Open minds and rich lives

PUBLISHED: 14:07 29 March 2007 | UPDATED: 13:54 04 May 2010

Rekha, Serena, Rohan and David have fun in the children’s playroom – Pic: Helen Drake

Rekha, Serena, Rohan and David have fun in the children's playroom - Pic: Helen Drake

LITTLE Rohan Neilson is a happy four-year-old with a bunch of playmates at nursery school and a cheerful younger sister at home. But in his short life Rohan s family have been on a roller coaster ride of emotions since the day doctors discovered he was au

LITTLE Rohan Neilson is a happy four-year-old with a bunch of playmates at nursery school and a cheerful younger sister at home.

But in his short life Rohan's family have been on a roller coaster ride of emotions since the day doctors discovered he was autistic.

Rohan also had an underlying condition, similar to Down's Syndrome, due to an extra chromosome.

The medical experts were very pessimistic about the little boy's future, and his parents were unsure how they would cope.

"He was the centre of my world," said his mum, Rekha, of Little Downham, "and the doctors were telling me he probably wouldn't walk. The paediatricians were doom and gloom mongers. It made your heart sink.

"But I have always been pig-headed and I was going to do what was right for my son. David and I knew that we were relatively intelligent people and Rohan was intelligent. We knew he had the ability to do whatever he wanted to do. We just had to find a way to get through."

The turning point came when the couple discovered the American Son-Rise Programme and learnt about its amazing results.

They signed up to the innovative treatment which places parents as key teachers, therapists and directors of their own programmes.

Parents are encouraged to teach the children through interactive play and create a safe, distraction-free work and play area.

Autistic children display repetitive and ritualistic behaviour and parents are encouraged to join in with them rather than try to stop them.

"It's about having a loving, accepting attitude," said Rekha. "It's a happiness programme for bettering your life and improving your attitude.

"I would go on it whether I had a special child or not. Its key principles would help anyone in their life.

"Everything we have learned we have applied to Rohan's sister, Serena. Now we understand why children behave the way they do."

Now Rekha and David have launched an energetic in-home programme for Rohan to put into practice the skills they have been taught.

They also want to recruit up to four volunteers who would be prepared to give up around four to six hours a week to help their son.

The volunteers would help with hands-on learning and playing with Rohan in his special playroom for around two hours at a time.

"There is no need for anyone to be trained or have any experience" added Rekha. "The key requirements are energy, enthusiasm, an open mind and acceptance. This is an opportunity to enrich their lives as well as that of Rohan's and the more different people we can find the more diversity we can offer Rohan.

"Once we get our group of volunteers Rohan will get 100 per cent of their attention and then I can give Serena 100 per cent of my attention. I have been struggling trying to give her my time and entertain him at the same time.

"I was constantly stressing about how I was going to cope. I used to have sleepless nights about what would happen to Rohan in the future.

"Now I can see what a wonderful opportunity I have. I realise what a gift he is. He has brought so much into our lives and he is going to bring so much joy and happiness to everyone through the Son-Rise Programme."

The couple are aiming to raise more than £7,000 to take Rohan on a week-long intensive course run by the programme in Boston, America, in April next year.

"This programme has improved our relationship as a couple and our relationship with our children," said Rekha.

- Anyone who would like to help Rohan can contact his family on 01353 698449 or by email at rekha.neilson@mail.com.

For more information about Autistic Spectrum Disorder contact the National Autistic Society on 020 783 2299 or by email at nas@nas.org.uk and for the Son-Rise Programme visit www.autismtreatmentcenter.org

Autism factfile

- Autism Spectrum Disorder is a life-long developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people around them.

- Autistic people have difficulty in making sense of the world.

- Although ASD was first identified in 1943 it is still a relatively unknown disability.

- There are 588,000 people with autism in the UK and boys are four times more likely to develop the condition than girls.

- Forty per cent of all children with autism wait more than three years for a clear diagnosis.

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