Liam's story began unexpectedly
A year ago, Rod and Maureen were in complete despair. Their son, Liam was extremely unhappy. He withdrew from the world and spent his days sitting in the corner of a room, playing with a plastic bottle.
Liam was in a terrible state of mind, and his family couldn’t find the support they needed – and importantly, the support Liam craved. They had reached breaking point.
There are far too many stories like this, where families don’t know where to turn.
Liam’s story began unexpectedly.
"Liam was about one at the time. Maureen was doing some shopping and I was with Liam in his pram. A lady came over and started talking about raising kids with Down syndrome and how hard it can be. I was thinking - why is she talking to me about this?" Rod says.
Surprisingly, when Liam was born nobody knew he had Down syndrome. Despite being in hospital for weeks with reflux issues and having physio to strengthen his neck, Down syndrome was never suspected.
"After speaking with the lady in the shops, we went to the doctor, got a blood test, and two weeks later Liam was diagnosed with Down syndrome. It was a bit of a shock!" Maureen says.
As you might imagine, life got more complicated from then on. Skills that often come naturally to children didn’t click for Liam. Rod and Maureen were frequently at the doctor, physio and meeting early intervention specialists to learn how to best help their little boy develop and grow.
"He couldn’t pick things up, so we had to show him, this is how you pick up things, this is how you hold them. Teaching him how to eat was a big one. I had to put food on the spoon, push in his tongue and get his mouth chewing. I wasn’t just Liam’s mum, I was his teacher, physio, speech therapist, doctor, everything all in one, and we had no idea," Maureen says.
Liam needed a lot of help and time to reach his milestones; it wasn’t until he was seven years old that he started talking.
During his primary school years, the family kept very active; Liam played football, soccer, tennis and he was in the swimming team. Rod and Maureen made use of all the activities available to Liam, but when he reached about twelve years old there was little local support for someone his age.
We need to make sure that more opportunities are made available to people with disability.
A few years ago, Liam started to withdraw. He had finished school and was no longer happy participating in the day activity he attending.
"Liam had anxiety and even the doctor wasn’t sure where to point us. His specialist gave him medication, which wasn’t helping and I thought – there’s got to be another way.There was just nothing, so we had to struggle to help him get through things, talk to him and just do our best. It was very difficult to find anyone to help us. We had to cope on our own," Maureen says.
Like all parents, Rod and Maureen have always wanted their children to have the best life possible – to be happy and safe. It must have been heartbreaking to see their son so withdrawn from the world.
Liam’s family were worried that their friendly, funny young man would never come back. They had real concerns for his future and for his health.
After almost a year of Liam refusing to leave home, Rod and Maureen didn’t know what to do. They were stuck.
"We were at our wits’ end. Then one day I saw an advert in the paper that Minda was coming to Elizabeth and we thought, well, let’s ring them and find out what’s going on. So we did, and we couldn’t be happier with the result," Rod says.
Liam now attends Minda’s MyPATH day programs from Monday to Friday. The group go out together on excursions and learn skills like cooking, which helps to increase independence, while having fun.
"Every day when the car pulls up and Liam gets in, I stop worrying. It’s a giant weight off my mind to know that he is out enjoying life and safe with people he gets along so well with," Rod says.
"Within three days we went from complete despair to happiness. I don’t even want to think about where we’d be without Minda," Maureen adds.
Maureen is amazed by the difference she has seen in Liam.
"I was talking to my mum on the phone and Liam said he wanted to talk. So I gave him the phone and for about 10-15 minutes he was telling her all about what he’s been doing at Minda. I just sat there, shocked. I couldn’t believe it. And his grandma was thrilled," Maureen says.
"He is doing things that I didn’t know he could do. I’m sure there are so many things he is capable of but he just hasn’t had the opportunity to show us."
Liam’s world has been opened up again and Rod and Maureen have started looking at what lies ahead.
"It’s a work in progress. Liam’s support and opportunities will grow as Minda gets established in the area," Maureen says.
Minda’s support to Adelaide’s northern suburbs has just begun. There is great need for a wide range of disability supports and services, and we hope that with the help of our amazing supporters we can be there for those who need us.
As we extend our support, Liam may be able to access psychology, physiotherapy and respite in the near future.
"We want Liam to have his independence; to be assisted to get out in the community, meet more people, make new friends and have an active social life on the weekends, rather than being with Mum and Dad, 24/7," Maureen says.
Independence is so important. Something many families worry about is: how will my child cope when I’m no longer around?
"Sometimes I would worry that one day when we’re gone, Liam’s going to be living under a tree somewhere," Rod says.
"I know that wouldn’t be the case, because our family will always be there for him. But the support through Minda has given us great peace of mind."