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Luke's Story

Finding your voice

Following traumatic events, 11-year-old Luke suffered with extreme anxiety and withdrawal and could only communicate with his mum. He always kept his coat on, with the hood up, indoors as well as outside, whatever the weather, and completely avoided eye contact. Luke has since successfully transitioned into secondary school, without hiding under his coat.

11-year-old Luke could only communicate with his mum. Following traumatic events he suffered with extreme anxiety and withdrawal, struggling to engage with anyone except his mum and his 1:1 at school, and that interaction was completely non-verbal. He always kept his coat on, with the hood up, indoors as well as outside, whatever the weather, and completely avoided eye contact. If anyone attempted to engage with him – class teacher, peers, or family members – he would withdraw completely and rush outside into an open space, unable to calm himself otherwise.

This made it incredibly hard to be around people and engage with them and his schoolwork. Soon he was due to transition into secondary school, and his mother and teachers were extremely worried he might start to refuse to go to school, further isolating himself. His school referred Luke to Dandelion Time in the hope of providing support to help him manage the transition to secondary school. The school and his parents hoped he could build upon his resilience and reduce anxieties, with the goal that he would learn to trust others and find confidence.

Our caseworker Rose introduced Luke to the open site and the animals, but it was the woodland that mostly drew his interest: climbing trees and walking the ‘slackline’, tied at low level between two trees. In the early weeks this was only done with Mum. The caseworker could not be present and was only allowed to wait around a corner as he could not bear to be watched.

Progressively, Luke managed to non-verbally communicate a little more with Rose, making eye contact on a few occasions; he started being able to express wishes of what he would like to do.

As he became more comfortable coming to Dandelion Time and being around Rose, he started engaging in craft activities, taking his hood down so his head was no longer obscured. He enjoyed these activities immensely, and they provided Luke and Rose with the opportunity to engage in a non-verbal manner. For the first time, sitting at the potter’s wheel, Luke allowed Rose to guide his hands over the clay as it spun round.

Over the weeks he produced some imaginative pieces of artwork in varied mediums– precious mementos of his experience at Dandelion Time. He then moved on to more complex, collaborative craft projects with Rose, allowing her to assist him with making a bird house, taking in her suggestions. Luke’s mum was finding new interests and loved working with wool. She was so absorbed in her work, as was Luke on the other side of the room, giving them both valuable independent time away from each other for a while.

During the school holidays, Luke agreed to bring his siblings along, and he delighted in showing the animals and leading the way around the site – though still relatively non-verbal, it was obvious he was happy to be in charge and share his experiences. It was clear to Rose and his mum how far he’d come.

By week 10 and the end of sessions, the hood was not just down – his coat had been abandoned. It was summertime and Luke was running around in his t-shirt, occasionally engaging verbally, sharing a quiet ‘yes’, or ‘no’, and even making some eye contact. He had also become able to be around the other families and caseworkers on session, enjoying a successful campfire together: Luke showed a great deal of resilience and perseverance with lighting the fire, striking the ‘flint and steel’.

Throughout this time, Rose was in regular communication with the school, who would provide insight into the effects of the Dandelion Time experience beyond sessions, one day sharing “he came in yesterday happy and totally engaged with myself and his class work. It was so good to see.” On completion of his sessions at Dandelion Time the school shared this additional feedback: “it’s so good to know that Luke accessed this amazing provision all with his hood down! It brings a tear to my eye to know that someone else has been able to help him”.

Luke has since successfully transitioned into secondary school, without hiding under his coat: his mum reported he’s been attending every day and engaging with the teachers with improved verbal engagement.

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This is a composite case that is indicative of our work, names and images have been changed.

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