It can be a daunting time for any parent when their child is diagnosed with autism.
Gregory Hills couple Rachael and Matthew Hooker found out within a matter of months that not one, but two of their children were on the autism spectrum.
Ms Hooker soon discovered there was not much support available in Macarthur and had to undertake the bulk of her own research for her autistic sons Zac and Alex.
Now, Ms Hooker has praised a move to establish an Autism Community Network (ACN) support group in Camden to provide free support for families impacted by autism.
“When my kids were first diagnosed with autism, we couldn’t find information about autism in the local area,” Ms Hooker said.
“The information for parents isn’t out there, or you don’t know where to find it so I spent a lot of time researching autism.
“We happened to stumble upon the Autism Community Network when searching online. I joined the network and that’s how we found out more information.
“Having that support straight away would have made my job as a mum easier.”
Zac, now seven, was diagnosed with having “high functioning” autism in kindergarten after was suspended from school for behaviour issues.
Mrs Hooker said her son had been identified as potentially having autism a year earlier in pre-school.
“Getting suspended actually opened doors for us and Zac was placed in a support unit at his school,” she said.
“After Zac was diagnosed, we got Alex tested as well and he was diagnosed with autism at a moderate level.”
Ms Hooker said she found it easier to get support for Alex, now five, after his older brother was diagnosed.
“It was a lot easier for Alex after what Zac had gone through,” she said.
Ms Hooker said having two children with autism “wasn’t difficult every day” but it did provide plenty of challenges.
“It’s tough when things change – like going out, social events and shopping,” she said.
Ms Hooker said her sons had received great support from family and friends.
"I don't know if autism is more prevalent now, but people are more aware,” she said.
“There was a stigma in the past which seems to have gone."
The Autism Community Network helps to connect more than 1300 families who have children living with autism.
The network covers 15 local government areas and is now looking to set up its next support base in Camden.
ACN general manager Steve Drakoulis said there was a “need for autism support everywhere”.
“Figures show that one in every 100 children will be diagnosed with autism and families are impacted everywhere,” she said.
“We help connect families with other families in their area and the first step is to set up a support program.”
Mr Drakoulis said the Macarthur support group would be established soon and a monthly event would be held at the Country Club Gledswood Hills.
He said the events would likely be held on the first Sunday of each month.
Details: Autism Support Network website.