Guest Blog from Liz and Anthony Hornby

This month’s guest blog is taken from two speeches delivered by Liz Hornby and her son Anthony, at the Speaker’s House, Parliament, on 30th January 2019.  Anthony is SportsAble’s facilities and sports assistant.

Children’s communications charity, I CAN, organised the dinner as part of an awareness-raising event and invited supporters, both past and present, to attend.

Speaker of The House, John Bercow, is very passionate about speech and language issues. He has put his name to a report, The Bercow Report, which was published last year and titled Bercow: 10 years on.

Here is Liz’s speech:

My husband, Mark, and I were I CAN parents for 12 years and right from our first day, Meath School welcomed us as part of the I CAN family.

At the age of 7, when Anthony started at Meath, he could barely string two words together, but, as he’s already spoken about, at the first Christmas play, just 3 months after he’d started at the school, he got up on stage and said – as well as signing in Makaton – “Go see the baby”.  I knew right then that Anthony was in the right place.  Needless to say, I had tears streaming down my face for which I make no apology!

Before being accepted to Meath, we’d struggled to get him the support he needed. Although he didn’t walk until he was 18 months’ old, we thought that Anthony was progressing quite well. I did realise that he wasn’t talking when he should be, but people kept telling me “He’s a boy, all boys are slow” and having had a daughter first – who was very bright and knew her colours by the time she was two – I really didn’t have much of a benchmark. It wasn’t until two very good friends of mine sat me down one day and told me some home truths; that Anthony wasn’t a ‘normal’ boy and that he really should be talking rather than uttering just sounds at the age of two and a half. Finally, I accepted what was staring me in the face.

As a parent of a child who isn’t ‘normal’ you have to go through a sort of grieving process – you grieve for the fact that your child probably won’t be the same as other children and may not be accepted for who he is. Society expects you to have a ‘normal’ child.

We’d never had a formal diagnosis so didn’t really know what we were facing. It wasn’t until Anthony went to a local nursery school, where the headmistress was so understanding and helped us start the Statementing process that we realised just what we needed to do; although we had no idea the uphill struggle it would be.

Shortly after we started the Statementing process, I became a member of AFASIC and attended a couple of their conference weekends. It was so reassuring to know that we weren’t alone, and it gave me the confidence to fight for what we needed as I had felt very isolated up to that point. Our Health Visitor at the time didn’t quite know how to deal with a child that didn’t tick all the relevant boxes which, in turn, gave me a greater feeling of isolation.

Initially, our local authority told us they weren’t even going to assess him. I called them and told them that they’d given me the wrong answer and after a number of phone calls and the support of his nursery, they finally agreed that they would. The headmistress at his nursery certainly knew her stuff and helped with completing the forms for the Statementing process to begin. I remember her giving me a copy of his draft Statement along with a red pen and told me to go home and ‘mark it’ with any amendments I felt necessary. Once the Statementing process had been completed Anthony was placed in a Speech and Language unit at a local primary school but made little to no progress. We rapidly came to the conclusion that it wasn’t working and that he needed a 24/7 curriculum.

Around this time, I was lucky enough to be invited to a wedding where I was introduced to a professor of Developmental Language Disorders and Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL, Professor Heather Van Der Lely. She told me about a school (Moor House) for speech impaired children.  I called them and once they’d listened to my story, they suggested I contact Meath School as they felt it would be the better option for Anthony. I called them, spoke to Sheila in the office and from that moment I knew I was on the right track. After much to-ing and fro-ing, the authority agreed to send Anthony to Meath, particularly after we’d threatened them with legal action if they didn’t give us what we wanted. All my research was done mainly by phoning people, schools and organisations because back then there was no internet in the form we recognise now, which meant that the information wasn’t accessible as it is today. As a consequence, our phone bills went through the roof!

It’s an emotional rollercoaster being a parent of a child with ‘special needs’ because – naturally – you’re so close to the situation. I’m more than happy to admit that on one occasion I sat in the middle of my kitchen floor in floods of tears because of the frustration I was encountering with our local authority. Once Anthony started at Meath, I CAN helped us through that emotional minefield, immediately getting the measure of him and his problems and addressing them straight away by putting in place everything he needed.

As a family, we soon became very involved with the Friends of Meath School, helping at the summer fairs, raising money for – as well as awareness of – the school and I CAN highlighting the issues that our children faced every day.  Sports Days were also brilliant because Meath included all the siblings of their pupils. Our daughter Christina – who, unlike her brother, is no great shakes as a runner – actually did quite well in the sibling’s race!

In 2002, when it was the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, I CAN was chosen as one of her Jubilee Charities. As representatives of I CAN and Meath School, Anthony and I, along with his classmate, Douglas and his Mum, met the Queen during her Jubilee week.  It was a very special day (despite the pouring rain – in June) and is a memory we’ll cherish for the rest of our lives.

Then, when he was rising 10, we had to start looking for a senior school. So Mark and I travelled all over the country searching for the right school. As soon as we walked into I CAN’s Dawn House we knew it was the right place and both agreed it would be best to carry on with I CAN as there would be continuity not just with the way the education was delivered but the ethos that I CAN promotes.

We were also very lucky in that our (new) local authority agreed with us!

To help Anthony get used to the idea of boarding at Dawn House, as it was so far away, Meath School agreed that they would let him stay for two nights a week when he was in his final year which helped enormously.

I’m not saying that our 12-year journey was all plain sailing; there were days when Anthony didn’t want to go to school, particularly at 5.30 on a cold, dark, winter Monday morning when I had to get him up, give him breakfast and then put him in his taxi to take him to Mansfield. Because of his Dyspraxia, homework was a closed book – if you’ll pardon the expression – to him, his reasoning being that work was for doing at school, not for doing at home. There were also times when he got frustrated because he couldn’t make himself understood which could be very upsetting.

That said – both I CAN’s schools took him in, they nurtured him and gave him the support he needed, helping him put in place measures whereby he could make himself understood. He’s kept in touch with some of his schoolmates from their Meath School days and they occasionally meet up, continuing that feeling of ‘family’ and it allows me time to catch up with the parents of those children too.

As he grew older, Dawn House taught Anthony independence skills which he puts into practice every day as he’s now working full-time for a local charity called SportsAble which provides sports for people with disabilities.

When Anthony left Dawn House in 2011 at the age of 19, we thought that our time with I CAN would – very sadly – come to a close. I chose to pick Anthony up on his last day and, I’m sure he won’t mind me saying this, we both had tears in our eyes as we drove out; we found it very emotional.

However, in late 2016, I saw a post on I CAN’s Facebook page appealing for runners to take part in the 2017 London Marathon. Anthony had started running the year before and I asked him if he’d be interested. His immediate reply was “Yes”; so, I contacted I CAN’s head office to say that an ex-pupil wanted to run for them. Anthony’s single reason for running and raising money for them was because he wanted to “Give back” – his words – to I CAN for all the help they’d given him throughout his school years. And considering he’d never run a marathon before, he did it in an incredible time of 4 hours 12 minutes and his medal is proudly displayed at home.

I can truthfully say that without I CAN, Anthony wouldn’t be where he is today – a happy, selfless, laid-back, computer-loving, sport-loving, marathon-running man who is working to help other disabled people fulfil their sporting dreams.

Thank you.

 

To prove how far Anthony has come with speech and communication, here is a transcript of his speech to the house:

When I went to Meath School it wasn’t easy for me to make friends or speak or write down how many words I can do. When I did the Christmas 1999 play the words I say were “Go see the baby”. Mum will tell you that later. Soon I make some friends at Meath and those friends are still those I talk to today. My favourite subject in school was PE and I enjoyed taking part in it. When I stayed the nights at Meath school, I knew it was for my future ahead.

When I left Meath, I moved up to Dawn House School, another I CAN school in Mansfield and I was a weekly boarder going home on weekends and the journey was not the best time for me; going up to school and back down home every week. They all help me on how to learn, how to do my speech to say properly my words and get me to remember more than two instructions. On the boarding side, they help me in subjects like playing football or going out to shops or do some golfing and took us on walks and other amazing things.

The teachers from school are helpful and they know what sort of things they had to teach me to learn the meaning of life and amazing stuff to know in the future.  When I leave Dawn House School and Meath School, I was in tears of how much I going to miss the school and wanted to give something back in the future.

In 2017 I decide to do the London Marathon for I CAN to find a way to give back to them and to raise some money to show how much it meant to me for all the help they give me at Dawn House and Meath. Me and my Mum have agreed to let them know an ex-student want to run in the London Marathon to raise lots of money:, £3,000 I raised. When the day comes, I have to do one of probably my biggest challenges in 2017. The biggest challenge was running 26 miles to know that I have give them back big time and fantastic way to help them. I got a letter from Bob at I CAN after the marathon, and I hope to raise more money in the future.