Compass Trainee since: 2011
Meaghan would just smile at someone who didn’t speak any English. And then she’d motion for them to come over but couldn’t talk of course (Meaghan is non-verbal), so she’d expect me to! She has taught us so much and opened us up as people. Her naivety and her innocence remind us of what life is really about.
When you meet Meaghan, it’s impossible not to smile. There’s something about her nature that combines a womanly depth and maturity, with an ineffable love of life and an unburdened expression of that love. Her joy knows no boundaries.
According to Mum and Dad, Merryl and Iain, Meaghan has always had this larger-than-life quality about her, which has also led to them coming out of their own shells… even if a bit awkwardly at times!
“We lived overseas for a time in Malaysia,” says Merryl, “and I would be embarrassed so much of the time because Meaghan would just smile at someone who didn’t speak any English. And then she’d motion for them to come over but couldn’t talk of course (Meaghan is non-verbal), so she’d expect me to!
“It meant we had to make new friends ourselves, which isn’t always easy for us. Because Meaghan is Meaghan, she’s happy and just beckons people all the time. She has taught us so much and opened us up as people. Her naivety and her innocence remind us of what life is really about.”
This is Meaghan’s superpower and the gift she gives to her parents and others too; opening them up and making it almost impossible not to reciprocate the joy that pours out of her. The joy of just being alive.
“Just the other day, we were in Bellingen,” says Merryl, “and someone on the street recognised Meaghan! My husband and I were surprised and asked how they knew her, and they said, ‘She was the happy person who served me at the Botanic Gardens!’, which was just so amazing.”
This is referring to part of Meaghan’s journey with Compass, where she was attending one of our social enterprises, Compass Garden Café, in the Maroochy Bushland Botanical Gardens. Her role there was a ‘meeter and greeter’, a role where her genuine love of meeting people made her a star and left our customers with both a great an impression and a feeling of joy.
Meaghan has grown a lot over the years and has tried many different things, both at Compass and outside. Post-school, her journey began at another service, which Merryl and Ian reflect was convenient, as it was close to home, but ultimately it wasn’t the right option for her.
“We didn’t love it, mostly because she wasn’t with people of her own age. Meaghan was very active then and still is. We wanted her to be with active people,” says Merryl.
“We moved to Caloundra and met someone else going to Compass Caloundra so decided to try it. And we’ve stayed for all these years because Meaghan is fulfilled, and her goals and needs are being met. We love that she can do so many different things at Compass and that she also has a lot of things in common with others.”
Among the activities Meaghan loves most are dancing and sport, which includes Bocce, where she has gone on to become the recipient of multiple gold, silver and bronze medals at a State and National level. If you ask her, she will proudly show you her medals and give you a smile that fills up the whole room.
Through her time at Compass, along with her many other supports outside of Compass, Meaghan has now become more independent and lives in Supported Independent Living accommodation. Her daily living skills have improved including communication, cooking, social skills, personal grooming and being able to plan for the different activities she participates in.
“The skills she’s learned have helped her become more independent and take this step, which for us as ageing parents, is extremely important,” says Iain.
This is perhaps one of the most common sentiments for parents of people with intellectual disabilities and the thing that keeps them up at night most often – what will they do when we’re gone? Who will look out for them?
Sharing these perspectives is so important to help increase our understanding and awareness, and our empathy towards people with disabilities and their families. When pressed on what they most want people to understand about Meaghan, Iain and Merryl are very clear.
“She may be intellectually disabled, but she’s not stupid,” Iain says.
He goes on to say, “She’s a person in her own right. We all have to learn that we’re all different and that’s okay.
“Over the years, people have hidden their disabled kids. With us, she’s always been at the front, and we’ve encouraged it. She’s different, but then again aren’t we all?”
For Meaghan, she wants the world to know that she is proud – the button she presses most on her communication device out of any others. Her favourite page by far is “ALL”, which takes her to a section that includes her family, friends and all of her support workers.
And it’s in this simple message that we can all learn from Meaghan the simple truths; life is joy-filled and what matters most is the people you share it with – in all their glorious differences.
This story was written by Compass team member, Sandra Brodie, through interviews and contributions from Meaghan’s parents, Iain and Merryl, and Meaghan herself through the assistance of her Speech Pathologist and her external Support Worker.