From small kicks to big dreams
by Caireen Franklin (Billy's mum)
Billy clutched his medal as we made our way back to the hotel on a warm spring day last year.
I put my arm around his shoulders and we walked together, cocooned in unexpected happiness.
He said, “I can’t believe it Mum, my dreams are coming true.”
I couldn't believe it either. Billy was 10 years old and had just won his first Australian Karate Championship and World Titles.
It wasn’t always like this.
I knew Billy had problems from when he as a baby. He was extremely regimented and would “crack it” if we went did anything different, like walk out the wrong door.
When he was six he was diagnosed with autism, ADHD and anxiety. He was a dear little boy but I had to face the magnitude of the challenges ahead.
Starting school seemed like an impossible dream. Billy literally clung to me, obsessed that something might happen if he let me out of his sight.
The trauma of getting him to school made us consider homeschooling but that didn’t seem to be an answer.
Once he did get to school things were even worse. Billy was intensely shy and couldn’t make eye contact. With poor social skills he was lonely, confused and overwhelmed, despite the efforts of caring teachers.
He knew he was different and hated it. As a mother it was heartbreaking to hear him say he “hated himself”.
“We are all different in lots of different ways, and you really are a lovely boy,” I reassured him time and time again.
The world told him otherwise.
At the time the future seemed bleak. I struggled to see how he would ever get through school, or cope in life. Would he ever be happy, make friends and value himself for the worthwhile person he was?
The worst part was seeing him suffer and blame himself. Having meltdowns and feeling overwhelmed are not good feelings for anyone. Life seemed hard when it should have been happy.
Somewhere we knew in our hearts life could get better. But how?
The first turning point came from getting the right support. Our paediatrician organized for us to see a specialist psychologist and she began the long process of teaching us the tools to succeed in life.
Billy worked hard with all the strategies, slowly improving his social skills and self-regulation and in turn, his self esteem.
Sometimes I’d see him using his new strategies. When he got upset in the playground I saw him hide his hand in his pocket, doing secret “finger breathing” to calm down.
We began to see more positives, even in the very things we had despaired about. Being different can have advantages. We started to realize how many successful and happy people have autism and ADHD.
I learned how minds can think differently and how tough some challenges can feel, especially when you are little and just trying to make your way in the world.
Billy’s brain was different. He wasn’t trying to be naughty; he was confronted with challenges that would overwhelm most adults.
The second turning point for Billy was starting karate at 6 years old. Billy was getting bullied at school and was suffering from high anxiety ASD and ADHD.
Doing an individual rather than team sport suited him and karate required Billy’s developing skills of concentration, self-regulation and self-esteem.
Karate made a huge difference in Billy’s life. His anxiety decreased, he could concentrate for longer and worked hard, successfully remembering 5 Kata’s – something that previously wouldn’t be possible.
Billy won his first karate trophy when he was eight. Each tournament boosted his self-confidence. The excitement and thrill to perform his kata in front of his peers, officials and an audience was high and the change in him was dramatic.
He self esteem improved. He was proud of who he was and what he was achieving.
Each tournament boosted his self-confidence. He couldn’t wait to get to school on Mondays to share his achievements with the principal, teachers and classmates.
Speaking in front of his class was incredible for Billy. He went from not wanting to be away from me to talking to anyone and making more eye contact, sharing his achievements and his passion.
Next he surprised us by participating in the school musical and The Opti-Minds Challenge where he received The University of Queensland’s “Spirit of Opti-Minds Regional 2017” award.
Meanwhile Billy kept working with our paediatrician and psychologists, growing through excellent courses such as “REEF” (Recognising Emotions and Establishing Friendships) run through Griffith University, where he made his first true friends.
I was learning too, doing parenting classes run through FSG and Bond Uni.
Billy continues to grow in strength and confidence. Last year at the ISKA Australian titles he ranked 1st in Sword Combat and was named Australian Champion in his division. At the ISKA World Cup Billy ranked 3rd in Sword Combat and 4th in Board Breaking and became World Champion in his age division.
This year he is an ICT Leader at school, which means he runs the assembly with his ICT mates using the tech equipment.
His dreams haven’t stopped with his achievements. Now he aims to become an Olympic Karate Champion and a police officer.
I don’t see any reason why these dreams won’t come true.
As parents our dreams are also coming true, and we are so proud to see our son happy and confident in himself.
We’re realistic about Billy’s ongoing challenges. He is currently dealing with food phobia and smell sensitivity as well as other issues. We are currently working with an occupational therapist, dietitian and psychologist to get on top of these issues.
He starts high school next year and we know the road won’t always be easy, but Billy is developing the tools to cope with the challenges and now has the confidence and strength to value his self worth, and accept, even embrace, his difference.
If there was one thing I would tell parents who are starting on this journey it is this- there is light at the end of the tunnel, but there is a lot of hard work in-between.
The more informed you are, the more you can understand and support your child and help them be the best they can be.
Embrace what you have and put the work in.
Billy says it best. "Try your best and never give up. Your dreams can come true if you just believe and give it your all."
Billy Franklin is honoured to be a Commonwealth Games Queen's Relay Baton Bearer. He was nominated by his school Principal, who said he chose Billy because he never lets his challenges stand in the way of his goals and dreams.
Billy will be carrying the baton on Tuesday 3rd April 2018 at 1.33pm at the intersection of Lido Promenade and Collyer Quays Robina.
Dr Syed Fasihullah has seen an enormous change in Billy over the years. From a shy small boy, overwhelmed and confused by significant challenges, to a young man brimming with confidence and ready to take on the world. Dr Fasihullah says, "Billy is an impressive character and an inspiration for lots of children as well as me."