Home' The Canberra Times : Chronicle 31.01.12 Contents THE CHRONICLE, Tuesday, January 31 2012 - 5
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yourself and enjoy the tea and nibbles.
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A life of dedication rewarded
Gay von Ess received anAustralia Day honour for her work on behalf of autism
sufferersand their familiesand carers in the ACT.
Picture: Elesa Lee
From preschool teacher to autism expert
THE diagnosis of autism has come a long way since Gay
von Ess began her career more than four decades ago.
On Australia Day the president of Autism Asperger
ACT was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for
her service to people with autism spectrum disorders and
their families, and as an advocate and educator.
Ms von Ess first began her career as a preschool
teacher who knew little about the disorder.
''In those days you had two special needs places at
each preschool,'' she said.
''I had two little boys who were said to have hearing
loss. One certainly did, but looking back, the other had
Ms von Ess later spent 18 years working for what is
now called Therapy ACT, where she worked with
children with various disabilities, including autism.
''I found them much more interesting,'' she said.
''Normally when someone has a disability ... you can
see it. But a person with aspergers may just seem
arrogant or rude when they're not -- they're different.
''They are all very different, so to know one person on
an autism spectrum is to know just one person, not the
Although the cause of autism isn't known, there is
evidence to suggest there are some generational links.
''From my point of view, why he or she is like that
doesn't really matter,'' Ms von Ess said.
''A lot of people with autism will say it's a difference,
not a disability.''
The diagnosis of autism has come a long way since
Ms von Ess began her career.
She said a lot of these developments have stemmed
from the change in education structures. ''There used to
be much more of a focus on rote learning and dates ...
rather than what caused these things to happen,'' she
''Now it's not so much more what you need to know,
but how you need to learn.
''Our kids can't do that and it shows them up from the
While services and support systems had also come a
long way, Ms von Ess said there just weren't enough to
She said children needed better access to therapies and
parents needed better support and respite services,
particularly when they were in the very early stages of
''It's very isolating for the families, particularly when
the children are young,'' she said.
''They need access to information and support straight
away after the diagnosis.''
Ms von Ess admitted that over the years her career had
evolved into much more than just a job.
''It's become my life, aside from my two grandchil-
dren,'' she said.
''I feel that I can make a difference, hopefully to the
child and the families.''
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