As we aim to celebrate Australians with disabilities in our community, we also celebrate the strength and perseverance of the parents who raised them.
This Mother’s Day, Ariana Nioa, a 27-year-old Sunshine Coast woman with Down Syndrome, hopes to highlight that her mother is like no other.
“What my mother has done for me is amazing,” Ariana said.
“I don’t know where I would be without her, she changes my life every day.”
Ariana was one of two children raised by Anne, who was a single mother after losing her husband in 1997 to bowel cancer. Despite challenges, Anne remained determined to raise Ariana with every opportunity that other children receive.
“Every parent wants the world for their child; that doesn’t change when your child has a disability,” Anne said.
“Your hopes for them don’t lower, your determination just increases,”
Anne admits that the journey wasn’t always easy and that often it felt impossible to connect with the right services, especially in regional areas.
“It was hard as a parent to know that Ariana wanted to be independent and get out into the world and that I couldn’t give that to her on my own,” Anne said.
“I wanted to know that Ariana would always take care of, and one of the best ways to do that was to teach her to support herself.
“As with many parents who have a child with a disability, you are always concerned about what will happen when you are no longer able to take care of them.”
Anne began searching for a way for Ariana to learn all the essential skills she needed to look after herself to lead an independent life and soon found STEPS Pathways College.
The College, which opened in 2017, gives young adults with disabilities and autism the chance to learn essential skills and lead independent lives.
Ariana was part of the College’s first cohort and graduated in 2019. Since graduating, Ariana now lives and travels independently, holds down a job, and has a strong support group of friends. Ariana was even nominated as the Citizen of the Year on the Sunshine Coast.
“The biggest changes with Ariana have been in her self-confidence, not only I have noticed it, but our family and all our friends have also commented that she has become incredibly self-confident,” Anne said.
“Ari has no hesitation in using public transport, taxis, or uber and is very confident in making her own decisions.
“She’s brave and ready to take on the world.”
Since seeing Ariana’s great success at the College, Anne is utilising her experiences and knowledge to create a more inclusive environment for people like her daughter.
Recently, Anne joined the executive team of STEPS Pathways College in the hopes of helping other mothers find the same success as her.
“It’s about providing the option and opportunity that otherwise wouldn’t have been there,” Anne said.
“I hope that as a mother of a child with a disability, I can share my story and help other people know that they’re not alone.
“Finding out your child has a disability can be an isolating and intimidating experience, but if we lessen the stigma of asking for support and saying that you need help, so many lives would change.”
As for Ariana’s view, she couldn’t be prouder of all that her mother represents.
“My mum stands up for people like me every day; she’s my hero.”