Will Callaghan. Picture: David Crosling
Will Callaghan. Picture: David Crosling

New interview reveals how Will survived

Penny Callaghan, the mother of the 14-year-old boy who miraculously survived two lonely, frosty nights in Victoria's bushland, sat down for an emotional chat with Waleed Aly on The Project.

Opening up to the host, whose 13-year-old son is also on the autism spectrum, Ms Callaghan revealed it was characteristics of Will's intellectual disability that helped him survive without food or water on Mt Disappointment as temperatures plunged to near 0C.

Will had became separated from his family during a walk, and was found two days later after a massive search by a bushwalker, who said he was "calm and smiling" when approached.

Touching on how she thinks the teen survived the two nights largely unscathed, Ms Callaghan told Aly it was his resourcefulness that likely got him through.

"I had people constantly around me reminding me of his strengths, he is constantly on the move remember, he is very fit," Ms Callaghan explained.

"He's used to being out in the cold. He likes being outside all the time regardless of the temperature. It's almost as though he can't feel it," she added.

Penny explained how Will was able to fight through two cold nights in the Victorian bushland. Picture: Channel 10.
Penny explained how Will was able to fight through two cold nights in the Victorian bushland. Picture: Channel 10.

But it was how her son - who Ms Callaghan described as non-verbal - managed to source water that may have saved his life.

"Unlike your typical children, he will just drink from a puddle and not see anything wrong with that. In the wilderness that's perfectly fine and that's probably what got him through," she said.

Elsewhere in the emotional interview, the mum of two sons on the autism spectrum described the response from the public as "immensely moving".

Will Callaghan, 14, was found by a bushwalker two days after he went missing. Picture: David Crosling.
Will Callaghan, 14, was found by a bushwalker two days after he went missing. Picture: David Crosling.

"My experience with the general public and autism hasn't always been terrific," she admitted.

"I'm immensely moved because it means there are people in the community that do care … This little person is loved, that often isn't demonstrated in the wider community because he's different," she said.

As for how Will is coping now, after three nights in hospital, Ms Callaghan said he has 'definitely been affected' by the ordeal.

"He's very happy to be home and he's quite clingy with me. He often is that way when he has been distressed," she said.

Waleed Aly has a 13-year-old son on the autism spectrum. Picture: Channel 10.
Waleed Aly has a 13-year-old son on the autism spectrum. Picture: Channel 10.

In 2017, The Project host Aly opened up about raising a child on the autism spectrum.

"For us it showed up in his unbelievable obsession with trains," he told hosts Carrie Bickmore and Tommy Little of his now 13-year-old son.

"It showed up in early years when we would tell him off and he would look at us blankly like, 'Why are you making these noises?' He wouldn't pick up the social cues."

Aly said his son was "high functioning", which means the differences in his behaviour compared to another child of the same age are hard to spot.

He said it was a "relief" to hear his son's diagnosis and said "it's easy to handle once you know what you're dealing with".

"I actually thought, 'Oh great, the world makes sense now'. And now we know exactly what to do, we can handle this. And he's thriving, he's coping really well," he said.


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