The Parenting Spectrum: one family’s account of Autism and family life

Community, Disability April 2, 2019

It’s World Autism Awareness Day and as organisations around the world mark the the occasion in different ways, we take a look at how one family is using the power of podcasting to help demystify Autism and family life.

Parents Fiona Churchman and Travis Saunders refer to it as ‘the podcast they wish they’d had’ when their son Patch was first diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum just before age two.  

In the first three episodes of the eight-part ABC series they cover diagnosis, understanding your child and keeping them safe. Subsequent episodes will tackle issues like schooling, sleep deprivation and preparing Patch for adult life.

In telling their story, the couple shares from the hundreds of hours of recordings they’ve collected in the nine years since becoming a family. For Fiona and Travis, the podcast is about helping other parents who might have similar questions. In Travis’ words;

“Those big questions. The ones mums and dads of autistic kids lie awake at night wondering about.”

In answering these questions, they seek advice from the ‘tribe’ they’ve gathered around them; Autistic adults, other parents and experts in the field of ASD.

The Parenting Spectrum doesn’t shy away from honesty, with the couple readily admitting mistakes they made at the start of their journey. ‘Diagnosis’ talks about the emotions that they went through as parents, including the fear and grief that they now consider misplaced. They also touch on the pressure felt at ensuring early intervention therapies were in place to give Patch the best head start, before the realisation that his capacity for learning is not infinite. And they remember with frustration sessions with medical professionals that seemed to focus on what Patch couldn’t do, rather than what he could.

For Fiona and Travis, in those early years, reading and listening to autistic adults who could shine a light on what Patch might be experiencing was particularly enlightening. One of those people was Yenn Purkis, author and advocate who explains:

“Autistic people are not broken neurotypical people. We’re valuable, we’re who we are and we’re fine as we are…. Focus on supporting that child to be them, the best them they can be.”

It’s a fitting introduction to a podcast that is designed as a guide for parents to help their child embrace their identity and celebrate their strengths. The most important thing they have learned in the past 7 years? Always presume competence when it comes to Patch, who speaks with a small number of words. This they discovered with the help of New York-based blogger Emma, who helped them to bust the myth that not speaking means you have nothing to say. Instead, they’re attuned to the other ways in which Patch is able to communicate and connect with people. It’s one example of how Patch is teaching them, and of how the podcast is uplifting account of not only the challenges but the joys of raising him.

On Mable, you can use NDIS funding to find and directly hire independent support workers who specialise in supporting kids with ASD. Create a support team that’s perfect for you and your family.  

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