When Josh was born in December 2001 everything seemed perfect, until three weeks later, following a routine visit from the midwife, concerns emerged about his development. While the rest of Josh's growth was normal, despite him being on the small side, his head circumference remained increasingly low on the centile charts.
Clearly something was wrong. Initially doctors were unable to identify the problem, until Josh was referred to Birmingham Children's Hospital, where in January 2002 he was finally diagnosed with microcephaly - a rare neurodevelopment disorder.
Absorbing this devastating news, Josh's parents were told there was a strong possibility their child would experience developmental delays and learning difficulties, possibly to the extent that he may never be able to sit or walk. There was also a significant chance that he could be autistic. Josh's parents and medical staff did everything within their power to find a way forward, but despite their best efforts the prognosis remained bleak.
However, Josh was a determined child and he was about to amaze his parents and medical staff with his progress. Despite the prognosis, he quickly learned to sit and walk, and although he could be a little unsteady and struggle with his fine motor skills, he was very active. One of his favourite toys was his tricycle, and he liked to ride it at every opportunity. Not that his parents were to know at the time, but Josh had discovered a passion for cycling, and he was never to look back.
Now aged four, Josh started at the local mainstream school but his confidence was soon shattered. Although he was physically active, Josh had experienced a delay with his speech development and, despite undergoing speech therapy, remained stubbornly silent. He was popular at school, but his inability to express himself left him feeling shy, isolated and unhappy.
Help arrived in the form of a new speech therapist. Instead of using conventional exercises - which Josh had been unable to relate to - his new therapist worked by identifying the things that fired his imagination. And it didn't take long to discover that cars, lorries and mountain bikes all featured highly on the list. Josh made rapid progress with his new language skills and soon grew in confidence. He began to enjoy going to school. Just as importantly for Josh, he enjoyed taking his bike to school; he'd now graduated from his trike to a two-wheeler, and the other children would watch in awe as he proudly performed perfect wheelies across the school playground.
Aware of his general lack of coordination, it was great for Josh's morale to discover that he was better at doing something than most of his peers - some of whom had only just given up their stabilisers! Cycling came naturally to him and everything just seemed to fall into place. As time went on and his confidence increased, bike riding became the BIG priority on Josh's list. He especially loved going for long bike rides with his dad over Cannock Chase on Sunday mornings, where they would regularly cycle together for several miles.
Josh continued to progress, and at the age of seven was medically discharged. By the age of nine he'd saved enough money to buy an Onja trick bike, which he promptly rode 12 miles along the Tissington Trail - considering the bike had no saddle, it was quite a feat for a boy whose ability even to walk had been in doubt. Josh currently rides a 24" Cube mountain bike, which he's rapidly outgrowing and aiming to replace with a new 26".
Unfortunately, however, school is not all about bike riding, and soon the academic gap between Josh and his peers widened, despite him having the extra one-to-one help his special needs statement allowed. He was becoming increasingly unhappy at mainstream school and hated being excluded from certain lessons and being treated differently. It was clearly not the right place for him, and his parents won their case to transfer Josh to Rocklands Special School in Lichfield.
Josh has thrived following his move. Not only has he reached his academic targets, he's exceeded them, and at his last parents' evening his teachers were full of praise. Following the negative feedback Josh has received over the years, this is a great boost to his confidence, and also a valuable grounding for his progression to a specialist high school later in 2013.
Alongside his academic work at Rocklands, Josh has also been able to try rock climbing, kayaking and caving and has even been selected for the school football team. These are all new experiences for him, which he has thoroughly enjoyed. However, what impressed his teachers the most was the day he took his bike into school for his cycling proficiency test.
Of course, Josh couldn't help showing off his skills a little (who wouldn't?). The result was that it gave his teachers an opportunity to glimpse his outstanding abilities, and it has now been suggested that Josh really does have the potential to do something serious with his cycling.
Josh has shown what practice and determination can do. He's proved doctors and consultants wrong, although the odds were always stacked against him. He smiles at the end of every day, even when his life must be so full of frustrations that most of us can barely imagine what is must be like.
This is where Healthcare RM comes in. To help Josh realise his full potential, we're sponsoring his cycling efforts into the future. What Josh has achieved so far is little short of amazing, and yet his talent could so easily have remained overlooked. But with our help, and yours, who knows what Josh is capable of achieving in the future? We look forward to following his cycling progress together.
If you've read Josh's story and feel moved to make a contribution, however small, please click here.
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