Op­por­tu­nity to hang out with Ben

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - News - BY SARAH SCULLY

Chil­dren with autism of­ten find so­cial in­ter­ac­tion dif­fi­cult, but when Hor­sham’s Sam Wade met North Mel­bourne star Ben Brown, the rap­port was in­stant.

Sam, 5, and his brother Tom, 7, en­joyed a per­sonal coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence with Brown at the club’s Ar­den Street head­quar­ters last week.

Sam’s mother Me­lanie Wade said it was a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence she hoped would raise aware­ness of autism spec­trum dis­or­der and the im­por­tance of in­clu­sive­ness.

Brown is an am­bas­sador for Lend a Hand to Hugo, a Tas­ma­nian-based not-for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion that ad­vo­cates for in­clu­sive en­vi­ron­ments for peo­ple of all abil­i­ties.

Am­bas­sadors aim to grow ac­cep­tance and en­sure peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties and other strug­gles are treated equally in so­ci­ety.

Mrs Wade said Sam’s ex­pe­ri­ence with Brown came about via so­cial me­dia in­ter­ac­tion.

“I was watch­ing AFL 360 last year and Ben Brown was on the show pro­mot­ing autism aware­ness and the Lend a Hand to Hugo or­gan­i­sa­tion,” she said.

“Lend a Hand to Hugo posted a video to their Face­book page and I liked and shared it and com­mented that as a North Mel­bourne Foot­ball Club and Ben Brown sup­porter, and a mother of a four-year-old son with ASD – Autism Spec­trum Dis­or­der – I could not have loved the video more.”

In March this year, Mrs Wade re­ceived a call from Lend a Hand to Hugo founder Luke Wil­liams of­fer­ing her fam­ily a ‘foot­ball ex­pe­ri­ence’.

On Tues­day, Sam en­joyed the ex­pe­ri­ence of a life­time thanks to a pri­vate coach­ing clinic with Brown.

“It was amaz­ing,” Mrs Wade said.

“We didn’t have to do any­thing but travel down to Mel­bourne.

“There was a lit­tle bit of me­dia to help raise aware­ness of Lend a Hand to Hugo and autism, but it was mostly an op­por­tu­nity for Sam to hang out with Ben.

“They kicked the footy for about one and a half to two hours and then we drove to The Ther­apy Store in East Brunswick, which spe­cialises in spe­cial needs and autism re­sources.

“Sam played with a few toys and he took one home that he liked.

“Af­ter­wards, Ben hung out with the kids for another hour.

“It’s not like he was keen to get out of there once the cam­eras were off. He’s just a re­ally chilled out, lovely guy.

“Spend­ing time with him was just like hang­ing out with one of your mates.

“It meant the world to Sam and to our fam­ily.”

The Wades have a per­sonal con­nec­tion to North Mel­bourne Foot­ball Club.

Doug Wade, un­cle of Mrs Wade’s hus­band Adrian, played for the Kan­ga­roos from 1973 to ’75, fol­low­ing 11 years at Geelong.

He won pre­mier­ships at both clubs and was a cham­pion goal-kicker, slot­ting 1057 goals in his 267-game ca­reer.

“We men­tioned it to Ben but he was just very re­laxed and fo­cused on the kids,” Mrs Wade said.

“The boys had the best time. They both love foot­ball and par­tic­i­pate in Aus­kick with Hor­sham Saints Foot­ball Net­ball Club.

“It’s such a great club and they are very in­clu­sive of Sam and his needs.”

Chal­lenges

Mrs Wade, a ma­ter­nal and child health nurse, said Sam was di­ag­nosed as be­ing on the autism spec­trum at two years of age.

“He was show­ing a few signs, but even though I’d worked with fam­i­lies and chil­dren for years, it was quite new to me,” she said.

“We tried lots of ther­a­pies lo­cally and now Sam does ABA – Ap­plied Be­hav­iour Anal­y­sis – ther­apy.

“We take him to Mel­bourne once ev­ery four weeks and we pay a pri­vate ther­a­pist who works with him at kin­der and at home, which is part-funded by the NDIS, Na­tional Dis­abil­ity In­surance Scheme.

“Sam has trou­ble with so­cial in­ter­ac­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion. He doesn’t say a lot, although through ther­apy he is start­ing to talk more.

“He still has his quirky traits but he’s hav­ing less melt­downs and is sleep­ing bet­ter.

“Sam is very in­ter­ested in others and loves to play along­side other kids.

“You could see the en­gage­ment be­tween him and Ben. It was won­der­ful to watch.”

Mrs Wade said the visit was timely, with Na­tional Autism Aware­ness Month fall­ing in April.

“It’s all about pro­mot­ing in­clu­sion and ac­cept­ing peo­ple with dif­fer­ent abil­i­ties,” she said.

“Autism is quite preva­lent and af­fects one in 50 peo­ple. It’s not just kids, adults have it too – it’s a life­time con­di­tion.”

Peo­ple can visit www.autism spec­trum.org.au for more in­for­ma­tion about autism.

IN­STANT MATES: Brown last week. Hor­sham’s Sam Wade re­laxes af­ter a per­sonal coach­ing ses­sion with North Mel­bourne star Ben

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