Sonya and Terry Gillespie have had to learn to live with the effects of autism while raising their sons Jack, Andrew, Lucas and Curtis.
Sonya and Terry Gillespie have had to learn to live with the effects of autism while raising their sons Jack, Andrew, Lucas and Curtis. Kerri Burns-Taylor

Parents battle to help sons a true labour of love

WHEN Sonya Gillespie's 15-month-old son started banging his head against the floor, she was convinced something was not right and pleaded with doctors to help her child.

After countless dismissals and being told the behaviour was normal or the result of her parenting, Mrs Gillespie finally received some real answers.

Two years ago Jack, now eight, was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome and ADHD.

While the news may have been devastating to any parents, Mrs Gillespie had already dealt with the sadness and was now ready to fight.

"I had known for so long that something was wrong that it was good to know what the problem was and how we can deal with it," she said.

Before long, Mrs Gillespie would receive a similar diagnosis of autism for her now five-year-old son Lucas and while it is not yet confirmed, she believes her three-year-old son Curtis will follow in his brothers' footsteps.

Andrew, seven, is the only one of the siblings who has not been affected by what is believed to be a genetic disorder.

Mrs Gillespie's day is structured and planned from the start, not out of choice but because she is the mum of children with autism and routine is vital.

Her sons struggle if they are not prepared for what they are going to encounter during the day and their condition demands their mother's full attention for as long as they are awake.

They often require more than one plate at dinner time to ensure foods don't come into contact with one another, will refuse to wear clothes made of certain materials and can have a meltdown when the smallest change is made to their routine.

Tasks other parents deem simple can be a marathon effort for the Gillespies, such as bedtime which can take hours of patting, reassurance and comfort.

Mrs Gillespie said she has learned to block out the stares of judgment from strangers who see her children's autism manifest in a public tantrum.

"It was hard for me at the start to think people were judging me or thought I was a bad mum," she said.

"Now I don't let it get to me at all because if you don't have an autistic child, you don't know what my life is like."

The dedicated mum said Warwick West special education teacher Chris MacNamara, Dr Bryan Slattery and her own husband Terry had been great lifelines for her.

"Terry is a big support to me and he basically takes over when he gets home from work," she said.

"He plays with the boys and baths them while I cook tea," she said.

While there are many challenges that come with raising an autistic child, Mrs Gillespie said she wouldn't have her children any other way.

"It took a while to get into the routine but then you accept that this is what your life is and you adapt," she said.

"I get to see a completely different side to my kids than everyone else gets to see and to see them smile or to say 'I love you' is amazing."



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