Fight to Unlock Their Minds; the Parents Who Face Huge Bills to Fund Vital Help for Their Autistic Children as National Autism Week Highlights the Condition and the Plight of Sufferers, Health Editor PAULA MARSH Speaks to Three Local Families Who Have Battled against the Odds to Get Help for Their Autistic Children

Birmingham Evening Mail (England), May 19, 2000 | Go to article overview

Fight to Unlock Their Minds; the Parents Who Face Huge Bills to Fund Vital Help for Their Autistic Children as National Autism Week Highlights the Condition and the Plight of Sufferers, Health Editor PAULA MARSH Speaks to Three Local Families Who Have Battled against the Odds to Get Help for Their Autistic Children


SEVEN year-old Ben Simpson is a little boy wonder. The toddler whose violent behaviour once threatened to tear his family apart has undergone an amazing transformation after spending more than four years in intensive therapy.

From being branded a severely autistic child who would never learn to speak Ben now attends school and can read, write and do sums.

'He caused pounds 6,000 worth of damage to the house,' recalls mum Julie. 'The place looked like Beirut, it was a living nightmare.

'He would smear excrement on the walls, rip the wallpaper off and smash bottles of milk on the floor.'

Ben's aggressive behaviour was eventually put down to a severe form of autism at the age of three.

The condition leaves youngsters locked in a world of their own, unable to communicate or even recognise their parents.

Some specialists believed Ben's condition would never be controlled and tried to persuade his parents to send him to a residential home for the severely disabled.

But Julie and husband Paul, from Cheswick Green in Solihull, were determined to try anything to keep Ben at home.

Struggle

'I knew that if he got bigger and remained like this I couldn't cope,' explained Julie. 'Everything was a struggle. I had to fight with him to bath him, fight to get him dressed and fight to get him to eat.

'It was extremely frustrating and it meant that I was completely shut off from the world because I couldn't turn my back on him for a second.

'Keeping him was tearing the family apart, but we didn't want him to go into residential care.'

Julie and Paul had read about the pounds 62,000 a-year Higashi Institute in America where specially trained experts are able to control autistic children's behaviour.

'It was one of those things you would never take on unless you were desperate - and we were desperate,' says Julie.

'We had some savings and some things we could sell and after that we had to raise pounds 1,200 a week every week for two years to keep him there.

'On the day we left him I cried my eyes out. I kept going back to hug him and he was just pushing me away.

'It was heartbreaking, but we felt we had no choice because the only other option here was to send him to a special school where they couldn't do anything for him.'

With help from kind-hearted Evening Mail readers and countless celebrities, Julie and Paul managed each month to raise their target figure.

'We used to do ridiculous things, like ring up Newcastle United Football Club and ask for Alan Shearer. He agreed to help us with a fund-raiser, but because it was on his debut day, Kevin Keegan rang and said would we accept him instead.'

Other celebrities to get involved in Ben's appeal included TV presenter Philip Schofield, football manager Trevor Francis and Radio One personality Zoe Ball.

Transformed

When Ben finally returned from America, aged five, he was a transformed character. No longer set on racing around the house on a wrecking spree, the youngster was calm and quiet.

But Julie and Paul, delighted at first with their son's progress, received a blow when they employed a one-to-one therapist from a revolutionary Norwegian programme called Lovaas through a local support group called TEAM.

'I was explaining how Ben knew basic commands and the therapist said 'show me',' recalls Julie.

'I showed him and he said, 'now show me without using your hands'. Ben hadn't got a clue. It made me feel sick at heart. He could understand visual commands, but not a word of speech.

'For two weeks we did nothing but teach him the meaning of sit, come and look until all of a sudden he understood a word meant something. That's when we had our first real breakthrough.

'Within one month he was saying his first letters.'

Shortly after starting the Lovaas programme, Ben said his first spontaneous word. …

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Fight to Unlock Their Minds; the Parents Who Face Huge Bills to Fund Vital Help for Their Autistic Children as National Autism Week Highlights the Condition and the Plight of Sufferers, Health Editor PAULA MARSH Speaks to Three Local Families Who Have Battled against the Odds to Get Help for Their Autistic Children
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