Community rallies behind Aussie family to give them new hope

THEY were going to have to give up their young son for the safety of the other children — but the generosity of strangers has given this family new hope.

Ally Foster

Living with severe autism

ONE Australian family were on the brink of making the most heartbreaking decision of their lives but an outpouring of generosity from hundreds of strangers has given them new hope.

Liz and Sean Whelan were faced with every parents worst nightmare: being forced to give up one of their children for the safety of the rest.

Their 12-year-old son Max has severe non-verbal autism as well as an undiagnosed intellectual disability, which often makes him prone to violent meltdowns that his family become the target of.

Max lives with his parents and three siblings, Thomas, 13, Harrison, 9 and Georgia, 7, in Mount Martha on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria.

Liz says Max doesn’t fit in with people’s perceptions of autism and because of this they have had an incredibly difficult time getting funding and finding the right treatments for him.

 Katie Brannaghan

Liz and Sean Whelan with their children Georgia, Max, Thomas and Harrison, and pet dog Kimba. Picture: Katie BrannaghanSource:Supplied

“It is important to understand that the severe end of the spectrum is a completely different diagnosis and disorder to other types of autism,” Liz told

“They have similar symptoms but it is much more complex and challenging to navigate and unfortunately there are not as much services and specialists for severe cases like ours.”

The Whelan family desperately love Max but the threat of having to give him up to the state because they can’t afford to care for him or risk him hurting the other children is always hanging over their head.

Liz and Sean devised a plan that would keep their other children safe while also keeping Max with the family and improving his quality of life.

In a bid to help raise that awareness, Sean’s famous sister Nicky Whelan, a former Neighbours star turned LA-based Hollywood actress, and his other sister Katie Brannaghan, started a GoFundMe page.

They hoped to raise $80,000 to help them convert their family home into a care facility for Max and to allow the rest of the family to move into a rental home where they can be safe.

Their story touched the hearts of people all across Australia and they managed to raise the money in just eight days.

“We have such an overwhelming response from the community and even from overseas,” Liz said.

“On top of the donations we have had countless messages come through from people offering their time and expertise to help our family.

“It has definitely touched our hearts and restored our faith in humanity.”

 Katie Brannaghan

The money means that Max won’t have to be separated from his family. Picture: Katie BrannaghanSource:Supplied

Liz and Sean have already started putting their plan into action. They are in the process of applying for rental properties and getting quotes for the changes they will need to make to their family home for Max.

In the wake of all this support the NDIS has also flagged their case as an urgent priority and have a meeting set up to discuss their funding needs.

“The $80,000 is life changing and will give us two years of support for our plan, but we need to work with the government to make this a sustainable situation,” Liz said.

“We still have a big mountain to climb in order to make our goals a reality but we are getting there.”

At the moment they are still in the process of implementing a new routine for Max and Liz explained that while this is happening he is still prone to destructive meltdowns.

Max is still “hitting and lashing out” at his family but they are staying positive because they know his quality of life is going to improve in the long run.

After hearing their story, Irabina autism services reached out and have been working with the Whelans to sort out a plan that suit’s Max’s needs.

“They will be working on an intense behavioural therapy program for Max and they have a very good understanding of the direction we are hoping to head in,” Liz said.

 Katie Brannaghan

An intense behavioural therapy program is being prepared for Max. Picture: Katie BrannaghanSource:Supplied

The other children are also excited about the changes and the prospect of moving to a house where they don’t have to have coded locks on their doors to keep their brother out.

“This means so much to them because they love their brother and they want him to have the best life he can.,” Liz said.

“And they are also happy about moving into a safer environment.”

Since their story has been shared other families in similar situations have reached out to share their experiences and offer advice.

“I was not surprised at all by the number of families in similar positions to us. I knew they were there it’s just that no one ever hears about them,” Liz said.

“It’s uncomfortable and awkward for our family to be in the spotlight but this has kind of become a campaign to create awareness for Australia families.

“It has become bigger than us now.”

Liz and Sean have been overwhelmed by everyone’s generosity and willingness to help.

“It has turned a desperate dream into an achievable goal,” she said.

“We are now working to get everything in place and it is going to improve the quality every member of our family’s lives.”