Light after darkness
The Australian Women's Weekly|Christmas 2021
For close to five decades, Trudy McCullagh searched high and low for a way to care for her son. Three years ago, she was finally introduced to an organisation that would give her family a sense of hope again.
GENEVIEVE GANNON

In 1970 Trudy McCullagh’s son, Darren, was born frighteningly premature, a full three months before his due date. Little Darren was strong, however, and in time the doctors told Trudy the pair would be able to make the journey home. But there had been complications. “Before I could take him home from the hospital, we were given the news,” she says. Darren was going blind.

“Since then, I’ve been able to say, if only he was only blind,” Trudy adds because that diagnosis was just the beginning.

Photos from Darren’s early years in the 1970s show a sweet little boy, with blond hair like his mother, but Trudy became concerned when she started to notice changes in his behaviour. He was around two years old when she realised his needs may be more complex than she first thought. Her little man was easily distressed. He would scream for no apparent reason, and Trudy didn’t know how to calm him down.

“The telephone would ring, and he’d scream for two hours. Even if I went and touched him because I wanted to show him his toys, he’d scream. Not cry, scream,” Trudy says. It wasn’t until he was four that he was diagnosed with autism, and as she sought to find support, Trudy felt deeply alone.

“It was heartbreaking. The early years were extremely difficult. I had no family here in Australia. Nobody could advise me where to go, who to see,” she says.

The Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children at Carlingford, in Sydney, cared for Darren during his childhood, but he would often scream most of the day.

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