Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Guest blog: Portage has changed our lives but too many families are missing out on this lifeline

Portage Michele is mum to 3-year-old Taylor and 4-year-old Lewis. Taylor has autism and a learning disability. Portage has been a huge support to Taylor and his family. In the face of cuts, Michele explains how invaluable Portage has been.

It was just before Taylor was 1 that I started to have my suspicions that something wasn’t quite right. I sat with him on the floor one day, I had a toy and I was trying to get his attention. It was like he didn’t care, like he didn’t even know I was there.

I took Taylor to a drop-in service and met a senior speech and language worker called Alison. Alison started making some really good suggestions, giving me little tools that I could use to try and get eye contact with him. Alison has been like a guardian angel. Thanks to Alison, Taylor has had Portage for almost a year now and it’s made such a difference.

The eye contact and communication changed quite quickly, mainly through playing some really simple games that Taylor was interested in. Every step that Taylor takes now is a massive milestone. Taylor has just started to use a spoon. It might not sound big but when you sit him next to another child of his age, you realise it’s colossal. And this is all thanks to Portage.

Portage isn’t like sitting across the desk from the paediatrician once a year, telling them your life story and getting pretty much nothing back. Portage is such a personal service and it’s really sad that so many people don’t know about it. We all know what a Macmillan nurse is and what they do – even if we haven’t come into contact with cancer. But with Portage, it’s like it doesn’t exist to most people.

Lots of families who use Portage have told Mencap that it is really important to them. They said it’s invaluable and I agree. It’s a lifeline. But Mencap has found out that 1 in 5 local authorities don’t have any Portage services whatsoever, and many families also said that their local Portage services are being cut. The thought that so many families are missing out on this support is devastating. Sadly, my family is about to become one of these.

Our Portage sessions will be stopping soon, as Taylor will be starting nursery. Even if I’d decided to keep him at home, we wouldn’t have been able to keep the Portage going. They just haven’t got the funding. It’s really scary knowing that you’re on your own and that’s what I’m facing now.

Before you get support from Portage, it’s a really lonely place. Although we are now losing our Portage, we are one of the lucky ones to have even had it in the first place. It has changed our lives. But families shouldn’t have to be ‘lucky’ to get Portage. They shouldn’t have to live in a certain postcode. I can’t begin to imagine what life would have been like for my family without it – it just doesn’t bear thinking about.

Picture courtesy of Mencap.

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