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Family Hope Centre ‘gave us our life back’ says local mum

August 21, 2017

A Crossmaglen family whose son is a “different child” after becoming involved with a US based special needs programme say they owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Family Hope Centre team who “gave us our life back.” 

Michelle and Paul McKeever’s son, Ronan, was diagnosed with autism four years ago, when he was three years old.   The couple told The Examiner they felt like prisoners in their own home struggling to cope with their son’s complex needs. Little Ronan was completely non-verbal, not toilet trained and suffered devastating sensory overload “meltdowns” any time he went outside his house.

Describing him at that time as “completely closed off,” Michelle says their situation was “soul destroying.”

“What is the point of life if your child doesn’t want to kiss you or hug you?” asked the devoted mum.

The McKeevers say they sensed Ronan had issues since he was about five months old but before his diagnosis, they were without any services or support. After the diagnosis of Autism in 2013, Michelle says the couple did not receive a lot of hope from medical professionals about how to improve their son’s life.

That bleak outlook changed when a reflexologist Michelle was attending drew her attention to a seminar in Dublin being hosted by the Family Hope Centre (FHC), which is based in Philadelphia.

Michelle went along to the seminar and says she “was blown away” by what she learned about the different areas of the brain, their functions and how stimulating damaged pathways could lead to improvements.  She signed up for a three-day parent-training programme with the FHC and was so happy with the progress she saw in Ronan after using some of the techniques that the family committed to a six-month programme, which included an initial assessment by Family Hope’s multidisciplinary team and was supported with ongoing and unlimited access to the centre online or by telephone.

“Family Hope educated me on how to cope with the child but also to try to help him,” says Michelle. “So it wasn’t just coping mechanisms to keep him the way he was but ways to stimulate him and bring him to the best of his ability.”

Central to the Family Hope programme is the theory that the more an affected part of the brain is stimulated, the more function a patient will get. Michelle reveals that Ronan had no sense of smell until the family started to work on it using techniques they were learning in the programme.

“Our sense of smell is believed to be closely linked to the part of the brain that processes emotion and memory,” she explains.

“Once I started to encourage Ronan to sniff a range of foods, from salmon and broccoli to lavender, honey and cloves, he seemed to start to develop a sense of smell and engaged more with the process as a result,” says Michelle.

“His eye contact became more, he was showing affection, he starting speaking – all these things came naturally just by giving him a couple of smells, every day, five times a day.

Michelle, Paul, Ronan and Ryan McKeever.

In fact Ronan’s progress over the last four years has been nothing short of “incredible” according to Michelle.

Giving an insight into just how far he has come with the help of the Family Hope programme, Michelle explains,

“When we started Ronan only slept 2 hours every night and cried for hours each night but didn’t want any kind of affection or comfort to calm him. He only ate 2 foods – custard creams and rich tea biscuits – and he couldn’t sit still for a minute.  He was completely non-verbal and had no control over his bowel movements and was completely closed off from the world with no bond or connection to Paul or Ryan ( his older brother).

“His only connection to me was subject to need, whenever he wanted food or to use as a punch bag to vent his frustration.  He would only wear certain types of clothes and shoes in particular had to be a specific type.”

Leaving the house was extremely difficult for the family, “Even just going to the shop for milk was an absolute no no,” adds Michelle.

“We could never go anywhere on our own with Ronan as he was so strong that if he had a meltdown one of us couldn’t cope on our own.”

“But that was the old Ronan,” says the delighted mum who reveals that her 7 year old son now sleeps for twelve hours every night.

“He sits and enjoys his bedtime story, kisses us goodnight and says love you. He now runs to see Paul coming home with excitement and just adores his big brother Ryan. Ronan interacts with his cousins and extended family now and eats a very healthy diet which is still getting better.  He is completely toilet trained, will wear any type of clothes or shoes with no issues and he can say over 150 words, using them in 5 or more worded sentences with meaning –  a huge step for him!”

Michelle says shopping trips with Ronan are a breeze now “except when I say no to him getting biscuits!”

“We have no meltdowns anymore and although we still deal with behaviour it is nothing like before.  Ronan is a different child and our quality of life has changed so much.”

The proud mum also expressed her gratitude to local Physiotherapist Phelim O’Neill who invited the Family Hope Centre to Ireland 4 years ago.

“At the time FHC only travelled to Denmark, where they have helped hundreds of families – all fully funded by the Danish government.

“Phelim wasn’t aware of Ronan or us at the time but he has become a big part of our journey with the Family Hope Centre,” says Michelle who says she is sharing her incredible story of hope and happiness to help other families and parents of children with special needs who feel there is no hope for them.

“I never want anyone to feel as low and hopeless as we felt, that’s why I want to share the fantastic work being done by the Family Hope Centre.  Ronan’s life and ours have been completely transformed with the help of FHC, there are no words to express our gratitude.”

To find out more about the innovative Family Hope Centre visit www.familyhopecenter.com

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