Kate E. Reynolds


    On the 19th January this year our family lost my brother Graeme’s daughter, Amy, in a car accident. She was only 26.

    Amy had been a child care worker of various sorts for several years. When she died she had almost completed her Social Work degree in Oxford, UK.

    As many parents of autistic children will tell you, friends and often family desert you, especially in the early days when our children’s behaviours are usually at their most hyperactive, destructive and/or aggressive.

    Amy was 19 years old when my son was diagnosed as having ‘classic’ autism. He was in a specialised pre-school, where they’d introduced the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) to our lives as a means of eliciting speech from a child whom I'd been informed had no understanding of the spoken word. I bought all the necessary equipment – the ‘official’ PECS book and sentence strips to which I would Velcro pictures – and learned the process of using PECS. I’ve explained on previous blogs that this usually successful communication system simply didn’t promote my son’s speech. It helped him identify that objects have different names and that communicating can produce results and satisfy needs, yet it didn’t enable him to verbalise.

    The pre-school was clear; only PECS would help. I wasn’t to confuse my son by using any other communication system. Enter Amy. I didn’t realise at the time that she was working with many autistic children at an after school club. This was probably why she was completely undaunted when she first met her autistic cousin as he hid behind rows of pencils held dextrously in each hand.

    It was Amy who suggested learning Makaton signing. I cautioned that I’d been warned this might be detrimental, that my son might get confused. At this point, it was Amy who looked confused. As she rightly said, PECS hadn’t yielded results after several months. As far as Amy was concerned, anything that might add to Jude’s communication skills was worth trying. I booked myself onto a Makaton course.

    Makaton did help my son. It didn’t induce speech – that would take two more years – but it did increase his ability to use body language to communicate. He started using his arms when making sounds (albeit not mimicked speech). Instead of appearing either almost robotic or flailing his arms as he jumped, Jude began gesturing with his arms and hands. I’d forgotten or didn’t recognise how ‘human’ this is and how lacking in this behaviour my son was. Instead of tensely hunching over doing his self-stimulatory (stimming) behaviours, he seemed to loosen up and somehow relax.

    Whenever I spoke with Amy she would ask about her cousin, or make sensitive, carefully judged comments about his progress when she saw him. Occasionally she would make suggestions about how to extend his skills. One of the most helpful things she did, though, was simply lead by example in being comfortable and relaxed with him. She didn’t fear anything he did. She also acted as my barometer of his progress and could place in perspective any new behaviours or concerns I had about him.

    Amy had many qualities. She had a great sense of humour, which is essential when working with people with special needs. She was a very positive, which can be rare in the field of autism, and she was practical. Amy didn’t need pretence; she was direct and very human. Amy’s death marked a tragic loss to our family and a loss to social care. She would have been a caring and insightful social worker.


    • 1. Feb 6 2013 11:47PM by rosalie

      So so sorry to hear about you and your family's loss. She sounds an absolute gem xxxx

    • 2. Feb 6 2013 11:47PM by rosalie

      So so sorry to hear about you and your family's loss. She sounds an absolute gem xxxx

    • 3. Apr 15 2013 6:04PM by John

      Amy was fantastic, she helped so many people, including me, at the Ley Community rehab in Oxford. A bright, pragmatic, sensible and very beautiful person. Condolences to all family and those whose lives she touched should consider themselves privilidged. Rest in peace Amy.

Kate E Reynolds - blogging

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