Chelsea’s first 18months were that of a typical baby, she met most of those first milestones around the normal age, sitting, crawling, climbing, first steps, first words and we were in awe of our precious girl.
It wasn’t until about 2years of age that I started to question some areas of her development. I had this feeling, I guess call it Mothers instinct, so when we went for the assessment, just before her 3rd birthday, I walked in with an open mind. We were given her diagnosis on the day, ASD Level 2, with a Global Developmental Delay. It wasn’t until that night when I put my baby girl to bed, I lay there with her, and once she was asleep, I balled my eyes out. Not because this made her any different to yesterday, it didn’t. She was still Chelsea. It was the fact that throughout her life, she was going to need the extra help, more than us alone, could give her. That her life would not be that of a neurotypical child.
Chelsea joined the Fit Kidz Foundation’s 2 Day Group program (now known as the Andy Bear Club) in 2019. This was a big step for us, as this was the first time Chelsea would be in care of someone else other than us or my Mum. On her first day, I was full of nerves as to how she would handle the separation from us, how they would know what she wanted etc, but we walked in and off she went! I walked out feeling mixed emotions, happy that she was settled and ok with us leaving her, but also worried as to how she would go. I was excited to pick her up and hear all about her day. I remember on the way home being in tears, as I was so happy that she’d had such a great first day.
She loved going to Foundation, and coupled with Speech and OT (also through the Foundation), we were noticing small changes over periods of time. She was more alert to what was going on around her, some interactions with people around her and she began using more words. There were tough days, but there were also so many good days and achievements we celebrated along the way. Her social play had begun to increase, which with having a younger sister (Mackenzie) who just wanted to engage and play with her, was so heart warming to see. As parents, we understood more about what we could do and how to help Chelsea in terms of challenges with behaviour and meltdowns in different situations, which in turn, made it more pleasant at home and being out in our community, which is a big part of what we enjoy doing as a family. Family and friends began to comment on how they could see so many changes in her, her eye contact, her engagement, her verbalisations. Our family was a big part of helping us through those first few years of diagnosis.
Starting school was a similar experience to starting at the Foundation, but on a bigger scale. All those feelings of how will she cope, how will we cope, will she like it flooded in and had me worried. We were lucky enough to be able to do 3 short orientation sessions (Covid impacted how this would normally be run) and she enjoyed them. Her first day, we all dropped her off and after a massive hug (I could have just held her all day) and kiss, we let her go, she walked through the gate with her teacher, and I became a blubbering mess. I knew she would be ok, but I wasn’t. A warm, friendly hug and a chat with another parent (whom now I am lucky enough to work alongside), helped to turn off my water works. She had the best first day. I couldn’t have been happier.
Chelsea has done so well with the first 2 years of school. We have hopes that one day that Chelsea may be able to join into a mainstream class at school, be able to communicate more clearly with anyone (whether that be through either her AAC device or verbal interactions), to develop true friendships, and know that we will be here to support her in anything she chooses to do in life.
The girl’s relationship continues to blossom each and every day. Mackenzie has learnt a lot in her young 5 years of life and is very caring and supportive towards Chelsea. She loves Chelsea’s attention and when there are those wonderful interactions, you can see the joy on both their faces, which are more often these days. With both the girls only being young, there are times of struggles where both girls crave our one on one attention, which can be tricky to navigate at times. As a family, we love getting outdoors, this seems to be our happy place. We love going on bush walks, bike rides, going to the beach, exploring parks, catching up with family and friends and going to community events and celebrations. We find that more often than not, we both need to be available for many of these activities, or need to have a family member with us to help support the girl’s individual needs and wants. Bush walks and bike rides usually see Mackenzie out in front with one of us, with Chels not too far behind. Mackenzie will often stop to ‘check in’ on Chels, then take off again. Chelsea’s confidence shines through at the beach! She is more than happy to go out as far as she can, where Mackenzie tends to stay closer to one of us, or on the shore, happily playing in the sand. We love going on holidays, especially when we can share it with extended family. We have been lucky that my parents have now been on a few holidays with us, and can share in that special time with the girls, growing their bonds further with each of the girls and gaining a deeper understanding of their individuality.
We would love to take the girls to Disneyland one day! Chels is a mad Mickey Mouse and friends’ fan, and Mackenzie also enjoys many Disney characters. We know we would need to prepare Chels for such a long flight, and we have only done 1 return trip flight with the girls thus far. We plan to do a few more before we take the leap to Disneyland!
We are hopeful that Chels will one day be able to drive a car, have her independence to live alone or with friends or a partner, and one day have a family of her own.
Written by Amanda Wynne
Mum of 2 & Administration Support