For the first few years of his life, Liam didn’t make direct eye contact and he barely spoke.
His parents, Vicky and Chris, found his behaviour very hard to understand too. He didn’t play with other children, or with toys, in the way they expected. ”He spent his time organising and arranging his toys in lines based on colour co-ordination. He just spun the wheels of the cars, but never played with them.” Vicky remembers.
Without vital communication skills, Liam had no way to express his needs and wants, and would often become frustrated or distressed. His parents could see that he was struggling. “He used to bang his head against a wall or the floor - he was so frustrated”.
Eventually, at age two, Liam was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. Autism presents different challenges to different people. For Liam, sensory processing issues and difficulties regulating his emotions meant he often felt anxious and overwhelmed. And with no verbal skills and limited methods of communication, he was unable to express what he needed. He was facing a range of cognitive and emotional challenges. He became stressed when routines changed, he couldn’t cope in certain environments because of sensory processing difficulties, and he didn’t know how to overcome his frustrations and anxiety.
When Vicky and Chris heard about Aspect shortly after his diagnosis, they knew this was the opportunity he needed. When Liam began specialised therapy with Aspect, and then started at his Aspect school, Vicky and Chris couldn’t believe how quickly he progressed. Through the use of tools such as visual aids and storyboards, iPads and interactive whiteboards, Liam was learning how to communicate, and to express his needs in new ways. Liam went from visual communication – using visual aids or his iPad, to being able to verbally express himself. This ground-breaking change created new opportunities for Liam; who was learning how to build relationships and how to socialise.
“I never thought I’d be able to have a conversation with my son – but I have. Without Aspect, it wouldn’t have happened.”
The supportive environment provided by Aspect Schools and Satellite classes can change the life of a child like Liam, breaking down the barriers that can make life isolating for someone on the autism spectrum. Every Aspect classroom and playground has a range of autism-specific equipment and teaching tools to help children like Liam develop essential life skills and get the most out of their education.
Through visual aids and storyboards, Liam has developed his speech and communication skills, and learned to cope better with changes in routine. The use of weighted blankets and toys, specially designed for children with sensory processing needs, provide Liam with the deep tissue stimulation he craves when he becomes distressed. Noise-cancelling earmuffs provide vital relief from sensory overload so Liam can get the most out of each lesson, and regular trampoline breaks to keep him calm so he can concentrate for longer in class and complete tasks in a way he never could before.
It isn’t just resources that define success. Aspect classes are small, with only five or six students per teacher and teacher’s aide, meaning that personalised, tailored educational support is always available.
At 8 years old, Liam is now thriving, and Vicky and Chris have been able to better understand, and connect with their son - who has found a strong interest in film production, is deeply moved by classical music, and according to Vicky and Chris, has a great sense of humour.