Mum applauds leisure center for ‘exceptional’ treatment of autistic Jacob, 14

A mum-of-three has sung the praises of a leisure center caring for her autistic son. Jacob Dockerty, 14, goes swimming at the Stafford Leisure Center every Saturday.

The Walton Hall Academy pupil, from Stafford, was diagnosed with autism when he was three years old. He also has severe learning disabilities and complex needs.

Because of his condition, Jacob needs caregivers who come every day, but he also has the support of his family. Her mother, Nicola Machin, is her full-time carer and her 10-year-old sister Summer is a junior carer for her older brother.

Read more: Mum’s ‘living nightmare’ as her 16-year-old son misses school for eight months

Her carer, Chris, takes her swimming at Stafford Leisure Center once or twice a week, which has helped her with her sensory needs. He particularly wants to listen to the rescuer’s whistle telling him that the hour-long session is over.

During a recent visit to the leisure centre, Jacob was allowed to whistle and end the swimming session. Shortly after, employee Ross had given him a whistle, which he was delighted with.

Now Nicola, who has two other children aged five and 10, has praised the leisure center for its autism awareness. She especially thanked lifeguard Ross for watching over Jacob while he was there.

She said: ‘He is unaware of any danger and cannot listen to the pool rules. He will run and dive in the pool and he is not a good swimmer.

“He realizes he’s there with his loud noises. Some rescuers have to watch him closely.

“He is constantly splashing and going in and out of the pool, jumping in it. His way of knowing the session is over is by listening for the lifeguard’s whistle.

“One of the rescuers figured this out after watching him for a few months. They got to know him and they know his needs – they keep an eye on him.

“One day they approached him and said, in their little words so he would understand, come with us and you can whistle to end the session. Her face just lit up.

“It’s been his whole week. He could hold small snippets of conversation and he was trying to tell me how happy he was.

“It made us feel so warm inside how caring they were. A few weeks later, the rescuers all got together and gave a presentation.

“Ross gave a presentation and said to Jacob ‘on behalf of all of us here, we would like you to have this lifeguard whistle’ so that after every session he attends he can end the session. Now, after each session, he comes out of the pool and yells “out, out, out” to everyone.

“Autism care and awareness is absolutely outstanding. It’s just knowing he’s safe there and it feels like his own little job as a lifeguard to him.

“He stood there with a beaming smile and was really happy. I think the whole recreation center heard how excited he was.

“I feel so warm inside and proud of the awareness they have shown. Few people understand autism and just classify it as a naughty boy.

“It makes him feel accepted and relaxes me sending him there. It sets an example of what other places like this should be like.

Jacob Dockerty with his mom Nicola Machin

Nicola added: “Swimming has helped him fulfill his sensory needs. He has a sensory processing disorder, so he will seek sensory attention.

“He’s going to bump into the walls to get his room stuffed. He will only run things and pinch people.

“Swimming is like therapy for him. It’s not easy and as a family we don’t navigate through it.

“It’s hard and practical, but he’s a happy boy. When he turns around and smiles, it’s worth all the fights you can get. Jacob is a lively, cheerful and energetic boy.

“My biggest challenge was communication. Jacob didn’t speak until he was seven and he still wears diapers now.

“He gets better with food but he only takes five foods because of his sensory issues. The whole thing is tough.

“I am supported by the caregivers. It’s so important that I have them, I would be lost without them. It’s a lifesaver.

Sarah Lakin, general manager of the Stafford Leisure Centre, said: ‘Jacob comes swimming every Saturday and Ross, who is one of our full-time lifeguards, has found he loves the whistles. For this reason, Jacob always waits for a lifeguard to signal the end of the session.

“During one of the sessions recently, Ross gave Jacob one of our whistles so he could join the lifeguards and blow his new whistle at the end of the session.

“Ross is a lovely person who always puts the customer first, always goes the extra mile and looks for new ways to interact with people. He makes sure everyone has a great time at the leisure center and we we are very lucky to have him with us.

“We look forward to seeing Jacob every week – maybe he will become a lifeguard himself in the future.”

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