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Grove Cottage has saved my four-year-old son from going blind

A married mother of four is singing the praises of a Bishop’s Stortford nursery that she says has changed her life.

Jace Lewis (7209207)
Jace Lewis (7209207)

Mec Lewis, 40, started sending her youngest child, four-year-old son Jace, to Grove Cottage’s nursery in September following a difficult experience in a mainstream nursery.

Grove Cottage, the London Road home of Mencap in Stortford, caters for children with special educational needs (SEN) in its Ofsted-regulated nursery, but Mec knew nothing about it until a school secretary recommended it to her.

Jace has autism and a sensory disorder which means that everyday life can be overwhelming for him. He is pre-verbal and unable to communicate or express his feelings, something that leads to great frustration.

The toddler is very sensitive to noise and developmentally is around the stage where children would expect to be at around 18 months.

Mec, who moved to Sawbridgeworth from Harlow around a year ago, learned of the nursery two years later than she would have liked.

“Despite Jace having a formal diagnosis, no one told me about Grove Cottage’s nursery until I got chatting to a secretary at my elder son’s school who knew about it because her son had volunteered for the charity,” Mec said. “If I’d known about this wonderful place earlier it would have made such a difference.

“Jace attended a mainstream nursery for two years before coming to Grove’s special needs nursery and unfortunately we didn’t have the best experience. The staff were just not trained to deal with the challenging behaviour, and as, most of the time, Jace was kept separate from the other children, some negative behaviour was reinforced and he was unable to interact with any other children.”

Jace and Mec Lewis with Grove Cottage staff member, Allison Smith (7209209)
Jace and Mec Lewis with Grove Cottage staff member, Allison Smith (7209209)

Maria Sims, nursery manager at Grove Cottage, said: “Unfortunately this is a situation we hear of all too often and we really want to get the word out there about what we do and how we can help. Many mainstream nurseries just don’t have high enough staffing levels or adequate training to deal with challenging behaviour and medical needs such as tube feeding.”

Grove Cottage’s nursery is the only facility in Hertfordshire specifically designed for pre-school children with learning disabilities and complex medical needs. It can also support children who have not yet got a formal diagnosis but are showing signs of a developmental delay.

Maria said: “Jace is fortunate to have a diagnosis at such a young age – for many parents with autistic children, gaining a formal diagnosis can take years. This is why we see taking children pre-diagnosis as so important.”

Mec said: “Jace has improved tenfold since attending Grove Cottage and, with the one-to-one support they provide, has been able to join in playing with the other children. He has learnt to share and interact with the others and is much less frustrated and is a much happier child.

“Jace would previously never keep his glasses on, and doctors told us that if he didn’t wear them he would lose his sight, but the staff at Grove Cottage have taught him to wear them and not be distracted by them, which is just fantastic. They have literally saved him from going blind, which I’m so grateful for.”

Grove Cottage has also been able to offer support to Mec and her family, and she has met other parents in a similar situation to hers.

Staff have helped Mec to understand autism better and to implement strategies that she can use at home.

“I was at breaking point before Jace came to Grove Cottage and I didn’t know where to turn,” she said. “When Jace is at the nursery I know that he’s happy and safe and that I don’t have to worry about him, which is a massive pressure taken off. It also enables me to be there for my other sons who need me.”

Grove Cottage currently has places in its nursery, which runs Mondays to Thursdays. Anyone who has a child with additional needs or with a developmental delay can contact the charity to find out more – email nursery@mencapgrovecottage.org or call 01279 656085.

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