For Goodstart educator Matthew, working with a child with autism changed his life
Matthew Chalmers, a 25-year-old educator working at Goodstart Parkdale in Melbourne’s South East, had his life changed in an unexpected way when he worked with a young boy who was going through the process of being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
In 2017 when Matthew began working with the child, he noticed some similarities behind the traits the child displayed and his own.
“It was through working with a child with diagnosed autism, that I started to realise that we shared a lot of similarities, and we clicked very easily,” Matthew told online publication Kidspot. “And that sort of made me go, oh, maybe I’m in a similar boat too.”
Traits and movements such as finding comfort in rocking and flapping of the hands, and feeling a sense of safety in compressions in some situations alerted Matthew to his own differences.
He began to realise that he rarely made eye contact with people, instead focussing on the area just below their eyes, but he had learnt how to mask some of these traits over time.
Following this moment of realisation, Matthew pursued his own diagnosis, resulting in him being diagnosed with autism as an adult.
Prior to working for Goodstart, Mr Chalmers was a high school music teacher – a position he was drawn to because of the way in which music offers a universal language, another way of masking autism.
“I went through quite a lot of my late teens and early twenties believing that I had quite complicated mental health issues,” Matthew told Kidspot.
“I do have some [mental health issues]. But it was once I realised that it was autism, that was fueling a lot of my behaviours and a lot of my responses, it opened the window to clarity and to understanding myself.”
He now uses that understanding to help other children with special needs. He offered the following suggestions to other educators working with children with additional needs.
Firstly, identifying what the child is experiencing, and trying to understand “what’s going on inside”.
The next step, then, is to ask how the situation or circumstances might be changed to meet the child’s need.
“I found breathing techniques and rhythmic techniques have worked with a lot of my children, but it doesn’t work with everyone,” Matthew added.
“That’s often a great way to start the ball rolling. And what’s especially great about it is that it’s something that’s really engaging to all children. To learn how to breathe and learn how to regulate and learn how to clap and have fun. It’s something that’s really inclusive.”
Finally, consistency of care and working closely with the child’s family and other allied health professionals is a vital part of ensuring the needs of all children are met.
“It’s about getting additional voices and additional thoughts into the spectrum of how we can best care for that child,” Matthew explained.
“If there’s the consistency of care between childcare and home care, that’s immediately going to be better.”