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Discovering Matthew

By Christine Birkett
June 2005, Undy
A digital story from Capture Wales

Journey into Battle

Christine found it difficult to understand why her son, Matthew, had behaviour problems.

"Eleven years ago, Matthew was born in a military hospital and delivered by Captain Cook. Looking back, this was the symbol of the beginning of our journey into battle. Whilst in hospital, Matthew was introduced to Teddy who became his lifelong companion.

Life together with the three of us didn't seem too bad, but when it began to involve the outside world, it became a huge puzzle.

As Matt grew up I felt he was being judged, even by my family and friends.

When he was younger I was working with families in the community but felt I had to give that up, because my own son had so many difficulties. But sometimes he says lovely things to me. One day he told me that he wanted to take me to heaven where we could both be happy.

Matt didn't settle into school very easily and was frightened of lots of things. The teachers said he couldn't relate to others in the ways he was expected to. He told me he sometimes gets the feeling he wants to run away.

He once said, 'Mum you stink', when he smelt my perfume and he'll only eat limited food on certain plates.

Even in Church he's had difficulties behaving like other children of his age. He'd wander about and blow out the candles. Other parents even complained about him at Sunday School.

Eventually I saw a Paediatrician and she told me it wasn't my fault. "Have you heard of Asperger's Syndrome?" she said. I burst into tears and could have hugged her. Only now we are beginning to piece together Matthew's special needs.

We're confronting the challenges as we encounter them, one by one, and enjoying the adventures along the way."

Christine Birkett

Please tell us about yourself.
At present I'm caring for my youngest son Matthew. He's 11 and we're waiting for him to be placed in the most appropriate secondary school for his special educational needs. He has very severe Dyslexia and Asperger's Syndrome - which is a form of high functioning Autism. Children with these kinds of specific learning problems don't settle very well into ordinary schools due to the way their brain functions. They are very easily misunderstood, even among teachers, as a result of their communication disorders.
In my spare time I'm studying an MA, part-time, with the school of social studies at the University in Newport and I also volunteer for a local charity. My hobbies include reading, and practising beauty therapy on my friends and family.

What's your story about?
The journey of discovery that I have shared with my son as we have tried to understand and come to terms with his learning difficulties.

Why did you choose to tell this particular story?
Matthew's Asperger's Syndrome wasn't diagnosed until he was 10 and I didn't know anything about this disability until I got to know other families through the support of the National Autistic Society's local branch in Gwent. I then learned that AS, which is an Autistic spectrum disorder, is often a 'hidden disability' that's not very well understood by ordinary people, especially within mainstream schools. More and more people are being diagnosed with AS and the local education authorities are having great difficulty in providing appropriately, especially for secondary aged children.
I want to be more involved in making people aware Asperger's Syndrome and I liked the idea of local community members creating their own digital stories. I wanted to see and tell my story as journey and turn the struggles into something positive.

What did you find most rewarding about the workshop?
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and learned a lot about storytelling as well as technology. I look forward to developing my new skills and would love to do more.

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