Lowes christmases decorations are a popular theme for children, with many featuring Christmas trees.
But for a nine-year-old boy named Matthew, who has autism, the decorations were his Christmas surprise.
“He’s very sweet and he likes to play with toys and do things,” said his mother, Stephanie, who said her son had a problem with people touching him.
“There was a lot of people who were touching him, it was very upsetting for him.
And then he was taken to a hospital with a fever and had to be put in a medically induced coma.”
She added that the boy had no idea what the decorations meant or were meant to mean.
“I’ve always been very protective of him and always have, and I’m really proud of him,” she said.
The family’s experience with the decorations was different, as Matthew was initially concerned about whether he would make friends with the toy, but he quickly became fascinated with the decoration.
“His friends, their toys, their pictures were on the wall and he loved them,” she explained.
“It was amazing to him, the attention they were giving him, that was so lovely.”
When the boy was put into a medically assisted coma, he was brought to a specialist in Brisbane for evaluation.
“That was the hardest part, because they were very concerned about his safety, he wasn’t allowed out of his room, he had to have a mask on, he couldn’t talk, he didn’t eat,” Stephanie said.
“And they said he was very lucky because there was no one in the hospital that was going to put him in a coma for the next few weeks, so he was going into a very difficult time.”
The boy had been given a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and was treated with medication to manage his symptoms.
When the hospital discovered that Matthew had autism, they started an investigation into the decorations.
They found the decorations had a history of abuse.
“We had a number of children that had been abused, so the police, the medical staff, the staff at the hospital who cared for him,” Stephanie explained.
She said the incident was a huge setback, as she and her husband had always supported their son, and the decorations made him feel very safe.
“When we found out that there was a history, it’s a terrible thing,” she added.
“The whole family was devastated, and we are very upset and we feel betrayed.”
The family decided to move on from the decorations, but Stephanie was determined to raise awareness of the issue, and to put pressure on other organisations.
“You can’t be the only one that has a Christmas tree,” she recalled saying.
“To be able to go to Christmas, be able see the lights, see the decorations is amazing.
It makes us very happy.”
She said she had not seen her son in so long that she had forgotten where she had left him, and she wanted to make sure that Matthew got a new Christmas tree as soon as possible.
“All he wants to do is go to the tree,” Stephanie added.
Matthew’s story has prompted the Australian Government to look into ways to protect children with autism.
The Queensland Government is also looking at ways to prevent child abuse.
And in Australia, the Australian Medical Association has launched an investigation after learning of Matthew’s case.
“These are extremely difficult times, and unfortunately they do leave people vulnerable to a range of traumatic experiences and we need to understand how we can protect our young people from such abuse,” said AMA Queensland Secretary-General Chris Smith.
He said it was important for families and schools to ensure children with ASD have access to the services they need.
“This includes a safe and happy environment for them, as well as a range, inclusive of services such as social workers and other support services,” he said.