Antonia is Mum to 6 year old Max and 3 year old Toby. Max has autism and is a student at Portfield School.
Until Christmas 2017, Max’s fifth, he couldn’t tell his parents what he wanted from Santa. He couldn’t speak. His parents waited over 3 years to hear his voice. They had never been able to ask him what he wanted for tea, let alone Christmas lunch or which presents should be wrapped under the tree.
But this year is different.
Thanks to an early diagnosis and the success Max has had at specialist autism school, Portfield, Max is now able to speak. He can tell his Mum & Dad what he would like Santa to bring and he can let them know what he would like to eat on this special day.
Max’s conversation isn’t yet fluent, but since uttering his first word his communication has improved enough to reduce negative behaviours, often born from frustration. He now has an understanding of what is being asked of him, where he used to look at his Mum blankly, he can now follow instruction and respond. Not only can Max have short conversations but he is learning about his emotions too.
The impact this has made on the family has been life changing. Antonia comments;
"Max didn’t say his first word until he was 3, when he said ‘bear’. It was such an amazing moment, I had waited so long to hear his little voice, I cried when he said it. All the small things you take for granted, like asking Max what he’d like to do, where he’d like to go, what he wants for dinner. My son can now tell me and it’s been life changing. We are all so looking forward to Christmas.”
The last few Christmases haven’t been memory making occasions for the family.
Max didn't say his first word until he was three, when he said 'bear'. The past few years have been filled with grief. Max’s diagnosis, at the age of three, led to feelings of guilt, blame, disbelief and fear. At the same time as being pregnant with her second child Max’ Mum was confronting feelings of having done something to cause Max’ autism during her first pregnancy. It was also during this time that Antonia's mum was diagnosed with cancer which unfortunately resulted in Antonia losing her mum.
The absence of an autism diagnosis for Max did not mean the absence of autistic behaviours before his autism became ‘official’. Max had just turned three when he was diagnosed but his parents knew something was wrong at around 18 months. Max had no words, no way of communicating and so his communication became very physical. Max would become very agitated, frustrated and had lots of meltdowns.
He couldn’t cope. He couldn’t tell anyone.
So he started hitting his head against the hard floor. His Mum had to lie with him and physically restrain him so he couldn’t harm himself too badly. At that point Antonia, and Max's Dad Ben, knew they had to get their son a specialist school placement as mainstream education was not meeting his needs. Far from it.
It's not been an easy road to getting Max the support he needed but this Christmas is going to be the best yet, thanks to the staff at Portfield School.