Emma Leunig, from MacKillop’s Disability Services, shares the story of Jamie*, a participant in our Inclusive School Holiday Program. It’s easy to see why Jamie’s experience reminded our staff of the reason they come to work each day.
Have you ever walked into a room and felt completely out of place, uncomfortable and a little shy? But you knew that as soon as someone spoke to you or made eye contact you would feel a little bit better?
Imagine feeling like this every time you walked into a new situation, not understanding what others were saying to you or why they were looking at you. Imagine wanting to join in but not knowing how to do it.
This is how eight-year-old Jamie feels every time he is confronted with a new situation.
Jamie has Autism and finds it difficult to communicate with people. He attends a special school and spends a lot of time with his immediate family, but in the past he’s had very little exposure to activities involving meeting new people in new environments.
In late 2014, Jamie was referred to a MacKillop's Inclusive School Holiday Program that he could attend with his sisters, who also have mild disabilities. Jamie’s parents felt comfortable knowing that Jamie would have some familiar faces with him, but it wasn’t as simple as showing up on the first day of activities and joining in. It was going to take time for Jamie to feel comfortable.
Firstly, Jamie was introduced to the lead staff member of the program. Then Jamie and his family took the drive to the centre where the program meets. Next it was time to meet some of the other staff, followed by walking into the centre and meeting a room full of other kids. These steps were repeated during the school term and then for two school holiday breaks before Jamie was finally ready to join in an activity.
But what would Jamie like to do? MacKillop staff had an innovative solution: they presented Jamie with a pictorial schedule of the programs to help with his decision-making.
Would Jamie enjoy watching a movie and having pizza for lunch? Definitely! Would he like to go swimming at Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre? For sure! Did he want to sit in the dark and watch strange clowns and people falling through the air? Ummmmm… What’s that?... A circus? No way!
Jamie loved the movie and pizza, and he was like a fish in the pool.
Then when the day came to drop his sisters off at the centre for the circus trip, Jamie came along and sat down with a group of kids who were also attending the trip. When his mum was ready to leave he waved goodbye and continued interacting with the other kids. Then when mum came over and held his hand, Jamie made it quite clear he wasn’t leaving.
As the rest of the children walked outside to begin boarding the minivan bound for the circus, the staff and Jamie’s mum assumed Jamie would hop into his own car. But Jamie had other ideas.
Jamie got into the back row of the minivan, put his seat belt on and sat quietly. He was making a very clear and definite choice to go out with the kids that day!
With his mum on call, Jamie went to the circus. He sat quietly entranced by the sights, sounds and smells of the performance; smiling, pointing and squeezing the hand of the staff member with him when he was super excited.
Through patience and support Jamie was able to build up the confidence to enjoy a new and dramatically different experience. This positive outcome for Jamie was a great reminder to all the staff here at MacKillop’s Inclusive School Holiday Program of why we do what we do.
High-five Jamie! We look forward to seeing you next school holidays.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy