Family day highlights invisible disability

Nikki and Tony Dreise with their son Bayley at the ASD family day at the House With No Steps on Saturday.

To the casual observer it may have been hard to tell what was so special about the families gathered at the House With No Steps on Saturday.

Its only when Jodi Rodgers, manager of Aspects Northern Rivers, the local office of Autism Spectrum Australia, points out that many of the children laughing and playing together have Autism Spectrum Disorder that you begin to understand why ASD has been called the invisible disability.

Aspects has been holding the family day as part of Autism Awareness Month since it began operating on the Northern Rivers three and a half years ago.

For Nikki and Tony Driese it was the slow realisation there was something different about Bayley, the second of their three children, that introduced them to ASD.

Nikki, a primary school teacher, became aware Bayley wasnt developing in the same way as other children in his age group and had him assessed around the age of two.

When we found out I went through the usual stuff of what did I do wrong during the pregnancy? The truth is no one knows what causes ASD, Nikki said. We were living in Brisbane at the time and after we did some research we decided to move to the Northern Rivers because the support system was so good.

As well as the Aspects office in Alstonville and an early intervention program, there is a satellite class for children with ASD, which Bayley attends, run by St Josephs School.

While children with ASD have learning and communication difficulties, a high proportion of them are of above average intelligence and can focus on things that interest them to the point of obsession.

The trick, according to Jodi, is to use the areas they are focused on as a way to get them to do other things. Tony, who works for TAFE, agrees.

Bayley loves watching movies, and his need to discuss plot and other elements has resulted in the development of language skills that might not have occurred through normal teaching, Tony said.

The other group ASD affects is the family, which is why the family day is so important.

It can be difficult as a family because it is hard to apply the same rules to every member, Nikki said. Our oldest child Briana loves singing and dancing but Bayley is very sensitive to noise, so she often has to make sacrifices to keep the home running smoothly.

And while we make some exceptions for Bayleys behaviour, its difficult when Jett, who is three and adores his big brother, sometimes mimics that behaviour.

We have to constantly negotiate things between the three of them.

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