Learning For Life Is Helping Kids With Autism Reach Their Potential

Tom Gleisner and his wife Mary Muirhead are helping hundreds of Aussie kids like Luca

What you need to know
  • Tom Gleisner and his wife Mary Muirhead founded Learning for Life in 2004
  • They've worked with more than 100 kids with autism to help them better communicate and socialise

Comedian and host of Have You Been Paying Attention?, Tom Gleisner, has appeared on our TV screens and been making us laugh for years, but behind the scenes, he and his wife Mary are passionate about helping kids with autism.

Speaking to The Project, Tom and Mary explained how they came up with the idea. “We had a friend who had a son with autism and they found their way into this form of intensive therapy and we just watched this kid from going from being non-verbal to making enormous strides,” Tom explains.

“The only problem was that it was very expensive… so Tom and I, and four other founders, decided that we would like to change that and make it more equitable,” adds Mary.

So in 2004 they founded the Learning for Life autism centre in Melbourne’s east, which offers early behavioural intervention programs for kids with autism, teaching to move, communicate and socialise.

Over the past 15 years, Learning for Life has raised more than $2.5 million and delivered 53,000 hours of intensive therapy to families who couldn’t otherwise afford it to more than 100 kids. During this time, the number of Aussies diagnosed with autism has increased from around 64,000 in 2009 and 164,000 in 2015.

David Favretto’s son, Luca, was diagnosed with autism five years ago.

Luca was diagnosed with autism when he was two-and-a-half years old.

“When we first got the diagnosis, it’s one of those moments that really hits you in the head, where everything’s foggy,” David says. Reflecting on that moment, he realises how many questions he had about his son’s future and their relationship. “Your life changes in that moment… What do we do next? And what does that mean? And is he going to talk? Is he going to interact with me? Is he going to hug me?”

At the time, Luca couldn’t walk or talk, and struggled with touch. He then started working one-on-one with therapist, Sarah, up to 40-hours a week at the Learning for Life centre. Since then, Luca has shown fantastic improvement; he is able to walk and talk, and has even started school.

Learning for Life has helped Luca's communication and social skills.

“You have these moments in your life where you realise you are walking together holding hands, you are having actual exchanges of sentences… so that’s pretty special,” David says.

The full interview with Tom, Mary, Sarah and David will air on The Project tonight.