There is a well known piece of writing by Emily Perl Kingsley called “Welcome to Holland” where the author draws a parallel between anticipating the arrival of a child and being faced with finding out your child has a disability to planning a holiday to Italy and getting off the plane in Holland.
In it she quotes “Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.” But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.”
Parents often say that finding out your child is Autistic is more like arriving in Bombay at midnight!
Google “Autism” and you will be bombarded with a barrage of horror stories from families, hear gurus talk of the latest medical wizardry that will “cure”, be charmed by diets and advice from supposed experts and researchers; but the real story was shared at a lunch hosted by Igniting Change at Working Dog Productions in Melbourne last month where founder of Learning for Life, Mary Muirhead introduced “Holland” and the world of Autism to an intimate group of Igniters.
Learning for Life is an organisation that provides Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) to children on the Autism spectrum. ABA is an evidence-based, intensive education therapy for children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ABA helps children develop social, academic, self-help and behavioural skills needed to interact with others and to cope with the challenges of everyday life. ABA therapy takes the form of a highly structured program designed to meet the individual requirements of each child, while building the foundations for life-long learning.*
Research has demonstrated that 30-40 hours a week of intensive ABA therapy resulted in 47% of young children with ASD being indistinguishable from their peers …but it comes with a hefty price tag. Some call it the Rolls-Royce of therapy, costing families anywhere from $50-$80K per year, but for 1 in 120 families in Australia faced with few alternatives, it seems the only way to offer your child any hope or way out of their world.
For most families, the out-of-pocket expense simply puts the therapy completely out of reach - currently government only offer families $12K ($6K per anum) towards Autism specific therapies, however the story that was told by an incredibly brave and passionate mother at the lunch, was that thanks to the Learning for Life subsidised model, she was able to hear her five year old son speak for the first time, attend a mainstream school and play with other children … all thanks to ABA.
Learning for Life is truly Igniting Change.
They are giving a lifeline to children and families who at the time in their life where they are not sure how tomorrow will be any better than today, they give children hope and a place in our society.
The Autism story is real. There are many people behind this label and the national impact of this story is only just starting to unfold and be noticed.
The person behind this label for me is my 4-year old, non-verbal, Autistic son, Remy, who can simply just “be” thanks to a Learning for Life ABA program.