Kellie was devastated as the words started to disappear from her son Max’s vocabulary. And then, silence. He didn’t speak. He didn’t look up. He didn’t turn around when she called his name.
It wasn’t just Max’s speech that was going backwards. There were other alarming changes in his behaviour. He had always been alert and responsive, interested in the world around him. But then he stopped taking an interest. He started to retreat into himself. And Kellie was left utterly distraught.
“It felt like the boy I knew, the loving and curious boy, was changing in front of my eyes – and it was so upsetting.”
“By the age of two, Max was using ten words. He loves transport, so in the pram he pointed out things he liked: ‘car’ or ‘truck’. But suddenly his speech started regressing, and he didn’t respond when I called his name. He had always waved goodbye to my husband, Adam, when he left for work. Then one morning Adam said, ‘Max doesn’t wave to me anymore’.”
Things started to become clearer when Max was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, aged two and a half. But the diagnosis still came as a huge shock. It sent Kellie and Adam reeling.
After his diagnosis, Kellie and Adam were able to find a special eduacation school nearby their home. Unfortunately, as time went on, it just wasn’t working for Max or his parents. “Mornings were terrible,” says Kellie. “Max not waving to Adam when he left for work, then not wanting to go to school. I had to drag him. He didn’t want to be there and he wasn’t making progress. The teachers told me he was settled during the day, but at home time he always ran up to me in tears and wanted to get away.”
Sadly these experiences are all too common for children like Max, who are struggling to cope in schools that are not equipped to support children on the spectrum. That’s why many parents of children on the spectrum are desperate for a place at our specialist Aspect schools – where the expert staff understand a child’s needs, and the learning environment is tailored to their strengths and interests.
Kellie and Adam knew that Aspect was the best option for Max. “When we went to an open day at our nearest Aspect school,” says Kellie, “we saw at once that it was exactly what we were looking for: expert teachers, small classroom sizes, security and comfort. It was a place where Max would be welcomed, accepted and supported to become a happy, sociable boy.”
So when Max was offered a place at our Aspect school, Kellie and Adam were delighted – but also concerned. The family lived two and a half hours away from the nearest city, the site of our school. It just wasn’t an option to bring Max to school and pick him up again every day.
“Adam’s work commitments meant that he couldn’t leave the town, so we decided that I should move to the city during the week, with Max, his two-year-old brother Chad and five-year-old sister Regan. Then we would go back home at the weekend, for two days of quality time with Adam.”
This is how autism can change everything for a whole family. It was the reason that Max and his siblings had to travel to a new place during the week, a second home, away from their friends – away from their dad.
There’s a huge demand for our education programs in the year ahead. More families are coming to us for support than ever before. But unless we receive more funding, we can’t offer more places at our schools. So even families like Max’s – who are willing to change everything in their home life for a school place – may have to go without.
At our Aspect school, Max has flourished with the nurturing support of his teacher Sarah. She’s been a constant in a time of change, developing a deep understanding of his strengths and needs.
As Max was struggling to use words, Sarah set about developing a new way for him to communicate. She’s taught him how to express his needs and wants with a computer program on his iPad. So even though he can’t say that he would like to watch his favourite movie or have a bite to eat, he can still show that he wants to – by pointing to a picture on his iPad.
Now that Max can communicate if he’s hungry or sad, Kellie and Adam don’t have to rely on guesswork – they know that he needs a snack, or a hug. They no longer endure the painful sight of their little boy suffering in silence.
Max can also take his iPad with him wherever he goes. He even brings it to the park, so he can tell his brother Chad and sister Regan when he wants to play, and which game he would like.
Where once he was isolated from his loving family, Max is now building relationships with his mum, dad, brother and sister. They can better relate to him too, so there are smiles and hugs all round.
As well as transforming his relationships, our support has also changed Max’s morning routine beyond all recognition. “He loves going to school now,” says Kellie. “Not once have I had to drag him in. Every morning, he runs into the playground with a beaming smile, and gives his teachers a big hug. It shows how safe and comfortable he feels. He isn’t nearly so anxious or withdrawn.”
“Children on the spectrum are capable of anything, but they just need teachers with understanding, compassion and patience.”
There have also been other changes at home. “Max is starting to look at us again when we say his name,” Kellie continues. “It sounds like a little thing, but for us it means everything.”
“Seeing my child look at me, expectant, eyes wide and full of love – it’s priceless. Autism took that away, but Aspect have given it back.”
That’s the change that Aspect can make – restoring an ability to communicate that had disappeared, rediscovering a joy in learning that had been lost, revealing the potential that had been hidden away.
If you would like to help give children like Max access to the educational opportunities they deserve, please click on the link below.