By Rebekah Devlin
Rapha Australia, together with The Ricky Stuart Foundation and Autism Awareness Australia, are bringing their global autism awareness ride to Australia for the first time.
They’re challenging you to jump on your bike and ride with them on the weekend of October 8-9. Join the elite pack and ride 220km from Sydney to Canberra (!!!), or Ride Your Own Way however, and wherever, you like.
We caught up with the coach of the Canberra Raiders about why he is getting pedalling.
Tell us a bit about why you started the Ricky Stuart Foundation?
Through our personal experience of raising a daughter with autism. From diagnosis, to finding the right supports and respite, to moving out of home. We quickly recognised we were able to promote real change. To raise awareness of autism in the broader community aiming to ensure real acceptance and inclusion for every individual. I didn’t want other individuals to experience what Emma did. I wanted to use my profile to help more families and autistic individuals both locally in Canberra, and nationally.
Why have you decided to focus on funding respite accommodation through the Foundation?
Families who support children and young people with autism or disability do it tough. It can be hard when you’re a full-time carer, whilst also trying to care for other children, earn an income, maintain a home as well as relationship with your spouse. As a family, we’ve navigated those challenges and having access to respite care helped us, especially Kaylie, because she was caring for Emma full-time.
When we sought respite, we were confronted with options which were not satisfactory, and I knew then that I could do something about it and use my profile through playing and coaching to raise awareness and funds to build a respite care home which would be fun, comfortable and inviting for kids. We opened Ricky Stuart House in 2016, it provides respite care for children five to 12 years of age. In 2018, we opened Emma Ruby House, which is our teenage respite (13 to 18 years). Both of our homes provide quality respite, and as a parent, that’s of high importance.
Why ride such a long way? Surely there are easier ways to raise money?!
There are certainly easier ways we can raise money and we’re grateful to have such wonderful support from our donors, local community and government.
We’ve partnered with Rapha Australia and Autism Awareness Australia to bring Rapha’s global autism awareness ride to Australia. The ride’s focus is to shine a light on autism and help more people learn, so we can be more inclusive and accepting as a community. I am passionate about ensuring we create awareness of autism in order to ensure every individual is accepted for who they are.
Our CEO, Miranda Garnett, has nominated to ride the Sydney to Canberra ride. Her leadership allows us to promote the ride, raise awareness and rally local support for this campaign.
Have you roped in some of your famous friends for the ride? Who is taking part?
We have, we’ve been very lucky to have a number of great athletes join the ride. We have elite cyclists Ryan O’Keefe and Dan Bonelloriding from Sydney to Canberra. We have former World Champion cyclist, Mitch Docker riding in Melbourne and I’ve ‘encouraged’ the Raiders CEO, Don Furner, to join me on the ride.
Are you a keen bike rider? What training have you done in the lead up to this?
No, not really. However, my training in rugby often included long rides for training. I’ve been jumping on the bike and doing some light training in between football games. As Chairman of the Ricky Stuart Foundation,
How can people get involved?
I’d love families to join me on part of my ride, from Anzac Parade to Capital Brewing Co. I’ll be setting off from Anzac Parade at the Lake from 3pm on Saturday, October 8, to finish the final part of my ride. To join me, register to ‘ride your own way’ at Ride2Raise.com.au and follow our social media pages for updates.
What was it that attracted you to partner with Autism Awareness Australia?
Autism Awareness Australia are a national body supporting families navigate autism from diagnosis through to adulthood. The partnership with the foundation is natural fit, because we’re both dedicated to doing more to support people with autism and the families which support them.
Autism Awareness Australia provide a range of education and information to support families and do a wonderful job at raising awareness and we’re proud to be affiliated with them.
As your daughter is getting older, how have your views on supports changed?
Emma is now 23 and living independently in her own home, with a housemate and support team. Kaylie and I are so proud of her personal growth, but there was a time where we thought independent living wouldn’t be possible.
Her care needs have changed over the years, and her support team have done a wonderful job preparing her to live independently. They have also supported our family to navigate the path to independent living because it’s a transition for all of us.
My views on support for young people with autism, or any disability, remain the same. As a community, we have an obligation to do more, so everyone has the same opportunities in life.
What has been the most heartening change in societal attitudes since you started your foundation?
Since starting the foundation, we’ve seen a change in attitudes, but there is certainly more work to be done.
As you know, autism doesn’t feature highly on the national political agenda. There have been some developments, such as the recent appointment of Assisting Minister for Autism in South Australia to champion change and build more inclusive schools with specialised teachers. We’re fortunate to have Dylan Alcott advocating for disability inclusion using his Australian of Year platform. Having great advocates to lend their voice to autism and disability inclusion is needed, it’s the only way we’ll build more awareness and acceptance.
What area still frustrates you?
There isn’t currently a required education program in schools to help children learn about autism, to help them understand and support their peers. Currently we don’t support neurotypical children to understand autism, but we certainly teach children with autism how to navigate a neurotypical world. We’re focussed on changing that. We’re developing our first Autism Awareness Education Program which we plan to roll out in 2023 as a pilot in the ACT.
If there was one thing you could help the public understand about autism, what would it be?
I always say, ‘Smile, don’t look away.’ People with autism may interact with you in a different way. You may be unsure of how to interact yourself, but at the end of the day, we’re all human and we all deserve to be included and a simple smile, or a hello, is all it takes to make a connection.
For more details and to register, head to https://www.ride2raise.com.au/