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Bertie is six years old and started school at Chailey Heritage Foundation in November 2018. He is an intelligent boy with a cheeky sense of humour, who loves animals and displays great empathy towards those around him.

Since starting school in November 2018, Bertie has made wonderful progress with his communication skills. His support team say that when he first joined Chailey, “Bertie would smile by slightly raising his top lip, but he can now open his mouth fully to smile and also uses his eyes to communicate which can sparkle with joy!” They describe Bertie as being, “a very intelligent and determined boy who will persevere to get his message across.”

Bertie learnt to use the Chailey Communication Book in a brief time, to communicate with staff and carers about his needs and feelings. An early example of this was when he was able to use the book to tell his carers that his tummy was hurting. By phoning home, they found out that Bertie’s medication had been changed and so they were able to treat him and alleviate his tummy ache.

Carole Lawrence and Julie Tilbury, Bertie’s teachers, explain that with any new child at Chailey it takes time to learn how they communicate and get their messages across. Each child is different and Julie quotes author Joanna Grace who talks about listening in the right way, “A person’s ability to communicate does not depend on the mastery of certain skills, but on our ability to listen.”

In Bertie’s case, his class team worked closely with his family to learn how Bertie’s vocalisations have different intonations to convey different emotions and how his body language also changes depending on how he is feeling. By reading these cues, his team can use questioning to find out what he wants to say. This is where the Chailey Communication Book has really helped, giving Bertie a new vocabulary and way to express himself.

One of the huge benefits of improved communication for Bertie is managing and being an active participant in the medical interventions he receives. Bertie has cerebral palsy, a visual impairment, osteoporosis, and other related health conditions and must have regular suctioning, as well as eye drops applied. When Bertie started at Chailey these interventions would be extremely upsetting for him, but now with improved communication, Bertie feels included, respected and an active participant, rather than having things ‘done to him.’ “Communicating with Bertie in a consistent way, so that he knows exactly what’s happening and when, has been really important to gain his trust, cooperation and participation in managing his health needs.”

Bertie loves animals and at home he enjoys spending time with his dog (Marshall), his cats (Dr. Gilbert and Dr. Eric) and his guinea pig (Simon). In fact he is nicknamed “Dr. Doolittle” by his team at Chailey because of his wonderful empathy, intelligence, and calming presence. His team also report that Bertie has a wonderful sense of humour. When Helen was disappointed with a haircut she’d had, Bertie used his Chailey Communication Book to tell her that she should put a hat on! “Bertie loves silliness, but he’s definitely the one in charge!”

This has led to a close bond between Bertie and his team, so much so that they call themselves the Silly Bananas. Bertie loves to use his imagination, so they have dressed up as bananas and even created a Banana Kingdom adventure, where Bertie featured as the central character going to Banana Land, which he really enjoyed! He is described as having a wonderful aura and being an incredibly positive presence to be around.

Finally, Bertie’s Mum Lucy sums up the family’s feelings about Bertie coming to school here, “We couldn’t be happier with the care and education Bertie receives at Chailey. Bertie has a wonderful relationship with all of his Bananas and they go above and beyond to ensure he gets the best from everything Chailey has to offer.”

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