Mum & teachers’ pride in ‘gifted’ autistic teenager

April 15, 2019

By Diarmúid Pepper

The mother of an autistic teenager has spoken to The Examiner about how immensely proud she was when her son delivered a rousing rendition of ‘What A Wonderful World’ at his First Holy Communion ceremony recently, despite being non-verbal just three years ago.

Ann McCann, from Mullaghbawn, said that it was “an indescribable moment” when her son Conor, aged 15, performed the song in public, adding that it was “mind-blowing” to see Conor belt out the song since he can have difficulties speaking. 

“I never heard my son singing in public before. Even though he now has speech, it can be very hard to make him out. You might struggle to recognise it as a conversation if you were speaking with him, so to hear him sing like that was just mind-blowing,” the proud mum said.

“I didn’t know he could do it to be quite honest. So it’s a very proud moment and I’m very grateful to the school. It was his teacher, Lisa Linton, and two classroom assistants, Brenna Fearon and Danielle Cornett, who actually realised he could do that.”

Conor attends Rathore School in Newry, which specialises in education for children with learning disabilities. His teacher, Lisa Linton, said that she and the school are so proud of what Conor has achieved. 

Mullaghbawn teenager Conor McCann, who suffers from autism, delivered an inspirational performance of ‘It’s a Wonderful World’ at his recent First Holy Communion ceremony.

Lisa said: “The past year Conor has made phenomenal progress. We discovered that Conor knew the words to “What A Wonderful World” in class, so myself and his teaching assistants, Brenna and Danielle, worked with him to give him the confidence to, firstly sing at assembly, and then at First Holy Communion last Saturday. 

“Conor is an amazing young man who brings so much joy to our classroom. His talents and knowledge surprises us every day. He is an inspiration to others and we all feel very proud to work with him. He is such a gifted young man and an absolute credit to his wonderful family. We could burst with pride at our superstar!”

Conor’s proud mum couldn’t be any happier with the progress he has made at Rathore, especially given the tough financial situation that schools like Rathore work in. 

She said: “The school have been absolutely amazing. Conor has major sensory issues, so for him to be standing up there and to be so still in that video and making eye contact, it was amazing. They actually don’t have a sensory room that is up to date and we’re fundraising for a new one. So for them to get all those sensory issues in check as well, without the proper equipment in school, is just amazing.”

A group of parents and friends of the school are busy fundraising to help improve the sensory room facilities. Ann said: “Our target is £100,000 for October. So far we have raised £35,000, but we are asking local businesses and the community for help. We appreciate that there are other amazing charities out there that are in need as well, but a lot of our children, 196 in total, are actually bedridden and have major health issues so a sensory room for them would be amazing. If any businesses can donate, run coffee mornings, anything like that, it would be absolutely amazing. And you can get our page on Facebook too, if you search for ‘Starburst Sensory Project’. So feel free to look that up on Facebook and give us a wee like.” 

Conor’s progress at Rathore School in Newry has been “phenomenal”.

Ann hopes that the now viral video of Conor singing at his Holy Communion ceremony can give hope to parents in a similar situation: “A lot of people are stopping to look at this. There are so many parents out there who don’t get much support sometimes, and this gives other parents a wee boost, to say to them, “it’s not if, but when” these things happen. There is hope for every child, just keep going. This is just our own wee miracle, and I’m sure there are loads of others out there.