Local Hero: Katie Koullas and Yellow Ladybugs

Katie Koullas founder of the Yellow LadyBugs foundation with her six year old daughter Mia. Picture: Michael Rayner

Katie Koullas founder of the Yellow LadyBugs foundation with her six year old daughter Mia. Picture: Michael Rayner

Picture your daughter as an outsider never getting invited on play dates because she’s “different”. Now imagine her never meeting anyone like herself because she has Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The mum of an Essendon Primary School student has set up an innovative friendship group for ASD girls that she hopes will change all that.

Katie Koullas knew her six-year-old daughter Mia was “different” at kinder but it took two years before the medical profession realised Mia’s inability to connect with others was autism.

“Girls like Mia fall through the cracks,” Katie says. “They mask the condition and are high-functioning so go to regular school, but they are the kids who don’t get asked on play dates.”

Katie set up the Yellow Ladybugs organisation with the motto: “Every girl deserves friends.” It’s a parent-run group organising play dates and functions for these special girls with high-functioning autism.

One of the Yellow Ladybug ambassadors never met another girl with the same condition until she was in university, but Katie wants kids with the same condition to connect while they are still children and for their parents to share “me too” moments. The organisation aims to increase awareness of girls with autism which, unlike boys, is often undiagnosed, Katie says.

Mia fooled medicos until two years ago when one recognised the traits that marked her as more than a loner, but a child with ASD.

“Imagine being a child with no friends – that was Mia,” says Katie. “It broke my heart when she wasn’t invited to parties because people didn’t understand.

“Kids with ASD can come across as aloof or unfriendly; but really they just don’t know what to do in social settings; they don’t know how to say ‘hi’ sometimes.”

The organisation, which started in May and is named after Mia’s favourite colour and insect, opens the world of friendship to ASD girls aged five to eight, with the hope they build networks to support them in later years. Its events have been booked out.

“As soon as I found out about Mia, I focused my energy on supporting her and building a network for her and children like her,” says Katie.

Want to help out? yellowladybugs.com.au