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Fundraise on the First: Autistic youngster, seven, ‘happy and confident’ thanks to First Step

PUBLISHED: 09:00 23 February 2015

Charlie Hood, seven, with the piano in First Step's music therapy room

Charlie Hood, seven, with the piano in First Step's music therapy room

Archant

When Charlie Hood plays the piano, his mum Caroline is filled with an immense pride at how far he has come.

Caroline Hood and her son Charlie, seven. Picture: Ted Blackbrow Caroline Hood and her son Charlie, seven. Picture: Ted Blackbrow

For when the youngster was aged two, he was diagnosed with high-functioning autism; unable to speak or interact.

But thanks to the support of First Step, and activities such as music therapy sessions, Charlie has flourished and now attends a mainstream school.

Caroline, 45, who lives in Hornchurch, said: “Charlie was a typical baby. He didn’t cry a lot, but he met his milestones and at about 13 months he spoke.

“But, at 15 months, we saw a change – he stopped speaking and interacting and lost eye contact and communication.

“He got stressed and upset at noises and we didn’t realise he was having mild fits, where he would completely zone out.”

Charlie, born in July 2007, was diagnosed in October 2009.

The confirmation left his family with mixed feelings.

“We were devastated, because a child never ‘recovers’ from autism – there’s no cure.

“As a parent you fear the worst; we worried that Charlie would never speak and never be able to lead a normal life.

“But in some ways we knew there was something wrong and it was a relief that someone acknowledged it.”

Children with high-functioning autism, which is sometimes compared to Asperger syndrome, are typically of average or high intelligence, but may struggle with social skills.

Charlie, now seven, began attending First Step, in Tangmere Crescent, Hornchurch, in January 2010.

For a year he took part in PACC (promoting attention, communication and cooperation) sessions, as well as music therapy.

Caroline said: “It wasn’t like going to the doctors, it felt like a real homely environment.

“Even Charlie felt at ease.

“We felt we were in a place where people understood – if he got stressed, Charlie would hide in the corner and cover his ears, but people didn’t get that.

“His communication began to come back and music was where he really came through; he was totally obsessed.

“He would clap and dance and come alive.”

Charlie was unable to speak back then, but the staff taught him sign and symbol language Makaton.

He attended for a year and is now a pupil at Branfil Primary School, in Cedar Avenue, Upminster.

Charlie is continuing his love of music through piano lessons and his family believe these have helped his writing skills by strengthening his fingers.

Caroline, who has a husband Steve and a son from her first marriage, Jack, 19, now works on First Step’s reception to help others.

She said: “We are so proud of Charlie; he’s a very happy and confident child.

“Had he not had First Step’s support so early, I believe he would never have made mainstream school.

“It has meant so much.”

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