Being diagnosed with level 3 autism at an early age, Gabe engages with the world as a non-verbal communicator, using different tools to express his thoughts and feelings.
Through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), Gabe has been equipped with his communicator, an assistive technology communication device that empowers him to connect to the world around him in ways he never thought possible.
“Communication isn’t just talking, it’s any way he can express himself,” said Gabe’s mum Alison.
“Communication has always taken priority for us because we can’t have those quality relationships without communication. He can tell us what toys or food he wants or to go outside, and when he wants his shoes off, all these things. He can tell us now.”
“Thanks to the NDIS for providing not just the communicator but also the support for the communicator and speech therapy that goes along with learning those things.”
Having trialled different options for Gabe in the past, he has shown the most progress in the past 12 months.
“I’ve read all the literature on early intervention and Gabe’s progress has improved significantly in the past year or two. In the early years where he had tons of early intervention, he was absorbing it there, it’s just now he’s able to express it.”
Gabe’s speech therapist continually enhances and expands his communicator, ensuring it meets Gabe’s every need. It has also been useful that Alison has had knowledge that comes with a psychology degree.
“I remember one time he was crying and led me to the food cupboard and I was like ‘all right mate, I’ll feed you’, and then he walked over to his communicator, which sits on the kitchen bench, which he goes to when he wants to communicate, and he picked the toy that he had and hit the button that said ‘flat battery’.
“He was leading me to the food cupboard because the batteries are kept up the top of it. Without the communicator, I would never have understood what he wanted. He would have taken the food I was offering him, but it wasn’t what he really wanted.
“There is a menu subset in his communicator that is tailored for him. Sometimes he just wants his popcorn to be put in a bowl, so we have a button there that says, ‘put it in a bowl’.
Gabe is also a keen Cub Scout, attending his local scouts group regularly.
“One of the most special things he’s done with his communicator was his investment in Cubs. Where he must recite his pledge, we customised his device to be able to do his pledge so he could be involved with the process.
“This is what we want, seeing our kids being involved in the community, with things like Cubs. With other kids, neurotypical or neurodiverse. It’s so important, even for the other kids in scouts who don’t have a disability.”
Alison expressed immense gratitude for the assistance provided by their Local Area Coordinator Nadia.
“Nadia at Carers Queensland has been absolutely amazing and has taken care of most of the things for us. She's not just empathetic but also so helpful in things that we hadn’t even thought about which would be useful for our family. ”
Over the next 12 months, the family would like to further develop Gabe’s communication skills, aiming to express not only his needs but also his wants using his communicator.
“We would like to know whether he likes something or doesn’t,” Alison said. “Even to the point where he can say ‘I don’t want a hug right now’. Body autonomy like this, it is his body and the communicator we consider as part of his body. It’s his voice. It’s a package deal.”
“There are a lot of things he can’t express on his communicator yet – we still have a long way to go.”
Alison says for others going through similar journeys, achieving progress is possible. It simply requires consistent effort and patience.
“Other advice is to make everything available to the child. Making the communicator always available to them. Don’t put it in a drawer, or a bag, make sure it’s turned on and charged even if it’s just sitting in the same place where they can access it. Just make sure the access is always there. It sounds like such a little thing, but it can be so easy to overlook.”
Carers Queensland can support you to find out more about the NDIS, to apply for funding and to help you get started with the NDIS.
If you have a disability but are not eligible for the NDIS, Carers Queensland can help you identify and link to options for support in your community.
You can also contact Carers Queensland on 1300 999 636, email@example.com, or sign up to our LAC Connect app here.