Family Hope Centre returning to Dublin

September 2, 2013

Earlier this year, this column introduced the work of the Family Hope Center (FHC) from Pennsylvania, USA.  The FHC is dedicated to helping families of children, and adults, with developmental delays and special needs.  Their philosophy is that the family are the best therapists for their child.  They believe, that when properly instructed and trained, parents can make a substantial and lasting difference to their child’s functioning and quality of life.

Local Chartered Physiotherapist,  Phelim O’Neill, who heard about the work of the FHC through an acquaintance in Denmark whose son had been diagnosed with ADHD, attended the 3 Day Parent Training in England last September.  So impressed were they with the approach that they invited the Directors, Matthew and Carol Newell, to do a 4 hour presentation on their work in Dublin in February this year.  There were over 200 people in attendance, including parents and grandparents of children with special needs, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, doctors, and teachers.  Everyone in attendance was very impressed with the approach that the FHC take to treating children with special needs.  Dr Anthony Sharkey, who is originally from Dungannon and now does development assessments on children between 9 months and 2 years in Dublin for the HSE, described it as ‘the most inspiring medical day out I have had in years’.

Another lady, Sara Lamb from Liverpool, flew in for the presentation with her Mum.  Her 3 year old son Finley had been diagnosed with PVNH (Periventricular Nodular Heterotopia) at 2 years of age.  Sara has been so impressed with her son’s progress that she has written to Phelim, outlining how things have changed for Finley.

“Finley was diagnosed with PVNH in September 2011. This means that some of the grey matter which should be on the outside of the brain is in the centre of the brain. At that appointment I asked if Finley would ever walk or talk, and if his understanding would be normal. The answer to all the questions was ‘we don’t know’. We were told that Finley was likely to be epileptic.

At this point Finley had been having physiotherapy and speech therapy for six months. We started attending other groups recommended by the physiotherapist. We also worked on the recommended exercises at home with little success. Finley did make some progress but it was limited and slow.

By February of this year Finley (now 3.5) was attending a mainstream Preschool four mornings a week. A lovely lady who I go to for massage and reflexology had been telling me about this place called The Family Hope Center, and to be honest I was very, very sceptical. I thought if a place so amazing existed I would have heard about it through Finley’s paediatrician, physiotherapist or speech therapists. I assumed they would be familiar with all the latest therapies, I was wrong. Basically, to stop my massage therapist and my mother hassling me, I agreed to go to Dublin and hear for myself.

After hearing the talk I was determined to attend the parent training. I rang my husband Dan to tell him he needed time off work because we were going to Philadelphia in two weeks! We did the training programme and assessment in March and intend returning for 6 month update in November.

The progress has been amazing. Finley can now crawl on his tummy, crawl on his hands and knees, pull himself onto his knees, pull himself up to stand, climb into bed unaided, cruise around holding furniture, speak much more clearly, put 7/8 word sentences together, eats three times as much, has tried four new foods, allows me to brush his teeth, can tolerate hair dryers and drills etc, will drink from a sippy cup, wants hugs and tells us he loves us!!! All of these things seemed impossible before and we had been working on most of these things for over two years. Finleys physiotherapist can’t believe his progress. She says his muscle tone is the best it’s ever been. Before starting the program Finley’s speech therapist recommended that he attend a special language unit rather than mainstream school. After seeing him last week she said that he doesn’t qualify for speech therapy any more.

We are now very hopeful that Finley will walk. As well as the obvious mobility problems I’ve been amazed by how much Finley’s behaviour has improved. He bites himself when he’s upset/frustrated and this has reduced dramatically as well. It is hard work though.  Saying that, we were working hard before but just not getting very far! The thing that really excites me is if Finley can improve this much in three months I can’t wait to see where he is in a year’s time”

Phelim points out that the FHC had never treated anyone with PVNH prior to treating Finley.  That, however, is irrelevant, as they do not work with the diagnosis or label, but assess the child’s brain function, determine what parts of the developmental brain is functioning and start their programme from that point.  They focus on what the child can do, not what they can’t do.

Such was the interest following the presentation in Dublin, the FHC are returning to Ireland to do the 3 Day Parent Training (How to Help Your Child with Special Needs) and half-day workshop for assessment of the child.  The Parent Training will take place in the Maldron Hotel Tallaght, Dublin from 6th-8th September with the workshops being held on the 9th September.  If anyone is interested in doing the training they can contact Donna Stark at the Family Hope Center or contact, Phelim O’Neill (00353) 879817218 or  The FHC website is