Rockhampton train enthusiast Joshua didn’t use spoken language until he was 5, now the teenager is singing at school events, volunteering at a tennis club and is learning to drive a manual car.
But the 17-year-old’s biggest achievement is being able to recognise when he is being bullied and confidently being able to speak up and seek support.
“People see me as different and I can be bullied for it at school,” Joshua said.
“Through help from Phoebe (his psychologist) I have learnt to recognise when this happens and understand it’s not right.
Born prematurely and fed through a nasal tube for three months, Joshua’s mother Deborah said her son was the “perfect baby” who never cried and was content to just sit and play.
But that all changed when he turned 2. All communication stopped, he cried 24-hours a day and became a fussy eater. A year later he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
“Joshua was non-verbal until he was almost 5, but we ensured we had lots of pictures and the iPad for communication,” Deborah said.
“He loved Thomas the Tank Engine and through this fixation we played trains all day every day and used this interest as part of our therapy.
“We talked to the trains and Joshua talked to the trains and eventually as the language started, Joshua spoke to us.”
The family paid for speech and occupational therapy services and Joshua also attended an early intervention development centre a few days a week.
“He was halfway through 2010 when he said ‘mum’ for the first time and from then on we worked with Josh and the words kept coming slowly.”
When he started year 7 at Emmaus College in 2018 Joshua’s anxiety levels were at an all-time high and the family worked with the school’s learning support team to get support systems in place.
About the same time Joshua’s paediatrician suggested they apply to access the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
Joshua was 13 when he received support from Carers Queensland to apply for and implement his National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) funding in 2018.
He uses his NDIS supports to access psychology, speech therapy and an occupational therapist (OT), with Deborah choosing to take him to appointments to help reduce his anxiety levels.
Since accessing the Scheme Joshua has learnt how to self-regulate in situations that make him anxious, and an OT has helped improve his sensory issues and selfcare. He’s also learning to cook and to write a resume.
Thanks to NDIS-funded speech therapy, there’s been improvements in Joshua’s articulation and written language skills and he’s gained confidence in starting conversations.
At the start of 2022, Joshua started attending a fitness program where there are NDIS-funded support workers and a small group of young people with disabilities.
“Joshua has learnt to eat a healthy snack before he goes and has to work out what day of the week it is and if it’s gym, running or swimming,” Deborah said.
“He’s made friends and has conversations with the other participants, support workers, the admin team and parents of other participants.
“Joshua now runs in the Colour Me Capricorn Rockhampton fun run and the Rocky River Run as part of his community access on the program.”
Deborah said Joshua had independently met his driving instructor Margaret outside the school after she called and explained the situation first.
“Joshua wasn’t sure after the first lesson and called it a ‘tough-love relationship’. We spoke about how she needed to be firm if she was to help him drive,” she said.
“Margaret followed up after the first lesson and spoke about what a lovely friendly young man Josh was.
“Without the NDIS supports and connections and personal growth Joshua has made over the past few years Joshua would never have met with Margaret without me present.”
Joshua said he was close to finishing his driving lessons and the decision to drive a manual car would hopefully give him more opportunities for employment in the future.
He’s also excited about graduating with his class in November this year and wearing a suit and tie.
“I am also learning to drive a manual car. It’s taken a bit longer but mum’s been patient with me and my parents are hoping it gives me more opportunities for employment in the future,” Joshua said.
“I want to gain a job in something where I can help people and be happy as who I am and I want to continue singing and bringing joy to people through my voice.”
Speaking about his NDIS supports, Joshua said he always had terrible coordination and was often clumsy on his feet.
“Through OT and playing sport, I have learnt to manage my feet and body and to balance myself and stand tall, shoulders back because everyone wants to see my handsome smile,” he said.
“It’s okay to be me. I am just more aware of fitting in with the world and adapting because the world isn’t changing just because I don’t like things. So I just accept how it is and learn strategies to cope.”
Deborah said over the years Joshua has developed his sportsmanship skills and now loves playing social tennis and helping 8-year-olds through Matchplay.
“Joshua was a quiet and shy boy who never lifted his head and ran everywhere so he couldn’t be late,” she said.
“Now he is always organised, on time and walks with his head held high and shoulders back.”
Deborah has some heartfelt advice for parents yet to embark on the journey he has undertaken.
“As hard as it is when your child is young, don’t ever give up. Let them know how much they are loved and wanted,” she said.
“It’s important to advocate for your child and ensure they get the support they need from the therapist and use that knowledge every day at home.
“As parents and a family, we love all our children and support each and every one of them.
“But we are ever so proud of the young man we have and just hope that next year he can find an employer who sees the caring and loyal qualities in Joshua that we see every day.”
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.