Shae gazes out the big picture window at Matthew’s House, watching the wind chase the dried leaves around the playground. A sweet smile comes to his face as he sees his friends laughing on the merry-go-round. Shae is a keen observer and, for now at least, he seems perfectly content to watch the action through the window. Shae is also curious and is just as likely to try opening any door to see if it will give him access to the wider world so he can explore. But his father, Alan knows that when he’s at Matthew’s House, Shae is safe and secure.
“Even though I miss him when he’s gone, I look forward to Shae going to Matthew’s House because he loves it there. I know he’s safe and I know that I can take a break,” he says.
In this way, Matthew’s House serves families like Shae’s. A respite home for children with complex care needs, Matthew’s House provides a warm, homelike environment and individualized care by experienced staff. This gives parents peace of mind while they take the opportunity to rest and rejuvenate. For Alan and his family, the chance to take a break makes an enormous difference.
“It hits me when he’s there that suddenly I have time,” Alan says, explaining that Shae needs one-to-one supervision, even at night. “I really miss him when he’s gone but I also realize that it gives me time to rest, to be with my wife or to spend with my other children.”
Shae, who is 8 years old, lives with autism, which is a spectrum disorder, meaning it can affect people differently. He has five siblings and his oldest sister also lives with autism although she is able to live much more independently than her brother. Shae does not speak much but vocabulary is beginning to come back. He loves music and sounds and when he’s in the great room at Matthew’s House he’ll clap his hands and listen for the echo. He can be very affectionate and loves the stimulation he gets when he can play or swing in the playground. But equally stimulating can be the rays of sunshine coming through a window, which will mesmerize him.
“Having children with special needs adds a whole other dimension to our family,” Alan says.
The hardest thing for Alan and his wife, Kelly was when, as a toddler, Shae began regressing, no longer doing things he once did. Where once he enjoyed singing “Twinkle, twinkle little star” with his dad, he stopped singing along, preferring to listen instead. He stopped looking at books, pointing at images and saying words.
“He lost milestones he’d met and we kept thinking that it would come back,” Alan says. “It’s like your child goes missing and you’re looking for him. He’s still there but parts of him are missing.”
Still, Shae brings great joy to his family and they adapt in order to accommodate his needs and manage his behaviour. One of the more challenging ways that Shae’s autism presents itself is his need to run and climb.
“Shae loves being outdoors, going camping or just playing in our back yard. But he’s growing, he’s strong and fast, we have to be really careful.” Alan says. “He loves to climb trees so we’ve even had to alter the trees in our back yard to keep him safe.”
When Shae visits Matthew’s House, his parents don’t have to worry because the home has a locking system that requires a device to be used to both enter and exit the building, making it a very secure environment.
Alan says that having a vulnerable person in the family has been a gift. Shae has made them all more compassionate and aware.
“Shae has a way of being, seeing, and experiencing the world that’s different,” he says. “It’s an awareness that’s hard to teach, but we experience it every day. That is a great gift.”