Born and bred in Ballarat, Victoria, Brooke F. has always had a passion to help others. At the age of sixteen, she landed a job at McDonald’s and continued to work there while also having side jobs in construction and horse handling. After working at McDonald’s for ten years, she knew she did not want that to be a forever job; she felt as though she was destined to do more and that is when an opportunity arose to work in disability support services. At first, she was not sure she had what it took to handle her new position as a disability support worker, but with her previous volunteer experience and her passion to help others, she knew she was doing what she was meant to be doing.
Within her job as a disability support worker, Brooke manages clients with a range of disabilities from mobility issues to clients on the autism spectrum. After working in disability support for five years, she took a step in a different direction. Instead of managing clients with various disabilities, she opted to work with clients on the autism spectrum more exclusively. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) had become a main interest for Brooke, especially after meeting her wife and now having a stepson on the autism spectrum.
Having learned many skills, coping mechanisms and strategies through various autism training, Brooke has made it her main goal to continue to learn more about ASD and to implement the information she has learned both at home and at work. Having the ability to connect with her clients and stepson on a different level than others has reassured her that working in disability support with autistic clients is her passion.
During a cold, winter morning here in Ballarat, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Brooke to discuss her career as a disability support worker. I wanted to find out how and why she got into this line of work. After finding a seat in a café around the lake, and ordering our favourite coffee, we jumped right into the interview.
Bretagne: ‘When did you begin working in disability support?’
Brooke: ‘In 2012.’
Bretagne: ‘When did you know that working in disability support was the right career for you?’
Brooke: ‘I volunteered in the disability sector for 10 years before starting work as a disability support worker. I volunteered at Riding Disability Association of Australia (RDA) and respite camps throughout Victoria. I was still nervous starting a career in disability support, but once I got to know people and began positive client- support worker relationships with my clients, everything fell into place.’
Bretagne: ‘Why did you decide to ‘specialise’ in autistic clients?’
Brooke: ‘The company I work for had asked me to specialise in our autistic clients because they felt as though I had good rapport and a better understanding of our autistic clients’ needs.’
Bretagne: ‘Why do you think you have a better understanding of your autistic clients than other disability workers employed at the same company?
Brooke: ‘I don’t necessarily see myself as being more understanding than other employees but the company I work for says I am. I have worked with one of my clients for seven years and we have a bond that no one else is able to have with him. He trusts me completely and considers me his best friend.’
Bretagne: ‘How did you feel when you found out your wife’s son was on the spectrum? Were you nervous to “bring work home”?’
Brooke: ‘At first I was thinking “will I ever get a break?” Having dealt with clients all day and then coming home to someone similar, I was worried it might all be a bit too much; but once he and I bonded I felt completely different about the situation. He is my stepson and I see him as my own, this has made it easier to leave work at work and have a unique relationship with him at home that I do not have with my clients. He is also more competent than my clients and needs a lot less interventions so that makes it easy too.’
Bretagne: ‘Are you interested in doing more autism training?’
Brooke: ‘Yes, definitely.’
Bretagne: ‘Why is that?’
Brooke: ‘It interests me and it’s very helpful in my work and my personal life. The training I have done so far has been amazing. I have been able to teach my wife strategies that we now use at home for our son.’
Bretagne: ‘Is working in the disability sector hard work?’
Brooke: ‘Yes. It definitely is not for everyone. You have to have a passion for helping others and a thick skin. Sometimes our autistic clients can be very straight forward and honest with their words, regardless if it may hurt your feelings. You have to realise, that comes with their disability. Connecting with your clients and pushing them to grow and learn can sometimes be strenuous. If you don’t have a good relationship with the client, they will not necessarily listen to everything you have to say. This is why client- support worker relationships are so important.’
Bretagne: ‘Do you see yourself working in the disability sector as a career long term?’
Brooke: ‘Yes. I feel I have finally found something that I am good at. The fact that I enjoy going to work every day and seeing my clients’ thrive is enough to let me know that I have found something I truly have a passion for.’
Brooke aims to help her clients succeed and become accepted and contributing members of the Ballarat community. She has made it her life goal to make sure people with disabilities within Ballarat are treated with respect and dignity. Having a child, family member, or friend with a disability, especially autism, can be a very frustrating, demanding and emotional situation; but with disability support workers such as Brooke, we can rest assured that there are support workers out there with our loved one’s best interests at heart.