Char­ity ball aims to fund autism cen­tre

Central Leader - - NEWS - By JESS LEE

It’s of­ten called the in­vis­i­ble dis­abil­ity.

Autism spec­trum dis­or­der is thought to af­fect as many as one in 100 New Zealan­ders and yet its na­ture makes it harder to cre­ate aware­ness and un­der­stand­ing.

Autism New Zealand Auck­land out­reach co-or­di­na­tor Jo Lloyd and her son El­liot Lloyd-Bell want to change this.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion will ben­e­fit from this year’s Gro­cery Char­ity Ball in Au­gust. The ball is in its 12th year and is run by New Zealand’s two big­gest su­per­mar­ket own­ers, Pro­gres­sive En­ter­prises and Food­Stuffs, and the New Zealand Food and Gro­cery Coun­cil.

Lloyd says the char­ity is hop­ing to use the funds raised to­wards open­ing an Autism Re­source Cen­tre which would act as a ‘‘one-stop shop’’ for peo­ple with autism and their fam­i­lies.

An autism spec­trum dis­or­der is a life­long de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­ity af­fect­ing so­cial and com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills.

Those af­fected can also have ac­com­pa­ny­ing learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties but, what­ever their gen­eral level of in­tel­li­gence, ev­ery­one with the con­di­tion shares a dif­fi­culty in mak­ing sense of the world.

On the sur­face, 12-year-old El­liot ap­pears just like any other boy his age but he sees the world dif­fer­ently.

He was di­ag­nosed with Asperger’s, a higher-func­tion­ing form of autism, when he was 5 years old.

Lloyd says her son’s rel­a­tively late di­ag­no­sis placed a huge amount of stress on the fam­ily.

‘‘I was just par­ent­ing like you would a typ­i­cal child and yet I’ve got a child here who I didn’t re­alise the noise and lights were over­whelm­ing for. He was ac­tu­ally freak­ing out and I didn’t re­alise be­cause the be­hav­iours were com­ing across as quite chal­leng­ing.’’

A re­source cen­tre would have made the road to di­ag­no­sis and ac­cep­tance so much eas­ier, Lloyd says.

‘‘It would have made an enor­mous dif­fer­ence be­cause I just didn’t know. I sought pro­fes­sional help and they all said ‘he’ll grow out of it, he’s a tod­dler, he’s just a bit naughty’.

‘‘It was like this huge val­i­da­tion and re­lief that we weren’t bad par­ents and he wasn’t a naughty child – the world changed sud­denly once we got that help and that di­ag­no­sis.’’

Lloyd says the di­ag­no­sis is now more widely ac­cepted.

‘‘We’ve seen a huge in­crease in di­ag­no­sis so the need is mas­sive.’’

El­liot says peo­ple of­ten for­get that it’s also tough for those with autism them­selves.

‘‘You have par­ents run­ning around hav­ing no idea what’s hap­pen­ing but you have a full un­der­stand­ing of it and you can’t com­mu­ni­cate it, you don’t know what’s wrong,’’ he says.

‘‘Ev­ery­thing around you is go­ing wrong and from your point of view it’s your fault, it’s you do­ing ev­ery­thing wrong.

‘‘So that’s why ev­ery­one is in a kind of dark, grey area.’’

Spread­ing aware­ness is the first step but ac­cep­tance is cru­cial, he says.

Gro­cery Char­ity Ball Trust direc­tor Don Gra­ham says Lloyd’s pre­sen­ta­tion blew him away.

‘‘It was su­perb be­cause Jo got up and did a re­ally heart­felt speech and that was re­ally some­thing,’’ he says. ‘‘ We choose a char­ity where the need is great and where we feel we can make a dif­fer­ence.’’

Or­gan­is­ers hope to raise about $250,000 this year. It will be held at The Lang­ham Ho­tel on Au­gust 29.

Photo: JESS LEE

Autism New Zealand Auck­land out­reach co­or­di­na­tor Jo Lloyd and her son El­liot Lloyd-Bell, 12, who has Asperg­ers.

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