Mother of two, Ashley McLean, knows firsthand about the emotional roller coaster ride of learning that your child has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Almost overnight, the Frankston (VIC) mum’s world was turned upside down as she was faced with a huge lifestyle change of hopping from one therapist appointment to the next, and ultimately trying to understand what the diagnosis meant for her and her family.
Ashley’s little guy, Caleb, was a happy baby even though he was in and out of hospital in his first few months with UTIs due to kidney problems. This slow start did not hold Caleb back. By the time he was 11-months-old, he had begun walking and talking (albeit baby words).
Image: Ashley and Caleb – supplied
“Caleb was kicking goals. Not that you want to compare milestones with other children but he seemed to be progressing so much faster than my daughter did at this age. However, when Caleb was about 18-months-old, I noticed that he started doing some odd things,” shared Ashley.
“All of a sudden Caleb’s eye contact became non-existent, personal space became a big thing for him, he would crawl under his bed to eat his cardboard books, he refused food he was only eating a week prior, he began to pace (walk up and down the hallway or in the lounge) and began to flap and make noises,” Ashley adds.
After a year of appointments with his paediatrician and child psychiatrist, Caleb, then aged three, was officially diagnosed with ASD and another form of a learning delay.
Ashley admits: “Caleb’s diagnosis has taken its toll on me mentally and physically but I push that aside. I am currently unable to work as Caleb needs all my focus. I have come to the realisation that he will be living with me for a long time as I’m unsure if he’ll be able to live an independent life. Like any parent, I’m determined to do what I can for him.”
Caleb is now six-years-old (nearly seven!) and is in year 1 at Frankston Special Development School. Prior to school, Caleb attended a three and four-year old kinder program at a kindergarten that is affiliated with Caleb’s school. At kinder, Caleb began to progress to where his communication improved and interactions with others also improved.
“I wanted more for Caleb, more social interaction, someone to be with him when he was at home and when he went to his dad’s. This is when we got Memphis, Memphis is a Great Dane X Mastiff and is Caleb’s BFF. This as the best thing we have ever done,” smiles Ashley.
“While I wouldn’t change anything for the world, I would love more to be done to educate the wider community about ASD. It’s hard enough to leave the house and do daily things but to then be judged but some ignorant stranger and called a bad or useless parent is dis-heartening. At the end of the day some people choose to be ignorant and some just simply don’t know,” says Ashley.
“Over the years, I have become a lot more patient that’s for sure! I have learnt a lot and am still learning every day. I can’t really say I’d do anything differently. I have done the best that as a single mum can do. Between Ryan (Caleb’s dad), myself, my family and government support, we have provided Caleb with as much learning and tools as we can so far. Realistically, with our help it’s all up to Caleb and how he deals with every situation.” Ashley concludes.
Ashley is one of thousands of Melbourne parents who will be attending the inaugural Melbourne Autism Expo 2016 (MAE 2016). This is a unique event for anyone who is touched by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and aims to celebrate difference.
The organisers of the MAE 2016 are committed to providing an opportunity for children, families and adults living with ASD to be educated, informed ad inspired by accessing a range of products and services that support those living with ASD.
The Melbourne Autism Expo provides an opportunity for children, families and adults to access useful, practical information, products and services related to ASD.
Proceeds from the MAE are being donated to community organisations supporting ADD including Irabina Autism Services and Yellow Lady Bugs.
Saturday 30th April 2016 10am-5pm
Karralyka Centre, Ringwood (VIC)
Main image source: Shutterstock