How Derby special school has turned around the life of youngster with selective mutism – who lost his dad at a young age

The mother of a Derby boy who used a soft toy to ‘speak’ for him following the death of his father has praised staff at St Giles School for the ‘amazing’ work they have done in transforming family life.

Lisa Hogan, from Chaddesden, was left devastated when her partner Ryan died unexpectedly at the age of 28, leaving her alone with a three-year-old Issac.

Derby mum Lisa Hogan with her son, Issac. Issac is a pupil at St Giles School in Derby.  Penguin PR: public relations, media and communications

The 27-year-old mum was going through a difficult time with little Issac, who was subsequently diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Discorder (ADHD) and autism. The death of her partner added to the trauma at home.

Lisa tried to carry on as normal for the sake of her young son, but she would often receive phone calls from Issac’s nursery school, claiming her son had head-butted or bitten staff.

“I knew when Issac was just 15 months old that something wasn’t quite right,” said Lisa, “I had to keep taking him to see the doctor and it wasn’t until 2016 that he was diagnosed with ADHD. Seven months later, he was diagnosed with autism, too.

“My instinct told me that it wasn’t just the ‘terrible twos’ – Issac wasn’t just a ‘naughty boy’ – there was something more deep-rooted.”

Issac started mainstream school at the age of five but a series of exclusions followed.

“At first Issac would be excluded for an afternoon,” recalls Lisa, “but then the periods of exclusion were extended to five days.

“Three months after starting school, in the December, Issac had racked up more than five exclusions.

“At this point, I contacted Derby-based charity Umbrella, who advised me to get an Education Health and Care plan (EHCP). An EHCP is for children aged up to 25 who need additional support and helps to identify their educational, health and social needs. It took 10 months for us to get this.”

Lisa was advised to place Issac in a special school and opted for St Giles - Derby’s only special primary school.

When Issac, now seven, joined St Giles last September, he would say very few words. He used a stuffed toy, a monkey he called ‘Monk’ as a form of communication, holding him in front of his mouth when he needed to speak.

But now, less than six months later, Issac is a happy, chatty little boy who is growing in confidence.

“St Giles is an amazing school and I simply can’t praise the staff enough,” said Lisa, who works night shifts as a care worker in a nursing home, so that she can be around during the day to take Issac to and from school.

“From the moment we walked through the door…it just felt right for us.

“Issac feels like he ‘belongs’ there. At St Giles, he can be himself and is accepted for who he is; a wonderful, caring little boy who has additional needs.

“I know we’ve made the right decision in taking Issac out of mainstream school.”

Each child at St Giles is assigned a team of staff to assist them when they join the school; a class teacher and a team of teaching assistants to work with the child to ensure that their care and educational needs are met.

“Issac was placed in a class with Teaching Assistant Jakk Capewell and he’s great. I believe (executive headteacher) Clive Lawrence thought that Issac needed a young, male role model in his life following the death of his dad – and Jakk is perfect for him.

“Issac had to go for an eye test a few weeks back and was feeling very anxious about it. Jakk came along to the appointment with us to help him feel more at ease; he didn’t have to do that – and that’s why St Giles is so fantastic. All the staff in Issac’s class have been so helpful and I can’t praise them enough.

“They go above and beyond expectations.

“His day has to be very structured or he gets upset. St Giles have given Issac a visual timetable to help him understand what will be happening that day and when.

“The first time I dropped Issac off at St Giles was a huge moment for me. At his previous school and at nursery, I would often get home and receive a phone call to go back at collect him straight away; there has been no phone call to collect him from St Giles; not even on his first day.

“I ended up calling them (the school) to find out if everything was OK, only to be reassured that he was perfectly happy and had settled in well.”

Executive headteacher Clive Lawrence said: “This is such a positive example of how school and a family work closely together to best meet the needs of someone like Issac.

“I’m pleased that Issac’s family are in agreement that he has made such fantastic progress during his short time here and Issac should be extremely proud of what he has achieved so far.

“We are a school who are firmly committed to going ‘above and beyond’ for our pupils and their families and this is down to the positive, committed and supportive approach of all of our school staff.”

St Giles has 120 pupils on roll, each with special educational needs. It was rated ‘outstanding’ during its last Ofsted inspection.

In 2018, St Giles was selected for a national role supporting schools in challenging circumstances and for training new teachers. They received funding from the Department for Education to enable staff to work in schools needing additional support across the East Midlands and South Yorkshire.

“Issac still carries Monk around with him,” said Lisa, “there was a heart-in-mouth moment a few weeks ago when we thought we had lost him in Asda. I was in tears; I called my mum and she had to calm me down. We retraced our steps and, thankfully, we found him.

“But Issac has started using Monk less and less.

“He is also starting to feel more comfortable in social situations. He wears ear defenders because he doesn’t like loud noises – but we were at the farm the other day and he saw another little boy wearing autism-friendly defenders, just like him.

“He turned to me and said ‘Mummy, there is another little boy just like me!’ It made my heart melt.

“Issac has blossomed since joining St Giles – the change in him is amazing.”

ENDS


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