FRANK Latham, 17, is a star baker, a recycling champion and a keen walker, gardener and swimmer.

His parents, Helen and Dorian, say all this and more has been made possible by staff at Braemar Gardens, a residential care home for children run by the North East Autism Society.

Frank has been at Braemar, in Sunderland, since 2018 and is thriving. “Frank loves climbing, swimming, walking and trampolining,” his mum Helen says.

 “Most of these things we couldn’t do with Frank before we asked for NEAS’s support. We didn’t have the capacity, confidence or energy.

He is now doing all these things and is living his best life at Braemar.

Before Frank joined Braemar, the Lathams found themselves struggling to maintain family life with their elder daughter Niamh. They would each look after one child separately at weekends and couldn’t contemplate something as simple as a family camping trip.

“We had to shake ourselves and say, ‘this isn’t normal’,” Dorian says. “We got to the stage where it wasn’t the best thing for Frank or for us.

"We wanted a different way to be a family. That was made possible by Braemar staff."

The family, from Whitley Bay, were initially anxious about Frank being looked after by people they didn’t know in a place they didn’t know. But when they visited Braemar, they were reassured by the care that staff put into making their son feel safe and comfortable.

Before Frank moved in, the family had provided a duvet cover featuring his favourite film character Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and staff decorated his whole bedroom around it. There were books, messages and a montage of family photographs to welcome him.

Helen says: “During the transition, staff really listened to us and picked up on things that seem small, but to us and him are huge.

“We felt completely safe with the manager Julie Dunlop. The process by which she made her decisions – thorough, child-centred, clear, and transparent – couldn’t have impressed us more. All the staff are excellent.”

Since then, Frank has improved his communication using the Proloquo app on his iPad. His cooking skills have gone from strength to strength and he has carried out a placement at the Big River bakery in Shieldfield, Newcastle.

Staff have supported him in his religious faith by celebrating feast days and creating canvas prints of his sister Niamh demonstrating body prayer actions for him to follow.

Because he likes order and is a stickler for recycling, staff have given Frank a high visibility vest with “recycling champion” on it. He wore it when he joined Helen on an organised litter pick in Whitley Bay – the first time he had taken part in a community-based group with her.

It’s the small things that mean so much to the Lathams. “In Frank’s care plan they have micro-targets to do with independence,” Helen says. “They tell us when he reaches them and they celebrate them.

“All this work is hidden. People outside the autism community wouldn’t know how much work has gone into enabling steps towards these little triumphs."

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