By Jen Gourley
Imagine feeling about 5 or 6 years old and wanting to play with the little kids at the park. Now, imagine feeling about 5 or 6 years old and wanting to play with the little kids at the park, but you are 16 years old. The little kids’ mums and dads don’t understand that you just want to join in the fun. To them, you are this big teenager hanging around the play equipment, and they’re worried you might be too rough. But all you want to do is play.
That’s what it’s like for Felix Collins. His mum, Kerry Roberts, explains why parks and playgrounds can be problematic for her son.
“Felix is 16. He has autism. He has limited understanding in some areas but is functional in other areas,” Kerry says. “So, he’s 16, he loves to play, he’s a bit of a runner. He’ll take off if you give him the chance. He’s a bit of a thrill seeker.
“He’s pretty amazing. Would you like to meet him?” Kerry asks. Absolutely.
Felix is busy watching a Ninja Turtles DVD, but he happily comes out and give me a big cheerful, “Hi, Jen! Have I seen you before?”
“Oh, quite possibly,” I tell him with a smile. “I’m always going around taking photos.”
He asks his mum when they are going to Vinnies (he loves going to Vinnies) and he tells me he’s excited about what’s happening in his backyard. He goes into the kitchen and makes himself a sandwich, chatting about the toppings (tomato sauce, cheese and spinach). Then it’s off to watch some more Ninja Turtles.
While Felix is watching the antics of Leonardo, Donatello and the other turtles in his room, outside seven kind members of the Callide Valley Men’s Shed are assembling some amazing play equipment for him.
Not only are the Shedders looking out for Felix, but the wonderful people from Variety are as well.
About 10 years ago Felix received a grant from Variety for some sensory equipment – a calming vest and some hand weights.
“The hand weights helped him learn to write – he’s got beautiful handwriting,” Kerry says.
Then, with the Variety Bash planning on visiting Biloela last year, they contacted her, keen for a catch up while they were in town, and they asked Kerry to apply for another grant.
“So, Darren (Kerry’s husband) and I put our heads together – ‘What does he really, really need?’ And we came up with the play centre to keep him in the yard, because he leaves the yard looking for things to do. Because he’s gotten older, now he’s getting a bit bored. He doesn’t do very well at town parks,” Kerry explains, recalling some uncomfortable situations at playgrounds with Felix wanting to play with children much smaller than him.
So, with the help of one of the family’s support workers, Gail Rodda, Kerry applied for a Variety grant and was successful. Not only would this bring joy to Felix, but when the Variety Bash crew cruised into town last year, the visitors with their vivid-looking vehicles made the day so special for him.
“They were lovely,” Kerry says. “A few of them had remembered him from 10 years ago, so they came and introduced themselves (at the Variety Bash breakfast at Biloela State School). Then they all left and Felix was at the gate waving all the vehicles off. I think he thought he was king for the day.
“We hadn’t had a chance to talk to them. But, all of a sudden, they turned back up again. They came back and they gave him a real fire helmet and spent some time with him. They gave him the time of day that not a lot of people do. They had a conversation with him and it was really nice. He was so excited. Lots of smiles. We don’t get to see a lot of smiles out of him now. A teenager’s body with probably a five- to six-year-old’s mind so he’s fighting a lot of internal battles at the moment.”
Having his very own play centre will make the world of difference to Felix and his family. As Kerry gets ready to take out some morning tea to the Shedders hard at work in the backyard, she tells me how much she appreciates their help.
“I’m really happy that someone’s stepped up to be able to give us a hand. My husband works on the council, so he’s pretty busy through the week and then we’re just tired. Felix only gets a maximum of anywhere between three to six hours a night, maybe, because of all the different medications. We kind of do like shift work at night. I don’t sleep at all… I try … So, we’re exhausted. We tried to put it together,” Kerry laughs. “I got as far as the monkey bars and I’m like, we’re done. We just don’t have the capacity to do stuff like that.”
Life is very full on in the Collins/Roberts household. Darren and Kerry have four children – one with autism and two with ASD.
There are some amazing people who help out though. “I have a really good team of support workers – Leanne Whelan, Glenda Klowss, and Gail.”
Kerry also mentions how helpful the Community Resource Centre in Biloela has been.
“The Community Resource Centre has played a significant role in the therapeutic side of the kids, specifically for Felix,” she says. “Felix probably wouldn’t be as functioning or as capable as he is if he didn’t have that support from the likes of Pam Semple (from the CRC). She’s played a huge role in our lives and she’s still a very good friend of mine and will drop anything to help out.”
After a few hours of trimming trees, connecting pipes and working out what bits go where, the wonderful Shedders have got the play centre assembled for Felix. There are monkey bars, a flying fox, ninja grips, and even a boxing bag.
You know, the name Felix means happy. Thanks to the support of his family, the efforts of the Callide Valley Men’s Shed, and the generosity of Variety, as he begins to play on his new equipment, Felix is incredibly happy indeed.
- Tags: autism, Biloela, Men's Shed, play equipment, Variety