Many of us have not enjoyed living in “isolation” (although a few of us may have secretly enjoyed staying in pjs all day!). But although this feeling of isolation is new for a lot of people, for some ASD parents, isolation is a constant feeling. Sometimes from their own fears and other times because of the glares from others. So, when we discovered Friend In Me (FIM), an organisation created with the mission of making social inclusion a priority, it became my safe place. A place where my entire family felt welcomed, not judged. A place where we were all free to be happy.
Recently I applied for a position on the FIM Board of Directors. Some friends have asked why I would want to do this, but for me it was simple. I get to combine being a lawyer and social inclusion. What better time than when for the first time, the world understands what it feels like to be isolated.
In 2015, we had our baby boy. His two sisters were absolutely in awe of their new brother and loved being little mother hens. Our family was complete, and we were happy. Fast forward two years, and our little boy was diagnosed with Autism. To use the word “Autism” almost felt like we were using a dirty word. No one knew what it truly meant, which meant it had to be a bad word, right?! How wrong we were… But I am getting ahead of myself. At that time, the word Autism was filled with fear. Would our son talk? Would he go to school? Would he have friends, or would he spend his life in isolation? I don’t think I will ever forget the moment when we told our daughters that their brother had Autism. The tears they cried. Not, because he was diagnosed, but because they were terrified that he would be bullied at school because for being different.
To be totally honest, 2018 is somewhat of a blur. It was the year I left a job that I loved to protect my son from the world. I threw myself into his therapies to make him acceptable to others. But at that time, I didn’t appreciate how much he could actually teach the world about acceptance and kindness, and that being unique is actually a good thing.
A year after Jayden’s diagnosis something special happened. In March 2019 we attended ‘The Biggest Inclusion Event’ hosted by Friend In Me in Williamstown. What an amazing event it was! Prior to this event we would avoid public events for fear that Jayden would not be able to cope (or more honestly, for our own personal fear that other parents would stare if we couldn’t ‘control our child’). This event had it all – entertainers, superheros, play areas, animals, sports, and most importantly – quiet breakout areas. I remember sitting with Jayden in a ball pit at one stage just staring in awe of this amazing event. Not amazing because of celebrities, not amazing because it was ‘over the top’ but because it was 150% about acceptance and inclusion. Every child felt welcomed, and every parent felt safe to allow their child to just be themselves.
Then in October 2019 we attended the Friend In Me ‘Halloween Spooktacular Event’. Again, I was in awe that an organisation would host a free event for children for the simple reason that they wanted the kids to have fun. Unfortunately for us it wasn’t a great day for Jayden and we needed to leave early, but the effort of Friend In Me definitely didn’t go unnoticed.
Sadly, 2020 saw the cancellation of the Friend In Me Family Day which was scheduled to occur in May. But I have no doubt that 2021 will see some amazing events.
For us though, it’s not only about the events. It’s about the education that Friend In Me provide to the public at large. Louise Larkin is amazing at spreading the word about Friend In Me and has held interviews on The Project, Today Show and Channel 9 News. This awareness that Louise is helping create means I now feel more comfortable about going out without being scared Jayden may have a bad day. And to have honest conversations about the fear and isolation. In the beginning there was
‘shame’ in the Autism diagnosis, but I could not be prouder of how Jayden has overcome each challenge put before him. And just as importantly, I could not be prouder of my girls. They have accepted Jayden completely, they have explained Autism to their peers, they have attended all these events with us and never judged, they have been advocates for inclusion and acceptance and they have been amazing sisters and protectors of their little brother.
So, for others unsure of how to feel, unsure if their children belong, or feeling isolated – reach out to the Friends In Me community. You will never feel alone again, and your children will always be welcomed.