Most parents find it hard to imagine the struggle of caring for a child with autism, but local mum Katie Gilbert experiences it every day times three.
With three sons under eight diagnosed, Ms Gilbert is using Autism Awareness Day to shine light on the needs of family members.
“It’s hard to take care of yourself, we’re quite often forgotten about,” Ms Gilbert said.
She recalls the moment her eldest son was first diagnosed with autism, and she was forced to reevaluate her world.
“It was a bit of a shock, actually,” she said.
“I hadn’t met anyone with autism myself, so all I knew about it was what I had seen on TV.”
After her younger sons were also diagnosed, Ms Gilbert dedicated her life to learning about the disorder.
“Information is power, and I wanted to know as much as I could to not only help me come to terms with it, but to help support them in the best possible way,” she said.
“I’m still learning about autism.”
Despite an unwavering love for her children, Ms Gilbert said she “mourned” her sons as she struggled to find appropriate support networks early on.
“We have so many hopes and dreams for our children, and even now I don’t know if they will ever be able to live out of home,” she said.
“It sounds terrible, but all of my dreams for them came crashing down.”
Often, the struggle of a child with autism is overlooked as there is little understanding of it in the general community.
On multiple occasions, Ms Gilbert has been harassed by strangers in public places.
“When a child is having a meltdown, you get the condescending stare from strangers,” she said.
“It makes you feel so uncomfortable.”
While the biggest help for people with autism is early intervention, Ms Gilbert is encouraging family members to seek help for themselves.
“Find someone who has lived through it who can explain it to you a little better and shine some light on it,” she said.
Ms Gilbert praises the increasing recognition of autism in Penrith.
The current edition of The Western Weekender includes a special Autism Awareness Day feature.