide (Mar 2016). Do you feel like your child could be developing differently to other children? Do you feel concerned about their behaviour? Well you are not alone. Find out how you can get the help you need today. Larissa, who is a parent of a special needs child shares more here.
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IMPACT: Celebrating Difference – Autism Is A Diffability
written by Larissa Hill
It was the year 2012 when my son started kinder for 3-year-olds. As many parents feel at this time, I had mixed emotions of feeling proud, excited and a little sad that my only child was starting a new chapter in his life. Little did I know that this also marked the beginning of the most challenging time of my life.
Halfway through 2012 I noticed that my son was not developing socially for his age, as one would expect. He did not seem to be picking up the innate social skills that are so important for communication to make and sustain friendships. I discussed my concerns with the kinder teachers but was advised that some kids can take longer than others to develop these skills. I was not convinced but agreed that maybe he was still too young to be assessed and my observations were a little intangible – outside of kinder he was like most other kids.
In the following year, with my son now in the 4-year-old kinder level, I again raised my concerns. And again my concerns were dismissed. I knew something was different about my son so I decided to do something about it. We found an amazing developmental paediatrician and went through the assessment process that gave us what we really already knew but didn’t want to hear – ‘your son is different, his life is going to have more challenges than other people’s, your son has Asperger’s’.
Part of me was relieved, part of me grieved, part of me was frightened and part of me went into protective mode. I became his advocate and biggest supporter. Our lives were never going to be the same again.
Little did I know that another parent at our kinder was going through a similar journey with her son. Natasha received her son’s diagnosis during 3-year-old kinder level and had started an early intervention program in the following year. We got to know each other as we were both on the kinder committee and we hit it off immediately!
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Discovering our commonality of being parents of autistic children was the start of a beautiful friendship. Our friendship blossomed immediately and we were able to support and encourage each other with the challenges we constantly faced as parents of autistic children.
We supported each other through the discrimination and lack of understanding within an early education system, ill-equipped to cope with and manage children who do not fit into the normal and social developmental guidelines. The prospect of not being able to find a school that would be able to help and support our children was daunting. Thankfully we did find the perfect school for our boys and both are thriving in a supportive and inclusive environment.
Around the time our sons started school, Natasha and I had a pivotal conversation that would change the course of our careers. Natasha, a freelance graphic designer and myself, a photographer of special needs kids, discussed the frustrations we experienced and the barriers that we constantly had to overcome. We felt a strong need to support other families and the autism community. The Melbourne Autism Expo was born with the theme ‘Celebrating Difference’.
So much time and money can be wasted in trying to find products and services that suit our children’s needs. Thus having access to a broad range of products and services together in the one Expo is an important contribution. Parents can also feel assured that their children can come to the Expo and enjoy themselves in a safe and non judgemental environment. There are some wonderful organisations who have become involved. We have been overwhelmed by the generous support received and the words of encouragement from the autism community.
The Melbourne Autism Expo is being held on Saturday 30th April 2016 at the Karralyka Centre in Ringwood. The Expo will be taken nationally and dates will be released soon. For more information, see the Expo website.
As a parent of a child with special needs, it’s up to us to be advocates for our children and ourselves, as parents and as adults dealing with autism. With greater awareness and understanding of autism and what it means, the more likely autistic people will be accepted in the community.
If you feel that your child is different from other kids, seek out a developmental paediatrician for advice. Developmental paediatricians are best placed to assess children that may be developing differently to the norm. If you would like more information about autism or have concerns about your own children, see the website of the Australian Advisory Board on Autism Spectrum Disorders.
Author of this article:
Larissa Hill lives in Melbourne Australia, is a photographer of special needs kids and their families. She is cofounder of the Melbourne Autism Expo and MS Connections Network. Larissa also works part time as a registered nurse. Larissa is married with an amazing son. For more information about Larissa’s special needs photography go to her website.