Parents of autistic girl fund-raise for revolutionary American trip

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WHEN she was first diagnosed with autism, Angie Ratcliffe’s parents were told she would never speak.

But less than two years after discovering a revolutionary training programme, the eight-year-old has said her first words and can take part in “communication loops” with her thrilled parents.

Now, in a bid to further her development, Nigel and Babs Ratcliffe are planning to take their daughter for a week of intensive therapy at the Autism Treatment Center of America, near Boston.

The centre’s experts will work with Angie using the Son-Rise Program, and Nigel is so impressed with its results so far he believes “the sky’s the limit” in terms of how much Angie could improve following the trip in October.

“The ultimate goal is to get Angie talking to the best of her potential; that’s what is holding her back,” said Nigel, 62, of Stone Street, Worthing.

“We need to be able to get her talking in phrases and sentences, which she’s starting to do. The programme works by setting goals to achieve every three months or so – it’s a mathematical progression.

“We know it’s not a miracle cure, and that Angie will always be autistic in some way, but what we want is to achieve the best we can for her.”

Angie, who attends Palatine Primary School in Palatine Road, Worthing, was diagnosed with autism at 18 months old. It has meant communication has always been a struggle for Angie, and even though her parents knew she wanted to talk, she couldn’t. It is described as being “locked in” and meant Angie was often forced to cry to let her parents know she needed something.

She also never used to make eye contact with people, and was not toilet trained, but after several months on the Son-Rise Program, she uses eye contact 90 per cent of the time, and no longer has to wear nappies.

To fund the trip to the centre, which is based in Sheffield County, Massachusetts, Babs, 44, is organising a sponsored walk from Worthing Pier to the Mencap Beach Hut in Littlehampton, on Saturday, May 12.

The couple are also organising a fund-raising concert called Miracles, at The Windmill Theatre in Littlehampton on June 9, when Dan Ward-Murphy and The Words will be headlining. Also performing will be The Logical Hairs and Gary Peters. At the event, which begins at 7.30pm, they will be selling a CD of the same name, which comprises songs written and performed by local singer/songwriters, which will also be available on general release.

The trip will cost more than £7,000, but Nigel hopes the proceeds from these three things will make a big dent in their target. The rest, he said, will likely come from the generosity of friends and supporters of Angie, who have pledged to hold cake sales and other fund-raising activities.

At the centre, Angie will undergo a week of intensive sessions with experts, all of which will be filmed for a DVD which Babs and Nigel can take home to help them further her progression.

They will be accompanied on the trip by two volunteers who work with Angie at home, and they will also be taught methods of furthering her speech and language.

Nigel said: “It’s going to be a totally valuable experience.

“I have to admit to being sceptical about Son-Rise when I first heard about it, but thought as it might help Angie, I will give it a whirl.

“Angie is a completely different child to the one she was two years ago, and it’s made her quality of life so much better.

“We’re quite excited about what might come out of this week.”

To get involved in the sponsored walk, or to sponsor those taking part, call Nigel on 07795 693976. The CD will be on sale in May.