A Coventry eight-year-old who has complex needs, including severe autism which leads him to head bang up to 700 times in 24 hours, wears a helmet to protect him from injury during the day, but he needs a specialist bed to keep him safe at night.
Franco Astolfi, from the Finham area of the city, also has learning difficulties and severe Sensory Processing Disorder, which causes him to find the world around him quite overwhelming; he doesn’t speak and has difficulty falling and remaining asleep – often leaving mum Faye Hancock and stepdad Rob with only a few hours of rest. His behaviour also has an impact on 12-year-old sister Matilda and ten-year-old sister Lena who also has autism, sensory processing disorder and her own sleep difficulties.
Mum Faye said: “We have an alarm under Franco’s mattress so we know when he gets up as he will wander the house and climb and he likes to hit his head off hard surfaces. My fear is that I will come downstairs one day and find he has jumped off the kitchen counter and is lying on the floor.”
A specialist bed called a SafeSpace would prevent Franco from head-butting any hard surfaces as it has high, soft and flexible sides. Described as a room within a room, the low sensory environment would also help to keep Franco calm, helping him to fall and stay asleep – which means the rest of the family could have a more restful night. However, as this costs £6,575, the family turned to Newlife Foundation for Disabled Children for help. Newlife is the UK’s largest charity provider of specialist equipment for children with disabilities and terminal illness.
Now Newlife is calling on people across the West Midlands for their help, as the number of families who urgently need vital equipment has reached an all-time high.
Newlife Foundation for Disabled Children CEO Sheila Brown, OBE, said: “We are currently working with 95 families in the West Midlands who all urgently need specialist equipment. The cost currently stands at £82,518. And we are continually receiving new applications.
“The equipment they need is all vital for children’s everyday lives – and the situation will only get worse as statutory services narrow the range of support they offer.”
Franco was just nine months old when doctors spotted that he had difficulties – and was diagnosed with autism when he was 18 months.
Faye said: “We need something that we know Franco is safe in. He has no awareness of danger and no fear. I have to watch him 24 hours a day and we use a wheelchair when we go outside for his own safety – as well as others – as he has been known to head-butt other children and he will also throw himself to the floor.
“He’s too big for me to handle now so Rob has had to give up work to become Franco’s full-time carer. There isn’t just one trigger, Franco does it for sensory reasons, because he can’t communicate, because he is angry; but it could be because we give him the wrong type of biscuit. He wears a helmet, but this isn’t enough, he needs somewhere to go to protect him as he will head-butt walls and floors.
“I am worried he will do serious damage to his head and body, especially as he is getting older and bigger.
“Franco already feels like his bedroom is a safe place and it has lots of soft cushions and sensory lighting, but he still smashes his head on the corners, walls and floors of his room. If Franco head-butts in a SafeSpace he can’t do himself any damage. His safety is the main thing, but having a SafeSpace would also mean we could all get more sleep!”
If you would like to support Franco, go to www.newlifecharity.co.uk/westmidlands and click on the Donate button next to his story. Alternatively, contact the Newlife County Liaison Team on 01543 431 444, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Newlife guarantees that 100 per cent of monies donated or fundraised in the West Midlands will be used to specifically help children with disabilities and terminal illness in the county. Any money raised above the amount needed for Franco will be used to help other local children.
Pictured: Franco Astolfi