Elmo at Bentfield: Bishop's Stortford family's gratitude for the Stansted school which embraces son with special needs
A Bishop’s Stortford family has paid tribute to the children and staff of the Stansted school who have embraced their son with special needs.
Elliot 'Elmo' Michelson, 6, was born six weeks prematurely in May 2015 and suffered a brain injury as a result of neonatal hypoglycaemia. He has recently been diagnosed with a very rare condition called Tatton-Brown-Rahman Syndrome, characterised by tall stature and impaired intellectual development.
Despite his difficulties, Elmo, who jointly won the Child of Courage title at the inaugural Indies community awards in 2018, is thriving at Bentfield County Primary School – and the care shown to him by classmates has prompted mum Sophie, 37, to speak out.
She said: “It's so important to us, as a family, that Bentfield – its staff and pupils – be recognised for the impact they've already had on Elmo and his quality of life.
“Just in the time he’s been attending since September, the school has provided him with the most amazing environment to learn and just enjoy being a little boy – something every child with special educational needs deserves.
“The school has provided an incredible setting that’s totally inclusive; he's encouraged to participate in everything and is accepted and welcomed wholly, just as he is.
"One thing we’re thrilled to know is that whatever his classmates are up to, Elmo is never left out. Knowing that he's shown such compassion and a sense of belonging is all we could ever wish for.
"Elmo has been incredibly lucky as he also has the most amazing key workers who have demonstrated pure devotion and commitment to his wellbeing and development, which we are eternally grateful for.”
The Rainsford Road primary has capacity for 240 pupils from reception to Year 6, with additional nursery places. It receives enhanced funding for 24 children with complex health, physical, developmental and lifelong learning needs who are taught within mainstream classes alongside their peers.
"What really stands out to us is the genuine kindness and compassion shown by his classmates – Elmo has made friends with several wonderful children in his class," said Sophie. "They include him and encourage him every single day.
"And although Elmo can’t reciprocate, they sit and talk to him regardless. They play ball together, they tickle him and sing him songs.
"One of his little friends has even learnt Makaton, a type of sign language, so she can ‘talk’ to him. These children are very special; the school and parents should be very proud.”
Sophie and husband Nick, 39, have an older son, Oliver, 8, who attends St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School in Bishop's Stortford, and toddler Oscar, 2.
Sophie said: “We can’t really express what a comfort Bentfield has been for us; sending a child out into the real world of school is scary enough, let alone when that child is physically very vulnerable.
"We know that he's truly happy there – he doesn’t need to tell us, it’s clear from his reaction when we drive through the school gates! The school, its staff and pupils are a real credit to our local community.”
Elmo’s safe haven at Bentfield comes after a year of worry during the pandemic. The youngster’s neurological and physical disabilities mean he is classed as high risk.
“There have been many times in his little life where a common cold has resulted in a stint in intensive care, so the thought of Elmo catching Covid has been a huge worry," said Sophie. "For much of 2020 we isolated ourselves as a family to reduce the risks to him.”
While Elmo is flourishing at Bentfield, his complex needs mean he still requires a host of extra help, and the Michelsons and their supporters need to raise £35,000 a year to pay for specialist therapy.
“We'll continue to fund this until a time we are sure we have given him the opportunity to develop to his full potential. As time has gone on, we accept that Elmo will never be neurotypical and that he'll always require care, but what’s important, as with any child, is giving him the opportunity to be the best he can be," said Sophie.
As a result, the youngster’s physical skills have improved considerably and Elmo can now move freely at school with a walker.
“This achievement has only been possible due to the fundraising, which allowed us to arrange daily physio, and the school, who have worked incredibly hard to consistently encourage him and work on the targets set by physiotherapists," said his mum.
"Elmo is also able to communicate at a basic level through a switch, where he can let us know if he wants ‘more’ or ‘finished’. Again, it’s down to the pure devotion and commitment of his key workers who have made this possible.
“Unfortunately, the development in Elmo’s cognitive ability has been slower; his developmental age is still very young, so he struggles with typical day-to-day tasks and therefore needs one-to-one care. While this is sometimes challenging for us as a family, all we can ask is that he is happy and loved... and he certainly is.”
To support the family, see Go Team Elmo on Facebook.