Ten. Purple. Hippo.
Updated: Sep 25, 2019
Once upon a time there was a Little Lad of two and a half years, who didn’t speak. His Mummy wasn’t worried because she knew that it was her fault - she was doing too much for him. All she needed to do was back off a bit and sign him up to a nice little nursery to give him a bit of space.
He started at the nursery and things went very wrong, very quickly. People started asking the Mummy to sign forms for referrals and she panicked and left. She found a kind Health Visitor who gently referred him instead and after a couple of frightening months they left the Child Development Centre with a shiny new autism diagnosis and no promise that he would ever speak.
Speech and Language Therapy (SALT) started in earnest and the Mummy was recommended a textbook which taught her how to teach the Little Lad why it was going to be useful to communicate. The fact that he couldn’t kick a football or pedal a tricycle meant that his motor planning wasn’t working correctly and this impacted on his ability to speak. His trike was placed in plain view but remained unclaimed, slowly bleaching in the sun. They marched together in the garden, saying ‘1, 2, 3 KICK’ and moving his foot by hand to strike the football. They didn’t know whether it made any difference whatsoever.
Over time they moved through the early communication phases of Commenting, Object Exchange, Photo Exchange, Picture Exchange, Schedules and Makaton sign language. Mummy slightly fell in love with Mr Tumble. Every six weeks the Little Lad and his Mummy would arrive for their SALT session to be given a new challenge and to measure the progress through the textbook. The Mummy secretly hoped that the therapist would tell her that verbal communication was certain, that it was just around the corner, that all the work would somehow pay off. Every time they left the session the Mummy bit her lip going back to the car trying not to cry because there were still no guarantees.
They created a game together, learning the names and the sounds of letters and matching flashcards up to an alphabet poster. He was hyperlexic so found it fun and easy. A different preschool threw themselves into his education and became an incredible and essential source of support.
Then one day the Little Lad said ‘ten’. He was playing with his number tiles and passed one to Mummy saying ‘ten’. The celebrations went on for a very long time and many packets of chocolate biscuits were consumed. He saw 10s everywhere, reading the word ‘RECEPTION’ and seeing that the I and O looked like a 10. He was unstoppable. The Commenting had worked and he understood a huge amount of words. Then one day he clambered on to his old, sun-bleached trike and casually pedalled away.
He started school with three words; ten, purple and hippo. Starting school meant that they lost their Speech and Language therapist and had to start with a new one, who suggested meeting approximately every 9 months, instead of every six weeks, with a view to discharge from the service. She hadn’t met Mummy before. With the support of the new school, Mummy’s vice-like grip ensured that they met termly and remained on the books for the next five years. The Little Lad’s teachers and dedicated Learning Support Assistants ensured that the SALT advice was taken on board and incorporated into his daily learning. His understanding was good but his spoken language remained limited for many years.
Roll forward to Monday 16th September 2019. The Little Lad is no longer little. He has just turned thirteen and has been invited to his new school’s Awards Evening. He volunteered and was selected to give a short presentation about what he loves about the school and his future education and career aspirations. He is introduced by the Assistant Head Teacher as part of a group of students in whom the staff take particular pride, those who are autistic.
The Grown-Up Lad takes his place at the lectern and reads out his speech in front of over two hundred people. Somewhere in the crowd, Mummy tries, and fails, to hold it together.
Nearing the end of the evening, the Grown-Up Lad is invited onto the stage to accept a certificate for being nominated for his hard work in seven subjects. Only two people in the school of 1500 students had more nominations.
The Grown-Up Lad is an example of what can happen when a child is provided with the support that they need to thrive in education. Support does not always have a financial cost attached to it; the vast majority of the encouragement from which he has benefitted has simply been down to the indefatigable and deeply caring attitude of those staff in whose care he has been placed. The current pathways to be granted financial support in education have been perverted into an exhausting, grubby and bloody battle about money; money that will eventually be repaid a hundred-fold by a future life as a Grown-Up tax-payer. Parents in the same situation should not have to fight as hard as they are forced to in order to access help.
With the right support, there are truly no limits.