For most people, taking the kids for a burger is no big deal but for one Harrogate family, it was a huge moment of triumph.
Jamie Grant, a student at Henshaws Specialist College, has autism, epilepsy, ADHD, profound learning difficulties and does not speak but a recent visit to a fast-food chain proved a major breakthrough when, for the very first time, he signed to his mother, Barbara, that what he really wanted was a burger.
It doesn’t sound like much but it was amazing! We were passing McDonalds on the way to the pharmacist when he signed “meat” to me, meaning that he wanted a burger! It was the first time that he had really demonstrated his understanding of how to communicate.
Jamie, who is 21, moved to Henshaws 18 months ago. At the time of his transition he was having an undiagnosed health crisis which had a very negative impact on his behaviour. Despite this, Henshaws agreed to accept him as a student and it was discovered that he was suffering from seizure activity. Following the diagnosis, Jamie’s learning came on in leaps and bounds, including a much-improved use of Makaton signing to communicate. He has also learned to use a tablet and the Picture Exchange Communication System.
Because of his health, Jamie was very different when he joined Henshaws Specialist College than when he was assessed for a place earlier and his behaviour was very challenging. Despite this, Henshaws stood by him, understanding that it was not part of his character. Because of that, Jamie has developed confidence in the people working with him. He is being treated like a young man, rather than a child, and that, too, has increased his confidence.
Jamie’s conditions mean that he seeks sensory stimulation so Henshaws College has found ways to help him with this. Not only can he use the College’s swimming pool, which he loves, but he gets out into the general community more, all of which helps him to burn off some of his excess energy, increasing his ability to focus when learning.
As part of his desire for sensory stimulation, Jamie also has pica, which means he eats inappropriate items such as soap which could lead to harm. His underdeveloped sense of taste means that he craves strong flavours, especially those with a perfume, and the College works to satisfy this need through providing food such as rose creams, parma violets and lemon. To help him achieve greater independence, Jamie is also learning how to clean as part of his daily routine and the College provides natural cleaners such as vinegar, lemon and bicarbonate of soda to ensure he can take part without risk of harm.
Dr Stephen Shore said that if you have met one person with autism, then you have met one person with autism, and that is very true. It has been Henshaws Specialist College’s understanding of Jamie as an individual that has allowed him to make so much progress.
Henshaws Principal Angela North said:
Many of our students have very complex issues and needs and it is a key tenet of our work to get to know and understand what those are and then to work with each student in the way that suits them best to achieve their full potential and to progress along their individual pathway towards independence. In Jamie’s case, our teams, including those from The Starting Point, which specialises in autism, and Disability Support Services, worked with Jamie and his family to achieve this progress.