My name is Bella. I am excited to be in Grade 1 and make friends with you. I am autistic.
Being autistic means something different for everyone, but for me it means that I see, hear and feel things a lot better than most of you. This might sound good, but it can make my brain hurt a lot of the time, and I might need to cover my ears if there is a loud noise, or hide my eyes if there is a bright light.
Sometimes it means I don’t like to be touched and I might need to have a break by myself until my brain calms down.
It can be hard for you to understand what I’m saying, but I want you to know I am always listening to you, even if I don’t always answer when you talk to me.
Thank you for understanding why I am a little different to you. I am lots of fun to be around and have a very kind and caring heart.
“It wasn’t hard to write,” Karen Bennett explains, referring to the note she gave her daughter’s Grade 1 classmates to take home.
“I felt it needed to be done for teachers, for fellow classmates and more so for parents, so they could have a conversation at home about what it is like to have a disability.”
When we knew our daughter’s development was different
Bella’s parents, Simon and Karen, began questioning her development when, at three, she wasn’t talking. After a long year of specialists, tests and waiting rooms, Bella was diagnosed as having Autism Spectrum Disorder.
“It was more of a relief than anything,” says Karen, who had questioned her parenting ability because others had told her she simply needed to be stricter on Bella’s outbursts and behaviour.
Championing the cause
Three years on, Karen has been thrown into the spotlight as a campaigner for children’s disability services. She has successfully petitioned Queensland’s Education Minister to postpone the closure of the Early Childhood Development Programs (ECDP) until 2020. The centres help children with disability prepare for school and life.
“Before this centre, I would arrive at day care and see my child alone, in the garden eating dirt. Child care workers are capable, don’t get me wrong, but they are not trained in dealing with children with intellectual disabilities,” Karen says.
“A specially qualified ECDP teacher has been able to show us Bella’s potential and what an intelligent beautiful soul is lying within,” she says.
An instruction booklet for life
The same teacher identified Bella’s triggers and developed a communication model to help Bella follow instructions.
And she wrote ‘Bella’s Instruction Booklet’, a document Karen says will help her daughter throughout her life.
“It explains Bella to the outside world. This is how I am when I am stressed, this is what motivates me, this is how I behave, this is what I need to calm down,” Karen says.
“If I die tomorrow, That A4 laminated piece of paper assures me Bella will be fine.”
Jacqueline Smart comes to Brisbane from a television news background and past role as Media Officer based at the Australian High Commission in PNG.
She runs writing and media workshops throughout Brisbane and Logan libraries.