A reason to celebrate at ASD big birthday bash

Jackson,9, and Lachlan,7, with their parents Fergus and Lee Ponder.
Jackson,9, and Lachlan,7, with their parents Fergus and Lee Ponder. Warren Lynam

JACKSON Ponder is nine years old, but he has never played pass-the-parcel.

Party hats, balloons and lolly bags have never been part of his weekend fun, because he has never been invited to a birthday party.

He has watched invitations being passed around the classroom, with nothing left in the bag for him.

This is all because Jackson has Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The stigma associated with the incurable disorder leaves many families isolated, judged and children left out of friendship circles.

There are 300 families in the Sunshine Coast ASD Support Group, with children on varying levels of the scale.

The children had a taste of party frivolities when the group hosted their very own "birthday party" at Top Shots last weekend.

For Jackson it was a welcome change from lunchtimes usually spent alone.

Jackson was diagnosed with high functioning ASD in December 2011.

His mother Lee said it was the high function cases which were commonly missed.

A prevalence study by the Australia Advisory Board on ASD in 2007 found one in 160 Australian children aged between six and 12 years was diagnosed with ASD.

It was a long journey before Jackson was diagnosed.

"Time after time I was in tears because sometimes Jackson would have hours of meltdowns yet the paediatricians couldn't explain it because sitting in front of them was a well articulated boy who can talk on an adult level," Mrs Ponder said.

Jackson has difficulties in social situations and lacks empathy, he can't recognise emotions and often misreads situations.

Jackson was first diagnosed with fine motor dyspraxia at a young age.

The disorder impairs the organisation of movement and affects perception, language and thought.

Jackson has trouble handling scissors, brushing his teeth or tying shoe laces.

"It was a long haul to get the ASD diagnosis and took about eight months of specialists asking questions for me to see," Mrs Ponder said.

"Does he line things up? Yes.

"Does he have food issues? Yes.

"It was a relief to have the diagnosis but I liken it to when I was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, it's a definite sense of loss and changes the way you perceive the future to be but it is also a sense of relief that you can move forward."

Jackson has a common trait of an autistic child - he is gifted.

While he struggles with motor skills, he has superior working memory.

His passion is computers.

Jackson has attended four different Sunshine Coast mainstream schools to find one that suited him.

While he is age appropriate for Year 3, he has been accelerated into Year 4 and there is talk of him starting an IT TAFE course next year online.

Despite this, Mrs Ponder said a day at school was difficult for Jackson.

"During a typical day at school Jackson was disruptive in the classroom, not naughty just disruptive," she said.

"It was horrible, he has not coped in the classroom and that is hard to see as a mother.

"On the way to the car the meltdowns start. He usually holds it together until school is done and lets it all out at the end."

Jackson has a laptop for use in the classroom fulltime.

"Any work a child would normally write, he can do on the laptop," Mrs Ponder said.

"He uses the computer during breaks and lunchtime as well, while most kids do handball or play soccer, for him facing that is not a break, it is work.

"He finds mateship very difficult, but what the computer enables him to do is people are noticing and coming up to him to look at his computer so that has become an avenue for Jackson to reach out."

Mrs Ponder said there was still little community awareness on ASD.

"I noticed this year that my younger son Lockie at age six was being invited to party after party when Jack wasn't getting invited to any and it hurt," Mrs Ponder said.

"One mother on our Facebook page said she tried to host a party and invited the whole class and no one came.

"So that's when we came up with the idea of the Top Shots party.

"There were some meltdowns, but there wasn't one family there who hadn't seen it before."

Mrs Ponders said support groups were key for parents of autistic children to connect and share advice.

Jackson's gifted diagnosis prompted Mrs Ponder to start the Twice Exceptional support group for gifted children with learning difficulties.

"There needs to be more awareness. There are single mums in our group to married couples who are in dire situations and need immediate respite and can't get it," Mrs Ponder said.

"When Jackson was diagnosed I've looked more into the disorder and I never realised until now the extent of the issues, and how many people have financial, social, and emotional trauma from an ASD diagnosis."


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