“Waving goodbye to my nine-year-old son, because I could no longer manage his needs on my own was heart-wrenching. But residential care was the best move for Liam and I trusted the North East Autism Society with my boy. I’m glad I did. We’ve never looked back.”

Diagnosed as autistic with a severe learning difficulty aged just two, mum Kathleen Reid describes the progress her 19-year-old son Liam has made since accessing help and support from NEAS.

“Before we came to the Society Liam had been attending a mainstream school but in the special needs classroom. It was a difficult time for him because the school struggled to understand his needs. He was also getting short breaks from time to time with another organisation and then went to holiday clubs somewhere else. He ended up having an assessment at Prudhoe Hospital and it was decided that he needed all of his services under one roof.

“After a full assessment with NEAS we found the care and education he needed.”

Liam started as a day pupil at Thornhill Park School in January 2005 and in the September went into children’s residential services.

Kathleen added: “Liam’s dad died when he was three and it began a season of my life full of very dark days. I had two teenage daughters who needed my attention, we were all grieving and Liam was so anxious with very troubling behaviour.

“It was difficult for the whole family because everything centred on Liam and his needs. It’s not an exaggeration to say we felt isolated.

The decision to put Liam in to full-time residential care was a difficult one but we needed to focus on his needs. Now he’s unrecognisable as the same child. When he was small and couldn’t communicate, and his behaviour was incredibly difficult I worried about what life would be like for Liam. Me and his dad met while working on a ward for adults with autism and I couldn’t help worry about what his future held.

“I honestly never thought I would be able to say that I’m proud of my son’s achievements… but now I can. What he’s accomplished and what his life is like now is just amazing.”

As Liam progressed into adolescence he moved to the North East Centre for Autism in Newton Aycliffe in January 2013. He also transitioned into the new residential facilities.

Liam Priest

“Liam’s a country boy at heart and so I knew he would love the site,” added Kathleen. “It’s a very quiet and quite a rural setting. Liam was even able to walk to school. They gave his own apartment and this just meant he came on leaps and bounds with his life skills and it taught him to live more independently which he loved.

“It was noted though that he thrived more outside the classroom than in it, and so when it came to transitioning from children’s to adult services he was introduced to New Warlands Farm and the vocational training opportunities there

As soon as I saw the place I knew he would love it there, and he does. He has such a full, rich life now. It makes me happy to know how happy my son is.

Liam’s timetable at New Warland’s farm includes community gardening, creative design, horticulture, textiles and maintenance. He also loves a range of leisure activities including trampolining, rock climbing and swimming.

“Those are all the things I would never have been able to do with Liam. As he got bigger and stronger I just wouldn’t have been confident. I used to be terrified just taking him to the park.

“But that’s the thing with all the services at NEAS, they care enough about the person to find out what they love and then find out ways to make that happen.”

Since Liam’s move to day services at the farm he’s moved into in another adult residential home, but mum is still in touch with NEAS.

She said: “It was always the highlight of my week getting a call from Liam’s home or school to tell me about all the wonderful things he had been doing or that he had achieved. To go from getting calls, as a little boy, about how difficult he was, to getting weekly and monthly updates was incredible.

Even now staff keep me updated on his work at the farm and previous workers have kept in touch. They love Liam as much as I do. That means a lot to a mum.

“I wish I could show you a video or introduce you to him as a little boy. You wouldn’t believe it’s the same child. In fact, not so long ago I took him to a hospital appointment and the very same doctor who diagnosed him as a child recognised him from across the room.

“She said, ‘Is that Liam Priest?’ I said, ‘It is.’ She said she would never have believed that the little boy she saw back then, so upset and so anxious, would have made such great progress. That’s honestly down to NEAS and I would highly recommend them to anyone in the same position."

Find out more about adult day services at New Warlands Farm.