When Riley joined an Aspect school, he couldn’t communicate with anyone. But our teachers recognised the strengths he did have, and helped him realise his inner potential.
When Riley was two years old, his mum, Janelle suspected that something wasn’t quite right.
“It was Christmas morning and I went up to Riley’s bedroom, but he was nowhere to be seen. I eventually found him in the kitchen, playing with the Tupperware containers. He was spinning the lids around and around, utterly engrossed. He was oblivious to everything going on around him. All Riley wanted to do that Christmas was play with Tupperware containers” says Janelle.
This wasn’t the only unusual behaviour that Janelle had noticed about Riley. When other children his age had started speaking, Riley wasn’t communicating at all. He found it upsetting to be around other people, and he wouldn’t show any affection to anyone.
Riley was also extremely sensitive to noise. When someone coughed, sneezed or even spoke too loudly, he would start crying.
He didn’t show the slightest interest in toys, but he would gaze transfixed at a pair of curtains for hours on end. He would also run up and down the hallway, again and again, just staring at his fingers.
Janelle was completely mystified and very, very worried. But it all fell into place a few months later, when Riley was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.
Like many children on the spectrum, he was fascinated with certain objects or activities. But here at Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect), we don’t see this as a “weakness”. At Aspect schools, we focus on what a child is interested in, what they have a talent for. And we use these strengths and interests to help them develop crucial skills – like how to express themselves, or how to interact with others.
Thankfully, Riley’s local Aspect school had enough resources to offer him a place, and he started there when he was six. But it wasn’t easy for him at first.
While other children were learning how to tie their shoelaces, Riley found it hard enough to just keep his shoes on. While other children were getting to grips with writing and counting, Riley couldn’t even stay seated at his desk – because the noise was too overwhelming.
But Riley wasn’t “playing up”. This wasn’t “something he would grow out of.” Like many children on the autism spectrum, these everyday activities made him feel inconsolably upset and unbearably frustrated. And because he didn’t know how to communicate his feelings, he just got more upset and frustrated.
The staff at our schools are specially trained to understand and support these complex needs. So Riley’s teacher could see the challenges that he was facing. But he could also see the strengths and passions that he had. And one of them in particular stood out – drawing.
Riley’s teacher spotted his artistic talent and began incorporating art into his schoolwork. It really helped him learn how to follow instructions and stay seated at his desk.
All our Aspect schools offer this kind of dedicated, specialist support. Supporting Riley’s strengths and interests has helped him make astounding progress in every part of his life, as Janelle explains:
“Riley’s art has really helped him connect with the world and really brought on his communication. His teachers always encouraged him to talk about what he was drawing.Before he couldn’t really communicate at all, but now he’s forming whole sentences and learning new words all the time” says Janelle.
Your kind gift could enable us to offer our tailored support to more children on the spectrum, just like Riley, at Aspect schools in the year ahead. Thanks to you, they could take their interests into the classroom – and come out of it with lifelong skills.