- Behaviour Analyst
- World Champion Sprinter
- Motivational Speaker
- Athlete Manager (Joshua J Ross)
- Autism Advocate
Mandy Mason is a transformer of lives, in fact if you follow that theme Mandy can lay claim to being the female human version of Optimus Prime!
As the owner and CEO of Fit Learning Australia (www.fitlearning.com.au), the Australian affiliate of a worldwide organisation, with a mission to transform the academic and cognitive abilities of every child who walks through their doors, Mandy transforms lives daily.
As a single mum, with 2 beautiful daughters, her youngest daughter with severe autism, Mandy has transformed her own life personally and professionally many times, in a never-ending quest both personally and professionally to squeeze out every little drop life provides.
Formerly a devoted bike rider, gym goer and marathon runner, Mandy has now found her own…FIT…pardon the pun…as a world class Masters level sprint athlete, holding the current title of;
- Gold Medallist and World champion in the W50 4 x100m
- Holds two Australian records for the W50 4 x 100m and W50 4 x 400m relays
- Holds the Pan Pacific Games Record for the individual W50 100m
- And she recently broke the Western Australian State Record for the 200m, previously held for 15 years
But what of personal transformation?
Mandy spent the first 17 years of her career studying (culminating in a Masters in International Tax law) and working in international tax structuring.
Her first big transformation came when her youngest daughter was diagnosed with autism 2 days before her second birthday.
This transformation saw Mandy commence her own consultancy in 2007 working with other families to access evidence based intervention for their children. Mandy was an early pioneer of autism services in WA and founded The LEARN Foundation for Autism in 2008, an early intervention program that was the first intensive centre based program to open its doors in WA and took early intervention in WA to a new level.
LEARN challenged the old ways of thinking about teaching children with autism and drew upon decades of research from around the world to ensure that best practice methods were brought to Western Australia to empower parents to teach their children.
Mandy was a finalist in 2 categories in the Telstra Business Women’s Business Awards for her work at LEARN.
Mandy is also a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA), a Masters level qualification in Applied Behaviour Analysis or Learning Science.
In 2009, Mandy won a ground breaking disability discrimination case against Methodist Ladies’ College for direct discrimination against her daughter. The college was forced to publish a public apology for discrimination against her daughter and hold open a place at the school for her for her schooling life. The case has been used as a precedent by parents across Australia to access support for their children in a school environment. It stands as one of her proudest achievements as it transformed children with disabilities educational rights’ in Australia.
In 2014 driven by her fierce determination and the frustration at the level of therapy available in Australia, Mandy made yet another transformation and moved to the US to ensure that her daughter continued to receive the very best in therapy.
A move that many naysayers simply helped Mandy to reaffirm her commitment to the power of her personal mantra; ‘make their NO your YES’.
It was in Chicago that she met Dr Kimberly Berens and discovered the Fit Learning methodology of teaching, the transformation that her daughter and her clients needed.
The NO’s became Mandy’s YES yet again when she was granted the first ever licence for the Fit Learning methodology outside of the US.
Another of Mandy’s proudest life moments was the transformation in January 2016 of a former retail store in Claremont, into the very first (now four) Fit Learning centres in Australia.
Mandy’s continual transformation through her mantra of; make their NO your YES shows up daily in her personal and business life.
As Mandy points out when asked, the journey is continual, the transformations continual, only you should get to decide, what is your yes!
Mandy’s Journey through Autism
The grief that comes with having a child diagnosed with autism, while different for every parent, is something indescribable, painful beyond belief and life changing.
“I can only describe it as feeling like my daughter had died and been replaced with a total stranger, a child that could no longer talk, seek comfort or want to share her world with me. I was mourning for the daughter I had lost while trying to get to know this new stranger that didn’t know how to function or communicate, other than to scream and bang her head into the ground. It was a period of extreme anxiety and grief. Still to this day, barely a day goes by when I don’t shed tears for how hard we have had to work to get our daughter back from this very dark and lonely place. And still the work goes on.”
Mandy’s daughter developed normally up to 14 months of age, but after that experienced regression that resulted in the loss of all language and communication, and in its place came severe anxiety, screaming and self-injury. In a video she made of her daughter after a the first 7 months of therapy, photos of her before and after shows how she loses weight, stops smiling and begins to stare into space. She recalls holding her on a swing only inches from her face and calling her name only to have her look straight through her, in a way only children with autism can.
“It is one of the loneliest feelings you can imagine…..to look into your child’s eyes and to have them stare through you as if you are a pane of glass… some of my most difficult and loneliest memories are taking her to parks, surrounded by families and children laughing and enjoying themselves, and I would be standing looking at my beautiful daughter, who was totally unaware of her surroundings or the children playing around her; completely unaware of my sadness and pain that she could no longer smile or talk or enjoy her world. And while the other mums and dads were sitting on their rugs, enjoying watching they children play and learn from each other, I was trying to ensure that something would not set her off on a massive tantrum; all the time wondering how much therapy we would be able to get done that day, whether I would get any sleep that night, whether I could continue to pay for therapy that was eating away at all our savings and hoping against hope, that my daughter would start to make significant gains from all the work we were doing with her.”
And that she did.
After extensive reading and research, Mandy discovered that great improvement could be made in young children with autism by using the science of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) to analyse what and how to teach them.
Mandy treated her daughter as if she were managing a large company… .it became her job, her passion and her life, to learn how to teach her daughter.
Intensive therapy using the science of ABA, is exactly that, “intensive”. Mandy’s records show that from the first week of therapy, her and her daughter sat at a little table and chairs 27 hours a week and building up to close to 40 hours a week for the first 2 years of intervention. Then came all the work outside the therapy room, the generalisation of skills learnt, the desensitization to all the things in the environment that her daughter struggled with – the feeling of walking on grass and sand, the resistance to go into the bathroom, the resistance to taste, touch and smell new foods.
Mandy recalls that Juliette would vomit at the smell of playdoh from the next room. Her sense of smell and hearing was heightened and her sensitivity to both was extraordinary… just walking past a butcher would make her scream.
So simple tasks like shopping and cooking because major exercises – and then they became teaching programs.
“We had teaching programs for everything… for language, for eating, for sleeping, for shopping, for walking, for learning to tolerate noise and the feeling of water on the bottom of her shoes, for wearing a hat… life was one big set of programs and data collection exercises, to ensure my daughter could learn to fit into this world.”
Keeping her daughter happy at home and out of the house was an incredible and overwhelming task. The screaming, 6-8 hours a day, was all consuming.
“ABA made sense of the chaos and disorder that was pervasive in our lives. It helped us determine the function of our daughter’s extreme behaviours, and in finding out why she screamed and tantrummed, we were able to develop interventions to teach her better ways to respond, ways to communicate her needs, rather than have them met by screaming and self injury.”
The most profound change in her daughter’s life came when Mandy attended a Precision Teaching Conference in Chicago in 2014 where she met Dr Kimberley Berens BCBA-D, the Founding Director of Fit Learning, and Mandy discovered the profound methodologies of the more than 10 years research of Dr Berens and her team. This changed the trajectory of hers and her daughter’s life for ever.
A decade later, Mandy’s daughter attends a mainstream school and enjoys the world she lives in, and is extremely happy. She is surrounded by girls at her school that love and nuture her and keeps breaking barriers that Mandy never thought would be possible. She has a full life and Mandy knows she’s given her daughter the best possible chance to one day lead an independent and productive life.
“Without all the work, I’m not sure where we would be. We had a daughter that had lost everything… all her words, all her language, even the simplest skills of pointing, smiling and waving. Today, we have a teenage girl who continues to learn all those things she needs to to get along and to get the most out of life. And still, not a day goes by, when something happens, that to anyone else looking at her would go unnoticed, but to me is a miracle unfolding before my eyes. Today I asked her how she was and she responded “I feel beautiful.
“While I will never be able to articulate the pain and suffering I have experienced in watching my daughter struggle to do what most children find so easy, it is matched by the elation of finding ways to teach her things that help her learn and experience all the wonderful things that life can bring. This allows me to help other children in ways that very few professionals know or understand.
“My daughter has taught me so much more than I will ever be able to teach her. She has taught me to be a better parent and a patient and determined teacher. She has taught me so much about how people learn and has given me a passion for sharing that knowledge and those tools that scientists have spent decades researching. There is so much hope for these children and my life has become about sharing that hope with other parents, not just children with autism, but all children struggling to fulfil their potential and underperforming at school.
“I was very fortunate to come in contact with professionals who shared their skills and knowledge of ABA which has empowered me to work through the grief to a place of being able to teach my daughter and others. I’m very grateful to the extraordinary professionals that have and continue to refine teaching practices so that clinicians and parents like me can help their children reach their potential. However in my more than decade long journey, it was Dr Kimberly Berens who has taught me the most and showed me that there are no limits to what someone can learn through the use of precise measurement and the application of science to learning. She is an extraordinary woman to lives in the core values of integrity and bringing the best that science offers us to transform lives.”
The journey continues.