Kathrine and Stephen Peereboom are the parents of three boys, all of whom are on the spectrum: Oliver is six, Joshua is five, and Tyler is four.
Kathrine is the full-time caregiver for her boys. Autism is a part of the family’s everyday life, and always will be. So Kathrine and Stephen are doing everything they can to make sure their kids get the care and services they need to succeed.
“Our boys are affectionate, funny and incredibly intelligent. They love to swim and get into all kinds of mischief just like all little boys do,” Kathrine wrote on Facebook.
The boys share similarities, of course, but each of them has their own struggles as well.
“Our gorgeous boys are non-verbal, not toilet trained and have very challenging behaviour at times,” she wrote on Facebook. “Oliver & Joshua are very severe and have high support needs, Tyler who is not diagnosed (I simply don’t have the emotional strength) has a speech delay and his development seems to be steadily moving in the right direction.”
Oliver has selective mutism, and will go months without speaking. Joshua is completely non-verbal and is the most high-needs. Tyler, Kathrine says, is “high-functioning. He’s very, very smart. He masked his autism until he was about two-and-a-half, then his arms started flapping.”
Oliver, the oldest, showed typical signs of development as a baby and then regressed. By the time he was 18 months, his parents knew that something was going on. They started trying to figure out what was happening with Oliver, but Joshua was a newborn at the time, and the family struggled to cope with all of the challenges being thrown at them.
By the time they finally got a diagnosis for Oliver, they saw that Joshua was showing signs of ASD as well.
Getting an official diagnosis for Oliver and Joshua was a long and disheartening process. Because of this, Tyler still doesn’t have an official diagnosis though his parents are certain he also is on the spectrum.
“We moved from Sydney to the Gold Coast to be able to access better services for the boys,” she told 9Honey. “In Sydney we were on 16 different waiting lists and it used to make me angry and break my heart. We were just trying to help our babies.”
The delay in getting essential services for her boys has affected the most critical years of their development and will have a lasting impact on them, Kathrine says. Early intervention is key, but because of long waiting lists, those services weren’t available to her boys.
Her experience raising three boys with autism inspired Kathrine to create an organization called Spectrum Support. It began in 2017, and has grown significantly since then.
The Australian charity is dedicated to helping people with autism as well as their caregivers. They want to empower the autism community through positive action in four pillars: Safety, Health, Education, and Inclusion.
Part of her motivation for launching the project was thinking about the challenges her boys would face as adults. How would her sons cope in a world that didn’t understand their behavior or differences, especially being nonverbal? How would law enforcement react?
The first phase the organization is launching is called Project Eleos, and the first step is establishing a safe environment. To do this, they are working with law enforcement in New South Wales to increase communication. All NWS police are being trained on how to communicate and interact with people with autism, and because of Kathrine’s hard work, 17,000 law enforcement personnel will get training through a program that she created with input from internationally recognized experts.
Raising three sons on the spectrum comes with unique challenges. The boys naturally became the Peerebooms’ top priority — and that meant isolating themselves more from their other relationships. They usually can’t go to public places or out to eat because of the boys’ sensory sensitivities and other needs. Their “normal” is not the same as some friends and family, and, unfortunately, they lost relationships because of it.
“Certain friends and family came to their own conclusions as to why we were becoming unsocial. Some openly mocked our children and caused us a great, great deal of unnecessary pain,” Kathrine told 9Honey.
There are good days and bad days for the family, and Kathrine has struggled with the mental load of it all at times.
“Some days nothing can break me, and others are so challenging that I can barely see from the flood of tears,” Kathrine said.
However, the Peerebooms try to focus on the positives, and continue to work toward making the world a loving, understanding place for their boys.
“Every win no matter how small, like touching a toothbrush to your lips or trying to use cutlery, is celebrated big time,” she said. “We have a new appreciation for the blessings we have and have learned what it means to find happiness and joy in each day.”
C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband, son, and dog.