Meet the special kids who changed our lives

Echo: Meet the special kids who changed our lives Meet the special kids who changed our lives

WHEN accountant Elaine Orchard applied for a job in a special school ten years ago she never imagined the decision would have such a drastic impact on her life.

Like many, Elaine, 53, did not know how to communicate with the disabled youngsters who attend Pioneer School in Ghyllgrove, Basildon, and the mum of two admits she came close to quitting in her first week.

But fast-forward a decade and her time at Pioneer School proved so moving it inspired her and her family to dedicate their lives to helping those with disabilities.

Elaine said: “I didn’t know how to deal with disability.

“On my first day I saw all these poorly children being brought into the school and I remember thinking how lucky I was to have two healthy children, and I had never really thought about that before.

“I found it incredibly difficult but over time I started to see the children behind the disability.”

Son Richard Orchard-Rowe shared his mother’s fears.

Richard, 28, added: “I had my concerns because I used to go and see my mum at work for a cup of tea, but I just didn’t know if I would feel comfortable. I think I had the fear of how do you speak to the children. As soon as I saw their smiles I thought this isn’t scary at all and from that point I started going to the school a lot more.

“I actually admire them. They don’t have money problems or relationship issues, they just really enjoy life.”

It was when Elaine invited her artist husband Terry, 55, into the school that the family realised they could make a difference to the lives of people with complex learning difficulties.

Through his interactive workshops with the Pioneer pupils, who range from three to 19 yearsold, Terry struck up an unlikely bond with one particular teenager.

He and James Venables soon became like “two peas in a pod”, and the youngster was soon spending time with the family at their home in Great Mistley, Vange.

When he finished school he began working with Terry on art projects to keep him occupied instead of joining a local day centre for disabled adults.

Richard said: “It might sound cheesy, but James really is one of us now, we see him as part of the family.”

When Richard lost his job in sales last year, the family used it as motivation to help other disabled teenagers and adults like James and in April 2012 the Disabled Inclusion Society was registered as an official company.

It sees people aged between 19 and 62 with a range of disabilities including Downs syndrome, autism and Aspergers take on painting, decorating and gardening projects.

For those with severe disabilities it is a long-term alternative to traditional day centres, while for others it gives them the confidence and skills to get into the workplace.

Elaine, financial director of the company, said: “We understand that all children are precious, but those with special needs are even more so.

“To come to work with us for the day is quite scary for them and it takes a lot of bravery from their parents to let them.

“It’s about giving them the skills to live an independent life and be responsible for their own decisions.”

The “customers” as the DIS team refer to them, spend an average of two to three days a week on projects at care homes, schools, nurseries and hospitals across Essex.

Many of them use their government funding to pay for the scheme, but those who miss out on the disability grant have to find money from their families.

Elaine, Richard, Terry and James,who is now aDIS company director, desperately need more funds to help the growing scheme flourish even more.

There are currently more than 25 disabled “customers” on their books and the family home has been taken over with paperwork and equipment.

Richard dreams of finding a separate office base for DIS, and is confident the future is bright.

He added: “We need funding to continue doing what we are.

None of us are qualified at writing applications so we haven’t been successful yet, but we will get there eventually. We have got so much support.”

“In sales there are buzz moments, but they are nothing compared to the feeling I get doing this. I can’t describe how amazing it is to see you have made a difference to someone’s life.”

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