Humans of the Wheatbelt

Humans of the Wheatbelt is a disability project that celebrates inclusion within the community.

There is always someone in each story that has a disability whether it is the human, interviewer, photographer or writer.

Charlotte is six and is a real survivor, having beaten the odds and fought for her life countless times. Her favourite places are Rottnest Island, Lake Leschenaultia and the park. She loves going into the water, playing in the sand and just being outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine.

Charlotte's best friend is her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel dog, Lady. Charlotte and Lady are inseparable at home and, whenever Charlotte is distressed or having a meltdown, her beautiful dog stays with her and licks her, which calms and comforts her.

Charlotte also loves family games and activities, and enjoys the atmosphere when we have lots of kids over on the weekends. She enjoys sensory play — messy play with slime, play dough and shaving cream, colourful toys, lights and music. Sometimes she jumps up and dances to songs she particularly enjoys with her family.

Charlotte has some destructive and challenging behaviours at times, including ripping up paper, tissues and important papers, such as a Rottnest voucher, which we had to piece together!

Often Charlotte's PEG feeding tube comes out of her tummy or her tubing leaks and she frequently wakes several times per night due to medical issues or feeling unwell. Every family member helps bathe and care for Charlotte, and we all contribute when there's a mess to clean up or medical issue to deal with.

Charlotte's family members all encourage and support each other, reminding each other to focus on the positives and/or using humour to help keep our spirits up at particularly challenging moments.

The worst thing that someone has ever done when we’re out with Charlotte is call her nasty names. People often laugh and point at her. A lot of the time children are just curious about Charlotte, but we frequently have adults and children asking us ‘what’s that?’ or ‘what does that pump do?’ Even though we don’t always feel like answering all those questions, we answer them.

Sometimes people might make a throwaway comment about her appearance or medical equipment and then move on without realising the pain these comments are causing her loving family.

Growing up with Charlotte helps Charlotte's family members to appreciate other people who might be different, like a man we see sometimes who is a double amputee and gets around in a powered wheelchair. The first few times we saw him we just smiled and waved, and then he approached Charlotte and us and was asking us about life with our special little girl and the challenges we face. It really hit us how difficult life must be for an adult who is wheelchair-bound and who may not have a partner or family member around to care for them around the clock.

We’re dealing with mobility challenges too, but with a six-year-old. We can carry her up stairs if we need to. Having Charlotte in our life has made us realise how important it is for local councils and businesses to think about wheelchair accessibility and when designing buildings, footpaths and the spaces that people of all ages and abilities share.

Five awesome things about Charlotte are: her amazing attitude, her connection with her family, her love for her pets, the fact that she makes the most of life, and her resilience and courage.

Having Charlotte has put things into perspective in our lives. Life stresses we used to worry about seem insignificant now. It’s also made us a lot more spontaneous in seizing the moment when we have the opportunity. When Charlotte’s well and out of hospital, we like to arrange outings or short getaways to give us the chance to make beautiful family memories with her.

Charlotte always brightens up our day with her cheery disposition and appreciation and gratitude of the simplest things in life.

Having Charlotte in our family has definitely changed us. If we didn’t have her, Charlotte's siblings wouldn’t have become as kind, compassionate or aware of the struggles and challenges faced by people with disabilities or medical issues. It’s changed the way we see differences in people, because we understand more about what it’s like to attract negative attention.

Lots of people have come into our lives and we’ve made some really good friends through Ronald McDonald House and Perth Children’s Hospital. We’ve made some beautiful relationships along the way. We have a saying that if we walk in and Charlotte’s made a big mess, we say, ‘what are we thankful for?’

Here is a day in the life of Charlotte…she wakes up in the morning and even though she’s six-and-a-half, we have to get her dressed, put AFOs to support her feet and legs, put on her hearing aids and change her nappy. She’s fed continuously 24 hours a day through a PEG tube in her tummy, which means we have to be very careful in how Charlotte moves around and often follow her around whilst holding her feeding pump and feed bag. She has lots of medicines three times a day.

We’re trying to teach Charlotte sign language because she doesn’t always understand what we’re saying. When she’s having a meltdown, if she can learn to use sign language, she might be able to communicate her needs or feelings so we could help her feel happy.

Every week, Charlotte sees the Autism Association, physiotherapist, OT and speech therapist. During these sessions she works on appropriate goals based on Charlotte's developmental level and her specific needs. She doesn’t go to mainstream school, but she attends lots of other activities every week which work on gross motor, fine motor and social skills in enjoyable and informal settings, such as Mainly Music, Kinder-gym and home-school sessions. Charlotte's ability to draw, communicate, interact with others and move around are improving so much. She also often comes grocery shopping, runs errands or to the park with her family.

Our advice to people seeing Charlotte for the first time would be either come over and speak to her, but please don’t stare at her. People should speak to Charlotte directly and if they don’t get an answer, just keep chatting with her in the same way you would with a pre-verbal young child. Whilst Charlotte uses only a few words infrequently, we dont think of her as being unable to communicate. She just communicates differently, using some words such as 'Mum' or 'stop', some key word sign language, expressive facial expressions and vocalisations.

We love it when people accept and engage with Charlotte warmly. It makes a very welcome change to the stares or unkind comments we often experience and also gives us the opportunity to teach Charlotte the appropriate signs she needs to learn for greetings when meeting new people.

The message that we’d love to communicate is, if people see this gorgeous girl in the community, please dont be afraid of her 'difference' or put off by her wheelchair or feeding pump; please approach her and greet her warmly just as you would any other 6 year-old child. She has been through such a huge amount of pain and suffering in her life and is a hero in the eyes of her family and friends.

Human - Charlotte Patterson
Interviewees - Josh, Bella & Laura Patterson
Interviewer - Anna Cornish
Writer - Guy Salvidge

Humans of the Wheatbelt is a Wheatbelt Health Network project.

Rottnest Island, Western Australia Lake Leschenaultia Ronald McDonald House Autism Association of Western Australia Shire of Northam

#community #inclusion #celebrate


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NORTHAM

Wheatbelt Health Centre
25 Holtfreter Avenue, Northam
Phone: 08 9621 4444
Open: 8am-6pm Mon – Fri

Aboriginal Health - Northam
65 Wellington Street, Northam
Phone: 08 9690 2824

TOODYAY

Alma Beard Medical Centre
81 Stirling Tce, Toodyay
Phone: 08 9578 2500
Open: 8.30am – 5pm Mon – Fri

WUNDOWIE

Wundowie Health Centre
GP Services
283 Boronia Ave, Wundowie
Phone: 08 9621 4444
Open: 8.30am – 4pm Wednesdays

NARROGIN

Aboriginal Health - Narrogin
Williams Road, Narrogin
Phone: 08 9881 0385
Open: 8.30am – 4.30pm Mon – Tues

After hours medical assistance: In an emergency call 000 or present to your nearest Regional Hospital emergency department. If you have a non- emergency and would like to consult with a GP then call Telstra Health on 1800 225 523. The service is free to access for Australian residents who reside in the wheatbelt or who are temporarily residing in the Wheatbelt. This service can be accessed before 8am and after 6pm Monday-Friday, before 8am and after 12pm Saturday and all day Sunday and any Public Holidays. Thank you to Western Australia Primary Health Alliance (WAPHA) for funding this service.

  • 25 Holtfreter Avenue, Northam

  • 81 Stirling Tce, Toodyay

  • 65 Wellington Street, Northam

  • Williams Road, Narrogin

  • 283 Boronia Ave, Wundowie

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