Max was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder Level 3, Global Developmental Delay, and ADHD when he was 2 years old.
He didn’t speak more than single words until he was 4, and even now, aged 7, it’s hard to communicate anything except a few simple concepts.
"But he’s a parrot!" says Mum, Lorel. "He’ll repeat anything and even act out scenes from his favourite cartoons for News at school."
Despite the pages and pages of paediatrician, speech pathology, and occupational therapy reports highlighting everything Max isn’t capable of, he’s now in mainstream school, surrounded by friends and is a success story.
His parents credit early diagnosis and early intervention.
"Diagnosis that early was hard to get, with everyone saying, ‘boys are slower than girls’ or ‘he was premature, so he’ll be a bit behind’, but I knew from the time he was about a year old that something was wrong."
“After we got a diagnosis, I don’t know how many times a special needs unit was recommended for school, and it may still be needed one day. But I could see my son in those beautiful eyes, even if we couldn’t communicate."
Lorel and her husband Clayton worried that unless they could improve his skills, Max’s lack of communication would make friendships and school harder.
"I knew he was smart and fun and deserved every opportunity in life. So, his dad and I got training in ABA [psychology]. That way we could make everything from eating to grocery shopping therapy, in addition to the professional therapies we could afford," Lorel said.
So far Lorel says kindy and first grade have been manageable for Max, thanks to school supports.
“I’ve been in triage mode since he was born and he had to spend two weeks in neonatal intensive care. We’ve just been surviving day to day, snatching joy whenever we can."
"He has an amazing, infectious smile and everyone loves him. His schoolmates hold his hand and help him get where he needs to go, and they are entertained by his News even if he doesn’t make any sense."
There are still hard days where Max has anxiety attacks and won’t get out of the car. He gags and throws up from strong smells, making eating hard, and he sleeps with industrial ear muffs on to cut out noise. He’s hypersensitive to things we take for granted. Even so, his parents help cope with each new obstacle as it comes.
And there are still scares. "We got a call last year from his teacher, who worried Max had had an absence seizure. 20% of autistic kids develop epilepsy by their teens. So we're always on the lookout for what might happen next."
"But when I hear there’s neurobiology research happening at CMRI that can help us understand how the brain works differently in autism, I can’t help but feel a surge of excitement.
I think there are a lot of fantastic, amazing autistic kids out there who could use whatever help they can get."