One in 70 Australian are now diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and the prevalence of ASD is reportedly growing at a faster rate than any other disability. Autism has been thrust into the spotlight in the last 12 months, with inspirational autistic role models like Greta Thunberg and Hannah Gadsby sharing their unique take on the world.
No two autistic people are alike, and all have unique strengths, interests and passions. But many autistic young people, and their families, can experience social isolation.
As the mum to an autistic 9 year-old girl, CEO of Autism Camp Australia (ACA), Rachel Rowe recognised a need for autistic young people and their families to connect with other autistic families. ‘Think of an autistic person and a neurotypical person like a PC and a Mac. They are two totally different operating systems reaching the same end goal. They just think a little differently.’ Rowe said, ‘Sometimes it’s easier to speak in your own language. Autistic young people get autistic young people, and families of autistic young people have a shared experience which is often hard for families of neurotypical young people to understand. It makes sense to bring autistic families together.’
With an ambitious plan to set up in six locations around Australia over the next three years, Rowe and her team are paving the way with a new style of supported holiday for families of autistic young people. ACA launched this week, with its first program scheduled to begin in Byron Bay in January 2020.
Rowe said, ‘We recognised a need for our family to take respite-based holidays that we could enjoy as a family, where we knew our autistic daughter would get to hang out with other autistic young people, enjoy a tailor-made program of capacity building social learning and life skills activities and be well looked after by carers who really understand the lived experience of autism. We also recognised that our neurotypical daughter needed to feel special too. We wanted her to enjoy her own program of activities and be supported in her role as a sibling to a child with special needs. And lastly, we recognised that as parents, we needed to be able to have a break sometimes. Somewhere we could enjoy a holiday, some much needed self-care, and meet other families like ours.’
Research for the new charity began with a national survey of autistic young people and their families. Over 800 surveys were completed and formed the basis of the program design for the charity. Feedback from families who took part in the survey was resoundingly positive. One parent who took part in the survey said, ‘I’m a single mum with 3 of my 4 children diagnosed with autism and/or ADHD with anxiety and other co-morbidities. To find support ideas incorporating fun is just gold for us. It’s a tough gig but my little people have beautiful souls. They just need extra help to shine.’
Leading international autism experts Dr Michelle Garnett and Professor Tony Attwood have commended ACA on their program design, saying ’The initiative is awesome and so needed.’
Rowe said, ‘We have designed a comprehensive evidence-based capacity building and life skills development program for the whole family, which just happens to be in a primo holiday destination, so you get an awesome holiday too. Our Autistic Young Persons’ Program participants will achieve improved functional capacity in communication, social interaction, sensory and emotional regulation, independence and autonomy, self-care and daily living, self-management, fine and gross motor skills and social and community participation. Added to which, as far as we know, we are the first organisation in Australia to run such a comprehensive parents and siblings program too. It’s a win win for everyone.’
The program will tap into existing regional group recreation/camp facilities with safety, privacy, autonomy and low sensory input as priorities. The ACA program will run twelve times a year, over 4 days and 5 nights.
For further information please go to www.autismcampaustralia.or
To watch a 30 second video on ACA please click on this link.
Film and attached images credited to The Bakery Media.