Like any parent, all Cass and Liam wanted for their baby boy was to give him the chance to lead a happy and fulfilling life. From birth, they noticed that little Alex was unusually sensitive to touch. He only seemed at peace when completely wrapped up in his onesie, and nappy changes always resulted in screams and thrashing limbs.
Aside from this, Alex’s developmental milestones were normal so Cass wasn't too concerned. But at 14 months old, everything changed. “Alex suffered a catastrophic regression. Eye contact became non-existent, he had no language or vocalisations, and he started repetitive behaviours like hand flapping and running full speed up and down corridors for hours, slamming into walls.”
When Alex was diagnosed at two years old, the news was bittersweet. “Autism gave our family a frame of reference for Alex’s behaviour. We received more understanding and a little more slack when we said no to going out, or for his hand flapping and shrieking in public.”
Alex struggles with verbal communication, which means he can’t always express when he’s hungry, tired or overwhelmed. He also has significant sensory processing difficulties. He needs regular sensory feedback, such as weight on his body or constant motion, to help him concentrate and prevent him from feeling overwhelmed.
Alex also has a tendency — and incredible ability — to run away at lightning speed. As you can imagine, this has caused Cass and Liam a great deal of anxiety at times. “Since he could walk, he’s been running. If Alex wants to get away from you, he’ll scale the walls to do it.”
Alex’s specific needs mean that without enough supervision and support, his safety can be at serious risk. Cass and Liam were terrified that they wouldn’t find the right school for Alex—one where he could be closely supervised and where his sensory needs would be understood. “Even before Alex was preschool age, we knew that mainstream education was not going to work for him. We struggled badly, trying to make people understand how desperately Alex craved motion – or the dangers of him running away if he was struggling with sensory overload.”
Sadly, without personalised support, many children on the autism spectrum may not cope or be able to develop the skills they need to for the future. We know that that four out of five children on the autism spectrum experience difficulties at school. Many of them struggle to make friends and end up feeling left out and isolated. And their varying educational needs and communication skills can mean mainstream schooling is overwhelming and unproductive.
If these issues are not addressed in childhood, people on the spectrum are disproportionately disadvantaged in adulthood. Our research shows that more than 70% of adults on the spectrum suffer from mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety. And just over half of adults on the spectrum are gainfully employed, compared to 95% of the general population.
Since attending his Aspect School, Cass and Liam have seen positive changes in Alex that they never thought possible. “Without Aspect, Alex would not have developed his love of learning. He would be in sensory overload, wreaking havoc someplace, and there would be daily meltdowns over going to school. Instead, he actually WANTS to go to school.”
At school, Alex’s individual needs are met each day. Regular trampoline or scooter breaks keep him calm and mean he can concentrate and complete tasks in a way he never could before. His social skills have improved enormously and he has even given his teachers and classmates nicknames, which Cass says, “shows how much he likes them”. His language and communication skills have also progressed beyond what Cass and Liam could ever have imagined. He is now able to share details about his day and tell his parents all the new things he’s learned.
“He’s thriving,” describes Cass. “He knows all his shapes, he can count 1-100 forwards and backwards, he knows his alphabet, and he’s reading”.
It means the world to Cass and Liam to see Alex so happy and engaged at school. But for Cass, one of the most meaningful changes she’s seen in Alex is his growing ability to connect with her. “Early last year I had my first ‘I love you’ from him. We were having a post-meltdown cuddle and rocking session. He looked me in the eyes, wiped away my tears, like I had for him a few moments earlier, and told me he loved me. Needless to say, there were more tears.”
There was a time when Cass and Liam had no idea what kind of future to expect for their son. But with every new word he speaks, every new friend he makes and every obstacle he overcomes, they feel more and more confident that their son can lead a fulfilling life.
Not all families with a child on the autism spectrum have the opportunity to see them thrive in this way. But with your support, this can change.
Please open your heart this tax time and donate today so that we can support more children on the autism spectrum, giving them the educational opportunities they deserve.