“Before we had Owen, disability seemed like something which happened to other families,” says father of three, Gareth.
“We knew at 18 months that Owen wasn’t progressing in the same way as his brothers and the diagnosis of Autism was made very early on.”
The family had to adjust quickly.
“It was a shocking time. Our lives had changed completely and we just had to deal with it,” says Gareth, 46. “Initially the situation was very isolating. In retrospect, it would have been helpful to have some emotional support at that time.”
Now that Owen is 10, the family’s personal experience has led Gareth to undertake training as YMCA East Surrey’s first male Face2Face Befriender.
“I’m really keen to help,” says Gareth. “The aim is to run a support group for fathers. People need to have somewhere that they feel they can open up. Being able to share feelings and experiences definitely helps to prevent families from finding themselves in crisis.There is so much emotional trauma after having a child diagnosed with a disability. Parents are grieving for the child they thought they might have. If there is something I can do to help make that path easier for others, I would like to. It’s so important to let families know that there is support out there for them.”
Owen has been attending the Yippee club since the age of 5 and absolutely loves it. This year, Yippee has provided short breaks for 124 children aged 5-12 with a wide range of disabilities and complex needs.
“Respite care is invaluable for families,” says Gareth. “You cannot explain how much of a lifeline it is. I don’t know how we would manage without that sort of support – the impact has a huge personal dividend well beyond the cost of supporting the scheme.”
“The staff at Yippee know Owen now. He’s happy there and finds it familiar. The environment is so important. Owen would let us know if he wasn’t happy and we couldn’t take him somewhere that he doesn’t feel settled.
Gareth says that the Yippee holiday scheme allows them to operate as a family with some normality for some of the time.
“We have met some wonderful people through Owen – staff and volunteers who see the child, not just the disability. Without dedicated people like these, families like us just wouldn’t survive.”