Austin quit his job to become a full time dad to his son Christian, who has Down’s syndrome. Here he talks about the training he received from Scope’s befriending service and how it helps him support other parents.
“I left my job at a solicitor’s firm to become a full-time carer when my son Christian was diagnosed with Down’s syndrome. Three years on, I volunteer for Scope’s befriending service, giving emotional support to other parents of disabled children.”
“My partner Victoria and I found out Christian had Down’s syndrome just five days after he was born prematurely.”
“I was at home waiting to pick my other son Lawrence up from school and I got a phone call from Victoria,” Austin says. “I knew immediately that Christian’s blood tests for Down’s were positive because all I could hear on the phone was crying. Victoria was inconsolable.”
Craving emotional support.
“There was no follow-up and no support,” says Austin. “I’m pretty sure most of the leaflets ended up in the bin. We were in no fit state to take in a load of information.
“The one thing that did make a difference was that one of the nurses had a daughter with Down’s. She was wonderful, absolutely superb. She came in and sat down with Victoria, put her arm around her, and spoke about her own daughter. She made such a difference it was untrue.”
“Training for Scope’s befriending service made me realise I’m not alone.”
A few months later, Austin realised he couldn’t combine his demanding job with giving Christian the care he needed, so he decided to become a full-time dad.
In the first 18 months of Christian’s life, he was admitted to hospital nine times with chest and bone infections. On one of those hospital visits, Austin spotted a poster for Scope’s befriending service. Knowing the difference the nurse had made for him and Victoria at the hospital, Austin decided to train as a befriender.
“The training was first-class. I loved it because it made me realise I wasn’t alone. There are days when you don’t want to get out of your pyjamas and leave the house. Doing the Scope training made me realise that most other parents have those days.”
“There are no other male befrienders in my area, but you can bet there are plenty of dads who need someone to talk to.”
Nearly a year after he did the training, Austin remains the only male befriender in Liverpool.
Christian is now three, and recently started nursery. “Christian is a bundle of fun and a bundle of love”, says Austin. “He’s a joy to be with.”
One morning a week Austin volunteers at the Alder Hey children’s hospital, giving support to parents whose children have just been diagnosed, or are recovering from major surgery which has left them disabled.
“One man I supported has a baby daughter with Down’s. On the first day we met, I said to him: ‘the one thing about children with Down’s syndrome is that they radiate love. You’re never ever going to get love like that from any other human being in your life. It’s such a wonderful thing but you can’t see it at the moment because she’s only a baby.’”
“Scope offers an amazing service. It can really hold families together at a time of absolute crisis.”
Austin remembers how hard it was dealing with the emotional anxiety of finding out about Christian’s condition. “If we’d had some human touch at that early stage, it would have made all the difference. We needed to speak to someone who had been there and who understood. You cannot underestimate how valuable Scope’s befriending service is.”
He also hopes more dads will become Scope befrienders: “Men bottle things up and don’t talk about their emotions as much as women.
“It’s only when they’re put in a room with someone who’s been through the same things as them that they will open up – that’s why befriending is so important”.