THIS family lives in fear because of violent outbursts from their beloved autistic son Max. It meant they faced a heartbreaking decision.
THEY’RE the brave steps of a family desperate to protect themselves and take control of a life being torn apart.
And they’ve seen Liz and Sean Whelan take the most difficult of decisions to look after their 12-year-old son Max, and at the same time protect their family against a condition none of them control.
Max has severe non-verbal autism and an undiagnosed intellectual disability, which make him unpredictably violent and prone to destructive meltdowns that have turned the family home into a war zone.
The family’s plight became public earlier this year when Sean’s high profile sister, actor Nicky Whelan, and his other sister Katie Brannaghan, launched a GoFundMe page in an effort to help the family avoid the unthinkable: giving Max up to keep the rest of the family from harm.
Launching the drive to raise $80,000 to help the family get Max the help he needs, Nicky Whelan said the heartbreaking situation was tearing the family apart.
On Sunday, they will open up about their heartbreaking experience on Channel 9’s 60 Minutes.
“Where we’ve arrived - at the point that we are - it makes it so difficult because we all love Max so unconditionally,” Ms Whelan says on 60 Minutes.
“We love him, there’s no conditions on our love for him. But there’s conditions on our safety.”
As Max moves through puberty, he has developed an “inexplicable” strength which results in frequent and violent meltdowns.
Max lives with his parents and three siblings, Thomas, 13, Harrison, 9 and Georgia, 7, in Mount Martha on the Mornington Peninsula. In May, Liz told news.com.au his frequent violent outbursts — which are beyond his control — meant that the son they love desperately also has the rest of the family living in fear.
Max often needs to be physically restrained so he doesn’t hurt himself, or anyone else.
“Our whole family lives on lockdown,” Liz told news.com.au.
“We have locks on every window and door in the house. He will try to escape whenever he can.”
The family lives with constant anxiety, she said, and has learnt to avoid certain trigger words like the word “no”, which can cause a meltdown in which anyone in Max’s way could become a target.
“Usually I am the one getting hit, but he has figured out now that if he hits the dog or his little sister then we all react. And he likes getting a reaction,” Liz said.
Max’s siblings now have coded locks on their bedroom doors so they have a safe place to hide.
The GoFundMe campaign was set up in the hope the Whelans can find an alternative to the impossible — giving up Max into care to protect the rest of the family.
Liz said they knew it was only a matter of time before Max seriously hurt himself or someone else. But, with no facilities or government options available to cater to his needs on a permanent basis, they have had to come up with an alternative plan.
The aim is to convert the family home into a personal care facility that will meet Max’s specific needs.
It means the Ms Whelan and the three other children have to move out while the home is converted.
“I felt so deeply for both Sean and Liz,” Hayes said.
“They’re faced with an impossible decision - give up Max or split the family.
Liz and Sean Whelan with their children Georgia, Max, Thomas and Harrison. Picture: Katie BrannaghanSource:Supplied
The funding will go towards employing specialist carers for Max and allow the rest of the family to move into a small rental home nearby so the other children can have a safe, peaceful home.
The plan is for Liz and Sean to still have regular contact with Max and oversee his care.
It will also allow them to fit the house out with the necessary equipment required, such as security fences and non-slip surfaces to ensure Max’s safety.
Last month, Sean’s sister Katie updated the family’s progress on the GoFundMe saying Liz and the kids were due to move out within days to a small rental home nearby.
“Sean at this stage will stay with Max in the family home until they can employ and appropriately train the carers that are required to support Max properly and who will be well equipped to manage his complex behaviours,” she wrote.
“Sean will also oversee the beginnings of the modifications to the home that will specifically meet Max’s complex needs.”
The move was being made with heavy hearts, she said.
“Neither Liz nor Sean want to have to separate their family, they feel they are forced to do so though in order to protect their other children, to keep them safe from harm and provide them with a better quality of life,” the post continues.
“It is the family’s hope that this separation will only be a short-term temporary arrangement, however, the duration will depend greatly on the NDIS funding they are granted for Max.”
It is only with the NDIS funding that they will be able to implement the full-time care plan they have created for Max, which they will oversee and will result in the family being able to move back together.
“This funding is still an unknown variable in their situation which causes great angst for them,” the statement reads.
The Whelan family’s heartbreaking progress on saving Their beloved Max, and the rest of the family — is the subject of a story to air on 60 Minutes this Sunday.
“It’s scary to be dealing with a child with the strength of a man,” Nicky Whelan tells reporter Liz Hayes.
“There’s no conditions on our love for him, but there is conditions on our safety,” says mother Liz.
As his siblings confess to being scared of their brother, Sean says the family knows it can’t “continue like this”.
“We’ll take it as far as we need to take it and we’ll keep fighting for Max.”