There’s a moment in Christin Turnbull’s life she plans never to repeat.
It ties into a single day when her eldest child, Ollie, ran away from after school care. He’d gotten into an argument and no one could calm him down. Turnbull’s phone rang, dialled urgently.
“I needed to go and pick him up and because I was so concerned about how his behaviour was being viewed, the first thing I said to him was, ‘we’re going to talk about this when we get home’, and I was quite stern,” Turnbull tells FW.
“What I would do now is I would greet him with compassion.”
Turnbull, who lives with her family in Orange, in regional NSW, has been a mother for a decade. Yet, it’s only been in the last year that she’s also identified herself as a carer. Ollie is neurodivergent, having been diagnosed with ADHD, ASD and anxiety.
“As a parent you expect that regardless of the challenges of your child, you are responsible for them and you’re there to obviously provide food, shelter, etcetera,” the 41-year-old says.
“But you’re there to provide them with the most support so that they can grow and learn and become, you know, good functioning citizens of the world.
“And so even though Ollie had additional needs compared to neurotypical children, I just sort of thought, well, I’m a parent, and this is what my child was like and so that’s who I am.”
She says it wasn’t until she was told about Carer Gateway, a free support program within Carers Australia, that she realised there’s a lot of things she adjusts within her life because of Ollie’s difficulties.
“I’ve only really sort of started identifying as a carer myself, since having some exposure to Carer Gateway in my local area about 12 months ago, which I was referred to through the NDIS,” she says.
Turnbull is one of the 2.65 million unpaid carers in Australia. She works part-time with the NSW government to make sure she’s available for 10-year-old Ollie’s weekly appointments with an occupational therapist and speech therapist.
She says the experience of caring for a neurodivergent child carries with it its own learning curve.
“I’ve said a few times to a friend, ‘you almost need a degree to look after a neurodivergent child’,” she says.
“I’ve had to sort of learn how to adjust my communication style so that when I parent him he has the best possible experience in what I’m trying to teach him in any particular situation.
“I’ve sort of acknowledged that I am a carer and I am providing more support and I’m having to adjust things in my life more than what some of the parents might have to say with just the neurotypical kids, if that makes sense.”
She’s quick to clarify her point.
“I don’t mean to say that in a way to downplay any parents because being a parent is difficult regardless of your situation.”
This week marks National Carers Week, a time to acknowledge the thankless work of the nation’s unpaid carers. It’s a week that resonates with Turnbull.
“Some have been carers for many years, others have experienced it for a short space of time. No two caring responsibilities are the same.”
“I think it’s extremely important. I think a lot of the time, especially in workplaces, we don’t necessarily understand the additional stresses that people have at home, especially when they are caring for someone else,” she says.
“Because there’s just a whole other layer of stress and emotional drain, I guess, that comes with being a carer. And especially for carers who are caring for someone with a condition that may have a bit of a stigma around it.”
She says such a caring situation had added complexity.
“Sometimes they’re not willing to divulge that information to people around them which means they have even less support than they really need in terms of neurodivergence more broadly,” she adds.
Carers Australia chief executive Jane Bacot-Kilpatrick says each and every one of Australia’s 2.65 million carers has a different story.
“Some have been carers for many years, others have experienced it for a short space of time. No two caring responsibilities are the same,” Bacot-Kilpatrick says.
“National Carers Week is a chance to celebrate each and every one of them and to raise awareness of the enormous contribution they make to our nation.”
For Turnbull, she has “a very supportive village” around her, so a separate benefit of a national carers week is that it opens up broader conversations.
“It allows people to have this conversation with those around you, which then gets them curious and interested and thinking about ‘oh, well, actually I’m a carer too because I look after this person with this condition and I might actually have these resources available to me, which would really be helpful to me and my family’”, she says.
“For others who don’t have the same support that I have, it would definitely help them to feel heard. But for me, it’s more about educating those around us.”
Is someone you know a carer? Head to Carer’s Australia for a list of resources on how you can help a carer in your life.