How the life of Rashmika Pathmaperuma has changed

To read on The Canberra Times website:

How a disability worker changed the life of a Canberra teenager with Fragile X Syndrome

Clare Sibthorpe  December 10 2016

Rashmika used to lock himself in his bedroom in the afternoons and spend hours on end repeating ten-second videos for hours on end.

Rashmika Pathmaperuma

Rashmika Pathmaperuma and Ben Lane working in the garden. Rashmika, 16, has Fragile X Syndrome as well as austism and intellectual imparement, and Ben Lane has been nominated in the Chief Minister’s Inclusion Awards. Photo: Rohan Thomson

But this habit began to change when he got to know CatholicCare Choices disability support worker Ben Lane.

« When I first met Rashmika I would take him to the zoo but he would just stare at one animal for two hours straight, » Mr Lane said.

Rashmika would rarely step outside before he met Mr Lane, and now he regularly waters the garden.

Rashmika would rarely step outside before he met Mr Lane, and now he regularly waters the garden. Photo: Rohan Thomson

« He would get caught in this loop and fixate on things. »

Fast forward four years and 16-year-old Rashmika regularly ditches his iPad and bedroom to go outside and water the  vegetable patch he made with Mr Lane – a sight his mum Arjuna Pathmaperuma thought she’d never see.

Ms Pathmaperuma said she owes the remarkable change in her son, who has fragile-x syndrome, to Mr Lane’s patience and persistence.

That’s why she’s nominated him for the 2016 ACT Chief Minister’s Inclusion Awards, which took place earlier this month.

« Over four years Ben gradually has taken him out of his obsessions by giving him a variety of experiences in life even when it hasn’t been easy and training him to garden, » she said.

« He will now sit outside for hours and grow his strawberries. I even think horticulture could be a good post-school vocational course for him. »

Fragile-x syndrome is a genetic condition causing intellectual disability, behavioural and learning difficulties. It is the most common gene cause of autism.

Mr Lane said he pushed for change in Rashmika’s behaviour by using animals and places he enjoyed to try and push him out of his comfort zone.

For instance, early on he discovered Rashmika’s fascination with the cats they saw roaming the street when they went driving.

« I tried to push the boundaries and build a good connection with him. I told him if we built the yard up it would attract the birds and the birds would attract the cats, » he said.

« And one cat became a permanent visitor. He would water the garden, play with the cat and just crouch and enjoy the yard, which gave him space outside his house and definitely brought some peace to him. »

Mr Lane slowly taught Rashmika the importance of completing tasks and moving efficiently onto another, rather than dwelling over each one. This began with those as simple as digging a hole or planting a seed.

Since the establishment of the veggie garden, Ms Pathmaperuma said Rashmika performs three-times better on his attention tests at school.

For the first time he’s able to sit through an entire movie at the cinemas, leave the car to help with grocery shopping and enjoy a much wider range of activities.

Rashmika still occasionally becomes fixated with certain objects – most recently the water fountain in the Canberra city which he loves more than all the fountains he’s seen on various trips around Australia with Mr Lane.

But Mr Lane enjoys Rashmika’s enthusiasm and says there are some characteristics he would never change.

« He is a very interesting and hyper-vocal bloke with a photographic memory, » Mr Lane said.

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