I am a married mum of three children: Olivia, Isabelle, and Alex. Olivia and Alex seem to thrive in school, but Isabelle really struggled. I had several moments throughout Isabelle’s life, when I didn’t trust my intuition. I remember feeling she just wasn’t ready to start school at the required age and I felt she was just more vulnerable in some ways.
To cut a long story short, Isabelle’s problems started in Year 5 of primary school. She developed a skin condition which would flare up from time to time and cause discomfort and led to several absences from school. Some absences take place when her skin wasn’t particularly bad and she would start worrying about other things too. I had a good communication link with her teachers and had several meetings to discuss ways to make her day easier for her. She was given extra support in some lessons and access to a social group. Her skin eventually cleared up, but her worries and anxieties continued to be there for her.
When she transitioned from the small primary to the huge secondary school, it became a different story. She continued to complete her work to the best of her ability but was unable to bring herself to attend school on some days. We again, kept up a strong link between ourselves and the school staff, resulting in several meetings to discuss ways to make it easier for Izzy to be in school.
She was offered support short term but nothing really improved for Isabelle on a personal level. She had panic attacks at the thought of going in, sat crying in a lot of her lessons and became very attached to me. Having to also deal with letters regarding her attendance, caused quite a bit of turmoil and was quite stressful for the whole family. The school helped in the best way they knew how to, at that time.
We exhausted every possible option for education, in the surrounding area, thinking maybe a smaller school might fit her needs best. We also researched home education. It became evident that she struggled on so many different levels, in a busy and noisy school environment, which was too overwhelming for her. She became a shell of who she was and then something just shifted for me. After much research and discussions as a family, we decided to de-register Isabelle and home educate her. Our happy girl returned overnight and the whole family noticed the difference in her.
Having decided how we wanted to home educate, as it’s a personal journey for each family, we decided we wanted to roughly follow the National Curriculum, through Oxford Home Schooling. Isabelle is thriving now, as she has always loved learning and can now focus and grow in a calm and supportive environment at home.
I have since been drawn to research further into Isabelle’s difficulties and we have uncovered a whole new world to understand. Through the professional expertise and incredible support of Spectrum North West, Isabelle has been empowered, by having a full explanation about her difficulties being concerned with the fact that she has sensory processing issues.
Alongside and most definitely helping and enhancing my journey so far, has been my counselling training. I am soon to qualify as a person-centred counsellor, having studied for several years at Cheshire Therapy Centre and I am hoping to continue my journey with learning more about how counselling can be made more accessible for those with sensory processing issues/autism. This will be through an amazing charity called Cheshire Autism, where I hope to be volunteering alongside Lisa Cromar, as my mentor and support.
Despite my nerves getting the better of me on my radio interview with Anna Kennedy recently, it was fantastic and almost surreal to be heard on several topics which I feel so passionate about. I hope, more than anything, to reach out to others who are maybe experiencing anything similar to what I have been through and say you are not alone. Trust your intuition and let it guide you.
Cathy Harpham is passionate about counselling and autism. She lives in Cheshire.