15 Jun 2018

Meet Christopher…

Christopher is a football-loving 18-year-old, who enjoys meeting up with mates, going out for meals and to the cinema. He dreams of one day being a sports coach or maybe making it into the movie business! Christopher dreams big and so you should at 18, settling and making do is never fun!

From birth to now (by Christopher’s parents)…

“Christopher was born on 8th August 1999 at Southend General Hospital, a traumatic birth involving the use of forceps and a ventouse. Christopher was also starved of oxygen for a short while, turning grey, and was whisked away from mum for urgent attention. Fortunately, the nursing staff were able to quickly revive him and he was returned to mum. He did however spend the first few days of his life in an incubator, and there was a fair amount of bruising and swelling on his head as a result of the complicated delivery.

All seemed fine for the first year or so, Christopher was a happy child and adored by all, until aged 18 months when Christopher suffered a seizure whilst with mum at Colchester Zoo. Naturally,   this was a traumatic experience. An ambulance was called.  By the time Christopher arrived at Colchester Hospital however he had completely recovered from the seizure and was laughing and giggling and completely unaware that anything had happened. A febrile convulsion was the diagnosis. Christopher had a number of other episodes but on each occasion, they were accompanied by an increased temperature and were assured by the medical staff that Christopher would grow out of them.

Unfortunately, aged four, as he was getting ready for his first day at school, Christopher suffered another seizure which on this occasion was not accompanied by a rise in body temperature. The doctor diagnosed Epilepsy, and we felt as though the bottom had fallen out of our world.

After a period under the care of Southend Hospital, at our request, Christopher’s care was transferred to Guys & St Thomas Hospital in London. During the next few years Christopher suffered a number (a dozen or so) of seizures but eventually they were controlled.  After a prolonged seizure free period Christopher was slowly withdrawn from his medication and for the last ten years or so he has been on no medication (for the Epilepsy).

Christopher initially began his education at a mainstream school, Hadleigh Infants, but it soon became clear that he was struggling and, after a battle with the authorities we were able to get him statemented and he was given extra support in class.

Christopher continued to struggle and by the time he reached Junior school it was apparent that he was becoming more and more marginalised. After much reflection, and another battle with the authorities we took the decision to send Christopher a special needs school, Cedar Hall in Thundersley. This was the hardest decision we had ever had to make, but with the benefit of hindsight it has proved unquestionably the correct one, Christopher having finally found friends he could relate to. He was very excited.”

I first met Christopher when he started coming along to Junior Phab as a member. Christopher was quiet, shy and didn’t really like getting involved in anything. A few years later Christopher started volunteering at The Phab Shop, he was still that nervous, quiet and shy boy, who you could tell was very uneasy about new situations… Christopher has autism and epilepsy, he is not keen on noisy places and struggles with maths and English. I asked Christopher how he felt after working at the shop for a while, he says…

“I didn’t like getting involved when I first started, I was quiet. But I started to look at other new people and how they just got stuck in – I saw that and thought… I can do that too!”

The difference in Christopher since he first started has been fantastic, he has made many new friends and his confidence just shines through.

“I am hardworking, have gained confidence, I am better at communication and I’m ready to take on new challenges! It took me a few months to enjoy volunteering, but now I really enjoy it. I like pricing items, working at the till, scanning items, talking to the other volunteers, saying hello to the customers and having a laugh! The Phab Shop is about teamwork, I feel comfortable and it’s okay to ask for support.”

The Phab Shop meets up for social occasions too. For many of the volunteers, this can be a very daunting experience… Walking into an unknown situation, where it can be noisy, not knowing what the protocol is for ordering… what if I get it wrong? what if I don’t like it? Have I got enough money?… questions that can override a busy mind until it’s something to dread or be fearful of. As with other volunteers, Christopher was nervous about going into a bar… “I was nervous about going at first, not knowing the situation, but now I have grown confident walking into a pub with my friends, I can order my food and work out by looking at the menu what money I need.”

Christopher’s parents…

“Christopher started working as a volunteer at their shop in Rayleigh. Phab has been absolutely fantastic for Christopher and we cannot praise them highly enough. Exposure to work in a controlled environment and the lovely staff who have limitless patience really have increased Christopher’s confidence no end, and the social evenings Phab hold at the Roebuck give Christopher an opportunity to experience things that we all take for granted which he would not otherwise be given. Through Phab, Christopher has also increased his circle of friends, and whilst he remains shy, the network he has developed through Phab, Cedar Hall and Seevic College, is one he could never have enjoyed without their help and support.   Christopher is currently also doing work experience at Waitrose supermarket two days a week, which is also having a positive effect on increasing Christopher confidence. Christopher has grown into an amazing young man and has achieved much more than we could have ever imagined.”

It is wonderful to get to know the real Christopher, he has grown into a confident young man and I am so proud of how far he has come. Christopher is a genuine, lovely, kind person and a fantastic member of The Phab Shop team.

Jenny x

Last thoughts from Christopher…

“The Phab Shop is a nice place to volunteer, meet new people, make friends, learn new jobs. I would recommend it!”