'We needed emotional support': What it's like to raise a teenager with autism.

Thanks to our brand partner, Scope

Brendan is a 14-year-old boy who really wants to be a basketball superstar.

He loves playing Mario Kart on his Nintendo Wii and science lessons at school. And in his spare time, he’s a secret agent – but more on that later.

Brendan lives with autism and ADHD. As his mum Marcelle tells Mamamia, he has struggled to balance health issues with the challenges of high school and making friends.

Just recently, Brendan had to miss months away from his new school as he underwent a papilledema operation (a serious condition that involves the swelling of the optic nerve at the back of the eye).

“Starting year 7 is a hard time for most young people and this extended time off has been especially challenging for Brendan as he already struggled socially,” Marcelle says.

“We have had to learn a lot about how to help him and try to make sure he experiences the good times, as all children should.”

Brendan was diagnosed with autism as a toddler, after he stopped speaking around the age of two.

“We couldn’t believe it at first, but it was confirmed by two paediatricians and a private speech pathologist,” Marcelle shares. “His diagnoses of ADHD and anxiety followed, which often go hand in hand with autism.”

As any parent of a child with a disability knows, the road can be tricky to navigate. For Marcelle and Matthew, finding the best options for support for Brendan became a priority – especially as he grows from boy into a young man.

“We realised soon after he returned part-time to high school, that we needed not just practical help, but emotional and social support for him too,” Marcelle says.

autism help
Marcelle with her three children, including Brendan (middle). Image: Supplied.

After the family began a new NDIS plan for Brendan, they began looking at positive programs that could help the now-teenage Brendan sharpen the social skills he needs to enjoy life.

They found Scope, a not-for-profit provider of specialist support services for people who live with a disability and their families.

For Brendan, it was a combination of individual and group therapy at one of Scope's new children's therapy centres that made the biggest difference.

Brendan was already seeing an occupational therapist and speech pathologist at a Scope centre in Melbourne, when Marcelle learnt about a new program she thought would be perfect to help him develop his social skills and learn about emotions. Enter the Secret Agent's Society - think Spy Kids!

“The Secret Agent’s Society (SAS) group therapy was a nine-week course that also involved parents,” Marcelle explains.

“My husband Matthew and I took turns to take Brendan each week, and immediately I could see how beneficial it was going to be for the whole family.

“There were five other boys in the group and Brendan understood that these boys were ‘just like him’. In the very first session I saw one of the boys come out of the room with a walky-talky on a ‘secret mission’ to find someone experiencing a different emotion.

“The clever way the group facilitators used games to drive practical tasks meant everyone found it fun to complete missions around identifying emotions or feelings in themselves and others.”

Kay McDonald is a team leader and occupational therapist at Scope. She is one of the facilitators in the SAS program and she knows Brendan and his family well.

“The SAS course that Brendan attended is fantastic for many reasons, namely because it is an evidence-based program, specifically designed for children on the spectrum,” Kay tells Mamamia

“We incorporate spy games and missions using Nerf guns and paper aeroplanes into tasks that help them identify negative or unhelpful thoughts and how to get rid of them. We ask the kids’ schools to get involved with their ‘homework’ and encourage family members and teachers to help them complete a weekly task.


“The kids receive small rewards to encourage and build their skills and plenty of positive reinforcement from everyone involved.”

The course helps children who may have trouble with the nuances of social skills, understanding their own thoughts and feelings and those of others.

“They might find it hard to make friends in conventional circumstances, leading them to be the target of bullying,” Kay adds. “Programs such as this one work at the kids’ level in a fun way they can understand and
learn from."

Brendan's mum Marcelle not only enjoyed seeing him develop a clearer understanding of his and other people’s emotions - she personally felt very supported.

“Kay always let Matthew and I know what Brendan was learning each week, and ways we could help him at home,” Marcelle said.

“We also had the opportunity to chat with the other parents and learn from each other. We discussed the things they had tried with their sons when it came to managing emotions or building relationships.

“It was wonderful to meet other families locally who we could swap stories and feedback with, who are just like us and know exactly what it is like to live with a child with autism.”

After the course, Brendan will be going back for two follow-up group sessions and for his individual therapy with the Scope team.

Like his mum Marcelle, Brendan has got a lot out of the program and felt sad when it ended.

“Some of the SAS spy missions were very difficult,” Brendan said.

“But I got some good tips on how to stay calm, how to ignore angry emotions and also some breathing techniques to practise.

“Mostly it was just a lot of fun and I made some good friends.”

Which, at the end of the day, is exactly what every parent wants to hear from their child as they grow into confident young adults.

To find out more about Scope and the services they offer, including the SAS program, visit their website or call 1300 4 72673.


Early years are when your child develops the most. This means that your child’s relationships, nutrition, environment, and playtime have an important role.

The team at Scope are here to take the pressure off you and open the door to possibilities. With our range of services, from Speech Therapy to Physiotherapy, Psychology, and Occupational Therapy, we'll work with you to turn your hopes and dreams for your child into reality.

Scope is a registered NDIS provider, delivering a range of services for children and adults with a disability or developmental delay. At Scope we see the person, not the disability.