With a passion for helping people in need, and the determination to pursue his goals to become a nurse, 21-year-old student Shaun Avis is following his own beliefs and putting his natural abilities to good use.

Now in his fourth and final year of studying a Bachelor of Nursing/Paramedics at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst, Mr Avis also helps families who care for loved ones with a disability.

Living West sat down with Mr Avis to find out more about his role as a Community Respite Carer, and the difference he is making for locals living with disabilities.

Kelsey Smith

You have been working with local organisation Glenray Industries for around two years now – what does your job entail?

“I work as a Community Respite disability, mental health and palliative carer; previously I had been working in a specialized aged care dementia unit, and wanted a change of working environment.

“My job entails a wide variety of work. I work with people of all ages, from six months to 60 years who suffer from a diverse range of diseases.

“I have worked with over 50 different clients within a community setting. The majority of clients I work for are below the age of 18 and have developmental disabilities, which are debilitating disease processes that are identified prior to the age of 18, which can have serious and usually irreversible lifelong affects on physical and mental function.”

Did you grow up around people with disabilities? What sparked your interest to get into this line of work?

“I grew up on a dairy farm and experienced a wide range of mental health disorders, not within myself but within my family. I have always wanted to be a nurse since I was very young and have always pushed myself to fulfill this goal.

“I receive a great level of satisfaction working within the community and helping families at their most vulnerable states within their own home.

“I have heard many nurses and other health professionals make ambiguous claims towards the work of community carers and health workers – but what must be understood is that a family must place 100 per cent trust upon you to work within their home and with their own family members, as opposed to a controlled situation like a hospital.

“I have been blessed with the ability, through previous work and other situations, that allows me to easily put others at ease and develop a level of calm within families in their homes, when they are no longer coping with looking after their children, and also when the children are no longer coping with being with their families.

“This is the main reason I do this type of work – I feel it comes very naturally to me, and there’s no point in not using your own abilities.

“My drive to work in this industry is simple; I get enjoyment out of improving the quality of life for others. The more I help people in their home, especially when working with younger people, is that I know the impact it will have later down the track. A little bit of assistance for a family makes a huge difference in quality of life for everyone involved.”

What is your history of volunteering within health care?

“I started volunteering at the age of 14. I volunteered with St John’s Ambulance for five years…then, at the start of this year I volunteered in Kenya for two months. I taught health care to the community health workers and public health officers as well as educating schools about drugs, alcohol, life skills and STIs.”

Shaun Avis on a volunteer project in Kenya  Image: Shaun Avis

Shaun Avis on a volunteer project in Kenya earlier this year
Image: Shaun Avis

In terms of being a young person and working with disabled people, how does this affect you?

“For many years the concept of transference has been discussed – transference relates to not getting attached to patients.

“This is all well in a hospital environment where one may see a patient for less than a day and then the next one rolls in. This is not true however for community health workers – some clients that I looked after I have become extremely attached too. I have looked after clients for over six months at a time and it is nearly impossible to not develop some sort of relationship with them.

“I have looked after people that are only years within my own age group who cannot communicate, cannot move parts of their body, cannot be calm for more than five minutes, as their ability to keep themselves from becoming agitated is non-existent.

“And then there’s the more extreme end of the spectrum, those that I’ve cared for who are my age and haven’t moved since they were born, haven’t left their own bed since they could cry, haven’t been able to get up and go to the toilet or eat – all the things we as the “normal” people take for granted.

“There’s no denying that it affects me as a young person, but hopefully by doing this work some difference is made at improving their quality of life.”

In terms of being a young, healthy person, how does the lifestyle of the young disabled people you are working with differ from you?

“I think it is nearly impossible for anyone who is not disabled to compare his or her lifestyle to someone who is disabled…some disabilities will not have any effect on lifestyle the majority of time, where others will have an extreme effect on lifestyle all the time.

“I can eat, sleep, go out and be with my friends, study at university and work at my own leisure. Thinking of a person with a severe developmental disability…our lifestyles are not comparable.”

What kinds of people do you work with? Can some of them still lead an active or social lifestyle?

“The young people that I look after with less severe disabilities enjoy life like anyone else. They will get out and play outside, they are cheeky like all young people are and have fantastic personalities that make up for any disability they might be experiencing. I have never in any of my time working with young people up to the age of 25 who can communicate, experienced any of them complain about having a disability; I think this is a great indicator of the underestimated level of strength that they have.”

What does a service such as Glenray Industries mean to the local community?

“It delivers an excellent service to Bathurst like any other community care service would. It allows the quality of life to be improved for people in their homes, as trying to leave the home or help is sometimes very difficult or even impossible.”

Are more services like this needed?

“Services like this are in endless demand, although to implement these services more funding is required. Funding for younger people with disabilities is not as well outlined compared to their older counterparts…hopefully improvements can be seen in this field in the near future – it’s vital.”

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