Norma Illingworth can look at her son Jake, now 24, and see the wonderful young man he has turned out to be – thanks to early support from Daisy Chain.

Today, Jake is part of E3 Theatre Company which offers young people with learning difficulties the opportunity to progress in performing arts in a vocational setting. Jake loves performing and this has given him the chance to take part in a number of shows. In addition, he attends Community Integrated Care’s day service in Billingham which provides educational activities for adults where he also does dance and drama. He has also completed Daisy Chain’s employability course.

But Norma can recall the difficult days when Jake was in mainstream primary school, “Those were hard times and it was not easy to cope, especially during school holidays. I would be tearing my hair out,” she explains.

“Daisy Chain had not long been running but being able to visit the farm where Jake could have a run around and taking him to the activities, which at that time were held at Norton Sports Charity, was such a big help.

“Then they managed to get a grant to pay someone to take Jake out to places – it was just for a couple of hours but it was a real godsend to me. It made me really happy for Jake to be able to go to Daisy Chain. At that time, there was not much understanding of autism and there was so little support, nowhere to go, which was what Lesley could see and what inspired her to set the charity up.”

Norma’s loyalty to Daisy Chain has not wavered – she now volunteers once a week at the Toddler Group, “And we still sponsor a pig,” she laughs.

“We bought a brick for the Day Centre so Jake’s name remains on the wall for that. Daisy Chain is an amazing place. Going on all the outings over the years was fabulous, I made a wide circle of friends during those times and we are all still in touch now.”

Jake’s birth was traumatic and Norma had to have an emergency caesarean section. Then Jake had problems with his feet and wore a plaster cast until he was almost one. “He was a very vocal baby though he could not move much. By the time he was two years old, he was extremely hyperactive and he would repeat what I said to him. I knew there was something not right but I just wasn’t sure what. He needed to be watched at all times as he had no sense of danger. If other children came near him, he would push them away.”

It was an extremely stressful time for Norma, who was at the time also caring for her elderly mum who lived with her. Jake had regular visits to hospital to see the orthopaedic surgeon, who referred him to the paediatrician and he was quickly diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum.

Norma says, “Jake was always so anxious, he would have panic attacks that were so severe he thought he was having a heart attack.” Medication was recommended which Norma was initially not in favour of, “However, it was explained to me that Jake could not access sleep that he needed, so I felt it was necessary.” Jake was eight years old before Norma had a full night’s sleep after his birth.

Norma adds, “Jake was always very sensitive to noise, he never had a birthday party and he has been through such a lot. Even at 24, he still suffers with anxiety.”

Jake has recently been ill with labyrinthitis (an inner ear infection which results in vertigo), “There are peaks and troughs all the time. Jake is still vulnerable and young for his age, so I am very proud of everything he has achieved. He does a stand-up comedy routine and he loves music and acting. I know he would not be where he is today if we had not have had Daisy Chain. Jake loved it.”

Jake says, “I liked going to see the animals on the activity days and I still enjoy the memories Daisy Chain gave to me – it was like being part of a family.

“I loved the employability course, the staff were fantastic, really easy to get along with. I was quite nervous at first because the course is at the Superstore and I had never worked in a shop, never served a customer but I got nothing but support. Staff were always around and very reassuring. We went through everything that needed to be done step by step. I learned how to serve customers, use the till. I also worked in the coffee shop, serving. It was hard work but I loved it.

“I also enjoyed working on the farm looking after the animals, particularly the ducks and the alpacas.”

Norma concludes, “We’ve come a long way from those difficult days when Jake was young. He is such a lovely young man now. He has the confidence to perform and lead a full life with the right support. Daisy Chain has been a hugely important part of that development for which we will be forever grateful.”

15th March 2018