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Joshua's younger years

Joshua's younger years

Joshua is the second eldest of my four children. From a young age (around 3 years) we realised that he was quite different to his older brother, Lachlan. His behaviour was different, he was sick more often, he didn't sleep as well, and he wasn't meeting milestones as expected.

Josh had been attending our local daycare/preschool since he was about 12 months old. We'd been there for 5 years, as our eldest had also gone through there. They knew our family well. It was suggested to us that Josh have some testing done, as they could also see that something just wasn't 'quite right' with him - he wasn't engaging with the other kids very well, his language was not developing, he would rarely eat the lovely hot meals they provided, rather choosing to eat boiled rice.

Over the course of a few years, we took Josh to various baby services to find out what the issue might be; baby clinics on the Central Coast, baby clinics in Sydney and local Doctors. However, we could never get a clear answer. 

We started Speach Therapy, and I realised just how far behind in his language he was. We had our own little routine on speach therapy mornings (as routines were so important to Josh!) where we would drop his older brother off at school, go and get a treat from the local bakery and continue to the speach therapist. However, the mornings we were running late, and couldn't stop at the bakery, things would end up in chaos. So much so that the speach therapist told me that she could not work with Josh, as he was just too 'out of sorts'.

Some mornings, at school drop off, I would be invited to go to our local Maccas for a coffee with a few Mums. If I forgot to tell Josh we were going, and just drove their, he would refuse to come in with me. I would then go and tell the other Mums that I wasn't coming in as Josh refused to get out of the car. Of course the Mums naturally thought he was very strange - what child doesn't want to go into Maccas?

I had days which were simply horrible. One day that still stands out was my birthday. My best friend was coming up to the Coast from Sydney to take me out to lunch. Josh and I had a terrible morning. He was angry and poured a whole bottle of cordial all over the kitchen floor. I rang my friend in tears and told her not to come up. I had had enough, I was exhausted and just wanted to spend the day at home by myself. Being the wonderful friend that she was, she knew what I really needed and came up anyway. 

Joshua's Autism & ADHD diagnosis

Joshua's Autism & ADHD diagnosis

We continued to try to figure out what was 'wrong' with Josh. His behaviour was concerning - he would head bang a pole at school, was unable to write on a page if the ceiling fan was on, would not play with his friends but rather play beside them, could not handle any changes in plans, had such a restrictive taste in food, continuously struggled to sleep and so much more. We knew something was not right, we just couldn't find the people to support us in getting to the bottom of the issue and doing something to helpl him.

We were finally told by a female psychologist that Mums know their child best, and if I believed there was something wrong, then there likely was. Up until that point, we had been told many different thing - he was just lazy, we were bad parents, I was expecting him to be like his brother etc. However, a Mum does know, and I knew there was more to it.

In 2010, when Josh was about 7, we recieved the diagnosis of Autism. Not Aspergers like I had been assuming, but Autism. The diagnosis of Autism was mainly due to his very poor verbal skills. In 2010 there was not a lot of information about Autism to be easily found, we didn't know anyone else that had a child 'on the spectrum', and all I'd ever known of Autism was from the movie 'Rainman'. Needless to say, my husband Rohan and I were both broken by his diagnosis. His school was also shocked as they knew he needed 'extra support' but didn't realise that the diagnosis would be Autism. 

To provide a final sign off for the diagnosis, a Paediatrician's approval was needed. During our appointment, the Paediatrician recited a 'laundry list' of all the things Josh would likely never achieve in his life - make good friends, express emotion, achieve well at school, show compassion, get married, have a family, drive a car and even feel love. The only 'solution' we were given by the Paediatrician was a prescription for anti-psychotic medication - which was to be taken 3 times a day, every day...for the rest of his life. 

Confusion, doubt, anger, and 'what now' were just some of the feelings we had. My husband and I were in shock and confused about what to do next. Over the coming days we decided that we would accept Josh's diagnosis, but would not accept the predicted limitated outcomes for his life. We decided to go out on our own and find help for our son. We didn't accept the Dr's predictions, nor his course of 'treatment'. We didn't just want our son to survive, we wanted him to THRIVE.

I loved my son with all my heart, and I wanted better for him...so I started researching. This began the maze of information and choices we had to make. It often felt as if we were in the dark just trying to find our way out. My husband and I read books, watched documentaries, went to talks, spoke to specialists and essentially looked into whatever information we could find. There wasn't a lot online, but slowly we found our way. 

Change of lifestyle - a changed boy

Change of lifestyle - a changed boy

We heard about an Aspect school in our area - a school for children with Autism. Aspect had a main school where all students had autism, and then they had 'satellite' classes, which are special classes of children with Autism, but run in mainstream schools. Each Satellite class had 6 students and 2 teachers. We were told that we had little chance of being allocated a position within a class as the waiting list was very long. However, when there was an opening at one of the schools, by the Grace of God, Josh was selected. We were hearbroken to pull him out of his current school as he had great friends, the teachers were lovely, we were part of a wonderful community and we were a big part of the community. However, we had to make the right decision for Josh. I wasn't 100% convinced it was the right decision to leave, but we knew we had to at least give it a try. 

The next 2 years were difficult, but absolutely life giving for Josh. His Aspect teachers were amazing. They cared so well for him and gave us a lot of great advice on how to best help Josh - advice we had never received from any of the specialists we'd been seeing over the years. After 2 years it was decided that Josh was now doing so well, he could return to mainstream, and at his old school at that. His friends had often asked about him over the 2 years, and they welcomed him back with open arms. It was less strain on us as we had previously had our 4 kids going in 4 different directions every day - one in highschool, one at the Aspect school, one in our chosen primary school and one in pre-school - life had definitely been chaotic.

The change in school had done wonders for Josh, however, we also made many other changes that had a huge impact on his life - we cut chemicals from our diets (colours, preservatives and additives), we limited his screentime dramatically, got him involved in a sport, started to learn a musical instrument and many other significant changes. Over time, we started to see the difference it made. He was happy, was no longer threatening to run away from home or damaging property, there were no more 'meltdowns' and other people were commenting on how much Josh had changed. They couldn't believe the difference in him. We were constantly told 'he is like a different kid'. And he was. The old Josh was gone, and his 'lights' were back on in his eyes. We were getting our boy back!

 

The next 2 years were difficult, but absolutely life giving for Josh. His teachers were amazing. They cared so well for him and gave us a lot of great advice on how to best help Josh - advice we had never received from any of the specialists we'd been seeing over the years. After 2 years it was decided that Josh was now doing so well, he could return to mainstream, and at his old school at that. His friends would often ask about him, and welcomed him back with open arms. It was less strain on us as we had previously had our 4 kids going in 4 different directions every day - one in highschool, one at the Aspect school, one in our chosen primary school and one in pre-school - life had definitely been chaotic. 

The change in school had done wonders for Josh, however, we also made many other changes that had a huge impact on Josh's life - we cut chemicals from our diets (colours, preservatives and additives), we limited his screentime dramatically, got him involved in a sport, started to learn a musical instrument and many other significant changes. Over time, we started to see the difference it made. He was happy, was no longer threatening to run away from home or damaging property, there were no more 'meltdowns' and other people were commenting on how much Josh had changed. They couldn't believe the difference in him. We were constantly told 'he is like a different kid'. And he was. The old Josh was gone, and his 'lights' were back on in his eyes. We were getting our boy back!

These photo's visibly show the changes in Josh...especially in his eyes

Year 1

Year 4

Year 5

Josh is now an adult and thriving!

Josh is now an adult and thriving!

Josh is now 18 and is thriving in all areas of life; he has a great group of friends, enjoys his part time job, has just completed his Year 12 HSC, has a fabulous sense of humour, does more than 100+ hours of community service each year, is creating a card game with his brother to market, cooks dinner 2 nights a week for the whole family, but above all, he is full of love for others, is kind, caring and compassionate and is wonderful at demonstrating his feelings. He has overcome every challenge that he had faced. As parents we know without doubt that Josh has a bright future ahead of him, and that he will continue to thrive - and I'll continue to support him to ensure that he has every opportunity to do so.

Josh and I shared a small portion of our story of overcoming his Autism challenges, with the lovely Meryl Dorey from the AVN. My prayer is that if nothing else, it brings you HOPE

"And will you succeed? Yes you will indeed!

98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed!" 
Dr Seuss

Lighthouse Youth Support is a Mental Health, Wellbeing & Development practice offering Counselling & Coaching which empowers, inspires & uplifts youth and young adults. I have a passion for supporting young people and their families.

Providing a non-judgmental environment, operating from Catholic values, I work with a strengths based and solutions-focused approach.

"Given the right support, everyone has the capacity to thrive" 

Email Lighthouse Youth Support
54 HILLS STREET
NORTH GOSFORD, NSW, 2250
02 4302 1915

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