Thea Calzoni is the parent and carer of Julian, her 34-year-old son who is a happy young man with an intellectual disability.

Her memoir Dancing with the Maternal Bond is an important contribution in raising awareness among Australians about the diversity of carers and their caring roles in Australia.

We’ve shared an excerpt below …

Over the ensuing two months, we took Julian to specialist assessments – speech and occupational therapy – in brightly painted rooms at the hospital. He responded well to the assessors. He looked at the picture books and played with the toys. He pointed to the things he knew the words for and made his generic sounds like ‘Ha’ for horse; ‘Ha’ for hot and ‘Ha’ for house. He proudly put the square peg in the square hole, but he got angry when pressured to try the odd shapes.

A month later we met with Dr Smith to get the results of his assessments.

‘He’s absolutely fine,’ she told us. ‘A lovely boy, very happy and motivated to do the best he can. As you said, Thea, he doesn’t talk as much or play as much as his peers at childcare. He doesn’t have social skills. And, as you mentioned, Ron, he has problems with his grip and his gait. The assessments show that he is developmentally delayed.’

I shuddered at the phrase.

‘What does that mean?’ Ron asked.

‘About 50 percent behind what other children his age can do.’

‘So, at two and half, he is like a baby of fifteen months,’ observed Ron.

‘Will he be able to catch up?’

Thea Calzoni’s memoir tells her story from mothering an infant child to becoming a full-time carer with the needs of another outweighing her own.

‘He needs a bit of help, some therapy to help him improve. We can’t say what level of progress he will make, but he seems to be a bright boy and he’s got an advantage in having intelligent parents who are motivated to help him.’

We nodded. At least we were more than halfway intelligent. We acted as if we knew what she meant. But after we left the room, we could only speak in guttural, monosyllabic snipes.

‘Here,’ said Ron, thrusting Julian at me. ‘What?’

‘I need a smoke.’

‘Okay.’

‘Chee?’ suggested Julian. ‘No chips here.’ ‘Cheeeee!’

‘Car?’

‘Car!’

‘Yes, c’mon.’

‘Ho?’

‘Yes, home.’

I felt empty and wafty, like a ghost. Ron said he felt like he was in mourning, as if the Julian he thought he knew had died. I refused to mourn. Julian might be broken but I couldn’t believe he was beyond repair.

Thea’s memoir will be launched by The Hon. Jill Hennessy at the start of National Carers Week, 10 – 16 October 2021; a significant time to celebrate and recognise the 2.65 million Australians who support others with a disability. 

‘Dancing with the Maternal Bond’ is available here.