A Sad Goodbye To Portage

Portage was first mentioned to me by my health visitor, just after my middle son Mikey turned two. I had never heard of it before and to be honest unless you’ve had Portage I don’t think many people have.


The National Portage Association describe Portage as:


PORTAGE AIMS TO:
  • Work with families to help them develop a quality of life and experience, for themselves and their young children, in which they can learn together, play together, participate and be included in their community in their own right.

  • Play a part in minimizing the disabling barriers that confront young children and their families.

  • Support the national and local development of inclusive services for children.


WHERE IT STARTED…

When Mikey started in January of this year (2017), I had no idea what an amazing impact it would have on all of our lives. He had an initial visitor with the lady who would be his Portage worker “K” as I’ll refer to her in this post, and the inclusion teacher for his nursery.



They talked about how Mikey seemed like the perfect fit for Portage, which was such a strange comment to hear at that time. I’d never been told Mikey was a perfect fit for anything before. It was still up in the air what was causing his communication delay, so I was very new to all of these phrases and the positivity about Mikey’s behaviours.


Mikey stood in the corner, faced the wall, put his hands over his hears, avoided eye contact and didn’t utter a word. His behaviours were lining toys up, creating his own routines running throughout the house slamming doors etc. and “zoning out”. Plus the meltdowns, once you’ve seen one you’d never forget the meltdowns.



FROM THE FIRST SESSION

I knew that the sessions would include play but had no idea how the set-up would be. I was unsure where I would go, where Mikey would go, how formal or informal the session would be so I was definitely anxious. Especially as it was new to Mikey, anything new to Mikey was always at risk of a meltdown.


The sessions would be at home, so I did my best to make my living room as clean and tidy as a house with three pre-school children can be and waiting anxiously for the 9.15am appointment. That was the first and last time I waited anxiously for a Portage session. Each week we looked forward to it more and more.


K arrives promptly each with with a hold-all bursting with toys and sits down on the floor with Mikey just simply playing. I thought maybe there’d be specialist toys, I was wrong. These are everyday toys used in a unique way, using phrases and demonstrating, suddenly K was transforming my boy in front of my eyes and teaching him at the same time. Her friendly and open manor meant we could ask her anything and share anything with her.


Each week Mikey’s confidence would grow more, his eye contact progressed extremely fast and words/sounds were spilling out too.


Who’d have thought that simply playing would help his development so much.



ABOVE AND BEYOND

Mikey doesn’t get excited about much happening in the future or the anticipation of anything, mainly because he doesn’t understand. When it got to the day of the week K was coming he’d get excited when I told him and wait in front of the door for her to come.


He never had a meltdown during a session, smiled throughout and really took a liking to K. He gave her cuddles and even trying to give her a kiss, he would grab her hand to help him if he needed it, which was a massive step forward for Mikey.


She really went above and beyond to support Mikey and us. She would explain how each toy helped him and what some of his behaviours meant. In addition K referred Mikey to Pediatrician and really softened us to understanding more about Autism as it became increasingly obvious that Mikey is on the Autistic Spectrum.


If I mentioned any worries about sleep, eating or anything to do with Mikey she would bring us information sheets and explain ways to help.


It really was like have a source of knowledge and love for Mikey that came to our home every week, of course K is a professional and always stayed that way, but she also developed and incredible bond with Mikey. She went above and beyond to support him, to make sure he was getting the best care and support available to him.

COMING TO THE END

As they say, all good things must come to an end, which is sad but true. Children in our area get Portage if they fit the criteria until the term after they are three. Which for Mikey is today. He had his last session this morning and he will have his final play with K this afternoon at the Portage Christmas Party.


He makes eye contact, he cuddles, he kisses, he makes choices, he plays, he shares (sometimes), he draws, he is learning to communicate in his own way. We understand him better, we are on the way to getting a diagnosis, we can make life easier for him and we’ve made the massive decision to send him to a specialist school, because for Mikey that is what will work best for him.


All of the above and more is thanks to K, she has been Mikey’s guardian angel and although we’re terribly sad that the sessions are finished and we won’t get to see the look on Mikey’s face every week when she turns up at our door, we have some amazing memories and Mikey has learned some vital skills for life that at the tender age of three for a child with Autism are going to make life that bit easier as he gets older. We have the skills to support him, we have an understanding and an attitude that means the future for Mikey will be what is best for him.


It’s with a very heavy heart that we say goodbye to Portage, but we are incredibly grateful that Mikey got the support he did and that with all the knowledge and support from K.


When you have a child with additional needs, for them to make a special connection with someone outside of the family is incredible and unforgettable.


That’s what K and Portage is for us…unforgettable.





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