Dad fights for autis­tic child

Auckland City Harbour News - - News - By Lucy Vick­ers

A meet­ing with Hol­ly­wood star Jenny McCarthy has in­spired Kiwi singer Ge­off Sewell in his fight to help his daugh­ter over­come autism.

When Si­enna Sewell was born to Ge­off and his wife Si­mone Lan­ham five years ago, they thought she was per­fect.

That hasn’t changed, but their world was turned up­side down when at three years old she was di­ag­nosed with autism.

Suf­fer­ers have ma­jor prob­lems com­mu­ni­cat­ing and learn­ing.

Ge­off and Si­mone had no prior knowl­edge of the con­di­tion, and were told by the doc­tor that Si­enna wouldn’t talk, and wouldn’t look peo­ple in the eye.

“They gave us no av­enue for hope. You don’t ex­pect the doc­tor to give you a life sen­tence for your child,” says Ge­off, the for­mer Amici singer who is now based in Lon­don.

But the cou­ple didn’t ac­cept that she wouldn’t be able to speak, and be­gan a course of treat­ment for their lit­tle girl that in­cluded a cock­tail of vi­ta­min sup­ple­ments and ad­vanced be­havioural anal­y­sis ther­apy.

They have also put Si­enna on a strict gluten and dairyfree diet.

Ge­off and Si­mone re­cently at­tended the De­feat Autism Now con­ven­tion in Philadel­phia, where there were 1200 peo­ple “in the same boat”, says Ge­off.

While at the con­fer­ence they met autism ac­tivist McCarthy, who helped her son Evan re­cover from the con­di­tion, and has writ­ten books on autism.

Her part­ner ac­tor Jim Car­rey is also an autism cam­paigner.

“It was amaz­ing, she was an in­cred­i­ble speaker,” says Ge­off.

Through one-on-one con­tact with a teacher aide and bio­med­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion Si­enna is speak­ing, can dress her­self and has be­come toi­let trained.

She started school six weeks ago.

“School helps her in­ter­act so­cially,” says Ge­off.

Si­enna’s cousin Sophia Daw­son has been great sup­port.

“She and Si­enna have de­vel­oped a very spe­cial bond, and she too is help­ing to fundraise and boost the profile of autism.”

Ge­off, whose par­ents live on the North Shore, last month launched his solo album Be­lieve.

He ar­rived in New Zealand last week and per­formed with Danc­ing with the Stars win­ner Te­mepara Ge­orge at West­field Albany on Tues­day.

Her cho­sen char­ity was autism.

Ge­off is us­ing the album re­lease to raise autism aware­ness, and one of the tracks, Si­enna’s Song, was writ­ten by Si­mone and ded­i­cated to their lit­tle an­gel.

“It’s an an­them of love.”

Spe­cial bond: Ge­off Sewell with Si­enna, 5.

Hol­ly­wood in­spi­ra­tion: Ge­off Sewell and his wife Si­mone Lan­ham with star Jenny McCarthy, cen­tre, at the Philadel­phia con­ven­tion.

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