A mum has gone above and beyond to create a safe space for her son, who has severe learning difficulties.
Actor Sarah Leigh has transformed the garden she shares with her partner Tom Francis and couple’s six-year-old son Nate – to make it suitable for the youngster’s complex needs.
Nate has autism, life-threatening allergies and a compulsive eating condition – which makes him want to consume everything from stones to Lego – so Sarah was determined to create an outdoor space that was safe for him to play in.
His eating disorder, called pica, compels sufferers to consume non-food items and makes him vulnerable to choking.
What’s more, Nate’s allergy to grass pollen makes a simple afternoon outside, or a trip to the park, calcium carbonate toxicity very dangerous.
The 40-year-old mum said: ‘Nate also has life-threatening food and environmental allergies, while his pica means he will go for anything except real food.
‘One of my biggest worries is that the pica means he’ll choke on something, because he is unaware that it should not be going into his mouth.
‘We’ve never been able to take him out into the garden for very long because he just wants to grab handfuls of stones.
‘We’re constantly pulling his hands away from his mouth and pulling things out of his mouth once they get in there.
‘And he also has terrible reactions to the grass pollen, because he tries to eat the grass.’
The family, from Stevenage, raised more than £3,500 for their accessible garden through GoFundMe and plan to continue to secure funds for new fencing.
The mum adds that even seemingly small things, like having plastic grass in the garden, will make an enormous difference to Nate’s quality of life.
His learning difficulties also intensify the risk, as Sarah says her son has ‘no sense of danger’ and doesn’t understand his severe allergies – which include shellfish, egg, grass pollen, fish, hazelnuts, chia seeds, sesame, kiwi, lime and pineapple.
These allergies are even more problematic with pica.
Their combined effect make it difficult for Nate to have a normal diet and stay safe around the house without constant supervision.
Sarah adds that once Nate starts having a reaction, he doesn’t understand what’s happening.
She says: ‘His eyes swell up and he can’t open them and it’s awful, but he has no understanding of why or what made it happen.
‘Sadly, we can’t explain it to him, because he does not have that level of communication at the moment.
‘We’ve removed all the immediate things that he can eat, but there are always those things we haven’t thought about, like paint on the walls and the fibres of the carpet.
‘He’s managed to find a little nick on the wall and he’s pulling the paint off at the moment. He pulls up the fibres of the carpet and tries to eat that too. And he’s currently chewing the bannister of the staircase.’
Despite these everyday challenges, Sarah says she wouldn’t change her son.
‘Life is different to what we expected. We were hoping we would be able to go on family holidays and things like that, but we just know it’s not possible now,’ she adds.
‘We live very, very different lives to the ones we lived before. We can’t go to busy places or anything like that or go on typical family days out.
‘I just embrace who Nate is and it’s fascinating to be able to step into his world.
‘I would like to take away the pica, because it is really difficult, but ultimately I wouldn’t change Nate for the world.’
To donate to Nate’s GoFundMe visit: An accessible garden for Nate, organised by Sarah Leigh.
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