"Shannon was born with lots of difficulties. She had no muscle tone and, as a toddler, she did not walk or speak — she could only make noises. At 12 months old, she would line pegs up in colour order. She could not tell you the order they were in because she could not speak but the pegs would line up from one side of the room to the other. It was heartbreaking not being able to engage with my daughter and I craved that connection. She lived in her own little world."
When Shannon was eight years old, doctors diagnosed autism, and she was moved from a mainstream school to Hillingdon Manor — an independent specialist school in Middlesex for autistic children aged three to 19.
"It was a godsend. They gave her one–to-one help with reading, speech and language, which helped, but she was still very muddled and there was a lot of gobbledygook and she still refused to start a conversation. Shannon was also very shy and found it difficult to integrate with others. Having been bullied at mainstream school, her confidence and self-esteem were very low. At home, she would spend most of her time alone in her room playing computer games. Sometimes she would go on the Xbox with her dad — but there would never be any conversation."
"Then, four months ago, Anna Kennedy — Hillingdon Manor's founder who has two autistic sons herself — asked Shannon if she would like to appear in a dance DVD with other children from the school. I was not sure how well Shannon would take to it. Physically, she had very weak muscle tone and no co-ordination at all."
"But Anna spent a lot of time researching moves and worked with dance experts from the Pineapple Performing Arts School in London. She helped the children develop their spatial awareness — something that is difficult for autistic children to grasp — and ensured the children worked in groups and pairs. She encouraged the kids to use imagination by entering a circle and dancing freestyle to the music and urged them to bring in their favourite CDs to help them get used to the different rhythms. Soon, I started noticing changes in Shannon. She was growing in confidence, moving better, and her muscle tone and co-ordination improved."
"Then, one day, out of the blue, Shannon came running up to me and said, "Mum, can we watch my DVD together?" That moment was so touching — it was the first time she had ever begun a conversation. I just wanted to sit and absorb every moment. This was the first time she had ever taken an interest in anything. It was incredible."
"My little girl now exudes a confidence I have never seen before. She takes the DVD everywhere she goes. It has given her a focus. Shannon would never usually go to anyone's house but she wanted to visit our neighbour and show her the DVD. She has also shown family members the steps. In fact, Shannon is teaching her sister Paige the dance moves. Usually, Paige helps her out with things but for Shannon to be able to think "I am the big sister, I am going to show you," it is huge. It is helping her co-ordination. We've still got a long way to go but the DVD won't wear out — if it does I will buy another. She has got progression from it and the fact she now speaks and starts conversations means our Christmas has come early."
Info at The Sun
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