Spreading her sparkle
Sunshine Coast local Daisy Cox is changing the way we look at autism by encouraging young women to celebrate their differences and connect with others on the spectrum, she shares her vision with Profile.
Diagnosed with the neurological disorder when she was seven, Daisy Cox says she spent the next nine years of her childhood lonely and confused about her differences. It wasn’t until she was almost 16 that she met someone else on the spectrum and discovered she wasn’t alone.
“I was quite an introverted child and I had some other behaviour issues,” says Daisy.
“I was always quite lonely during my childhood. I had friends but they weren’t like me, I just didn’t know why I was different.
Looking back now I have always had all the hallmarks. I liked repetition, things had to be done a certain way and in a certain order, I found eye contact really challenging, and change was really difficult for me to deal with.”
At 26 years of age, Daisy still faces some of those challenges in her day-to-day life.
“Although I am a fully-functional adult who works full time, I still come home and have those things to deal with, change is still very difficult for me,” says Daisy.
“It goes back to that old saying, don’t judge a book by its cover. A disability isn’t always one you can see.
“I flew to Melbourne recently and used specialised access so I could board faster, because I have anxiety, and the number of looks I got because I don’t have a wheelchair or disability was amazing.
“I find myself constantly explaining that I have a sensory and communication disorder.”
But that’s not to say these differences stop Daisy from leading a happy and fulfilled life. That’s the message she wants to share with other young women who are diagnosed with autism and the reason she launched A Little Sparkle in July last year.
I was hearing about so many kids with autism not doing well at school and being put into a box and labelled because of their diagnosis and I thought: that’s not what it’s about. It’s about rejoicing in our differences. I have a seven-year-old brother who has autism, so I have seen it first hand.
“For many living on the autism spectrum, there aren’t always opportunities to get together with like-minded people. So we ran the first event to see what the general consensus was and it was so well received we decided to have one each month, and that’s really how it all started.
“The name came from the idea that all our girls add individual sparkle to what could be a boring and dull life without them.”
Each month, the girls enjoy a different social event or craft day, where they meet others on the spectrum in a safe and nurturing environment and make connections with others going through the same experiences.
“They range from outings to the Ginger Factory and all kinds of craft workshops and we are also about to launch self-esteem workshops,” says Daisy. “We’ll cover things like deportment and self care and all the things young girls need to know, which are especially difficult for someone on the spectrum.”
And the response from their parents has been overwhelming.
“I’ve had lots of mums say their daughter started the group very quiet and shy and now they are a chatterbox and developing new friendships,” says Daisy.
“A lot of our girls are homeschooled so it can be especially lonely and these connections are so important for them. I recently heard about two of our older girls going to the cinema together, which is exactly the kind of connections we are trying to make.”
What’s even more unique is that everyone in the organisation, from the director to the treasurer, is on the autism spectrum, which Daisy says makes the young girls feel totally at ease.
All the mentors and team leaders are on the spectrum too, so it creates a safe place where no one feels like they are going to be ostracised because we understand first hand what they are going through.”
Early intervention is the key to the best possible outcomes for children on the autism spectrum and Daisy says in the 20 years since she was diagnosed we have come a long way.
“We just didn’t have the tools we have now back then. I have seen some wonderful results among the girls in our group who had access to the therapy they needed at a very early age.”
And with people like Daisy paving the way for these young people, their future is looking sparkly.
Autism - the facts
Autism is a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition. It is characterised by differences in behaviour, social interaction, communication, special interests and sensory processing. Autism affects one in 100 children.
What are some of the communication symptoms to look for?
- Looks away when you speak to him/her
- Does not return your smile
- Lack of interest in other children
- Often seems in his/her own world
- Lack of ability to imitate simple motor movements
- Prefers to play alone
- Not responding to his/her name by 12 months
- Not pointing or waving by 12 months
- Unusual or repetitive language patterns
What are some of the behavioural symptoms to look for?
- Has unusual interests or attachments
- Has unusual motor movements such as hand flapping or walking on tiptoes
- Has difficulty coping with change
- Uses peripheral vision to look at objects
- Preoccupation or avoidance of certain textures
- Plays with objects in unusual way, such as repetitive spinning or lining up
Visit aspect.org.au for more information about autism and early intervention services.