Mum of six overcomes isolation

Mum sits alone on park bench

It is hard to imagine that a mother of six children would ever feel alone but Carmen Lehtohnen did. She, like others, has said that parenting a child with autism can be a particularly isolating experience, even when it seems that you rarely have a moment to yourself, but especially when you live in a remote area like Mount Isa in Queensland.

The situation

Carmen's son Nick, now in late primary school, was diagnosed at four years of age. Carmen was a driving force behind her son Nick’s diagnosis at what was then considered to be quite a young age, especially for people living in remote areas of Australia. She had worked in education, including with children who have special needs, and was studying psychology and social work. So, because of her professional experiences, Carmen was aware of Nick’s developmental delays quite early.

Following the diagnosis, like so many parents with children on the autism spectrum, Carmen felt extremely isolated and unsure of how to approach her new role. She was not only coming to terms with the everyday impact of Nick’s autism characteristics and trying to plan for his future, she was also struggling for acceptance, support and understanding on his behalf from other people in the community.

More than seven years after Nick was diagnosed, in an interview with her local newspaper, The North West Star (11 July 2013, p 7), Carmen reflected on her sense of loneliness and said that without special events for children with autism, regular networking activities for families and greater support, ‘living in Mount Isa was a challenge’.

What has changed?

Carmen’s recent interview with The North West Star came about when she heard that Positive Partnerships was hosting a second workshop for families in Mount Isa in 2013 after the first workshop which she had attended in 2009. She was keen to make sure as many local people heard about the opportunity as possible, telling the reporter that she had been ‘saved from the isolation’ she had felt after meeting up with other families who were in similar circumstances.

‘Meeting up and hearing stories from other parents helps you know you aren’t the only one in this situation,’ Carmen told The North West Star.

Carmen said that the workshop program and resources she received at the workshop had given her the tools and the language to use in conversations with her son, his teachers and with other community members. This has helped her in building positive relationships in support of Nick, particularly at school. She also gained a better insight into autism and built on her knowledge of how to support Nick at home and as his advocate in other settings.

One of the greatest benefits, though, has been the enduring friendships Carmen has developed with other workshop participants. It has been through these important relationships that she felt she finally overcame that earlier sense of loneliness. She said ‘I still catch up with the parents I did the workshop with in 2009’.