Senator Hollie Hughes (NSW) delivered a speech in Federal Parliament on 7 October 2020, paying tribute to OTARC’s benefactor Mrs Olga Tennison OAM.
As the Chair of the Senate Select Committee of Autism, Senator Hughes has a professional interest in the topic. However, she also shares with Mrs Tennison the situation of having a family member with autism. Describing Mrs Tennison’s early life, she noted that Mrs Tennison’s interest in autism was triggered when her grandson was diagnosed with Asperger’s disorder at 12. What follows are some edited excerpts from her speech.
“I have an autistic son. When my child was diagnosed, the grief and challenges that I faced as a parent were in trying to discover what therapies were the best options to undertake, where to turn, where to get assistance and where to get support. That’s incredibly challenging and incredibly difficult; it was nine years ago and it still is today.
It’s the work of organisations such as OTARC that has provided so much comfort to families like mine— especially in Melbourne, where they’ve worked on studies.
You don’t know how [your children are] going to leap forward and you don’t know how they’re going to develop, what success is going to come or where they are going to end up falling on the spectrum—that will move throughout a child’s life—but we do know that the earlier the intervention and the more intense and better the quality of the intervention then the more successful the outcomes are going to be.
I know that my experience has been mirrored by so many Australian families. Most people…would know someone whose family has been affected by autism—someone who has a child on the autism spectrum or who is on the autism spectrum themselves. So many Australians are affected both directly or indirectly, but, thanks to people like Olga Tennison, there’s comfort and hope.
Mrs Tennison’s voice as someone with a close experience of autism gives her authenticity to speak on behalf of the centre and promote the work that’s being undertaken, of which she is incredibly proud.
Many Australian families, I know, would like me to say on their behalf that it is with great gratitude that we acknowledge the amazing philanthropic donations that enabled the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre to be developed in the first place and that enable the work that it continues to undertake. So it’s my great honour to highly commend Olga Tennison for her sincere charitable efforts and to record our deep and sincere gratitude for posterity.”