Ellie is a Luton Town FC season ticket holder and has multiple severe and complex disabilities including severe autism.
At the age of two and a half, Ellie lost her speech, losing most of the skills she had previously learnt. At the age of three and a half, Ellie was diagnosed with epilepsy and autism.
Ellie attended a mainstream school for nursery but was pulled out of reception after being bullied and described as by her parents as “being left by a window for the day”.
It was no surprise that Ellie soon became school phobic and was home educated until her parents were able to acquire the funding for a placement at a specialist autistic unit. However, scarred by her previous experience, she had become selectively mute and did not speak at school other than a few words.
Understandably, Ellie had become so untrusting of other children and adults.
When it came to secondary school, due to her complex needs, a school placement was not available and her parents, Claire and Yann, decided to home educate full-time with great success.
Claire, Ellie's Mum, commented: “Academically this has been great for Ellie and she has progressed beyond what was previously thought possible. However, due to Ellie's severe anxiety it makes it very hard for her and us as a family to socialise outside of immediate family.”
After clear progress with her studies, it was now the chance for Ellie to develop her social skills having lived a relatively isolated lifestyle. Making up for lost time and as a keen sports woman, what better way to break the ice than to join a sports club.Ellie joined a weekly gymnastics club but this was closed down to make room for another mainstream session. Ellie joined a weekly swimming club but the hours for under 18’s were reduced and became far too busy. Ellie attends a weekly horse riding club, but this is an hour’s drive away.
Claire and Yann soon found that finding a suitable social activity wasn’t easy. “A lot of activities are split into either physical and learning difficulties or high and low functioning. These types of pigeon-holed groups do not suit Ellie and her complex needs. There is also a lack of activities in the borough for teenagers that are not high functioning autistic.”In 2013, aged 10, Ellie joined her local Community Club. Ellie has attended 110 sessions – that’s over 190 hours of activity. Describing what she liked about attending, Ellie mentioned her love for “playing boccia”, “scoring goals” but most importantly “seeing my friends”.
Building a rapport with long-term fellow members, coaches and volunteers has ensured Ellie has a consistent social group to feel more relaxed and confident.
Being part of her Community Club also means Ellie is able to attend larger events during busy holiday periods, a time when she often feels much more anxious. “The sports events like the annual Summer Festival and Club Derbys are fantastic. It means she gets to go and be with other people that understand her and we get a break.”
Providing a consistent, safe environment and understanding her needs seems the best platform for Ellie to feel confident and happy – things that we all look for. Once that is provided, Ellie can be much more socially connected to her peers and continue to feel more part of her community.