“They gave us counselling and asked if we were happy for our baby to have down syndrome or cerebral palsy, and we said no worries, that’s fine”.
When Olive and Gabin gave birth to their 5th child, Gabin Junior, the hospital gave them a hard truth “the best way is to leave the baby to go, because he won’t survive”.
Born only 5 months into the pregnancy and weighing in at a mere 480grams, Gabin Junior wasn’t expected to survive the night; that was in 2012.
Gabin Senior sits across the table, looking back at me with an ear-to-ear grin. His face is lit with the most infectious smile, a smile that makes you believe he doesn’t have a care in the world. His nine to five is in finance; an Accounts Payable Officer, in-fact. He wears his uniform with pride, with a light blue and bright yellow name badge pinned to his left shirt pocket. The yellow star on his name badge is synonymous with a brand that’s close to his heart; for more reasons than just the nine to five.
Gabin Senior’s connection with Ability Centre goes back more than seven years to 2008. He was working with the Disability Services Commission when he saw a role advertised with Ability Centre. For reasons unknown at the time, Gabin was drawn to the organisation; little did he know how close his connection would become, until Gabin Junior was born.
Fast forward to 2012 when Gabin Junior was released from hospital. The family were given options to select a disability service provider. They could choose any of the providers on the list, but one in particular stood out to Gabin Senior.
“You could imagine which one I would pick, and how I felt when I saw Ability Centre right there on the list”.
Gabin Senior relays the story with such delight; a silver lining to an unimaginable situation for any family. The decision to choose Ability Centre as their Disability Service Provider was a given, and together with Ability Centre, Gabin Senior and Olive developed a plan.
Goals were set in motion, some further away than others, but all achievable with the help of Ability Centre.
Goal #1 Effective Communication
The fundamentals of communication are difficult for Gabin Junior, his speech and vision are impaired and he lives with global development delay. The basic communication methods we take for granted are a daily struggle especially reading, writing and speaking.
“He is not like a normal boy; he cannot speak properly. When he wants something, he cries, when he expresses anger or frustration, he cries”.
Gabin Senior wants more than anything for Gabin Junior to attend the same school as his siblings; they have a disability department but won’t accept him.
“I know he is a challenging boy but he is at a government school with other kids and can’t keep up with them.”
The tone of disappointment and distress laces this conversation, Gabin Senior is astonished that something as simple as having all his children attend one school, is simply so difficult.
Gabin Junior is on his way to communicating more effectively and with help from Ability Centre he is working towards pre-handwriting skills; Gabin Senior is dubiously hopeful this will help fast-track the school’s acceptance.
Goal #2 Suitable accommodation
Access to proper accommodation is a service that’s essential for the family, and with six children living at home, assistance through Ability Centre’s Self-Directed Services Program will support Gabin Junior’s needs and requirements in his very own home.
“He wears glasses and sometimes walks into walls and doors”.
Gabin Senior talks about the family home with apprehension, they do what they can to make Gabin Junior comfortable, but the house is not very open, and Gabin Junior often bumps into doors by accident.
Working together with Ability Centre to transform the family home is a goal the family are working towards, and while it’s not on the cards for the near future, it’s still a solid dot on the horizon.
Goal #3 Support with toilet training
The goal for Gabin Junior to have support with toilet training is one of the most important, not only for his self-esteem, but also from an expense point of view as it’s challenging for the family to buy nappies all the time.
“Two weeks ago, Gabin Junior turned to me and even though he can’t speak properly, he said Dad, I want to go toilet. This was his first sentence EVER!”
Gabin Senior takes a deep breath and exhales “Oh my God I nearly cried”.
The inflection and joy in his voice relaying the story is heart-warming. As a parent, the milestone of your child’s first sentence is something unforgettable. “To formulate the whole sentence like that, I have no doubt Gabin Junior could not have done that without the help of Ability Centre” he says whilst clutching the goals on the typed piece of paper between his fingers.
Goal #4 Access to respite services
To the average family, this is a normal day, but for Gabin Senior and Olive, the current goal to access respite services is one that’s had significant impact on everyone.
It’s only for 3 hours, but for those 3 hours Olive is able to rest and know someone is taking care of Gabin Junior so she can run errands, like other mums do.
We laugh together at the saying happy wife, happy life but he is well-versed with the proverb.
“She’s the engine of the family. If the mum is under stress, everyone is under stress” he says.
When the family access respite services, Olive is able to go to the grocery store and the shopping centre. When Gabin Senior gets home from work he can see the changes in his wife. “when she comes home, she is relieved, she is smiling. You can even see a lot of change in the other kids, all of us are happy when we see Mum is happy”.
Goal #5 Independence
The final and overarching goal is for Gabin Junior to be independent.
While this goal is the nirvana, the resilience and strength of the family leave me with no doubt that it will be reached; all in good time.
Speaking with Gabin Senior and hearing his story puts the ups and downs of everyday life into perspective. For Gabin Senior, having a plan and working towards a tangible set of goals gives him hope for the future.
Gabin Junior is now five years old and lives with global development delay, speech delay, vision impairment and chronic lung disease and despite all the obstacles, he still maintains the same infectious smile inherited from Gabin Senior.