Our GP, Rhonda Greensill had been taking the whole journey with James with Chris and me. Dr Rhonda belonged to the same medical practice my dad still practices from. She and her family also lived just a few doors down from mum and dad. Dr Rhonda was amazing whilst we did fertility treatment as she had gone through fertility treatment herself. She assisted at the births of both of the boys just because she wanted to. As a doctor she was dedicated and gifted, and as a person she was caring, always going above and beyond. She was amazing with James as she had experienced Autism in her family too. Dr Rhonda was instrumental in bringing AEIOU (Autism Early Intervention Outcomes Unit) to Toowoomba so she was able to explain the program to us and refer us to the centre straight away. This was to be a momentous decision for us as a family. Sadly, Rhonda passed away a few years ago with cancer. She was only in her early forties. This was absolutely devastating for our family and for the many people who loved her. The Toowoomba AEIOU Centre has since been renamed in her honour.
At the time James began at AEIOU in September 2008, we were still living in St George. The boys and I would come to Toowoomba for a week and stay with mum and dad, and then would go back to St George for a week. Within a few weeks of doing this a few things were evident. Firstly, James really seemed to need the rigour and consistency of being full time and secondly, the coming and going was far too unsettling for everyone. So the boys and I moved to Toowoomba for the remainder of that term and James was enrolled full time. Chris and I then made the decision to move the family to Toowoomba so that James could have the full time support that he badly needed. I really do have to mention how fantastic that Toowoomba Catholic Education were to us during this time. I was on maternity leave still, but they allowed Chris and I to both take two years leave from St George and placed Chris in a temporary position in Toowoomba. After two years, we had the option to return to St George. We will always be so grateful for the support and care that Catholic Education showed to us at this really challenging time. Their support and care of family are what set them apart! At the time, the decision to move to Toowoomba seemed a simple and necessary choice. It probably wasn’t until some months down the track that the full impact of the decision really hit both Chris and me. We loved St George – our home, the people, the lifestyle! We still miss our life there to this day but at the same time, we are extremely grateful for all we have gained from moving to Toowoomba.
AEIOU was a God send. AEIOU provides an early years teacher, an occupational therapist, a speech therapist and several trained teacher aides, who deliver a comprehensive program to our children five days a week. The program aims to develop the skills of the children in the areas of social interaction and play skills, cognitive development, independence skills, communication skills, sensory integration and fine and gross motor skills. There are generally around15 children at the centre, some attending full time and a few attending part time. There is a fantastic parent support group and the staff are professional, caring and amazingly committed to our kids and to the autism cause. I only wish that AEIOU was available to more families, in more locations, for much less of a cost! The cost of James attending AEIOU placed an enormous amount of financial pressure on us and the other families at the centre. Of course, it was worth every cent, but I really do think it’s wrong that families like ours have to sell homes, cars and refinance mortgages just to have access to these kinds of really beneficial programs.
After nearly 3 years at AEIOU James was able to talk. He was much happier and far more relaxed, most of the time. His behaviour became so much more consistent and his self harming behaviours really subsided. He became much better at taking turns, waiting, understanding others’ tone of voice and facial expressions. We did end up having to medicate him for anxiety. This was a really hard decision and we did not take it lightly! I consulted every research article, medical specialist and many parents with children in a similar circumstance before we went down the road of medication. It was the right decision for James as he experienced a huge period of learning growth after this as his anxiety became more of a background noise rather than an all consuming foreground racket! Thanks to the structure, the expertise of instruction and the care and support that James received at AEIOU, as a family we were all so much happier. Our life became so much less restricted and our days were so much less like ‘hard work’ all the time. We will always be incredibly appreciative of everything that AEIOU Toowoomba has done for James and for us as a family. Early intervention is absolutely vital to helping our kids to thrive.
It is my hope that autism continues to be an increasing focus for the government and for the Australian people, and that in the future Australia is able to be seen as being at the forefront internationally in championing the cause for children with autism. We now know that Autism is an increasing global health crisis with more children being diagnosed with autism each year than with diabetes, cancer and AIDS combined. Given the urgency of this situation, it’s imperative that we advocate for these children and that we support organisations such as AEIOU who are giving our children the very best possible chance in life and in happiness. We can all make a difference!