The Chan family - L-R: Matthew, Jeremy, Sharon and Jasmine.
When Matthew Chan wasn't reaching his milestones as fast as other children his age, his parents Jeremy and Sharon decided to seek help.
After contacting their GP, they were referred to a social worker who claimed that their three year-old 'hadn't started talking because his parents were in a mixed marriage'.
Jeremy, who is Chinese, and Sharon, who hails from Draperstown, were not prepared to accept this 'diagnosis' however .
“My wife was the first one who started noticing a few things that weren't quite right,” explained Jeremy.
“We contacted our doctors and got in touch with different social care workers and their initial assumption was it was because we came from a mixed marriage.
"It shows you how behind the times the social people were. We weren't prepared to take that diagnosis because we knew that there was something wrong with our son but we just couldn't pinpoint what the cause was.”
During this time, Jeremy and his wife were given contact details for an autism support group in Mid Ulster.
“The group provided seminars on information from social interactions to understanding. By going to the different classes that F.A.C.T.S had, it helped to arm us to deal with certain issues,” said Jeremy.
“Matthew was non-verbal and he didn't talk until he was 10 years-old. A few things we have learnt through the seminars and with the help of the group helped us so much. It has been one of those lifelines for any families out there.”
Jeremy says he regards the support group as an 'extended family'.
“Without them, I don't know where we would be today,” he continued.
“When somebody finds out there is something odd about your child, the hardest thing to accept is when other children around his age are getting invited to birthday parties and things like that and your son is being left out.
"Matthew may be slightly unaware of this but we would feel the hurt and the pain. One of the things that F.A.C.T.S did before the pandemic was to have a party every month and bring all the children together.
"At Halloween, all the families get invited to the cinema and at Christmas they would organise pantomime trips to the Millenium Forum.
“When they organise those cinema days, a child can go running up and down the aisle or they could be making their wee noises, the lights can be left on and the volume can be turned down and we literally can let our hair down and sit there and enjoy it. When we go there as a group we can relax and that means a lot for a family.”
Mathew, who turns 18 in July, will soon be transferred from child services to adult services, and Jeremy knows F.A.C.T.S will be there to help them with that transition.
“It's so nice to know that we can pick up the phone and ring somebody and if they don't know, they can put us on to somebody who does know. If we didn't have them we would be literally in the dark,” he said.
“There's not many places that you are willing to put your neck out for but I would have no problem recommending them to any family that is going through what we had to go through.
"If anything they have made life so much easier – at least you know there is somebody at the end of the line.
“My wife had cancer and the support we had from the group was tremendous, so they are not only thinking about autism, they are thinking about the whole family. They go over and above and beyond and that's why I love F.A.C.T.S,” he added.
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