I often smile at the name of this wonderful organisation “Firstchance”. I remember looking up  the clouds one day and thinking “all I need is someone to give me one chance”. I wanted to learn as much as possible about how to empower and teach my daughter Madolyn to realise her full potential. Fortunately I realised very early that I needed the help of trained professionals who  not only had the knowledge and training but also the resilience to deal with all the challenges our daughter presented. I refused to accept the stereotype outcomes that sometimes still exists around Autism. I needed the support of people who also believed that the potential of each child is yet to be determined and pre-conceived limitations needed to be challenged.

I wanted to learn as much as possible about how to empower and teach my daughter

Within a few weeks someone had made an appointment for me to visit Firstchance, at the time it was based at Newcastle University. Over the next two and half years we worked together to develop an incredibly successful partnership which changed the course of life for our family.

 Successful days did not always start out looking very positive I can assure you. I remember one particular day I had placed our younger daughter Shelby in the pram and I was trying with all my might to remove Madolyn from the car safely and get her inside the centre for her class. She was clinging so tightly to the seatbelt and screaming so loudly that Shelby also starting crying in sympathy for her sister. Madolyn then jumped out of the car and started running through the carpark doing everything possible to avoid going into class. I was at a total loss and had all but given up when the Director of Firstchance happened to see what was happening and came to my rescue. While this outburst initially seemed like a negative challenge it was actually totally the opposite. Even after only a few short weeks attending the Firstchance early intervention program Madolyn had realised that we would challenge her to move beyond her very limited comfort zone.

I have always be fond of the quote “Angels walk amongst us” and I am pretty sure we know one – his name is Darren. Darren worked as an educator at Firstchance and like all the educators he has a special gift in connecting with children who often don’t want to connect with the world around them. My daughter was almost non-verbal when she commenced early intervention but by the time she left to start kindergarten she affectionately referred to her teacher as Darren from “huni”. Her father’s name is also Darren so her way of differentiating between the two Darren’s in her life was to mention University but that word was just too much, so “huni” it was!!

I am pleased to advise that she is now very much apart of our world with a beautiful awareness of everthing around her

Although we don’t catch up with Darren frequently he remains a part of our family. The skills he taught us as parents are priceless and the lights he helped us switch on inside our daughter were life changing. Our thoughts go straight to Firstchance on 1 September each year as Darren to this day continues to send a text message wishing Madolyn a happy birthday and pledging to read his students her favourite story “The Elephant Got Stuck in the Mud”.

Madolyn has been a mainstream student now for many years and in January she commenced her first year of high school. She is a happy and positive young lady with a love of life and a devotion to animals. She has grown into a kind and sensitive young lady who always offers to help those around her, particularly those with obvious  disabilities.

I titled this article “Earth to Madolyn” as that was once the best way to summarise her outlook– she always seemed very far away – almost on another planet. I am pleased to advise that she is now very much part of our world with a beautiful awareness of everything around her and  as a family we are happy and thriving.