OUR AUTISM STORY
Joshua's younger years
Joshua is the second eldest of my four children. From a young age we realised that he was quite different to his older brother, Lachlan. His behaviour was different, he was sick more often, he didn't sleep as well, and he wasn't meeting milestones as expected.
It was suggested to us, by his daycare centre, that Josh might want to be evaluated for learning difficulties, as they could also see that something just wasn't 'quite right' with him - he wasn't engaging with the other kids very well, his language was not developing, he would rarely eat the lovely hot meals they provided and struggled with some basic concepts.
Over the course of a few years, we took Josh to various paediatric services to find out what the issue might be, however we could never get a clear answer.
The year before Josh was to attend school we started Speach Therapy. I realised then how far behind his language was, particularly his perceptive language...he really struggled to understand and follow basic ideas. We had our own little routine on speach therapy mornings; we would drop my eldest son to school, buy a breakfast treat from the bakery and continue to speach therapy. However, the mornings we were running late, and couldn't stop at the bakery, chaos would ensue - so much so that the speach therapist told me that she could not work with Josh, as he was just too 'out of sorts'.
Some mornings, at school drop off, I would be invited to go to our local McDonalds for a coffee with a few Mums. If I forgot to tell Josh we were going, and just drove there, he would refuse to come in with me, so we would turn around and go home.
I had days which were simply horrible. One day that still stands out was my birthday. My best friend was coming up to take me out for lunch. Josh and I had a terrible morning - he was angry and poured a bottle of cordial all over the kitchen floor. I rang my friend in tears and told her not to come up - I had had enough, I was exhausted and just wanted to spend the day at home by myself, likely crying. Being the wonderful friend that she was, she knew what I really needed and came up anyway.
We continued to try to figure out what was 'wrong' with Josh. His behaviour was concerning - he would head bang a pole at school, was unable to write on a page if the ceiling fan was on due to it being too noisy, would not play with his friends but rather play beside them, could not handle any changes in plans, had such a restrictive taste in food, continuously struggled to sleep and so much more. We knew something was not right, we just couldn't find the people to support us in getting to the bottom of the issue and doing something to help him.
We were given many different reasons for his behaviour; he was lazy, we were bad parents, I was expecting him to be like his brother, but I knew there was more to it.
In 2010, when Josh was about 7, we recieved the diagnosis of Autism. Not Aspergers like I had been assuming, but Autism. The diagnosis of Autism was mainly due to his very poor language skills. In 2010 there was not a lot of information about Autism to be easily found, we didn't know anyone else that had a child 'on the spectrum', and all I'd ever known of Autism was from the movie 'Rainman'. Needless to say, my husband Rohan and I were both broken by his diagnosis. His school was also shocked as they knew he needed 'extra support' but didn't realise that the diagnosis would be Autism.
To provide a final sign off for the diagnosis, a Paediatrician's approval was needed. During our appointment, the Paediatrician recited a 'laundry list' of all the things Josh would likely never achieve in his life - make good friends, express emotion, achieve well at school, show compassion, get married, have a family, drive a car and even feel love. The only 'treatment' we were given by the Paediatrician was a prescription for anti-psychotic medication - which was to be taken 3 times a day, every day...for the rest of his life.
Confusion, doubt, anger, and 'what now' were just some of the feelings we had. My husband and I were in shock about unsure what to do next. Over the coming days we decided that we would accept Josh's diagnosis, but would not accept the predicted limitated outcomes for his life. We decided to go out on our own and find help for our son. We didn't accept the Dr's predictions, nor his course of 'treatment'. We didn't just want our son to survive, we wanted him to THRIVE.
I loved my son with all my heart, and I wanted better for him...so I started researching. My husband and I read books, watched documentaries, went to talks, spoke to specialists and essentially looked into whatever information we could find. There wasn't a lot online, but slowly we found our way.
Change of lifestyle - a new way
We heard about an Aspect school in our area - a school for children with Autism. Aspect had a main school where all students had autism, and then they had 'satellite' classes, which are special classes of children with Autism, run in mainstream schools. Each Satellite class had 6 students and 2 teachers. We were told that we had little chance of being allocated a position within a class as the waiting list was very long. However, when there was an opening at one of the schools, by the Grace of God, Josh was selected. We were hearbroken to pull him out of his current school as he had great friends, the teachers were lovely, and we'd been a very active part of the school community for 7 years. However, we had to make the right decision for Josh. I wasn't 100% convinced that it was right to change schools, but we knew we had to at least give it a try.
The next 2 years were difficult, but absolutely life giving for Josh. His Aspect teachers were amazing. They cared so well for him and gave us a lot of great advice on how to best help Josh - advice we had never received from any of the specialists we'd been seeing over the years. After 2 years it was decided that Josh was now doing so well, he could return to mainstream at his old school.
The change in school had done wonders for Josh, however, we also made many other changes that had a huge impact on his life - we cut chemicals from our diets (colours, preservatives and additives), we limited his screentime dramatically, got him involved in sport, encouraged him to try new things, started to learn a musical instrument and more. Over time, we started to see the difference it made. He was happy, was no longer threatening to run away from home or damaging property, there were no more 'meltdowns' and other people were commenting on how much Josh had changed. They couldn't believe the difference in him. We were constantly told 'he is like a different kid'. And he was. The old Josh was gone, and his 'lights' were back on in his eyes. We were getting our boy back!
Josh is now thriving
Josh is now 19 and is thriving in all areas of life; he has a great group of friends, enjoys his part time job, has recently completed his Year 12 HSC, has a fabulous sense of humour, does more than 100+ hours of community service each year, is developing a card and video game to take to market with his older brother, cooks dinner 2 nights a week for the whole family, but above all, he is full of love for others, is kind, caring and compassionate and is wonderful at demonstrating his feelings. He has overcome every challenge that he faced. As parents we know without doubt that Josh has a bright future ahead of him - and we'll continue to support him to ensure that he has every opportunity to thrive.
Josh and I shared a small portion of our story of overcoming his Autism challenges, with the lovely Meryl Dorey from the AVN. My prayer is that if nothing else, it brings you HOPE.