Autism Family Camp 2023

Another wonderful joint Autism Family Camp done and dusted … but the magic still lingers.

In partnering with Beyond the Book Therapy Services and Different Journeys, Interchange Outer East had the pleasure of running another Family Camp for the families of autistic children and teens in Phillip Island this July.

Campers enjoyed the usual big camp activities such as the giant swing and flying fox. However, the group was also treated with talented guests such as Embrace this Space Art therapy, Luxy Sparks Welding and the fantastic tech from GameAware which added to the mix of activities for those looking for fun with less adrenalin.

With a multitude of ages including approximately 25 x 5-10yr olds, 14 x 11-14yr olds and around 17 x 15-18+yr olds, along with a big bunch of amazing parents shepherding their loved ones in on the Friday night … the fun began. Well, to be honest Friday night is far more about falling in the door, being shown to your room and working out the lay of the land, so to speak. Some parents looked stressed after working hard to wrangle everyone and everything together in order to attend, some children rolling their eyes with no plans of buying into the idea of shared fun, some feeling anxious about what was to come. Some however, have attended before and seem relaxed and enthusiastic to be in attendance again.

Walking around, talking to fathers telling me that they’ve not experienced anything like this, to being able to talk to other dads in his position. He said he’d never felt like it was ok for his son to be himself. His wife, tears streaming down her face, thanked me for the experience and I assure her I am simply lucky to be involved. The sort of stuff being described and appreciated by this family (and many others) has nothing to do with me or even a particular amount of skill shown by the organisations involved. The true magic is in simply offering a space where like minded people can come together and feel safe being themselves.

I walk around chatting to teens, clearly having a ball. They’re chatting with their parents and other children. They’re actively involved in everything from basketball games to Dungeons n Dragons. They’re side-by-side with little ones who are at times looking up at them with admiration. The teens tell them to quiet down. Some are unknowingly mentors in this moment. A mum tells me they didn’t think they’d leave their rooms this weekend, worried their teenagers wouldn’t enjoy this experience after a really rough time the night before. Her voice cracks as she then tells me she’s seen her teenager relax a little, smile a little and how much that it has meant to her as a mum. She apologises and wipes her tears. There’s no need to apologise; we all understand here. She tells me she was told about the camp and it just can’t be explained until you’re here yourself. Her teen bounds up beside her, takes a seat and starts colouring with us. I can’t hear what she’s saying anymore, I’m lost watching the relaxed body language and her mum’s arm around her. Another teen won the Super Smash Brothers tournament last night. I hear he almost smiled.

Little ones are building box forts, a seven year old is showing another how to weld. He is also a mentor for a moment. Numbers exchanged for future play dates and catch ups. “I made a friend!” a four-year old exclaims. Knowledge is being exchanged between parents and services working towards the same goal. For families to feel safe and included in everyday life.

During the infamous night walk a beautiful young man intent on jumping from dark bushes and scaring those around him. The shrieks then cackles of laughter. A mum offering to piggy back another mama’s child as she struggles to carry both little ones that have decided they’ll simply, “die if I walk another step”. It’s the most beautiful sort of messy I’ve ever seen.

It’s watching people let their hair down and be their authentic selves. It’s priceless.

Autism Family Camp is like a really great bonfire with good company; the smoke seeps into your pours and stays with you longer than the time you were actually gathered around it.

– Michaela Alcorn, Staff Member and Autism Family Camp parent


Keep up-to-date. Read the latest news from IOE with the July 2023 edition of our monthly newsletter.


Here at Interchange Outer East, we are thrilled that three of our previous Home Experience Program (HEP) housemates have found a mainstream rental property and have moved out of home together! After completing the HEP program, Megan said, ‘Nothing can stop me now!’. She said she felt highly motivated to move out of home permanently. The parents of these three young people worked hard to secure a rental property. However, their perseverance has paid off and they are all beginning a new and exciting phase in their lives.

The three housemates, Megan, Meg, and Carly, all participated in the six-month HEP program. During this time they developed the skills and confidence to take the next steps to living independently. With the support of HEP program staff, each of the young women were able to safely explore what living out of home feels like and what it means to live with housemates.

Home Experience Program (HEP)

HEP offers people aged 18+ the opportunity to live in a house for six months with two other IOE participants. Participants live in a rental property 24/7 and experience fully what it is like to live independently with housemates. The program provides part-time staffing and a lead tenant overnight to ensure participants receive the freedom and experience of living away from home but with supports to develop and build on skills and capacities.

In Megan, Meg and Carly’s case, their parents’ confidence in their skills and capacity grew throughout the program. They experienced a lessening dependence on them and observed their development and progress. They should all be so proud of what they achieved during the HEP program and we hope they will be an inspiration to other families who may feel that living independently may be out of their child’s reach.

If you would like more information about the Interchange Outer East Home Experience Program, you can find more information here.


Keep up-to-date. Read the latest news from IOE with the June 2023 edition of our monthly newsletter.


Keep up-to-date. Read the latest news from IOE with the May 2023 edition of our monthly newsletter.


For quite a while now, I’ve been wanting to speak out about my experience as an 18-year-old living with a disability, and the challenges that I have faced as I navigate an ableist world. 

CONTENT WARNING: Personal experiences of ableism, discrimination and mental overload.

Everything I say here is my personal experience and opinions. Other people within the disability community may have different opinions and that is why it is always best to ask the individual person for their personal preferences.

Before I start this, I want to let everyone know that I am ok. I haven’t written this to seek people’s pity, or to deceive people into thinking that I live a debilitating life, just because of the fact that I have a disability. Even though it is deeply frustrating that I still have to face the repercussions of ableism on a daily basis and it has led me to write this, I still live an amazing life and I am grateful for that.

It can be difficult for people to treat me normally. 

This is a choice that people often make when they have an opportunity to interact with me. It often isn’t deliberate and is mostly a people make this choice with the best of intentions. But, at the end of the day, regardless of the person’s intentions – it is still a choice and that choice is ableism.

I will not sugarcoat it. It is a shit thing that I have to face on a daily basis and I wish that it wasn’t my reality.

Every day since the day I was born, I have had to deal with those choices that people make which directly affect me in every aspect of my life. Because of my disability, there are parts of me that make me different from what many people consider normal.

My disability, cerebral palsy (CP), affects my mobility, which means that I often need to use my wheelchair to move around safely and quickly. Furthermore, it impairs my speech which means it can be difficult for others to understand what I have to say. And because these differences are visible, it can be easy for people to make assumptions.

This affects the way some people interact with me.

Conversations with me can require a bit more patience from people as it takes time for them to get used to my impaired speech. I think the fear of not being able to understand me, and maybe their unconscious biases, has gotten the better of some people. It has stopped them from having a normal conversation with me or stopped them from even trying to initiate a conversation at all. 

Because this subtle form of ableism has been a reality for me for my whole life, I have often been thrown into situations where I have been made to feel unworthy of getting the same treatment that most others take for granted. I feel like I sometimes should have to thank someone for just wanting to have a proper conversation with me.

Every time someone reaches out to me of their own accord, I feel obliged to do a substantial happy dance around the house. Whenever someone opts to spend time with me, it is like I have just won the jackpot in Tattslotto. 

Those who choose to take the time to get to know me (and if you are one of those people, you’ll know who you are and I see you and I salute you) will learn that I am just a normal 18-year-old. One who loves to go hard on the dance floor at live music events, enlightens others with his witty sense of humour; whether that be bombarding people with silly memes or jokes – and I take firm pride in having a winning taste in music (although others may tend to disagree).

Most importantly, I believe that I am a kind and caring soul who will be there for anyone when they need it. I hope that all my existing friends and family know this and they are always welcome to take me up on that offer.

Yet, people often make the choice to not take the time and effort to see past my disability and get to explore the other amazing aspects of my personality.

Ableism is a devastating reality that so many people with disabilities have to face every day. However, I strongly believe as a society, we have the potential to change the world. It doesn’t have to be like this.

So I am asking you, whether you’re a family member, a friend, an acquaintance, someone whom I cross paths with at any point in my life, or someone that I don’t know, find everything within yourself to challenge that bias. Even if you believe that you have done so already, there is always more you can do to test your beliefs to their absolute limits.

I want to see more people without disabilities becoming allies for the disability community: 
  • Call out ableism when you see it – no matter who is doing it or how minor it is, it is never OK. 
  • Have conversations with your family, your friends and other members of your community, educate them about ableism and about how to comfortably approach interactions with people with disabilities in all parts of daily life. 

I want to see disability being normalised EVERYWHERE; on TV shows, in movies, advertisements, dating sites, in schools, parliament – in every aspect of life.

I want to see disability education being a compulsory part of the curriculum so young people can be equipped with the adequate knowledge to comfortably approach an interaction with a person with a disability, as soon as they need to.

But most importantly, I am asking you to take any opportunity that is given to you to interact with a person with a disability. If that interaction creates an opportunity for you to get to know them further: befriend them, date them, employ them, cast them, or grant them any other opportunity that everyone is entitled to. Please do it because not only are going to enrich the lives of others, your life is going to be so much better for it. 

Today, I decided to open up about my experience of ableism with the outside world.

It was undeniably one of the most difficult decisions that I have ever made, but I believe that it was a necessary one to be part of the push to bring change within our community. 

Please keep my words at the forefront of your mind whenever you are given an opportunity to make a decision that affects me or other people with a disability. Not only does my life and the lives of many others in the community count on you making that choice, your life will be so much better for doing so. People with disabilities are worthy and are deserving of any opportunity that every human is entitled to in life.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to read this and for joining me on this journey. You are more than welcome to share this. If you have any questions or need a safe place to talk – my DMs are always open to ANYONE.

By Satria Arbai, age 18.


Keep up-to-date. Read the latest news from IOE with the April 2023 edition of our monthly newsletter.


Thirty-one people, two weeks, three cities, new friends and countless memories! We have just completed our first Interchange Outer East supported holiday for the year; an NBA focused trip to California, USA. We had entire families or five and six, independent travellers and parents traveling with an adult child. Eight IOE staff were along for the ride to help make sure everyone could enjoy the holiday that they each had imagined. Whether that be jumping at the opportunity to go on every outing, sticking together as a family and squeezing as much in as possible, or taking a bit more of a relaxed approach and maybe even sneaking in a sleep-in here and there.

‘We can now confidently travel with our son on a plane, through airports and into a new country – all thanks to this trip and the people around us.’

We flew into Los Angeles, arriving bright and early on a Saturday morning and headed downtown to store our bags at our hotel. It was already time for a small group to head to their first NBA match; a rare daytime game. While they enjoyed the game, it was not without a few sneaky ZZZs thanks to the jetlag already creeping in! The rest of the group made the most of the sunshine with a walk around downtown LA.

For the remainder of our time in LA we enjoyed our hotel buffet breakfast (sadly at this point we didn’t know it would be the peak of our breakfast offerings!), hiked an 11km round trip to get close to the famous Hollywood sign (some opted out of the walk and watched *napped in* the Griffith Observatory planetarium), and went to a couple more basketball games. We checked out Hollywood and the Walk of Fame and went to Universal Studios. A small group braved the rain and got soaked on a trip to Santa Monica pier only to be rewarded for their efforts with sunshine and blue skies to finish off the outing. Others headed to outlet malls and contributed to the US economy.

‘Thank you for letting me come on this amazing trip. I had the best two weeks of my life hanging out with every one of you and getting to know you all.’

We then headed to Anaheim for two days at Disneyland and California Adventure Park. Our group was made up of I-will-go-on-every-single-ride-and-I-will-love-every-second types, as well as I-will-hold-the-bags-and-watch-you-go-on-rides types. Sadly, I am the latter thanks to some major motion sickness! Highlights for others were the Guardians of the Galaxy, Incredibles, Star Wars and Cars rides. I took the opportunity to wander the parks chatting with my new mate while the rest of his family beelined from ride to ride and line to line. We returned to Disneyland that night to watch the light show and it was fantastic; a real highlight of the trip! A few of us ducked away early from Disneyland the following night to watch some ice hockey – Anaheim Ducks v Jets NHL which was a lot of fun.

‘Thank you to everyone for making this trip one of the most unforgettable experiences ever! It truly shows what a loving, supported community can do.’

After two days at the most magical place on Earth we headed up to San Francisco where we braved the cold (very Melbourne!) weather. San Francisco brought us more NBA, cable car rides, Fisherman’s Wharf, Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. It also brought us what many travelers say was the highlight of their trip; an overnight to Yosemite National Park. The sun was shining, the air was still & crisp and there was not a cloud in the sky. The ground and mountains covered with snow. It was absolutely stunning. The scenery at Yosemite takes your breath away. We all commented that it simply didn’t even look real; that the photos didn’t do it justice. The weather gods gave us a clear, cold day to enjoy it and it really recharged the batteries and fed our souls.

‘We appreciate your company and support on such an amazing trip. Our family is truly grateful to you all for making it so special!’

Sadly, our last two days in San Francisco were rainy and cold. They made way for a couple of slow mornings, late breakfasts and even more basketball. Special mention to the small group of MVPs who took on the weather for the last time, for a very wet 12km bike ride to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. By the time we boarded our flight home at 11.20pm on a chilly Wednesday night, I think I speak for everyone when I say we were exhausted but our hearts were full!

‘Thank you for all the support and hard work that went into this trip. What an incredible experience!’

The group itself was an absolute highlight for me. Thirty-one very different personalities all bringing something different to the dynamic. It was so heartening to see the ‘boys club’ form; a handful of young men who became the best of mates in what may well have been the most warm, welcoming and respectful boys club I’ve ever encountered. I loved being part of a group where everyone could truly be themselves and where everyone looked out for each other; such is the IOE way! While us staff were there to provide support and supervision where needed, the group looked after itself in a uniquely organic way as we navigated public transport, ran through the rain, got swallowed up in crowds and stood in line after line. Somehow it just worked!

IOE supported holidays were developed and have evolved over the years to respond to the needs of families and individuals. They provide an opportunity for individuals with disability, independently or with members of their family, to experience interstate and overseas travel. There can be hiccups and challenges along the way; every trip offers a chance to learn new things, but they are always an experience to remember with new friends and cherished memories.

A pre-COVID conversation between two people planted the seed for this unforgettable trip. It went something like, ‘We should go and see some NBA games!’ … and the rest is history. If you have a travel dream that we may be able to help turn into reality, get in touch and plant the seed!

Our considerable thanks to Michelle from Travel Managers for putting in lots of work to help us plan our latest adventure and being our travel agent in shining armour for the last few months!