North Wales: Inspirational Duo Transform Life of Autistic Boy

Two inspirational speech and language therapists who helped an autistic boy realise his potential by telling him he has a superpower are in the running for a top award.

Billy Grriffiths, 11, his mum Shelley, back, with speech therapists Rebecca Shanks and David Hostler. Shelly has nominated Rebecca and David for their work with Billy who is autistic.

Rebecca Shanks and Dave Hostler have been nominated for the Improving Patient Experience Award in Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board’s staff awards.

The hard-working duo, who work at Llandudno Hospital, will be among the finalists at the awards ceremony at Venue Cymru, Llandudno on November 10, sponsored by IT provider Centerprise International.

Also nominated for the same award is Buddug Roberts, an emergency nurse practitioner who works on the Morfa Ward at Ysbyty Alltwen who was nominated for her work in putting patients at the centre of the work the hospital does.

The third finalist is Hayley Whithead-Wright, a staff nurse who works on the Critical Care Unit at Wrexham Maelor Hospital, for her work in developing a memory box scheme for relatives who lose a loved one in critical care.

Rebecca Shanks and Dave Hostler were nominated for the award by Shelley Griffiths, advanced nurse practitioner working in Intensive Care Unit at Ysbyty Glan Clwyd, for their supportive approach to improving the speech and language skills of her young son, Billy, 11.

According to Shelley, working with speech and language therapists like Rebecca and David had been a real learning curve.

She said: “It’s like someone working in a car factory, work in the engine room and you probably don’t know what happens in the paint shop. It’s the same for me. I work in critical care but had no idea what speech and language therapists did, outside of the critical care unit.

“My son Billy has high functioning autism and attends Ysgol John Bright in Llandudno, and can struggle in social situations especially new ones such as the transition to high school.

“Speech and language were always a real problem until we met with Rebecca and David and they began working with Billy. It was like a light was switched on despite Billy’s social understanding being quite limited.”

She added: “I might work in acute medicine but I had no real idea about autism. We now have a child who has gone from someone who struggled to communicate and when he did it was often inappropriate, to a child that never shuts up.

“He has been to Disneyworld and is going to Australia next year. Things I would never have imagined we could do.”

Shelley says she nominated Rebecca and David as a grateful parent.

She said: “This is a team that have impacted very positively on my son’s life and helped improve his life chances. It was on the cards that mainstream high school wouldn’t have been suitable for Billy, but he is now in Year 7 and doing well.

“That’s the improvement we have seen and much of that is down to Rebecca and Dave and the tools they have given me to manage Billy’s autism.

“For instance using visual clues to help Billy accomplish everyday tasks, simple things like getting into a car and putting a seatbelt on was dreadful. But we now have a series of visual clues Billy can follow in sequence. For instance, one year we used visual clues to help Billy accomplish everyday tasks such as getting in the car. We no longer do that as he can do it independently. We still use stick men drawings to break down when a social situation has gone wrong so he can learn for next time.

“It’s the same with cleaning his teeth and lots of other simple tasks that used to be a nightmare. As a parent I can see the positive change in Billy and much of it is down to the techniques Rebecca and Dave taught us.”

Shelley says Billy, who has an older brother and sister, began working with Rebecca and Dave when he was six and still at primary school.

She said: “They showed Billy’s dad, who is a driving instructor, and me techniques we just weren’t aware of. But these strategies made all the difference. Billy struggles to read facial expressions and understand someone’s emotions.

“But Rebecca and Dave have worked so hard at making Billy think before he speaks so he doesn’t accidentally offend people.

“He also has a very strong sense of right and wrong and would think nothing of telling someone they were behaving badly without thinking how they might react.”

Rebecca, who has worked as a speech and language therapist for more than 20 years, was delighted to hear she and her colleague had been nominated.

She said: “A child like Billy is very articulate but his autism means, although he doesn’t have difficulty with the nuts and bolts of language, he does struggle to understand how we use language in social situations.

“Too often he would come across as being direct and rude when he doesn’t mean to be. And he has a very clear definition of right and wrong but getting him to understand it’s the teacher’s job to tell someone off and not his can be quite difficult.

“His autism means he is interested, to the point of obsession, with certain things such as Star Wars. He will talk for a long time about Star Wars and then be left confused if the person he’s talking to walks off. It’s that understanding of and navigating social situation he struggles with.

“I’ve told Billy he has a superpower, his autism, which means he can absorb so much information. I see no reason why he can’t have a successful career ahead of him despite his autism.

Dave, who qualified as a speech and language therapist in 2012, said: “It’s absolutely fantastic to have been nominated. The best thing is being able to see Billy again and to see how well he is doing and to know we’ve had an impact on his life.

“I love my job and this nomination is a wonderful opportunity to let more people know what we do. Most of the children I work with have autism. It’s amazing to see how they can progress.”

The health board received more than 180 nominations across the 10 awards categories.

Entries are judged by a selection board and Chief Executive Gary Doherty says the awards are designed to celebrate the hard work, commitment and success of both staff and volunteers.

He said: “It’s vital we support our dedicated and hard-working staff and as a board we believe these awards will show just how much we value all our colleagues’ right across the organisation.

“Reading the nominations is a marvellous experience especially as nominations have come not just from staff but from patients too. It’s an incredibly difficult task selecting a short list of three for each award and an even harder job selecting an overall winner.

“Quite frankly, in my eyes, they are all winners and I look forward to meeting and personally thanking all the nominees for helping deliver the wonderful service they do to patient’s right across North Wales.”

The event has been sponsored by Centerprise International Business, provider of IT for the healthcare, defence, education, and government sectors.

Centerprise International Chief Executive Jez Nash said: “I am absolutely delighted that Centerprise International will be the Principal Sponsor of the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board Achievement Awards 2017.

“We are proud to be supporting the NHS in North Wales and are looking forward to recognising and celebrating the achievements of their dedicated professionals, who go above and beyond to provide first class care to patients.

“It should be an excellent evening that will showcase the innovation, teamwork and commitment of some 17,000 NHS staff working across the region. As a resident of North Wales, I am delighted Centerprise International is in a position to make a difference to the Health Board.”