Family sticks together

May 14, 2020 BY

Emma Cooke is joining parents around Australia navigating the challenges of remote learning, Ms Cooke is also teaching her son Felix, who has special needs. Photo: JESSICA NICOL

THE CHALLENGES presented by Stage 3 coronavirus restrictions and remote learning have been difficult on families. For Emma Cooke, these include being a single mum, working full-time and caring for a son with special needs.
But Ms Cooke said she doesn’t consider herself any less or worse off than other families, and instead believes everyone is just trying to do their best.
“I’m a mum of three, Felix is turning 11 and goes to Barwon Valley School. He’d normally get picked up at 8am, and return home at 4.30pm, five days a week.
“I pulled him out of school around the last week of Term One, I work in the pharmaceutical industry so had a bit more awareness of what was coming. So, for safety reasons, I decided to keep all three of my kids at home.”
Felix has Down syndrome, is non-verbal autistic, and lives at home with his mum, older sister Grace, 13, and younger brother George, who’s in grade 3.
“I’m trying to work full-time and home school all three. For Felix, it’s more about teaching him life skills like taking a lamington out of the pack, cutting it up and feeding himself with a spoon. Or going to the toilet, and putting his pants and shirt on.
Ms Cooke said her work has been understanding as she’ll often get up and disappear during teleconferences.
“I’ll leave for a couple of minutes and come back. I’m working early in the morning or late at night once the kids have all gone to bed.”
The real challenge, she said, has been the “ongoing relentless” day in and day out tasks such as laundry, cooking and cleaning.
“Normally I have someone here in the morning to help with Felix, I’d be able to get out of the house and go to work for eight hours. I’d have that time to myself, and I’d have a cleaner come in and help me keep the house clean once or twice
a week.
“Felix has to be fed three times a day, he needs to be bathed and his nappy changed. It’s gone from me having that support around the house to just me.”
Despite the challenges, Ms Cooke said having a child with special needs is all she’s ever known.
“I imagine it would be hard to imagine the intensity unless it was your child. When you have a child that has special needs, you don’t know any different.
“You just adapt to what is required of you and sometimes, it is exhausting. Grace and George have never known any different, they’re both very involved with Felix. Grace will give him cuddles on the couch and sing to him, they just see him as their brother.
“I think every family is experiencing their own level of stress and anxiety during this. Whether they’ve got one kid, or no kids, I know people with no family are really struggling. I always feel really lucky to be able to spend time with my children at home.
“I get told all the time people think I’m strong but I think I’m lucky. Felix can still laugh and smile and walk. He’s not in a wheelchair, we can go to the footy oval. I understand where they’re coming from but it’s all relative to me.”

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