Today marks the start of World Autism Awareness Week. To shed light on the spectrum condition thought to affect one in every 100 people in the North East, we spoke to one family who has seen a ‘miraculous’ improvement in their six-year-old daughter thanks to the efforts of our specialist school.

When Faye and David Nacca were told their little girl may never talk, read or write due to autism, the future looked uncertain for their beautiful baby daughter.

But thanks to pioneering teaching methods and a team solely committed to bringing the best out in Brooke, the Washington six-year-old is now gearing up for her SATs.

It’s like a miracle for us. There was a time when we worried when we thought about the future. Would she be able to read and write, could she live alone? Everything seemed impossible until she was given a place at the North East Autism Society school in Sunderland.

Within days, according to full-time mum Faye (37), they saw an improvement.

She said: “Before Brooke was given a place at Thornhill Park School we had her in nursery but she hated it. She would end up on her own and any challenging behaviour was attributed to her being naughty – despite having an Autism Spectrum Condition diagnosis.

“Every time she came home from her three-day assessment to see if she could have a place at the North East Autism Society school she would be so happy. When we sent her back to nursery before she could begin schooling in Thornhill Park she regressed. We knew we would need to do whatever we could for her to have a place in a school that believed in my daughter.”

Faye and David were told the news that their only daughter had autism before her third birthday.

“At the start she was hitting all the milestones with babbling and smiling, then at 12-14 months she still wasn’t walking. She was crawling but had no desire to walk really, said mum, Faye. “We got to 18 months and she started walking but only round the furniture. My mam was a fostering and adoption officer so she knew there was something not right.”

When they eventually got to see a consultant they weren’t prepared for a diagnosis there and then.

“I think there were so many autism traits in Brooke that he couldn’t say she wasn’t (autistic). That was just the beginning of what became a long fight to get her the right help and support as by that time she was actually struggling in nursery.”

Dad David, 38, who works at Tesco Bank, found the journey of getting Brooke into school a difficult one.

“I think every dad wants the best for his little girl and I had to keep saying to David that she can have the best, but we have to approach it differently. Now that she’s with NEAS and just thriving day in day out he’s a lot more settled. You can’t be anything other than happy when the child we were told would never read or write has a bigger vocabulary than we do.”

Brooke’s first day at Thornhill Park School was in November 2015.

Brooke Nacca

The school specialises in providing education for children who have autism, learning difficulties or other issues with neurodiversity by putting the individual child at the centre of everything.

Using bespoke curriculums, activities and programmes, innovative Positive Proactive Support techniques to avoid physical interventions and highly trained staff who really get to know each student and their unique ways of communicating, mean children who haven’t succeeded in other environments often see huge transformation with the North East Autism Society.

Brooke has now moved out of Early Years and her progress has been ‘miraculous’ says mum.

“She can read perfectly – absolutely anything – we’ve now got to be careful about what we leave lying around. The words she comes out with are amazing. She’s also fully toilet trained. When she was four she couldn’t read, write or even answer a question. She would just repeat it back to you.

“I can’t describe what this feels like because I never thought she would do any of it. There were times when I would read a story to her and I would look at her and wonder if she would ever be able to do it. Honestly, it’s miraculous. It’s like talking to a little old lady.”

The family put their miracle daughter’s success down to NEAS.

Faye added: “I think it’s the professionalism of all of them. I know everyone has their own needs but they get to know the individual child.”

Now the family-of-three is starting to find renewed hope for the future.

An emotional Faye, added: “I can honestly say at one point I couldn’t even bring myself to think about what would happen for Brooke. Would she live alone, would she get married? How could I contemplate that when I was told she may never even go to the toilet on her own or speak?

“And yet here we are. They told me last week she will most likely do GCSEs! What a difference.

The family are sharing their story as part of World Autism Awareness Week to encourage other families to keep fighting for the right care and education for their children.

Head Teacher of Thornhill Park School, Christine Cave, added:

Brooke has made amazing progress since she started here and has grown in confidence and has become actively engaged with her peer group. She loves school and is excited to learn new things. We are all very proud of her achievements and love working with her.