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Teenager with autism finds freedom

After taking part in Feros Care’s recent all-abilities sport program Multi-Sports Mash Up, plus ongoing support from his LAC and NDIS plan, 16-year-old Blake Szabadics has the self-confidence to take on anything from P-plates to the Army! 

Sport isn’t something that appealed much to Blake Szabadics growing up in Freeling, a small town north of Adelaide.

That’s all changed now that the teenager has participated in an innovative Feros Care-sponsored all abilities sport program at a leisure facility just around the corner from the home he shares with his dad Jason and younger siblings Lexi (7) and Ned (5). 

“The great thing about the Multi-Sports Mash Up program at The Farm Centre was that it gave me the chance to try my hand at different sports,” Blake says. “Some I liked, others not so much, but the main thing was that it was a lot of fun. 

Footy the winner

“The best one for me was footy, learning how to properly kick the ball – before I was horrible at it, now I’m OK and it makes for a more enjoyable experience.” 

Blake, 16, has high-functioning autism and has been supported by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) for the past three years. He’s currently in Year 11 at his local high school.

Jason says it took the family a while to work out how best to use Blake’s NDIS funding but with support from Feros Care Local Area Coordinator (LAC) Melanie (Mel) Cureton, Blake is now reaping the benefits.

Shout-out for Feros Care LAC

“I want to give a big shout-out to Mel because she’s done a terrific job for us,” Jason says. “She’s supported us in a lot of our decisions, including joining the sports program.

“The fellow from The Farm Centre who ran the sports program, Ross Sharer, has also been fantastic. There’s not a lot of social activities where we live for young people with Blake’s type of condition, so we’re very grateful for his support and enthusiasm.

“The program was very beneficial for Blake because it gave us something to do each Tuesday night as a family – my two younger ones joined in as well – and gave Blake a break from all the homework.

Great for self confidence

“To be honest Blake was a bit concerned initially that he was being categorised as ‘someone with a disability’ but to his credit he stepped up and took on a bit of a mentoring role for other participants in the program. It’s been great for his self-confidence.

“We all ended up having a ball. We were disappointed when the program finished and can’t wait for a new program to start up.”

Blake’s main ambition is to join the Army once he’s finished Year 12.

Army career beckons

“I’m in the Army Cadets program outside of school and I really enjoy learning all the different aspects of army life,” he says.

Jason says he fully supports Blake’s career choice. 

“I think the Army’s structure would really suit him and we’ve already made enquiries about whether Blake’s autism could be any sort of barrier to his employment,” he says.

“Mel has helped us get some clarification on that, she contacted someone in the Army’s recruitment team and she got it in writing that they would not discourage Blake from applying in any way.”

In the meantime Blake is pushing ahead with learning how to drive and looking for a job. He already has his L’s and has been firing off resumés to employers in his area.

NDIS-funded mentor making a difference 

Through his NDIS plan Blake has support from a mentor named Andrea, who spends time with him on weekends. 

“Andrea’s Italian and he’s a very nice guy to hang out with,” Blake says. “When we go out together I’ll do a lot of the driving, we go out for lunch or to museums – it’s been great for my social confidence. 

“I’ve got 17 hours towards my P’s so far and once I finish that will give me a wider choice of jobs. Where we live it’s semi-rural so not a lot of jobs in the immediate area but with a car I can travel further for work.”

Jason says he’s noticed an increase in Blake’s maturity and self-reliance since the start of the year. 

“I just want him to be happy, healthy and successful in his life,” he says.

Pictured above is Blake, second from the left, along with fellow sport enthusiasts at the Multi-Sports Mash Up.

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