Eighteen year old Zach Smail just might be the only teenage boy, ever, who doesn’t need to be asked twice to take out the rubbish on bin night.
Each week, when the garbage truck rumbles toward the Smail’s family home in NSW’s Hill district, Zach is there to welcome it. He cheers as the mechanical arm grasps the bin and empties its contents. He waves to the driver as the hulking vehicle lumbers away. He hoses down the bin and returns it to the backyard. And he does it all with a smile.
Zach has been fascinated with bins, and the whole garbage collection process, since he was two years old, playing with the miniature bins his mother, Susan, used for storage.
“I thought it was just a toy thing,” Susan says. “And then it became a thing that (the toy bins) had to go out with our bins at the front of the house and they would end up with rubbish in them. And we worked out it wasn’t toys at all, it was a serious thing.”
Over the past 16 years, Zach’s interest has become his passion. Today, his bedroom is filled with garbage trucks and bins of every colour, size and shape—many of them filled with even more bins. Zach even sends weekly bin night reminders to friends and relatives across the country, keeping track of their individual garbage collection schedules.
“Whatever colour it is, he remembers which one is recycling and which one is the grass bin. He does Melbourne, he does Sydney, he does Queensland. And we’re very proud,” Susan says.
Zach also happens to have autism—a lifelong developmental condition that affects the way he relates to his environment and how he interacts with other people. Or as Susan explains, “Autism means you’re perfect and your brain works differently.”
As a young child, Zach was extremely energetic and prone to violent outbursts, but doctors were reluctant, at first, to diagnose him with autism. They described him as “just (being) on the extreme end of busy,” but Susan says ‘busy’ was an understatement: “He was an escape artist. He’d run. And he would just keep running.”
The memories of this time still clearly upset Susan as she recalls the challenge of supporting him and the strain on the family.
“We all tried to keep sane. Hide in our rooms. Everyone needed to be away from each other” Susan said.
“He was into everything that wasn’t locked. And he tried to get through the locks as well. He didn’t stop until he went to bed. And bedtime was a really good time of the day for everybody.”
Stress, exhaustion, guilt and fear were breaking Susan and her family. She could not help feeling envious of other families who did not have to deal with the same challenges.
“I still look at people walking up and down a busy road and they’re not holding their little kid’s hands and I’m jealous because I still hold his hand. Just for comfort for me now because I know he’s safe and he won’t do silly stuff.”
Susan didn’t know how to heal her family. She didn’t know what services were available or how to access them until Zach transferred to a new school in Year 5 and the staff told her about Wesley Respite Services.
Through respite care, Zach received short term support that provided him with a change of scenery for a few days and gave Susan and her daughter a break from their daily caring roles.
“It was fabulous,” she said. ”I couldn’t believe that there was this opportunity that we could all just have a bit of a rest from each other and regather our thoughts.”
Living in a damaged world, it is the call of Wesley Mission to realise the hope in broken people and to make them anew. By doing this we serve the potential of God’s promise of new life and hope.
Susan’s family was drawn back together through the relief provided by Wesley Mission. Having short, regular breaks from one another helped release the tension so they could enjoy each other’s company.
“Zach might go to respite and we’re all cranky with each and by the time he comes back home we’ve missed each other.
“If Zach wasn’t going to Wesley Respite, I think we would be a little frazzled. I think that the little things that we can deal with would become big things.”