Aycliffe School

Aycliffe School is an independent, purpose-built specialist school based at the North East Centre for Autism, Newton Aycliffe in County Durham for pupils aged 3-19

Working together to inspire, support, celebrate and equip autistic and neurodiverse people to fulfil their potential in life.

School was a nightmare for the whole family, as son Daniel found it very difficult to cope with a typical classroom environment, says mum-of-three Paula Rice.

Now, since starting at NEAS's Aycliffe School in December 2016, Daniel is a different person, she says.

Paula explains that she noticed her son Daniel, now 18, was displaying unusual behaviour from the age of about 12 or 14 months. Although he was a quick developer, and started talking early, he began to indulge in repetitive actions that worried Paula.

“He would stand at the same kitchen cupboard for ages, opening the door and banging it closed,” explains Paula. “When I moved him away, he would scream and want to be back. I realised that something wasn’t right.”

In other ways, Daniel was progressing well. He was better than expected physically and verbally – using quite complex words for his age – and toilet training was all going well.

Daniel Rice

Then, one morning, Daniel woke up and couldn’t speak properly. Paula took Daniel to the hospital but was told that she was an over-anxious first-time mother.

“From using words like ‘motorcycle’, he was now only saying ‘goo goo’ and ga ga’,” recalls Paula. "I knew it wasn’t me, so I just kept going back."

Luckily, on one of her hospital visits, Daniel was seen by a different consultant who was visiting another hospital and she referred Daniel for genetic testing.

“I was so relieved when Daniel was diagnosed,” Paula says. “I knew I was right, so I just never gave up. You’ve got to keep fighting.”

Daniel attended a mainstream nursery for a while but he became too disruptive and moved on to the nursery at North Tees Hospital. His education continued through special needs primary and secondary, and, although they had their ups and downs, Paula says that Daniel was managing fine.

As he got older, however, he became more anxious and more violent.

He would hold his frustration in all day at school, but when he came home, he would let it all out – he would go wild and I got the brunt of it. He wouldn’t let anyone else do anything for him, it had to be me all the time.

Daniel on the outdoor gym equipment

Although Daniel moved on to further education, the community-based programme designed for him didn’t engage him and he wasn’t happy. From September 2015 to December 2016, he didn’t attend school while Paula and her husband looked for somewhere else that could meet Daniel’s needs.

They heard about Aycliffe School but Paula didn’t expect it to work for Daniel, and didn’t expect him to settle, having been unhappy at school and out of education for so long.

As soon as I went in and met the staff, I knew he was going to be happy there.

Daniel began attending Aycliffe School in December 2016, and Paula says that she can’t believe the difference in him.

The small class sizes and personalised approach NEAS offers has enabled Daniel to regularly attend school and his attendance is up to 97%, with improved sleeping patterns due to him accessing a full curriculum that meets his emotional, sensory and physical needs. 

He’s so much calmer. The staff are trained specifically to deal with children with autism and are very supportive to Daniel and the whole family.

They’ve taught me a lot of strategies to use at home to deal with Daniel’s behaviour and it has changed our lives completely. We couldn’t have wished for him to be in a better place.

Daniel is a much happier person now. He’s always smiling and tells Paula all about his day, where he’s been and who he’s been with. He enthusiastically takes part in activities such as swimming, art, textiles and computers, and his literacy skills have improved.

Previously, it seemed that Daniel ruled the house with his violent outbursts, but now Paula feels like she’s back in charge.

“We used to be on tenterhooks all the time,” she recalls, “and if you said ‘no’ to Daniel, it was like lighting a fuse.

“The school has taught me that, with careful choice of words, I can avoid the situations that would upset Daniel.”

Paula says that the biggest change in Daniel is how happy he is – and this means that the whole family is happier too.

Find out more about Aycliffe School