Be my Koorda is about friendship, community and inclusion, and group facilitator Evelyn McKay said the group started in 2018 with just a box of Lego, her children and an idea.
“The Lego club was a great place to start and the communication between the kids is so important as they build their Lego. This is vital for children on the autism spectrum,” she said.
“I saw Lego clubs everywhere, but not something that suited us.”
Evelyn said she was working towards getting her son off the computer and technology, and Lego seemed like the idea that may work.
The Aboriginal group had a slow start to offer children with Autism a safe place to play, develop friendships and embrace their Indigenous culture. Autism West offered Evelyn a space for the group and they got to work. Be my Koorda translates to ‘Be my Brother’ or ‘Be my Friend’ in Noongar language.
11-year-old Daniel has a passion for building, music and Nerf guns and in between reloading his Nerf gun, he explained how the group has helped him.
“Being in the group makes me happy and I enjoy meeting new people and being able to make new friends.”Daniel, 11
“It’s important to connect with other Aboriginal kids like me and being able to make those friendships.”
Philip is 11 and he has a keen eye for detail and drawing. As he coloured in his picture of Sonic the Hedgehog, he told me why he loved the group.
“I like coming to the group so we can understand everyone’s differences. I would actually love to come here every day if I could,” he said.
“The Aboriginal kids are very nice and they are like my family. I’m glad I get to be here and be a part of it.”
“Lego is great because you can build it up and create whatever you want with your imagination.”
The room buzzed with activity as the kids took turns in challenging table tennis tournaments with the volunteers. Others concentrated fiercely on their Lego building, whilst the kids alternated creating a hand canvass in celebration of their Indigenous heritage.
Simin, a volunteer at Be My Koorda has come from Turkey and she said she has a heart for community services and working with children with special needs. After soothing one of the little boys that couldn’t calm himself down, she reflected on her time in the group.
“I’ve found my purpose and what I want to do in life… It was incredible coming here and feeling so welcome,” she said.
“People like Evelyn and the kids need me and need people who care, and that makes me so happy.”Simin, volunteer
“I’ve found myself through this work and I can help the kids to do the same in this group. It’s incredibly rewarding to be a part of them finding themselves. They just need the chance and the support.”
Autism West CEO Louise Sheehy said she was pleased to see how Be My Koorda had filled a gap in the support network for children on the spectrum.
“From a cultural point of view, Evelyn had requested this space as an opportunity to grow awareness around the Indigenous community and reach out to the people who need it most,” she said.
“At Autism West we actively seek opportunities to reach out with everyone, and we want to have conversations about how we can empower our community, which Evelyn and the kids are a big part of.”
“The Autistic Indigenous community is one of the most disadvantaged that we have and it was no question that we wanted to help her find a space and support her to grow and expand.”
Evelyn said the group now wanted to find teenage boys to take on mentor roles for the younger ones.
“We are always looking for big brothers and mentors to become role models for the kids,” she said.
“They need their male figures and we are Aunties and Mum’s but we are not what these boys need – they need the men to show them the way and to connect with them as big brothers.”
Words by Jacqui O’Leary