Josh was born with a rare genetic disorder which meant a vital part of his brain was missing. Doctors warned he could spend his life in a vegetative state or might never be able to see or hear.

But at the age of 14, Josh is thriving so much that his mum Sarah calls him her “happy whirlwind”. Since he started at Thornhill Park School in Sunderland last September, he is doing things like trampolining and taking the bus for the first time.

He has also started talking in full sentences, initiating conversations and cracking jokes – much to his family’s joy.

Mum Sarah, 48, says: “Other people with a 14-year-old would take this for granted, but for us it’s so special. We cherish these little conversations with Josh.

He’s our little miracle. His prognosis was bleak, and he more or less spent the first three years of his life in hospital. But he has defied everything the doctors said.

Josh has ARID1B syndrome and is missing the middle part of his brain called the corpus callosum which connects the left and right hemispheres. He is also autistic and has ADHD and a learning disability. 

Sarah says: "The corpus callosum is like a superfast highway taking information to the right places. Josh’s brain has to use the small country roads, which take longer but he gets there.”

From the age of six to 11, Josh went to school for special educational needs in North Tyneside until it said it could no longer meet his needs.

Sarah and husband Chris wanted him to go to Thornhill Park School, run by the North East Autism Society, but had to fight for 18 months to get their local authority to agree to funding.

Josh finally started at Thornhill Park last September and since then the family have seen an “amazing transformation,” says Sarah, from Cullercoats.

“It has turned everything around. He has opened up to the world and to the people around him more, and he absolutely loves going to school,” she says.

“He could say individual words before but now he’s started to put together sentences and will initiate conversations. His sense of humour is coming through.

He loves life – he throws himself into everything. I call him my happy whirlwind, leaving chaos in his path.

Thornhill Park offers two pathways for post-14 pupils and Josh is on the Independent Living pathway, giving him the understanding and skills to look after himself and promoting social inclusion.

So as well as studying literacy and numeracy, he goes out with staff and other pupils every week to take public buses, go trampolining and bowling, and visit the Tim Lamb Centre in Newcastle.

He also goes shopping for ingredients for cookery lessons .. and is bringing good habits home with him. His mum says: “He now helps around the house, getting milk from the fridge, clearing plates away or recycling rubbish.

“He’s doing maths and English and they are putting him forward for an Entry Level 1 maths qualification. That’s something I never imagined for Josh.”

All programmes at the school are tailored to the individual pupil to help them reach their full potential. That, together with the school’s specialist knowledge of autism and sensory needs and the dedication of the staff, have made it the perfect fit for Josh.

Sarah says: “The teacher and learning assistants would do anything for their class. They make sure they know each individual child and what makes them tick.

We’re grateful to have found a school that fits the learning style around the child instead of trying to fit the child into a curriculum that doesn’t suit them or won’t be of benefit to them as adults.

“It’s helped us to feel more confident that Josh will be OK in the future. Adulthood was a very scary thought for us. But now we are excited to see him grow and achieve.”

Find out more about Thornhill Park School