‘I’m going to lose him. I just know I am.’ Heart-wrenching words from a mother who just wants safe, affordable housing to bring up her child.
Sandy and Phil Leadbeatter live with their two children, aged six and four, in Huonbrook. Their youngest son Sam appeared to be your average 18-month-old when things suddenly took a giant step backwards and it wasn’t long before he was diagnosed as being severely autistic.
About six months before the diagnosis, Sandy and Phil had moved further up into the hills from Wilsons Creek, and in their new home in Huonbrook they set about creating the best life they could for their son. ‘He hadn’t been diagnosed when we moved here,’ says Sandy. ‘If we had known we would have moved into town then.’
One of their many problems arose when it was discovered that Sam had Houdini skills but not the comprehension to understand the associated dangers. He has no perception of height and, no matter how diligent the family are, Sam still manages to escape and explore the big world. He has wandered off three times in the last six weeks, and twice before that when he was found by his mum and dad. They had search and rescue, the Westpac Helicopter and neighbours and family searching for him just four weeks ago.
‘He is severely autistic and has Global Developmental Delay (GDD),’ says Sandy. ‘He is non-verbal. He doesn’t get much of what’s going on. He doesn’t comeback, he doesn’t answer.
‘If he is hungry, he goes to the cupboard,’ says Phil. ‘If he is thirsty, he walks to the sink for water.’
The family have been trying for nine months to find a suitable place to live. Their other son, Ben, goes to Wilsons Creek School and if possible they would like to let him stay there. Sam travels to Ballina twice weekly to attend Biala Special School.
Sandy says it can be distressing when people suggest that they use a collar, similar to those used on dogs, with electric fencing or even physically restraining young Sam. ‘People say awful things.’
There are tracking devices available for this type of situation but they only work in areas where there is mobile service and Huonbrook is not such a location. The Leadbeatters are also trying to save $10,000 to go towards the $25,000 needed to buy an assistance dog to watch over Sam but even once the dog is bought and paid for, it takes another two years for the pooch’s training.
They are on top of the housing commission list but there is simply nothing available. Sandy herself is not well. She suffers from Transverse Myelitis, which adds to the difficulty of following Sam around every step of his day.
The family aren’t asking for any handouts. They can pay a reasonable rent and their requirements are few – just a low-set house with a fenced yard in town.
‘We have good references,’ says Sandy. ‘All we want is a safe place to bring up our family.’
Anyone who thinks they could provide a housing solution for the Leadbeatters can ring The Echo and leave a message on 6684 1777.