Opportunity to hang out with Ben
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.”
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