My involvement with Portage began in November 1996. My beautiful daughter, Fiona, was born in September 1996 with Down syndrome.
A fellow parent informed me of a new service that was starting in York and although I had never heard of ‘Portage’ before I referred my daughter to the York and Selby Portage Service and waited to see what happened.
A short while later an inspirational lady came to see us called Irene Westerman. She came in and immediately made me feel comfortable about having a stranger in my home. However, Fiona was waiting for her heart surgery and was too poorly to do anything much at that time.
Once her heart was repaired, to use Irene’s words, Fiona ‘arrived’ and was ready for anything!
I had very quickly begun to feel that I knew very little about my daughter when she was born and that all the medical experts knew best.
This started to change with our weekly Portage visits as I began to feel that I understood her and how she learnt and enjoyed being able to work towards Long Term Goals that I had helped set at Portage Reviews.
Irene helped me to learn how to break skills down and how to play with Fiona and enjoy the wonderful things she had to offer.
I would spend many hours singing Portage’s praises to anyone that would listen. I completed the Portage Basic Workshop and then attended the NPA Conference in 1998.
WOW what a revelation that experience was. I felt so inspired from the conference weekend that I joined the NPA Board of Trustees as a Parent Representative.
Following meetings between myself, Irene, Queenie and the Nursery teacher, Fiona successfully joined our local Nursery. Fiona finished her Portage sessions when she was 4 years old.
I was very scared and upset at the thought of losing this close contact and worried for what the future might hold. However, I realised after a while that I had gained the confidence and skills that I needed to carry on using the Portage Model, small steps approach, to continue to support Fiona.
I had a few years away from Portage but remained in contact with Queenie. I used the skills that I had learnt not only with Fiona but in my job supporting school aged children as an LSA.
In 2004 a job was advertised for the York Portage Service to be a Home Visitor. I applied and was thrilled to get the job. I feel I have the best job in the world! Within a year I was back on the NPA Board as Northern Regional Representative. I have learnt such a lot from this and made some brilliant friends.
I attended the Training for Trainers course for the Portage Basic Workshop and I am now an Accredited Trainer for the NPA and deliver this training with the rest of the York team every year, hopefully sharing my personal experiences of Portage. I also successfully completed the Training for Trainers on the Early Support Developmental Journal for babies and children with Down syndrome and the Early Support Parents’ Workshops both of which I have delivered in York.
Fiona remembers bits from her time with Portage. She remembers Queenie and monopolises her at every get together we have!! Fiona talks about a bag of toys and learning to read (we did word matching). I remember Fiona saying ‘No’ a lot!!!
At the time of writing this article Fiona was 13 years old and attending our local High School where she has a good bank of friends who support her and include her in all that they do. At Primary School she was lucky enough to have a poem she had written published in a book. I also went with her on a 3 night adventure with school where we went climbing, dry slope skiing, canoeing and beck scrambling. It meant a lot to me to see her do some amazing things even though she was scared but the support from her peers enabled her to try.
At High School the staff very quickly realised that Fiona needs things broken down into small, achievable tasks to help her learn. She left High School having passed entry level exams in subjects such as Maths and Science. In her English GCSE she achieved a grade G (for Great!) and passed her BTEC’s (level 2) in Performing Arts and PE. She is now going to college and doing a Diploma in Work and Life Skills.
We have always applied the Portage Model, small steps approach throughout Fiona’s life and she still benefits greatly from this. I am so proud of her and all that she has achieved. Portage made me realise that both Fiona and I CAN DO. Thank you to all who helped us.