Living with autism Case studies The Sowerby Family Declan Sowerby is full of fun, jokes and comedy – and as he reaches his milestone eighteenth birthday he and his family are exploring how he can make good use of his talents. Diagnosed with Asperger’s when he was eight, Declan has been a regular at Daisy Chain’s after-school clubs – it’s what he calls his ‘safe place’ Growing up Declan struggled with bullying – it was a traumatic time for him as well as his mum and dad Leanne and Paul. Declan says, ‘Daisy Chain became my safe space – as soon as I saw the sign I could breathe a sigh of relief that I was in a place with kids my own age, in the same position as me who knew what I was going through. It was the place that I felt included for once, just accepted for who I am.’ Paul adds, ‘Declan is very resilient, he doesn’t give up and he never let any bullying stand in his way.’ There were a number of times when the family actually needed police intervention, ‘It was a very difficult time,’ Paul reflects. ‘It’s a terrible situation to be in as a parent. Declan’s autism is invisible which makes it hard for people to understand the condition. ‘When we took him to Daisy Chain we could see him visibly relaxing. He can be himself in a way he can’t be in a mainstream environment. He always has a brilliant time when he is there, just being able to relax and not have to put on a front. Daisy Chain gives him an outlet to be himself which is very important to us.’ When Declan was born, both Paul and Leanne had no inkling he was any different to any other baby. ‘He was our first child and we had no experience but when you look back with hindsight, you can see the traits, his obsessions – within weeks he knew absolutely everything there was to know about Thomas the Tank Engine and it was the main talking point when we had visitors. ‘It was his great grandad that picked up that Declan was not listening and thought he could be deaf but it was just because he was focused on what he was focused on. Then when he was in Year 4 he had a teacher who was aware of autism and he brought it to our attention that we should look for a diagnosis. ‘Neither of us knew anything about autism, it wasn’t so well known then – the only definition was ‘rain man’. Leanne was horrified because it is hard to comprehend what it might mean. The diagnosis was a lengthy and emotional process then at the end of it you might have a name to put to it but it doesn’t really change anything although it did give us a perspective to be able to make adaptations for Declan’s needs.’ Paul, who worked in the commercial motor trade, was inspired to change careers and is now a special needs teacher. ‘You can see how it is easy to pigeon hole children but it is not an autistic world out there and I have always tried to introduce young people to every experience and opportunity there is out there so they get an understanding of the real world.’ Declan also helps to educate – in his role as a Police Cadet, he has given presentations to his peers about autism so they can get an understanding of what the world is like from the perspective of someone with autism.’ Declan has completed a course in performing arts and is now looking to his future – whatever that holds it looks likely to be full of fun, comedy and laughter.