Samuel was diagnosed with having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in Year 1. Before this diagnosis we always knew something was bothering him at a young age; often we would have to sit or stand with him to get him to sit still.
We were worried about starting Samuel at primary school; we had quite a few issues where he didn’t know how to balance socially acceptable behaviour in a school setting.
It was after his first year that we decided to seek the help of a paediatrician and eventually came to the decision to put him on medication. We wanted him to progress and even with the specialist attention the school was giving him, he still wasn’t reaching his full potential – as a parent, it didn’t feel right. We continued to go back and forth and eventually Samuel was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as well.
At this stage Samuel didn’t have much of an awareness of his own needs in comparison to other children. He saw himself as a ‘naughty boy’ and someone who didn’t have a lot of friends. It was always at home where his anxious and soon to be aggressive behaviour would come out.
Year 4 is when things started to get really bad. The relationship between Samuel and I became quite strained and he would often kick, punch, scratch at me. He would do anything to avoid doing what I asked of him. Even the daily tasks of, ‘can you get in the shower and get dressed’, was too much. It got to the point that I had to teach my younger son how to dial 999 and tell them “Mummy is hurt because Samuel hit her”.
I don’t blame Samuel for that, it is just how he coped and communicated at the time. A large amount of his poor emotional and mental state was largely down to the fact that he couldn’t communicate effectively. We knew that he couldn’t cope in a mainstream secondary school. That would have been too much pressure for him to handle. He was becoming a ‘school-refuser’ and I knew that he needed extra support to take that next step…
When I first went for a visit at Dawn House School, the children seemed so relaxed, ready to learn, interested in what was happening. I thought to myself, ‘I really like the environment here’. I could see him fitting in there and the staff seemed so caring and experienced; it was at that point we went through the motions of getting him to go for an assessment.
Samuel started with a phased transition, tailored to his pace. He was sent a bespoke timetable with symbols and lessons plans and menus just to make him feel as ready as possible. Eventually his visits got longer and longer and he was attending full-time by the February half term, much earlier than anticipated by the staff. Samuel started Dawn House at the end of Year 5
We saw such a change in him; he was excited to go to school, he seemed happy and engaged with his learning. He was relating to his peers who had similar needs, it was so great to see him progress. He even took his SAT’s in Year 6.
Now, he has transitioned into the secondary side of the school and is thriving. He is no longer too scared to ask for help or support and is thinking about his achievements. The staff understand the different needs of the pupils and can often spot issues with Samuel before he articulates it himself.
Dawn House’s approach is equipping Sam with the life skills to grow into a young man. I honestly think he would be a complete ‘school-refuser’ now, if it wasn’t for the school.
It is the little things outside of school where I have also noticed a difference in him. He is so much more self aware and able to communicate his emotions. I never dreamed of being able to take both boys out together, on my own, and yet now I can. The other day I took the boys to a local Steel Museum, which was rather noisy. Previously, Samuel would have struggled with this and just kicked off, however he just looked calmly at me and said, “Can we please leave this space as I am not coping very well” and that was that! Samuel is growing more and more and the changes have been felt both in his life and ours.