5 May 2023

'Not a disability': Griffith autism awareness event challenges stereotypes

| Oliver Jacques
Start the conversation
Joanna and Ava Shea

Joanna Shea with daughter Ava and a painting she did at the event. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Parents and children attending a special event to mark Autism Awareness Month in Griffith say they want to change community perceptions about the condition.

The volunteer-based Griffith Autism Spectrum Support Group (GASG) held a gathering “to acknowledge neurodiversity within our community” at the residence of home-based chef Paris Floyd on Sunday (30 April). About 50 parents and children attended to share Ms Floyd’s legendary laksa, bahn mi and spring rolls and enjoy a jumping castle, pony rides and a painting class presented by Tambourine Art Studio.

READ ALSO Murrumbidgee Regional High students offer hope in face of chronic health staff shortage

“It was autism month for April, and today being the last day, we thought we’d do something to acknowledge it. I put a note out if anyone was interested and it went gangbusters, I had to turn people away,” GASG president Dene Beltrame said.

Kids holding up their paintings

Children display paintings after doing a class with Tambourine Art Studio. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Ms Floyd, who provided her home and donated her cooking skills for the event, could empathise with those in attendance. Her son Oscar is on the spectrum. She said she wanted to highlight the positive aspects of a condition that affects more than 200,000 Australians.

“Autism is not a disability,” she said. ”I think the only disability is the term and perception … the children are all very intelligent in their own way. We have to try and help them internally in terms of how they feel, how they communicate and how they relate to people … there’s nothing wrong with them. We need to learn how to navigate around different people.

“We are taught a traditional way of bringing a child up. ‘If you do it this way, then it’s right, but if you do it any other way it’s wrong’. So we keep forcing kids to do it our way, whereas our kids have their own way – they often can’t compute what you’re talking about.

“You need to change the way you explain things. It’s all about learning the right way to communicate with your child.”

READ ALSO Griffith student’s mission to rebrand autism as an asset

Ms Beltrame’s son, 17-year-old son Noah, who is also on the spectrum, has also worked hard to change perceptions. A video he did answering questions on autism has received widespread praise.

“I don’t look at autism as a disability … I see [the difference between those on or not on the spectrum] more like the difference between left-handers and right-handers,” he says.

”There are still people who think autism is something that needs to be ‘cured’ … I really don’t like this talk of a prenatal test to identify autism [in an unborn child] … The world would be a much worse place if we didn’t have people like me.”

Several parents in attendance said GASG was incredibly important, given the difficulty in accessing professional help in the Riverina.

“We are telling the community there is this group,” Ms Floyd said.

”You don’t have to do this alone. You often can’t get professional support. Our doctors are in Sydney or somewhere else. So at least we have each other, this is our chance to come together and share ideas.”

Parent Joanna Shea, who attended with son Leon, who is on the spectrum, and daughter Ava, agreed.

“We moved here from Melbourne, where there were lots of services … but in Wagga, to get into an appointment with a paediatrician for an assessment, there is an 18-month wait,” she said.

“That’s why it’s great to have a group like this.”

More information on GASG can be found on its Facebook page.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Riverina news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riverina stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.