Thursday 18 December 2014

Occupational therapist is
 running 12 marathons in 12 days for autistim

Denzil Jacobs is
 running to raise
 funds for autistic children. Joanna McKiernan 
meets the families inspiring him.

Joanna McKiernan

Published 19/08/2014 | 02:30

Denzil Jacobs.
Denzil Jacobs.
Niall and Noleen Murphy with their children Jennifer 10, Ryan 13, and Ciara 11, at their home in Rhode, Co Offaly. PHOTOGRAPH: JAMES FLYNN/APX

Denzil Jacobs is an occupational therapist based in Tullamore, Co Offaly. Tomorrow he will begin the first of 12 marathons in 12 days across the 12 counties in Leinster in support of the autistic children he works with on a daily basis.

It has been a lot of hard work to organise and train, but it is all worthwhile for the cause," Denzil explains. "I have two choices; I can sit back and listen and see the pain and hurt and have the parents crying in front of me when they realise that the services and the resources they need are often not available, or I can do something to help.

"I would go home sometimes and say to myself 'am I just going to settle with OK I did my best I treated the kids today and that's it?' But then I thought 'no, not good enough I can do more!' and that's why I have decided to take on this challenge."

Denzil, who is originally from South Africa, is based in the Saplings School for Children with Autism in Carlow where he has worked since 2007. Through the '12 in 12' marathon challenge he hopes to raise €25,000 and split the proceeds evenly between Saplings and Irish Autism Action.

"Some of the children are either on waiting lists for two years, if not worse, and there is just nothing out there," Denzil says. "So I try my best to give them as much as I can, but the parents can't always afford to pay for private therapy, as much as we try and make therapy as cheap as possible to the community.

"There is a massive shortage of funds. I love my running and I love working in the field of autism and helping families, so I thought it was a good idea to combine my two loves to help the parents and the children, who face challenges every day."

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Sue Kerfoot's son William (5) attends Denzil's therapy clinic on a regular basis.

"To look at my boy you see a five-year-old child. To know my boy he is stuck in the baby stage and a very difficult baby at that," Sue explains. "No matter how hard we try, there is little or nothing to show for our efforts, it is utterly exhausting. The most upsetting thing is ignorance, while most people are wonderful, those who judge your parenting skills and child's behaviour, is the hardest thing to take."

Sue, who is from Co Laois, hopes that Denzil's challenge will also raise an awareness of autism and the daily battles parents of autistic children currently face in Ireland to gain access to services.

"He was a perfect child as far as I could see until he was two and then from two to three he changed. He had grommets done and when he didn't get better I knew something was seriously wrong," she says. "William's diagnosis was a pretty horrendous journey really, trying to get everything sorted out, but somebody said to me once if you give up fighting you've had it and they were right. We got him diagnosed when he was three-and-a-half.

"Then there were waiting lists, waiting lists for speech and language therapy and OT, everything. Everyone in the baby group I went to said that the only way you are going to get seen is if you ring up every day."

Before Sue met Denzil she had lost hope that William's behaviours could be dealt with or improved in any way.

"I was so down before I met Denzil. I just felt that I was getting absolutely no where. My son has never really slept ever. He is up regularly at three o'clock in the morning running around," Sue explains. "You're told all the time that these children are born twith this and perhaps he was, but to have a child who is two-years-old talking and playing with other children, to then change, is like going through a bereavement."

According to Sue, meeting someone like Denzil - who not only has an expertise from working with children with autism, but who also goes above and beyond to help the families involved - has lifted a great weight from her shoulders.

"Denzil has told me all of this stuff, what exercises we could do to help. I just cried at the end of our first session. Denzil has given me so much hope. I cannot say enough about the man - I think he's wonderful. He totally understands," Sue adds.

"He's amazing and he is so passionate about his work. He loves it. He sat there with me a couple of weeks ago and said 'Do you think I'd be sitting here Sue if I didn't think he would get better, do you think I would put all of this work into it?'"

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Niall Murphy is from Rhode in Co Offaly, his son Ryan is 13-years-old.

"Ryan would be on the moderate-to-severe side, he's non-verbal and he needs a lot of support. He communicates through a picture exchange programme called PECS and also through his iPad," Niall explains.

"He is vocalising a little bit and his understanding is improving, but in terms of communication it is a battle and it is one of the biggest battles with autism."

Ryan attends one of the five Saplings schools in the Leinster region based in Mullingar. Denzil's challenges will not just raise money for Ryan's schools and the other four in Leinster, but it will also raise money for Irish Autism Action, a group which has been a great help to the Murphy family.

"School is one thing, but an autistic child spends a lot of time in the home too, depending on where the child is on the spectrum; those who are at the very severe end of the scale live very restricted lives, that's just the reality of it," Niall says. "It's tough on parents and it's tough on siblings."

In 2007, Niall and his family got home support from Irish Autism Action, to help them cope with Ryan during a period when another of their children was having difficulties.

"We have two daughters, who are younger, Ciara, who is 11 and Jennifer who is 10," says Niall. "Ciara was starting national school, which was a big ordeal for her. Ciara has grown up living with autism all of her life, since she was a baby Ryan was crying and through all her infant years she was seeing this and it had a huge affect on her. So with that came this unbelievable shyness, so she was very fearful of starting school and of everything really.

"It was a huge ordeal for us. We had a member of Irish Autism Action who came out and helped us to get through that and help us to look after Ryan so that we could look after Ciara and get her settled into school," Niall explains. "Without their help I don't know how we would have got through that situation. It sounds like a small thing but it's massive.

"Denzil has seen so many families over the years and he knows the challenges that they face," Niall adds. "It's like a marathon every day as another parent once put it."

 

Denzil will begin the first of his 12 marathons tomorrow and finish the gruelling challenge 12 days later in his hometown of Tullamore, Co Offaly on August 30. For more information or to donate see: http://www.denzils12in12.ie.

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