Thomas Farley babbles and squeaks in various tones as he plays with his toys on the lounge room floor.
He thrusts a woolly lamb at his mother, looks her straight in the eye and laughs. And she laughs back.
Approaching two, Thomas cannot speak and Sally Farley knows why.
“Thomas already has severe language delays, both expressive and receptive, and he has sensory processing disorders,” Sally, 36, said. “He is actually in the middle of being tested for a diagnosis but we know what’s in store.”
Thomas is the fourth child of Sally and husband Lloyd and the final of their offspring to be plagued with a disability.
Seven years ago the Metford couple’s first child, daughter Aleisha, was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Since then the now 12-year-old has also been diagnosed with anxiety and sensory processing disorder.
Then along came Brandan, the couple’s first son and a little boy who, by age three, would be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
“Brandan is five now and he attends a satellite class at Abermain and it’s a very supportive environment and he’s doing well,” Sally said.
But the Farleys’ battle with autism didn’t start and end with Brandan.
Three years ago young Harry arrived, bringing with him more challenges for the young family including his own battle with autism, epilepsy along with mild to moderate hearing loss.
“We didn’t expect this to keep on happening and I think having so many children diagnosed with these problems in one family is quite unusual,” Sally said. “You could go on to debating whether this it is environmental, genetic, whatever. But it is what it is.”
Last month Sally was chosen to represent people with disabilities and Northcott Disability Services as part of the not-for-profit’s Client Ambassador Program.
“Life is extremely busy. Lloyd and myself are full-time carers and this allows us to be in two places at once,” Sally said. “We need to be very organised and our main focus is making sure that the kids have their routines.
“But we have the skills to be able to get up every morning to help our kids be happy, we follow a strict routine and life is never dull here.”
Sally says all this with a smile knowing full well how restrictive her lifestyle can be.
“It’s difficult to go to a lot of places as a family and it does restrict you in what you can and can’t do,” she said. “The problem with autism is that when your children are out of routine or in unfamiliar places unexpected things happen and that can cause a lot of behaviours that can be misread.
“I believe that creating awareness and having an inclusive society starts at home. I am very passionate about the needs and rights of people with a disability, and the opportunities available to them.”
Sally said, when it comes to autism, early diagnosis followed by early intervention is key.
“You need access intervention as soon as possible so the children can really absorb what’s available to them,” she said. “A lot of the behaviours in our family come from a lack of communication.
Thomas doesn’t talk but everything he does is communication. Whether it be appropriate or inappropriate, it’s about working out what they’re doing. It’s a bit like process of elimination.”
And what about Sally?
“I think this has made me stronger. Definitely stronger,” she said. “It’s about realising that this is not always about the children, it’s also about us as carers because if we don’t put ourselves forward or first, at least sometimes, then you’re not going to be the best you can be to look after your children.
“And that can be a hard thing to naturally do. It’s taken a lot of time and a lot of learning but we are definitely stronger and we get up, shake ourselves off and if it’s a bad day, it’s a bad day.
“We don’t look at it as though it’s going to be a bad week or a bad month. We try to look into the positive things that have happened during the day.
“I want my children to be happy, to be able to function as well as they can function, to have life skills and hopefully to be able to be independent. All we can do is encourage them in what they want to do in their lives.”