52-year-old Richard wants one thing for his daughter Elyse, and that’s for her to make some lifelong friends.
“We want our daughter to have friends. Most people make friends between the ages of 16 to 20, and have them for the rest of their lives,” he explains with a concerned tone.
However, developing the social skills that are required for making friends has been the biggest hurdle for Elyse to overcome. According to her mum Christine, she “finds it difficult to start up a conversation with a peer.” She’s also prone to angry outbursts. This disposition has meant Elyse has switched schools four times throughout her lifetime.
At almost 17, Elyse is somewhat a typical teenager. She loves getting her nails painted in different acrylic colours, adores her smartphone, and she’s a real fan of scary movies, like the supernatural classic, The Exorcist. And when she’s not baking her signature plain butter cake, she can be found in her backyard channelling the moves of professional gymnastics on her personal gymnastics bar.
But unlike her peers, Elyse needs personalised support.
When Elyse first joined Sunrise2Sunrise in early 2020 for Supported Independent Living (SIL), she had a past littered with concerning behaviours. Now her parents say that thanks to the calm approach of her carers, she’s “come a long way” and they have “peace of mind knowing that she’s in a secure house and in a secure environment.”
The Reality of Disability: Relationships & Futures
Elyse has learning difficulties and mild autism, which is considered a lifelong developmental disorder. Consequently, she experiences periods of heightened anxiety, finds it difficult to focus on tasks, and has a real need for structure and routine. She’s also inclined to have emotional meltdowns. Like the time she stormed off when her dad Richard told her, “You’ve got to get your learner’s permit first,” before she could even consider getting behind a steering wheel to drive.
According to Richard, a lot of her anger and frustration, “comes from wanting to be a normal teenager.”
“She watches TV and says, ‘Molly’s doing that. How can I?’” describes Richard.
Before settling into a Sunrise2Sunrise SIL accommodation house, Elyse’s behaviour could sometimes verge on “dangerous.” Christine says, “She used to attack carers” and “she’s been known to throw microwaves.” Previously, she’s had to live in secure welfare and has even experienced a stint in jail.
But with support from Sunrise2Sunrise, Richards says, “She now realises that isn’t acceptable behaviour.”
A New Phase: A Chance for Elyse to Blossom
Elyse’s carers have “been provided with a lot of training on how to understand her,” explains Christine. They’ve become equipped in, “what to do and what not to do when she gets into what they call the red zone,” she elaborates.
Working closely with psychologists, the Sunrise2Sunrise team help maintain a uniform behavioural support plan designed to support Elyse to reach her full potential. As part of this strategy, her carers put steps in place to instil a real sense of independence and accountability.
At SIL, one of the tactics they use is to put Elyse in charge of keeping the tomatoes and cucumbers alive in the thriving planter boxes they’ve installed. They’ve also got her keeping a pocket money chart so she can go out on mini shopping sprees or get her nails done.
“The house coordinators are also trying to encourage her to go into the shops by herself, while they wait out the front,” adds Christine.
This sense of providing stability and security, runs through all aspects of Elyse’s care. Not only can she expect a home cooked meal, but she’s also accompanied to all her core appointments, which includes but is not limited to doctors and the dentist.
Elyse is given every opportunity to thrive in her current environment. Unlike her prior experiences where she lived surrounded by security bars, her SIL accommodation has been set-up to be homely and nurturing.
Christine says, “It’s a beautiful house, very homely, nothing like what she’s had before.”
“She can go out the front door and can sit in the front yard.”
Both parents state that at Sunrise2Sunrise the level of care is family-like, describing one of the key figures, Malvin, as being “like a big brother” to Elyse. This sense of bonding also extends to special occasions, like Christmas, when, “they come with gifts for Elyse, and they cook food for her.”
Richard says the organisation is, “very charitable,” and, “very approachable.” When the couple were trying to figure out how they were going to afford a $1,200 iPhone for Elyse, Sunrise2Sunrise stepped in and helped.
“There’s no red tape. If we want help with something, we get on the phone,” explains Richard with a smile in his voice.
A New Horizon: Happiness & Holidays
Since being with Sunrise2Sunrise, Elyse’s parents say they know exactly what their daughters’ needs are day-to-day. Aside from getting daily text messages with updates from her carers, they also receive a weekly report which helps them troubleshoot any issues during their monthly Zoom meetings with her entire care team.
“It’s like a complete breath of fresh air,” declares Richard as he reflects on their relationship with Sunrise2Sunrise.
The positive turn-around in Elyse’s behaviour has meant that she now gets to spend more quality time with her 11-year-old younger brother, Riley. Once a week, the duo can be found in Elyse’s backyard, “doing water play or riding their bikes around the court,” Christine reports happily.
Noticeably, Elyse has also been able to go on several excursions to water parks alongside her carers. Now, there’s even chatter amongst Elyse’s care team that she might soon be ready to join the rest of her family on their annual trips to Queensland, albeit for a shorter stretch.
“We’re not worried anymore,” asserts Richard.