When Emma Andrews decided to get involved with the Sony Foundation Children’s Holiday Camp Program, little did she know that her life would forever be changed, nor did she realise the impact she would go on to have on so many people around her.

Emma met TJ in 2013 on the Bond University Sony Foundation Children’s Holiday Camp. Emma was 17 years old and TJ, just five years old. TJ has a range of disabilities including Autism Spectrum Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, Intellectual Impairment, Cognitive Impairment, Speech and Language Impairment, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder among other diagnoses. Over a difficult four days at the camp, despite TJ being somewhat complicated to care for at times, Emma became very attached wanting to help and be there for TJ. Her dedication to TJ shone through and slowly but surely TJ came to trust Emma.

Following the camp, Emma decided TJ meant so much to her that she wanted to stay in his life. Emma now cares for TJ. Despite the challenges she sometimes encounters Emma thinks more young people should think about taking on carer roles saying “I think there are a lot of phenomenal carers in Australia who everyday do an excellent job, but there is always going to be a need for carers. I would encourage any young person to take up the opportunity to be a carer for someone else; it is difficult, but so rewarding… The best thing about TJ is his laugh. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it is the best sound in the whole world. Another trivial thing is when he comes and drags me to the fridge indicating he wants food. Knowing that I’m one of the people he trusts to care for him is really special.”

Following odd moments of receiving congratulations for being TJ’s friend, Emma and two friends (Thady McFarlane and Jackson Wischlinski) decided they needed to do something to bridge the gap between people with and without special needs. From that, ‘FriendShift’ was born. FriendShift is a not-for-profit organization that aims to create friendships that shift the focus away from disability and limitation and instead focus on creating rewarding, fulfilling and normal, everyday friendships. With Emma currently studying a Graduate Diploma in Psychological Science at Bond University and eventually hoping to complete a Masters in Clinical Psychology and work in the field of behavioural management, diagnosis and as a social support for parents, carers and family member of people with special needs, the development of FriendShift seems a natural step.

Whilst Emma says looking after a child with special needs is often an arduous task it most definitely has its rewards. “…those ever so precious moments of laughter, a small smile, or even an outstretched hand can often provide the reassurance that you are doing is something special. TJ has taught me to treasure the smallest of gifts, especially in the time of greatest difficulty.”

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