A young girl with autism who couldn't speak can now hold conversations after starring in a dance DVD.
Shannon Duffy, 12, was born with lots of difficulties. She had no muscle tone and, as a toddler, she did not walk or speak. She could only make noises.
But four months ago, she was asked to take part in a dance DVD with other children - and the results have been nothing short of miraculous.
Shannon was diagnosed with autism when she was eight and moved from her mainstream school to Hillingdon Manor, an independent specialist school for autistic children, in Middlesex.
"It was a godsend," Shannon's mum, Katreena, 35, told the Sun. "They gave her one–to-one help with reading, speech and language, which helped, but she was still very muddled and there was a lot of gobbledygook and she still refused to start a conversation.
Then, four months ago, Anna Kennedy - Hillingdon Manor's founder who has two sons with autism - asked Shannon if she would like to appear in a dance DVD with other children from the school:
"I was not sure how well Shannon would take to it. Physically, she had very weak muscle tone and no co-ordination at all.
"But Anna spent a lot of time researching moves and worked with dance experts from the Pineapple Performing Arts School in London.
"She helped the children develop their spatial awareness - something that is difficult for autistic children to grasp - and ensured the children worked in groups and pairs.
"She encouraged the kids to use imagination by entering a circle and dancing freestyle to the music and urged them to bring in their favourite CDs to help them get used to the different rhythms.
Soon, I started noticing changes in Shannon. She was growing in confidence, moving better, and her muscle tone and co-ordination improved.
"Then, one day, out of the blue, Shannon came running up to me and said, 'Mum, can we watch my DVD together?' That moment was so touching - it was the first time she had ever begun a conversation. It was very, very overwhelming."
Katreena added: "This was the first time she had ever taken an interest in anything. It was incredible. My little girl now exudes a confidence I have never seen before.
"She takes the DVD everywhere she goes. It has given her a focus. It is helping her co-ordination. We've still got a long way to go but the DVD won't wear out - if it does I will buy another."
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