Life changing

When two worlds collide

When Mum Rachel set up the Potter and Ponder sensory garden at The Croome Estate near Worcester she found a way to engage with her autistic son Stanley and bring their worlds together.

Rachel Sharpe is Mum to Stanley, an 8-year-old boy who she explains is “one of the most autistic people in the world”. Stanley is among the very rare one percent of people with particularly profound autism.

Rachel describes the challenges that face them both on a daily basis: “Young people like him exist in a parallel universe to mine and I have to find ways to reach into that universe. Sometimes I’m in his world and sometimes he’s in mine.”

A few years ago, Rachel found a way to bring their two worlds together. In addition to caring for Stanley, Rachel works at the Croome estate, a National Trust site near Worcester. “I’m a carer and I’m also really fortunate to work in a very special place that genuinely wants to ensure our welcome is for all.”

With support from National Lottery funding, Rachel and her colleague Katherine came up with ‘Potter & Ponder’, a series of sensory experiences in the landscape around Croome. They worked with 35 children, mapping their moments of joy to discover where the sensory opportunities were located across the parkland. These visits revealed 12 strong sensory opportunities; for example, feeling the grass between their toes, smelling flowers, or shouting to achieve an echo beneath one of the bridges.

The project then worked with Stanley and the other children to identify an artist who could capture these experiences as illustrations on a map of Croome. Again this was left to Stanley and his peers to decide, “Teachers used a variety of communication tools to ensure that all children, most of whom are non-verbal, clearly made the choice; through tracking smiles, eye movements, giggles and gestures,” says Rachel.

The result of the project has proved life changing for Stanley and his peers. Rachel said, “One of the very special moments was when Stanley, who had refused to interact, on his third visit was notably calmer, and slipped his hand into the hand of Katherine whilst walking down the path. A tear jerking interaction that proved we were making real progress entering his world.

“Thanks to everyone who helped us give a community with a very small voice a wonderful project to shout about!”

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