When Joanne’s twins Zalie and Flynn were diagnosed with autism at two years old, her world was turned upside down. “The early years were very hard,” Joanne says. “I had to do a lot of research myself, sourcing information from overseas. Many people in Australia did not even know what the word Autism meant. It was extremely overwhelming.”
Joanne believes her caring role has not only been challenging but also greatly rewarding.
“My earliest memories are of two beautiful babies, who were developing along,” she says. “Then suddenly things changed. Eye contact was not strong. First words that were starting to form disappeared.” Then Joanne realised something was not as it should be.
“The most important thing I have learned through caring is to never give up,” Joanne says. “There are many dark days when at times you feel things are getting out of control or you are losing yourself. But remembering why you’re there and how important it is to remain strong for everyone’s sake can help you to battle on.”
“We have always tackled one challenge at a time, whether it is learning to tie a shoelace or the achievement of walking to the school bus on their own,” she says. “With care, understanding, acceptance and support anything is possible.”
The twins have an older brother and younger sister, and Joanne also receives some support from her parents. “But I am the primary carer, and it is often the primary carer who puts themselves last,” Joanne says. “We are juggling lack of sleep and constant worry about the future. For me, it has been nearly 20 years now of organising appointments, transport, social activities.”
“I hope in the future there will be more time for me,” Joanne says, “but for now family comes first.”
Carers Victoria recently awarded Joanne’s youngest daughter Anaye a 2022 Young Carers Scholarship. Joanne is also the author of a book titled Footsteps of Two, a personal story of her journey as a mum to twins on the Autism Spectrum. The book can be purchased on her webpage: joannecopeland.com