Norwich man challenges expectations after childhood autism diagnosis
- Credit: Hannah Hutchins
When 20-year-old Rory Fairfoot was diagnosed with severe autism and learning difficulties, his family were told life would be very difficult for him, and he would not be able to achieve many things.
But now - 17 years on from his diagnosis - Rory surprises his mother and carer Jenny Mayne every day, by pushing himself in new and challenging ways.
Jenny, 57, said: 'Rory is non-verbal, he will make some sounds and some signs but he finds it very hard. He's got very limited understanding, for example he doesn't understand numbers or colours, he finds names very hard.
'Life is obviously very confusing for Rory and he can never be left on his own. That does sound quite depressing but Rory is a fantastic young man despite all his disabilities.'
Rory, who lives in Norwich, goes to City College three days a week, to the Assist Trust one day a week and does a lot of sport on the 5th day. And Jenny said he coped really well.
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'He's very sociable, he loves to go out and about and do physical activity - and he's got an endearing sense of humour.'
But the outlook for Rory was not always so bright, after his family were told he would always need one-to-one care, and then when Rory's father, Monty, died in 2013 and Jenny became his full-time carer.
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'It was all very depressing when we were told he wouldn't do very much, never be independent,' Jenny said. 'We were told he would always need one-to-one or two-to-one care. But in fact although Rory does have to have someone with him all the time he does not need one-to-one care all the time.'
She said the family were 'amazed' by what Rory had achieved.
'He's become really very able in certain aspects of his life. He runs really well. He's become competent in a number of sports, which is fantastic - it helps keep him healthy but because he does not read books or play computer games at home he can get very bored.'
The long list of sports Rory thrives in includes running, skiing at adaptive sessions, swimming and cycling.
So combining all those things Rory competed in an open water triathlon.
'I would have never imagined he could do that sort of thing,' Jenny said.
'What we find is people are remarkably open when you explain his disability and on the whole most people are willing to let Rory have a go and often are as amazed as I am at what he can do.'
But Jenny said it had not always been easy, and stressed the importance of carers to reach out and access help.
Up until four years ago Rory's father had been his main carer, but when he died suddenly Jenny took over.
'There has been a number of battles along the way so I would not want to imply it's been plain sailing but we have been very lucky. We've been supported by lots of organisations and a number of individuals, particularly by parents
'I do think it's important as a carer and a parent to have advise from others in the same situation.'
'Rory also has been very lucky in that he's had the most amazing big sister, Ellie, who has always been terribly inclusive and supportive in helping her dad and me.'
There can be a lot of support for parents of younger children with autism, but approaching adulthood can lead to fresh challenges.
Jenny said: 'I'm quite an assertive person but even I can find it difficult sometimes. I would encourage parents in a similar situation to seek as much support as possible, whether from fellow parents or local organisations and charities.'
At some stage Rory will need to leave home as Jenny gets older and won't be able to cope.
'Again, that's quite daunting thinking about where he will live in the future and how he's going to manage because he will always have to live some sort of supported accommodation.'
Norfolk Carers has a free Advice Line for unpaid carers which can support anyone who cares for an adult with autism and/or other learning difficulties.
The Advice Line team can provide emotional support, information on local support groups and short breaks to unpaid carers who don't receive any other funding from Adult Social Care for respite. The number to call is 0808 808 9876, it is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, and Saturday 10am to 2pm.