When Claire Gilmour, the founder of The Autism Treehouse's son was diagnosed with Autism in January of 2012, she, like all new parents of children with Autism immediately needed to educate herself. At the time she was shocked to find that there wasn't a local Autism specific organisation to connect her with information and local services. She knew that she needed to give her son Cooper the best start in life and to help others with the same challenge, so The Autism Treehouse was born.
In October 2017 The Autism Treehouse merged with the national disability organisation STEPS Group Australia to form the now, STEPS Autism Treehouse.
Our vision is to make the journey to being a proud and successful parent of a child with Autism as smooth as possible by providing support, education and opportunity. Children with Autism have their own very special gifts, and it's up to us to give them the opportunity to discover what those gifts are.
CLAIRE AND COOPER'S STORY
I was engaged to be married when I fell pregnant with Cooper, just one of those things that life throws in your path. We were overjoyed though, despite the timing, and even more so when I found out I was having a boy. The things we were going to do together! Nippers, surfing, football, travel the list was endless! You really do start to plan your whole life and envision what your life is going to look like. Hopefully Cooper was going to be one of 2 or 3 children. You know, the dream of big Christmas’s surround by noise, mess, laughter, hugs, family and love! And thats all it remained, a distant dream.
That good old game of life had a different plan for me. After the break down of my relationship, I left my dream job as a Flight Attendant in New Zealand and moved back home to the Sunshine Coast, where I went to school, to be closer to my family for support, Cooper had just turned one.
Over the next couple of years as Coopers speech failed to develop, some monumental ‘tantrums’, screaming if another child got near him and he started lining up all his match box cars in these perfect lines! What did that mean? I had no idea about Autism, however I did ask Dr Google and ticked off the boxes. He likes being hugged, can’t be Autism, he makes eye contact, it can’t be Autism.
So we continued on and, after being told by a GP ‘its just a boy thing, he will start talking’. I think in my gut I knew something was going on so I decided to keep asking different doctors if they did developmental assessments of children. One finally said "i was hoping you were going to ask that”. I finally had a referral to the Paediatrician and the diagnosis of Autism soon followed right before Coopers 4th birthday. Safe to say my whole world crumbled around me and I went into a state of grieving. Grieving for the life I had planned for us but mostly grieving for the challenges in life Cooper was going to face. All you ever want for your children is for them to be happy, confident, have friends, a partner, children, a career. But now I was faced with the question will he ever be able to have any of those? Will he ever start talking? Will he be bullied? Will he ever live independently? Where is he going to go to school? Will he be able to go to school? What do I do now? What does he need? Many many questions circled amidst all the tears.
So as any mother would do, I dried my tears, got my game face on and started researching and came up with a plan to give my little guy the best start in life. A few weeks later Cooper started at an early intervention centre for children with Autism. Here I met some wonderful educators and equally amazing families who have since turned into life long friends. The tears do eventually slow down, I would like to say they eventually stop but I would be lying. We will always have hurdles and challenges but I am so happy to say, that at 9 years old, Cooper is doing great. He has friends, is liked, funny, caring, wants to travel, doing well at school and yes he eventually started talking (even though he does sound like he has lived in USA, thanks to his love for Dr Seuss story book apps).
Through The Autism Treehouse Cooper has made so many friends, tried so many different sports, attended some fun events and parties and even met Storm Troopers! I hope The Autism Treehouse can do the same for your family.