A Nurtured Transformation – William’s story
Elisabeth Basford is the mother of 17-year-old William, a student at I CAN’s Dawn House School. Here she shares the challenges and rewards of raising a child with complex speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) and her aspirations for him as he nears a cross-road in his education.
Around two years of age, William began to show some very serious signs of autism; he would develop obsessions around things and his communication was very limited. He also had severe epilepsy and was having up to forty fits a day. By the time William was old enough to attend school, he had quite significant needs. These were looked after well in a very supportive primary school in Nottinghamshire and so we didn’t have too many concerns about his early development in education.
However, major issues began to emerge when we started to look for secondary schools for William. The increased class sizes made for a very busy and noisy environment and he struggled with sensory overload. We did what we thought was best, and sent him to a small independent school. William found it hard to settle in, and I remember receiving calls from the school saying that he had walked out of lessons or even off site. As William hit his teenage years, these problems became more severe. He had started to self-harm and he could erupt violently if something upset him. We felt as though we were walking on egg shells.
This had a massive impact on our family. William has a sister (Sofia) who is over six years younger than him. With all the attention that we were giving William, we often felt as though we were neglecting her needs, which is so difficult to face as a parent. Life had to follow a strict regime and we were unable to do anything in case of William having a melt-down. Meanwhile William’s school kept telling us he was fine. They kept telling us this until we began to realise that they were withholding the truth from us.
We went through our local council, researched and pushed for an Education Health and Care (EHC) plan in order to get William the appropriate educational support. This was refused several times and it took a great deal of time, meetings and legal arguments before the council finally agreed to award him the EHC.
We then received a recommendation to look at Dawn House School. When we came away from the first visit, I remember crying with relief. I thought ‘This is what he needs!’ It was such an amazing feeling. Soon after, we arranged an assessment. He started Dawn House School in September 2015.
I can’t remember there being a day when I consciously noticed everything had changed… everything seemed to happen gradually. For us as a family it made a massive difference – for so long, William’s needs had taken precedence over everyone else’s and it was nice to get some balance back. The first thing we did, once William had settled in at Dawn House, was take a family trip to London. Up until that point, this would have been near impossible. The trip was a success and it was loosely followed by a longer family holiday.
In the less than two years since William’s enrolment, things have changed so much. William is now progressing so well in school, and is far more independent and happier.
One of William’s obsessions is Dr Who. Dawn House had given him such confidence that he started writing detailed scripts and even won a competition to write a Dr Who script. They have developed his confidence in such a remarkable way that he is now happy to go to writing courses with me.
The other thing that has definitely added to his happiness is his friendship group. In his previous schools, it was tough to see him sitting on his own with no one engaging with him when we went to pick him up from school. When we went to Dawn House to see him in Hamlet, it was great to see him developing his own friendship groups with other students. For the first time ever William is a member of a peer group and he is able to join in with jokes and banter!
Thinking about the future, all I want is for him to have the confidence so that when he leaves Dawn House, he can go to college, university or get a full time job and lead a life for himself. The path he is on now makes me feel that all of that is possible. It makes me smile when I talk to people and they tell me that William looks so much happier! Last week we went to see William perform the lead in Othello. Next year he takes his GCSEs and after Christmas he wants to learn to drive.
It’s all happening for William now and he really does personify the ‘i can’ motto of the I CAN. In mainstream education he was told time after time – ‘No, you can’t!’ At Dawn House School it is all about what he can do! I really cannot thank them enough!