I first met Larissa Hill at a networking event for business women. She was a guest speaker and I was enthralled listening to her talk about her amazing business (Larissa Hill Photography) through which she photographs families and children with special needs.
She also co-organises the bi-annual Melbourne Autism Expo through which families can access information, resources and support for children on the autism spectrum.
She lives with her son and husband in Melbourne, and she shares with us her personal thoughts on her autism journey below.
How old was your son when he was diagnosed with Autism?
My son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when he was 3.5 years old.
Many parents say they knew their child was Autistic – was this the case for you & how did you know?
Yes I suspected something was a bit different around the age of 2 as his speech development was quite unusual. At 2 years of age he only had around 10 words, then almost over night, he was talking like a 4 year old, but he was only 2.5! Then the next flag was during 3 year old kinder when his social development didn’t progress like the other kids. This led to the assessments and eventual diagnosis with Aspergers in 4 year old kinder.
Can you share with us a bit about the way you dealt with the diagnosis?
Initially it’s a relief, then I went through a grieving process as I was really worried about what it would mean for my son. As a parent you want your child to be happy! I think we also appreciate how challenging life can be at the best of times, and that living with any form of disability just makes life even more challenging.
Once I got over myself, I focused on my son and went about giving him the best opportunities that I could – so that meant appointments for Occupational and Speech Therapy and Psychology support. Now my son is 8 and all he needs is Psychology support to help him with anxiety and learning about friendships.
Well life is certainly busier! It’s not so bad now, but earlier on it was hectic juggling early intervention, kinder then school, making sure he is OK, constantly teaching him social skills, constantly advocating for him. I am still a strong advocate and always teaching him social skills, but life is more settled now.
I also have gained a brilliant support network and new friends. I see the amazing way my child’s brain works.
What are some things your child has taught you about the world?
That difference is not bad or worse. In fact, the difference is amazing and fantastic and what makes people and human nature so amazing!
I have been forced to rethink what my life will look like, and have had to really look at myself and make sure I am well so that I can best support my child. I am a better parent because of the diagnosis.
I have also been taught that there is a lot of prejudice around and that I can advocate, and advocate strongly!
My son’s mind is amazing and he has taught me that being outside of the box is fantastic and that we have the potential to be whoever we wish!
You now run a business(Larissa Hill Photography) photographing special needs children and their families. Can you tell us about that?
I run a special needs kids portraiture business. I am in my element! I love looking past the child’s disability and capturing the true essence of who the child is. I bring out their personality and spunk, I shift the focus away from the disability to the person, the individual, the child. I also capture love – the love of the family. It makes me so happy when mum cries with joy when I show her the images – it means I have done my job!
What advice would you give to other families who have a child with Autism?
Firstly, if you have any suspicions that something is not quite right, act on it!
Go to a Developmental Paediatrician for support and advice and if appropriate and assessment. It’s never too late to support a child with ASD, but the earlier intervention starts, the better.
It is important to love yourself, be kind and look after yourself. If you as a parent are feeling well, then you will be in the best position to support your child.
“Surround yourself with true friends and positive people – people who will truly support you and not judge your child or your parenting. ASD kids need to be parented differently to neurotypical kids”.
Try not to worry! Trust that what you are doing will give your child the best outcomes. I often wish we had a crystal ball just so that I could get a glimpse of the future to see my son living life and being happy.
Everything can and will work out in the end and…… life will get easier!
Love Larissa xx