May House in Durrington opens its doors

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WHEN children with learning disabilities struggle to communicate and behave in school, there is a Worthing centre which offers help.

May House, in Durrington Lane, helps children between the ages of six and 11 who, because of their learning disabilities, have struggled to behave in school and could be on the brink of exclusion.

Children who have struggled in school, often because of autism or other conditions which affect their communication skills, are referred to the West Sussex County Council-owned house, where they live for up to 18 months.

While living at the house, the children work with a multi-disciplinary team, which focuses on education, social care, clinical psychology and occupational therapy.

Over time, as their behaviour improves, they spend more time at home with their families, eventually returning when they are ready.

Sharlene Vallance, assistant manager at May House, said the differences children showed between the time they arrived and left were often “massive”.

“There are massive changes. These are children who struggle to communicate and end up communicating through their challenging behaviour. But after staying here, they go from having incidents which can last up to 45 minutes several times a day, to having perhaps one incident in several months,” she said.

The house, which is two and a half years old, is now celebrating after a mural, funded by Worthing County Local Committee, was painted on its garden wall.

The wall was painted by the Skeleton Crew over the last three weeks and is all but complete, with only a small area of the wall remaining unpainted.

Funding for the mural cost £800, and Sharlene said the aim was to make the garden area more calming for the children.

She added: “The design has taken into account the autistic children. We thought rather than a plain wall, it would be nice for them to have a natural outlook and design, whereas before it was a bit contained. The walls are so high because of the safety issues, but it’s much nicer for the children now. We’re really grateful to councillors Bob Smytherman and Nicky Waight, from Worthing CLC, for helping us get this mural.”

As well as working with a group of dedicated staff at May House to improve their behaviour and communication skills, children are also taken on day-trips.

Only three children stay at the home at any one time, and they come from across West Sussex.

Because of the intervention of May House, children who may have needed to be taken out of schooling can be re-integrated into the education system.

Sharlene added: “We work with the children and family to re-integrate them into local schools and help them to stay with their families by improving their behaviour.

“And through the multi-disciplinary approach, it reduces the need for such high-level support elsewhere.”