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James and Tommy - The early years

James (12) was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Global Development Delay at three and a half years old.  He hadn't spoken up until then, although we weren’t too concerned at the time as we thought he might have simply been a little slow off the mark with his speech, as was the case with one of his grandfathers who was 4 before he and his twin started speaking.   

The news of James’ initial diagnosis was heartbreaking for us, as we didn't know what it meant for him.  Would he ever speak?  Would he ever love?  Would he be able to travel, and expand his world?

Tommy (11) was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Global Developmental Delay a year later.  By then, we thankfully had a year of help, support and guidance up our sleeves - so the shock was not as dramatic as it had been with James. 

We knew that the early years would be imperative in terms of guiding the children as they learned how to communicate in any way possible (e.g. using visual pictures to ask for food, or places to visit, like the park etc.), engage with us and other people, as well as giving them a routine to follow so that things didn’t feel like they were going to go on and on for ever.


Q. What brought you to St Gabriel’s?

A. We first heard about St Gabriel's through a friend who was working in the Special Needs field. We found St Gabriel’s to be small and specialised, and although the school runs like a mainstream primary school, we felt that placing the boys in a large mainstream school would be too daunting for them and for our family. The boys needed to be somewhere where the teachers and staff were specifically trained in special needs, and where the support was tailored to meet their individual developmental needs.

Q. Since starting at St Gabriel’s, what changes have you seen in the boys with regard to their learning, social skills, communication and level of independence?

A. Whilst they are both extremely rigid in their need for routines, the boys are very different in nature, as most siblings are.  Tommy is an anxious child, and is quite afraid of loud noises, while James is a perfectionist who can freak out if a mistake is made.  We’re happy to say that the school has the needs of both boys covered, with daily activities marked out clearly in the classroom so there are no shocks or surprises.

Spending any amount of time looking after James and Tommy really does require lateral problem-solving skills, which again, we’re pleased to say the staff at St Gabriel’s have in spades!

Teaching strategies are frequently altered, and when hurdles are met, the school works with the family’s and child's therapists to decide what steps to take in order to help the child thrive, rather than merely survive.

The boys’ speech and comprehension are developing in leaps and bounds.  Both James and Tommy require ongoing support to reach new goals, and we meet with the school twice a year to help set out the specifics of what we should be working on to help the boys grow.  The teacher’s input is absolutely vital, and we usually have our speech therapist there as well, so everyone is able to work together to help achieve the boys’ goals.

We were over the moon to hear that the opening of a high school was being planned for next year, this has truly been a huge stress reliever for us.

The boys have made some wonderful friends at St Gabriel’s, and we as a family have become close with some lovely people who we’ve met through the school. 

It feels like St Gabriel’s has the family’s best intentions at heart with regard to helping us turn the boys into the kind and caring bright sparks that we know they are.  The school works on the boys’ strengths in order to help them deal with their weaknesses, and as soon as one tricky behaviour is ironed out, they are ready to go with the next one that pops up!

All in all, St Gabriel’s is a fabulous school that we would be completely lost without.  We are blessed to have had St Gabriel’s recommended to us, and to now be part of the community.

How your donations helped our charities

St Gabriel’s School

Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children

Westmead Hospital Foundation