Kathryn lives in the Riverina region with her husband who manages a local farm and three children. She is a strong, capable woman but even today her eyes shine with tears as she describes the early years of her son Denis, now 9 years old.


“Every day was absolute hell. There were screaming tantrums many times every day, lasting for up to half an hour each time. We simply couldn’t work out why he was so upset; the stress on us as a family was enormous.”


Since the family lives more than 570 kilometres from any specialised health care required to diagnose and treat Denis, their local paediatrician referred them to Royal Far West’s medical centre in Manly. There Denis was diagnosed as being High Functioning Autistic.


The cost of making the long journey from the Riverina to Manly for treatment was subsidised, and the guesthouse next to Royal Far West’s medical treatment gave the family supported, motel-style accommodation and three meals a day, at no cost.


“It was a huge relief just to have some certainty about what was going on,” said Kathryn. “After that first visit, we had a direction for our family and solid things we could work on.


“Most importantly, we learned to focus on Denis’ strengths and work with those. It wasn’t about changing him, but about changing what we did as parents to help him.”



Twice a year Denis receives a free, week-long series of treatments from occupational therapists, speech pathologists and psychologists. The psychology sessions help him with emotion recognition and anxiety management while the speech pathology helps him develop his narrative structure for more effective day-to-day communication.


Denis also spends time in the charity’s partner institution, the Royal Far West School where specialist teachers give him ongoing help with speech, social and reading skills in the classroom situation


“What we’ve learned from seeing Denis interact in a class situation has helped us develop approaches that can be shared with teachers at his school back home.


Denis is not the only member of the family being treated at Royal Far West. After he was admitted, his sisters Hannah (8) and Erin (11) were also evaluated. Hannah was diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Erin as having Developmental Dyspraxia.


Occupational therapy has been particularly helpful to Erin in developing the physical coordination required for everyday tasks. She can now ride a bike like other kids, hold a brush to do her own hair, and dress and take care of her own daily needs. A speech therapist also helps her with the development of new social skills. Hannah also has speech therapy to help improve her lisp and to develop her narrative structure and vocabulary.


“Again the involvement of the Royal Far West School has been a big help for Erin – particularly since we are now focused on preparing her for high school. We’ve been speaking to all members of the Royal Far West team to determine what we should be looking for in a new school, and what learning and social situations would work best for her.”


“As concerned parents who want the best for your kids when they are facing real issues, you feel like you are understood here. You get real, practical help – not only during visits but also during follow-up conversations in between times. We always go home with something to work on with each of our kids so we know we can keep making progress between clinical visits.


“I’m not exaggerating when I say that we came to Royal Far West for help with our kids… but it has really supported and changed the future of our entire family.”




Royal Far West is a non-government organisation that has been providing health services to children living in rural and remote NSW for over 88 years. Its vision is healthy country children. Its mission is to make an outstanding contribution to the health and well-being of children in regional NSW.


To achieve this, Royal Far West works in partnership with families and their local health and education providers to complement existing services within the community. Every year, thousands of country children who have non-acute developmental, behavioural, learning, emotional and mental health disorders, and limited access to local services, benefit from our integrated clinical and educational model of care.

Organisation Details
19-21 South Steyne, Manly NSW 2095
Contact details: 

+61 2 8966 8577