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Ben’s
Story

Just like every child is unique, those with additional needs are no exception. Each child’s brain development, life experiences, abilities, and needs will all uniquely impact their ability to belong, learn and grow.

Complex needs in children refers to a combination of developmental, mental, and behavioural health challenges that can prevent them from reaching their full potential. When a child is faced with complex developmental needs, they require appropriate long-term care. But this is not one-size fits all.

Some children with complex challenges require ongoing services beyond the scope of our traditional pathway to care.

Tragically, the services required to provide this vital, continued care simply do not exist in their local region. At Royal Far West, we have a duty of care to continue to support country children and refuse to let them fall through the cracks.

We have 50 children that require essential, long-term therapy and support with no local services to discharge them to. Country children like Ben.

Ben is an 11-year-old boy who lives with his family in a rural New South Wales town. He spends most of his time playing fetch with his dog Toby in their backyard.

Due to the remoteness of the town Ben’s family lives in, access to early developmental services and support has not always been readily available. This has been compounded by significant financial stress as well as psychosocial difficulties within the family.

From day one, Ben has struggled. His language was slow in developing.  While his brothers could listen, understand words, and learn how to communicate, Ben’s language skills lagged behind.

At school, it quickly became apparent to Ben’s teachers that he learned at a much slower rate than the other kids in his class.  His teacher said he appeared to be in ‘his own world.’  He often wouldn’t hear his name during roll call.  Ben found it really hard to make friends and his teacher noticed him sitting alone most lunchtimes.

Whilst Ben struggled at school, his home life wasn’t too simple either. Ben’s parents, Nigel and Alison, separated a few years ago which was tough on everybody. Like many families with unique living situations, Ben and his brothers live half the time with their mum, and half the time with their dad.

Though such living arrangements aren’t uncommon in Australia, for country kids like Ben who have additional needs, on top of being geographically isolated.

It is a triple whammy and can create a recipe for lifelong difficulties.

“At parent-teacher interviews, his teacher told us she was concerned about how he was tracking compared to the other kids in his class. Meanwhile, we’re trying to sort a stable plan out at home, shipping the kids (and the family dog!) back and forth between us. I didn’t know where to start, who to ask for help,” says Alison.

Ben first accessed Royal Far West’s services when he was 7-years-old due to concerns about his language development, behaviour, regulation, and challenging experiences in his home life.

For a short time, Ben’s family could access some speech pathology in a nearby town through Community Health.  Unfortunately, due to the complex nature of his family’s home life and the inconsistency of available service provision, his appointments only took place sporadically.  Despite his mum and dad’s best efforts for Ben, their co-parenting schedule could not cope with ad-hoc appointments so far away.

Even when Ben did manage to make it to an appointment, he struggled to engage effectively due to difficulties in managing his behavior and reactions. Frustratingly for Ben and his parents, by the time he was able to engage meaningfully, he was too old to continue accessing this local service.

This is a story we sadly hear too often.

Due to his complex needs, Ben has visited Royal Far West on multiple occasions for assessments, support, and review.

The comprehensive assessments revealed Ben has the following diagnoses: mild intellectual disability, severe language disorder associated with intellectual disability, ADHD, developmental trauma disorder, and social anxiety disorder.

This news would be overwhelming for any family, never mind a family who has been through the emotional ringer in the last few years.

Through our visits at Royal Far West, Alison and I have tried hard to be positive and work together. It was tough to hear everything Ben was battling with. It was even tougher thinking how on earth we’d be able to get him to all the appointments he needed,” Nigel recalls.

After discussions with the team at Royal Far West, it was clear that Ben needed urgent support for his language development, mental health, and motor skills. His parents and school also needed to understand his regulation difficulties to help support his behaviour and engagement.

As Ben required a more holistic approach to care, Royal Far West’s social work team tried to help his family find additional local support. However, this was extremely difficult due to the remoteness of their location and the limited resources in the area.

This left the family in a position where they had no local services to access.

At Royal Far West, we believe not only in supporting the needs of our client families, but their changing needs too.

We have a duty of care to continue supporting country children including access to ongoing case management, therapy, and safety.Due to Ben’s complex needs, the team knew it was vital for him to continue accessing additional support through occupational therapy, speech pathology, and psychology services accessed through our Paediatric Developmental Program. This program not only asseses and diagnoses country children, but aims to provide a clearer path for therapy, services, and support to help them achieve their full potential.

Ben’s occupational therapy sessions focused on supporting him to feel safe and calm in the school playground and developing his handwriting skills.

His speech pathology sessions focused on developing his vocabulary, narrative skills, understanding and responding to questions, and generating complex written sentences.

Thanks to speech pathology, Ben is more confident in participating in learning tasks within the classroom, following the teacher’s directions, communicating his wants and needs, and even socialising in the playground.

Over the past four years, Ben accessed a broad range of services at Royal Far West, including occupational therapy, speech pathology and psychological interventions.

The additional support provided by Royal Far West has ensured Ben has received the therapy and support he needed but could not access simply due to his geographical location.

Without access to critical, long-term care, country children like Ben are at risk of poor academic achievement, low self-esteem, social and behavioural problems, reduced employment options, and higher incarceration rates.

Every child deserves access to timely, appropriate, and regular developmental, mental, and behavioural health services and support. Yet over 190,000 country children already requiring developmental and mental health services.

You can help close the gap and make sure country children have the best possible chance for a happier, healthier life.

 

* To ensure privacy and confidentiality for our client families, our stories are representative in nature and real names or images are not used.

Will you make a generous donation today to ensure kids like Ben don’t fall through the cracks? 


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