Matt: Building Independence Through Love Of Sport

Matt Bowen lives in Deloraine, Tasmania. This is Matt’s story, told in part by his parents, Sue and Greg Bowen, and Matt himself.

EARLY YEARS

Matt was diagnosed with Fragile X syndrome in March 1994, when he was 4 years old. His mother Sue says “This was completely new to us as first-time parents! Our GP and Paediatrician had little information about this syndrome. It was quite daunting to receive this diagnosis at first and we were told that Matt would have learning difficulties and would possibly not be employed etc.

We were referred to geneticists and commenced physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. It was at this time that we were given pamphlets containing information on Fragile X Syndrome and also Fragile X Association of Australia. We immediately joined the Association to gain support and further knowledge.”

SCHOOL

Matt attended the local primary and high schools and received aide assistance throughout his school life. He thoroughly enjoyed both schools and this was where he commenced his sporting interests!

After completion of grade 10 Matt attended a college where he completed years 11,12 and 13. This college had a special unit for anyone with any disability either intellectual or physical and had a great number of aides to assist the students. To attend this college, he had to travel by bus for one hour each way. He achieved this very well with assistance from the bus company and aides from the college.

Over the years, we have found the local primary and high school were great for Matt in their ability to include him in all activities. And everyone was able to learn something from him, including the students and teachers”, said Sue and Greg.

WORKING

Matt has worked in several different businesses. He gained his first employment when he was 20, while he was still attending college, which came about through him doing work experience at this business. It was a flat pack kitchen company and Matt thoroughly enjoyed it! This lasted for two years until the business was sold.

Matt was unemployed for 12 months but then gained a position at a takeaway café in Deloraine through the employment agency Epic Assist, a specialist employment service helping people with a disability.

Matt worked at the café for three years, until he gained his present position at the Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm Café, also through Epic Assist, in 2018.

Last year Matt and the Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm café manager at that time, Lindy, were interviewed for an online story profiling Matt’s experience working there.

“I love everything about my job! My colleagues are great and make me feel very welcome,” says Matt. As well as coating raspberries with chocolate, I serve food and drinks to the customers. It feels great to have this job.”

Matt’s Fragile X syndrome means he is often hesitant to speak until comfortable in a new environment. But café manager Lindi says within a matter of weeks, Matt was starting to open up.

We were so pleased Matt began to feel more relaxed, and started speaking to the team. His first words almost brought us to tears,” says Lindi. “It is a joy to see Matt joining in with staff, laughing, and even singing with Peta while chocolate-coating raspberries.”

Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm Café connected with disability employment provider EPIC after they were recommended by a close friend.

“It’s been great having Matt on-board; he is part of our Raspberry Farm family. We love him and he’s so great for staff morale,” says Lindi. “Working with Matt has made the team happier, and we are now a more inclusive business.”

Matt is proud of how far he’s come, saying his job has given his life a sense of purpose and value.

“My job makes me feel good about myself, as I am now part of a team and a community,” says Matt. “I am always very proud to tell others about my work.”

Reproduced with permission. www.epicassist.org

LOVING SPORT

Matt is a sports enthusiast and great allrounder. He’s a talented cricketer, footballer (AFL!), golfer, and fisherman.

“Through his involvement in sport Matt has become more independent, outgoing and socially involved”, says Sue. He’s made some great friendships, taken on new interests and developed some fabulous sporting skills through sport.

He plays for Tasmania, and has represented the state at interstate sports championships and carnivals. Matt’s first interstate trip for sport was in 2015 when he competed in the AFL Inclusion Carnival. Since then he’s been interstate with his teams several times, without the day-to-day support of his parents. He manages independently with minimal assistance from the team management.

“The interstate trips have certainly brought out the best in him”, says his mum, Sue.

“Having seen the positive impact on Matt, we would encourage all parents of children with Fragile X syndrome to get their children involved with clubs, whether disability groups or inclusive sports, because it’s a great way to make new friends and build self-esteem.

“Some of these friends can be very great role models and have a positive influence on your own child”, Sue said.

Where does Matt’s sporting ability come from? Like his cricket hero and fellow Tasmanian, Ricky Ponting, Matt’s cricket instincts must be innate. He started playing indoor cricket a few years ago because several of his friends at New Horizons Club, a voluntary organisation that provides sport and recreation for people with disabilities, were also keen to play.

Before he knew it, he was selected in the Tasmanian Indoor Cricket team and off to compete in Victoria. Although the team didn’t win any games, they had a wonderful time including attending an Australia v Greece soccer game at Etihad Stadium and a dinner at the famous MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) with the open men, open women, under 21s and Lord’s Taverners Shield team 1. Matt was also selected in the Tasmanian Inclusion team which competed in the National Cricket Inclusion Championships in Geelong in early 2017, and again for National Cricket Inclusion Carnival in Geelong in 2019. He once again travelled independently with the team and met up with many friends he had made in past carnivals and also made new friends.

Matt has always loved AFL and his parents, Sue and Greg, attribute his selection in part to his earlier school experiences – having played Auskick at primary school, and having been a member of a premiership high school football team.

Matt was very excited and proud to be selected in his first state AFL Inclusion team in 2015, and then selected again in 2016 and 2018. Although the teams haven’t always won, Matt and his team mates have had a marvellous time and many wonderful experiences. Not everyone has had the opportunity to play on the MCG AND Etihad Stadium at half time of an AFL game!

Aside from his love of cricket and AFL, Matt is also a keen fisherman. He’s bought his own boat and gained his recreational boat licence. Matt is also a very good golfer which, according to his mum Sue, is probably his favourite sport.

Just to top off his sporting achievements, Matt has been a state champion for Special Olympics for a number of years and was placed 4th in Australia at the National Special Olympics in Melbourne in 2014, and won the State Special Olympics Golf in 2016. He is a member of Prospect Vale Golf Club and enjoys playing with many different members, which is a great experience for Matt and his opponents. Even his cricket coach has been brave enough to take him out for a round!

VOLUNTEERING AND HOBBIES

Matt now volunteers 3 hours a week at Aged Care in Deloraine. If the weather is fine, he washes vehicles and does garden jobs and if wet he assists in the laundry with folding etc. Matt also does literacy and numeracy at the local library. This is assisting him greatly.

Matt loves his time at Deloraine Community Shed which he attends 3 hours per week. He thoroughly enjoys the company of the other attendees and working with woodwork. This has always been a great passion of his. He has made numerous wooden items both at high school, college and the Shed. This includes his own wooden single bed and many tables and a stereo unit for the home he shares with his parents. He loves nothing better than to make wooden toys for his cousins.

Thanks to Sue, Greg and Matt Bowen for sharing Matt’s story.

FOOTNOTE: 1The Lord’s Taverners Shield started in 1994 and is a national event for indoor cricket players with an intellectual disability. The Australian Indoor Cricket Federation was the first Australian sporting organisation to embrace the idea of inclusion and hosts the event every year alongside the National Open event.

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