Autism has humbled Natasha Bazil, but it has also seen her emerge stronger than even she could have imagined.
Natasha Bazil is a former rugby player who was raised in and around gang culture. But it’s true to say her shell isn’t naturally hardened.
Instead it is the 15 years spent navigating a system determined to break her which has made the 44-year-old mother more resilient than most women her age.
Natasha is solo parenting three gorgeous children. All have autism, are non-verbal and require significant support going about their daily tasks.
The oldest is Maximus (Max) who turned 18 in July. Referring to him as “my king”, Natasha says Max has sensory issues and social skills deficiencies but is “gentle, and probably the most relaxed” of all three children.
Next is Beyonce (BB) who is 15. She has significant intellectual and communications deficits and needs to be medicated to manage her anxiety and frustrations. Natasha calls BB her “angry bird” and says, just like herself, her daughter is strong willed but also “a work in progress”.
The baby of the family is Cedric, who is 12 and like his siblings, requires assistance with personal care tasks and daily living skills. “My Cedie just wants to hug everybody,” Natasha says. “He is my sunrise in the morning.”
Natasha’s unwavering dedication to her children and the financial, physical and emotional turmoil she has faced in the fight to secure a better future for them recently saw her awarded carer of the year in Autism Australia’s 2020 Aspect Recognition Awards.
“God gives his hardest battles to his strongest soldiers,” Natasha says. “The journey has been about not giving up and still smiling while doing it.”
In the beginning
Growing up in New Zealand’s northern most city of Whangarei, Natasha was the oldest child in a family of boys. A nurturer by nature, her goal was to one day have her own team of All Blacks. Things went to plan, and she found herself pregnant with Max. Both the pregnancy and birth progressed normally, and the first-time mum was beyond ecstatic to be starting a family of her own.
Max was about two and a half when sister BB came along. Again, Natasha’s pregnancy progressed normally and despite the fact Max still wasn’t talking, all early developmental markers appeared to be met.
A rough start
When BB was six months old, Natasha and her partner took both children in to see a maternal care nurse. The nurse asked if Max had ever been professionally assessed before requesting permission to complete a developmental growth check.
“When she suggested that something was wrong with my kids, being a bit stubborn, I took it personally. I yelled and stormed out, convinced she had it wrong.”
Despite her doubts, Natasha made a point of keeping a watchful eye on Max, if only to prove the nurse’s suspicions wrong. But 12 months later when he still wasn’t talking, she was forced to accept that he needed help.
After finally working up the nerve to suggest this to her partner, Natasha – who by this time had also given birth to Cedric - was met with more resistance.
“I came from a gang family, but I was always kept safe and well loved. I had never seen domestic violence before but despite the fact I wanted to get Max checked out, I was stopped from doing so.”
With little in the way of external support, Natasha was forced to carry on as normal, taking care of her babies the best that she could. This was until the day she found the courage to leave home for good and seek the help her eldest son obviously needed.
One day she was walking past the community centre when she happened upon the same nurse. “I apologised, I cried, and I asked for her help. From there, the flood gates opened in the most amazing way. Being humble has been a very beautiful thing to learn.”
Max’s diagnosis was just the start of a life-altering journey for Natasha, which eventually saw both BB and Cedric endure the same fate. For more than a decade, Natasha raised her children with next to no financial support. “I knew it was up to me to give them what they needed.”
Initially offered a funding package of just $300,000 for the care of all three children, Natasha drew on her inner warrior to successfully fight and appeal the decision. Her efforts paid off and Natasha eventually secured $1 million in allocated funding to support her family.
Today, Natasha remains her children’s strongest advocate. The trio are happily settled at the Dandenong Valley Special Developmental School with a routine, as their needs allow. While her children continue to challenge her in ways she never imagined, Natasha is no longer fighting alone, with a small army of supporters to assist her in her journey.
“My own personal satisfaction comes from knowing my kids love me. The best quality I have learned through my journey with them is humility and saying: ‘Sorry, I made a mistake, can I try again?’”
Central to the team around them is the children’s carer Ha, who comes in each morning to help get the kids ready for school. Hyper vigilant about whom she allows into her home, Natasha says Ha is the tonic the family needs.
“I was a bit hesitant to go with agencies initially, but Ha is like a part of our family. She is a beautiful lady. She knows how I roll and we have a good laugh together. We are now so comfortable with her that if there’s ever a day where Ha’s sick, I tell them not to bother sending anybody else.”
Natasha says accepting help from others is one of the many lessons she has had to learn on her journey through autism. While she has experienced many highs and lows, Natasha says she is now at peace with what the future holds.
“I may not have gotten my team of All Blacks but my kids have taught me just as much, if not more than, I’ve ever taught them.”