People now see Luke for HIM, not just the autism

A major fundraising night taking place in Carrigaline is in aid of a special school and autism centre, which have touched the lives of a local family, writes CHRIS DUNNE
People now see Luke for HIM, not just the autism
Luke and Evie O'Mahony.

IF you’ve always fancied a night in Vegas, then get your glad rags on!

Denise O’Mahony, from Crosshaven, is organising a charity fundraiser, entitled ‘One Night in Vegas’, at the Carrigaline Court Hotel on Saturday, March 23.

The event is in aid of Sonas Special Junior Primary school, in Carrigaline and The Rainbow Club for Children with Autism.

Will Elvis be there?

Denise giggles.

“Yes, he will! And you can get a photo with him in the Little White Chapel too!

“When my husband, Ben, and I, were 30, we wanted to go to Las Vegas,” adds Denise, mum to Luke, aged six, and Evie, aged two.

“Instead we had a great party, a casino night, in the yacht club in Crosshaven.”

Is that where the idea for the fundraiser came from?

“The gem of the idea came to us; but bigger and better!”

Everyone loves a party.

“Lots of local businesses gave us sponsorship so more funds can go to Sonas and The Rainbow Club,” says Denise, who is delighted with the support for causes close to her heart.

“The event will be great fun with fabulous prizes and wild acts.”

Get ready to be mesmerised by burlesque artist Foxy P. Fox. Be transfixed by psychologist and illusionist, Daniel Cremin; try your luck at the casino tables or slot machines before the drinks reception. Hold your breath while awaiting the winners of the top raffle prize — return flights and four-star accommodation for a trip of a life-time to ‘Sin City’.

“We want the wow! factor,” says Denise, whose son, Luke, is on the autism spectrum.

“We started this crazy journey a while back now,” she adds, speaking about her son’s diagnosis.

“As his parents, we know that the only way to ensure Luke has the best chance of reaching his full potential is if we embrace his uniqueness and raise awareness, and we try to do that in a positive way as much as possible.

“It’s hard at times but we always get there,” says Denise.

Luke has come a long way.

“The further we walk down the road with him, the more I find myself wanting to reach out to those that are back at the start and gripped with fear, or those that are still unaware of anything waiting on the horizon.”

There were no clouds on the horizon for Denise and Ben when Luke was born. The first-time parents were ‘wowed’ with their son. He was a dream baby.

“Luke, was, hands down, the best baby,” says Denise. “We all say that about our kids, but he really and truly was the best baby. He slept the night at seven weeks and ate all the healthy fruits and veggies I could fit in his mouth.”

Luke was a happy chappie.

“He smiled from the moment he woke up until his eyes closed at night,” adds Denise. “He gurgled and laughed all day.”

He was a bouncing, healthy baby boy.

“Luke was, and is, rarely sick, thank God.”

He was a typical little boy.

“Physically, Luke was always mad for speed, and he was walking before his first birthday with ease.”

It was around Luke’s first birthday when all was not as it seemed.

“The first little clues were spotted,” says Denise. “I thought his responses were slower and his eye-contact was slower.”

Denise didn’t fret too much. She thought, as a new mum, she might be over-thinking and after all, Luke was so good, so happy, enjoying his food and thriving.

“Things didn’t come together for a while,” says Denise.

She noticed the small things that a mother does. “I remember before his birthday that he didn’t wave bye-bye; such a small thing,” says Denise.

“But I remember repeating the motion over and over again day after day. And at times, his eye contact wasn’t the best.”

Luke O'Mahony.
Luke O'Mahony.

Denise reassured herself all was well.

“I was weak for him,” says Denise. “I told myself he was young and that he’d come on in his own time. Everyone is different.”

Luke often did things differently when he was playing with his toys.

“Instead of knocking down a tower block of Lego, he would walk in a circle around it,” says Denise.

“He turned over a toy car and spun the wheels instead of wheeling the car on the floor, making vroom-vroom sounds.

“At age one, Luke had eight words. They began to disappear and the baby babble returned.”

Life went on and Denise returned to work.

“I remember in January at work a colleague was showing me an adorable video of her son eating his dinner and while we were ooh-ing and aah-ing, we were talking about our boys. Her son is three months older than Luke, but I remember getting a little worried that Luke wasn’t at the same stage,” says Denise.

“In fact, Luke wasn’t nearly at that stage. He was still eating pureed food and he wouldn’t eat textured meals at all. And here was her son using a kids’ fork and tucking into spag bol.”

Alarm bells started to ring. Denise was uneasy.

“The conversation was the first little alarm bell and I just couldn’t shake it off,” says Denise.

“My mind was in overdrive.”

Something wasn’t matching up.

“That evening, when everyone in the office had left, I googled, ‘what is autism’, says Denise.

Why did she do that?

“To this day I have no idea why I googled that; but I did,” says Denise.

She felt the fear and did it anyway.

“I landed on a questionnaire with 20 questions and I did it. Luke scored 15/20. More than seven indicated autism traits.”

‘The Fear’ arrived, bringing with it more questions than answers. The guilt set in.

“In a panic I went home and told myself I was a horrible mum for thinking it,” says Denise.

But the Pandora’s box was opened.

“I was petrified,” says Denise. “I hoped I was wrong and just being over-anxious.

“A week or so after, I was cleaning at home,” recalls Denise. “I was drying a large pot and I dropped it. We have wood flooring so the impact let off a loud bang. I dropped the damn thing and I even jumped out of my skin. Luke was playing on his play mat. He didn’t move an inch. He didn’t turn round. He didn’t cry.”

Denise made more noise nearer Luke with a wooden spoon. Still no reaction from him. He could have hearing problems.

“That would explain everything,” says Denise. “I couldn’t get an appointment until he was over 18 months because his hearing was still developing. Driving to the audiologists, I was on the phone to my mum saying, ‘I really hope it’s his ears because we can fix that’.”

Denise was clutching at straws. But Luke’s hearing was fine.

“I was desperate for it to be something we could fix.”

Luke’s development was slipping more and more.

“He was in his own little world all the time. He would ‘stim’ and run in circles when he was excited. He was becoming frustrated and as a result, aggressive. He wasn’t engaging with us. Not a day when by when I wasn’t bitten or bruised,” says Denise.

“Looking back, I realise Luke had sensory issues.”

A visit to the GP proved fruitless.

“The ‘Terrible Twos’ were to blame. I thought I was losing the plot.”

Family members tried offering advice.

“Having two teachers and an SNA in the family tentatively voicing their concerns made me realise I wasn’t crazy,” says Denise. “That I was right to be concerned.”

Luke was referred to the Early Intervention Team.

“In a better head space, Ben and I reached out to a good friend whose son has autism. She was such a help,” says Denise.

An 18-month wait via the HSE prompted Denise and Ben to seek a private diagnosis for Luke when it was confirmed he was on the autistic spectrum.

“The journey didn’t stop there,” says Denise. “It really began.”

Denise and Ben, who knew him best, got to know Luke’s needs and they put supports in place for him and for themselves.

“Little by little, we learned how to communicate with him, using PECS, Picture Exchange Communicate Systems. He learned to tell us what he needed without getting frustrated. We began to recognise the things that upset him and things that made him happy.”

Luke is a sociable little boy. He thrived at Sonas AST Junior School and he has made great friends at The Rainbow Club.

Every day he looks forward to going off to mainstream school, at Templebreedy NS, Crosshaven.

Luke has good reason to like school.

“He has a gorgeous teacher!” says Denise.

Luke is his own man, a proper boy who likes to play rugby with his dad.

“He loves the rough and tumble!” Denise adds.

But he has a soft side too.

“He hates to see anyone upset,” says Denise. “He has real empathy for people. And he makes us really proud!”

His sister, Evie, thinks her big brother is pretty cool too.

Denise O'Mahony with Karen O'Mahony from The Rainbow Club.
Denise O'Mahony with Karen O'Mahony from The Rainbow Club.

“They get on very well,” says Denise.

Early intervention made a lot of difference to the family.

“The biggest change for us has come through the Rainbow Club and the amazing families we met, especially Karen,” says Denise.

“We have made friends with some wonderful parents and kids in the community who see Luke for HIM, not just his autism. He is encouraged and surrounded by love and acceptance as we are. The club enables us to be better parents, and for that we will always be grateful. We’d be lost without it,” says Denise.

“Our fundraiser is a Thank You. We’ve turned the corner and we have a lot to celebrate.”

Tickets for One Night in Vegas are €30 each and available from: Denise 086 2451427, at the Carrigaline Court Hotel reception or from the Rainbow Club office.

WORTHY CAUSES:

Sonas Special Primary Junior School Carrigaline, on Cork Road, is an Early Intervention School for children aged 3-6 years diagnosed with autism.

Set up in 2003, the Brothers of Charity are patrons of the school, 10 miles from Cork city. It is open 9.30am-2pm. Call: 021-4377839.

The school’s philosophy is that each child is a special individual endowed with certain unique capabilities and talents. The school’s aim is to nurse each child’s physical, social, emotional and intellectual development in a secure, friendly environment.

The Rainbow Club, Cork Centre for Autism, Mahon Community Centre, Avenue De Rennes, Cork, is run entirely by volunteers, relying solely on fundraising and donations.

Sixty-two people give of their time freely to help run their club, who also use services for qualified trained professionals who offer occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, play therapy and art therapy.

Children can develop social skills taking part in a wide range of activities such as music groups, social groups, art therapy, speech and drama, art and crafts, parent support, siblings support, sports clubs, (supplied by Cork Sports Partnership), teen boy and girl social groups.

For more see www.rainbowclub.ie . Call: 086-0805810.

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