For the first two years of Alexander's life, we watched our young son struggle to communicate with the world around him. At five, Alexander could not make any sounds on command. Never mind words or letters, sounds. An assessment and diagnosis - a severe case of Childhood Apraxia - wanting to communicate but unable to - painted a very bleak picture. We were told by health professionals that they hoped he would speak, but it would be unlikely. We felt so lost. More tears, more worry, more stress, but still a hope.
Human nature is to hope and I clung to it. It was a very lonely time because Alexander could not communicate, he could not engage with adults. It was really tough. There were so many unanswered questions. How would my little boy understand his world? How would he cope? Would he ever know friendship? What would the future be? How could I possibly be there with him every minute of the day and protect him from the pain of scorn and rejection.
Alexander's first words came six months after he started at a speech and language school called Meath. We were on holiday in Cornwall, the coastal path was wet and Alexander said, "Mud". The whole family froze as we shouted, "Mud, yes Alexander, it is mud. Can you say it again?" and he did, repeatedly. It wasn't mum, but I didn't care. My son had said his first word and I heard this amazing voice for the very first time.
Life for Alexander is so different since he started at Meath School; he has relationships, he has friendships, he has skills to access the curriculum, he knows his numbers and letters. He's working on reading, his expressive language, his ability to give reason, ask 'why' and to use the word 'because' to explain himself. Alexander is one of over a million UK children who have SLCN (speech language and communication needs) and require long term specialist help - help without which my son would have lived frustrated and unable to fulfil his potential.
We are so fortunate to have a school like Meath for Alexander, but we had to find the people who were prepared to listen and guide us through a painful and emotional time. We are the family with the special needs child and this alone can be a barrier to many people. As parents we need to fight every step of the way to find those who care and want to help.
Charities like I CAN and Afaisic offer practical advice, tips and support to help parents better support children with SLCN, for many this could be a life changing phone call that could help a child find a voice and get specialist help to achieve their potential. If we had not discovered I CAN and Meath School, I'm not sure Alexander would have said his first words, let alone gone on to read. This condition hides in the shadows. SLCNs are so difficult to identify and not be clouded by other conditions. G.P.s, health visitors, pre-school teachers and assistants as well as reception and year one teaching staff need to be better informed and trained so they can spot tendencies which may lead to the correct diagnosis and early intervention.
I CAN and Meath School have opened so many doors for my child. They've made the future brighter for him. Their effort, their direction and their focus is incredible and I could not have wanted anything better.