Twelve-year-old Thomas Hughes from Henley-on-Thames has Autism, a condition that causes him to have violent outbursts so extreme that he detached his own retina, blinding himself in one eye after repeatedly punching himself in the face.
When his parents, Aneta and Nick, got in touch with Oxfordshire Health Authority to ask if they could help to ensure the sight in his other eye was protected, they were told there was nothing available and instead suggested he wear boxing gloves!
Mum Aneta said: “Thomas doesn’t speak and has severe learning difficulties. The only way he can communicate is through a picture based communication aid, so to lose his sight completely would be absolutely devastating.
“To be told to use boxing gloves when their child is at risk of severe damage to their head and eyes just isn’t acceptable”
Acknowledging the urgency and extreme risk of injury to Thomas, Newlife the Charity for Disabled Children provided him with a bespoke, specialist helmet and visor to protect his one remaining eye through its equipment grant service.
Aneta said: “I was desperate when I called Newlife because of how dangerous the situation was for Thomas, but they understood the urgency immediately.
“His tantrums escalate quickly and we try our best to hold his hands, which is what we’ve been advised to do by health professionals, but it’s impossible to prevent every blow from landing.
“The day we received the helmet from Newlife Thomas had an extremely violent tantrum and the damage could have been significant. The helmet worked exactly as it should have, keeping his head and eye in a protective bubble, it was such a relief.
“Thomas hates having to wear any kind of headgear, so we only use it for his worst tantrums, which are about twice a week, but sometimes more frequently. They used to be so emotional and stressful, but now he’s beginning to understand that for the helmet to come off he has to calm down. We also use positive behaviour strategies to help.
“It’s so sad that the NHS can’t cater for individual needs. The helmet has been a godsend and has without a doubt saved Thomas’ sight.”
Stephen Morgan, Newlife’s Head of Charity Operations, said: “For a family to be told to use boxing gloves when their child is at risk of sustaining further severe damage to their head and eyes just isn’t acceptable. These types of helmets aren’t something Newlife would usually fund, but we felt this case was so severe we HAD to help.
“With a 15 per cent increase in the number of disabled children in the UK it’s no surprise that the number of grant applications to Newlife has doubled in the past five years. It’s therefore critical that local clinical commissioning groups and local authorities recognise the true level of need so they can plan and budget effectively.”