‘If our child was in a wheelchair, we would receive compassion and support,’ she said.
‘Instead, when I’m out in public and she does something socially inappropriate, I get looked at like I’m a terrible mother.
‘Autism is an invisible disability, it is very misunderstood and families receive little support.’
Over slices of chocolate cake and seemingly limitless conversation, the Northern and Western Suburbs Autism Mums’ Group together navigate the complicated journey of parenting a child with autism.
Mrs Brandis founded the group four years ago with just six members and, despite no advertising, grew rapidly to more than 80 families.
‘We get together and laugh and talk just like other mums, but our friendships are deeper through a shared understanding of our daily challenges,’ she said.
As well as monthly coffee dates held at members’ homes or local cafes, the group uses an email forum to share information and recourses, a kids club, family barbecues and an annual mums’ respite weekend.
For new member Keera Bull, attending her first coffee meeting two months ago was a turning point in coping with her child’s diagnosis.
‘Within five minutes, I felt like I was with family I hadn’t seen for years,’ she said.
‘I am no longer just a mum who has a child with special needs. I’m now part of a network that understands and accepts exactly what is going on in my life.’
Due to the success of the Northern and Western Suburbs Autism Mums’ Group, the Developmental Disability Council of WA and Mrs Brandis have set up new groups in Fremantle, Wattle Grove and Bassendean.