In this series we will be meeting some amazing families who have embraced their child and their autism wholeheartedly. They are passionate about spreading the word that being diagnosed with autism does not define your life. Although there are indeed challenges along the way – the positives out way the negatives in abundance.
I first met Natasha at a local Women’s networking event. Within moments of meeting her we spoke about her children having autism. I loved her openness and honesty, and it was just so apparent how much she loved and adored her beautiful children. Natasha is very committed to opening up conversations that create more understanding of autism and how it affects our children. She is a passionate advocate & supporter of Yellow Ladybugs – an Australian organisation dedicated to the happiness, success and celebration of autistic girls.
Please introduce our readers to your amazing family
Andrew and I have two children – Emily, 7, and Ben, 4. Emily is in grade 1 at school and she loves learning and numbers, dancing, transport and crafts. Ben is in kindergarten and he loves reading birthday cake recipe books, dancing, soccer, playing with Barbies, and transport, especially truck number plates. Andrew works for the Victorian Electoral Commission and when he gets time to himself he enjoys playing with computers and curating a website of my late Dad’s train pictures. I run a small book selling business from home and sing in the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Chorus. I’m the main carer for the children, and we work as a team to care for the children on holidays and weekends.
How old were your children when they were diagnosed with Autism?
Emily was two and a half and Ben was twenty three months old when they received their diagnoses.
Many parents say they knew their child was Autistic – was this the case for you & how did you know?
I had suspicions about Emily from just before her second birthday. We were driving home from holidays and she started to read out numbers from speed limit signs, completely freaking us out. I knew that hyperlexia – learning to read very early – and autism often go hand in hand. Not long after this Emily started to show very high levels of anxiety – so much so that she even had panic attacks sometimes. She wouldn’t let anyone other than Andrew or I near her, not even close relatives and friends. It was a very distressing time.
I voiced my concerns to our GP who dismissed them, and also to our maternal and child health nurse, who referred us to see a child psychologist to work on Emily’s anxiety. I sat down with the psychologist and talked about what was happening and she immediately recommended an assessment with a paediatrician. Like many Dads, Andrew wasn’t very convinced that anything was wrong, but the more he considered the evidence and went to appointments, the more he embraced the possibility of Emily having autism.
With Ben we had a different journey. I was watching him closely for signs of autism and when he reached his 12 month maternal and child health appointment he missed three of his milestones and he was referred to our paediatrician who kept an eye on him until he was formally diagnosed at 23 months. Ben hasn’t ever had high levels of anxiety like Emily, but he has a severe speech delay and difficulties with learning.
Can you share with us a bit about the way you dealt with the diagnosis?
I had a very strong grief reaction to both diagnoses and became quite depressed after Ben missed his milestones at his one year check. Andrew is a steadier personality and at the time he didn’t see Ben and Emily around other children their own age as much as I did. This made it easier for him to accept them just as they were without making comparisons to other kids. Different journeys. We both still wrestle with what the future could look like for our children, but we just try to do what we can each day and trust that everything will work out.
“In the early days I was very worried about what autism would mean for the depth of relationship I would enjoy with my children. I’m so glad I was wrong about this. We are very close and they are affectionate with us. Sometimes they express love differently to typical children. I’m yet to hear Ben say “I love you Mummy”, yet I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he does”.
In the early days we had to decide whether or not we would go public with Emily’s diagnosis but in the end it was a no brainer. I wasn’t prepared to cloister myself at home and we needed people to make allowances for us. So we told people and found new levels of support and encouragement.
How has Autism affected your life?
Autism intensifies our experiences. It increases our joy over events we might otherwise have taken for granted – like our kids coping well at a birthday party, or having a successful family outing.
It also intensifies the pressures. I’ve been taking my kids to autism specific appointments for five years and then trying to implement the strategies we learn there at home. It’s not a job I chose, it’s something I’ve been given. I’m grateful for it, but it’s not always easy.
Our children’s needs create a strong sense of shared purpose in our marriage, but it also creates challenges. It’s hard to find time for each other. We discovered that after we would pay for babysitting and a meal or a movie and then be too tired to talk or enjoy ourselves anyway. So we switched to having a fortnightly afternoon together when my Mum looks after the kids at our place and we go out. Sometimes we go on a date, sometimes we just go to the shops to get groceries or hardware. It gives us time together and a little bit of a life apart from the kids.
What are some things your children have taught you about the world?
“I’ve learned to celebrate and enjoy the seemingly little events in life. My kids are amazing, strong willed individuals who have some very cool quirks and interests. They teach me to be less concerned with what others think and more interested in enjoying the moment”.
Quite early on in our journey with autism I went to a seminar at the College where I studied theology and heard a minister who has a profoundly disabled child speak. He started out by talking about the ministry that people with disabilities have to the church and wider community. This has really shaped how I see my children and other people as well. Different isn’t less: everyone has something to bring to the table in life.
What advice would you give to other families who have a child with Autism?
Enjoy the moments and celebrate your child’s strengths and eccentricities.
Find a support group that fits your personality and needs and go there as often as you possibly can. It might take a few visits to different groups to find one that suits you.
As much as you can, try to keep everyone in your family’s needs in balance and carve out some time for each person to rest, relax and enjoy life.
Love Natasha xx