A group of pupils at Options Kinsale have reached new heights by taking on a charity ascent that saw them climb the equivalent of the Flintshire bridge.
Like many teenagers up and down the country, 16-year-old Michael Findlay has a passion for climbing. Along with a small group of friends, he undertook a 118 metre climb on Thursday March 26 to raise money for the National Autistic Society.
The climb, which took place at The Boardroom Climbing centre, in Rectors Lane, Queensferry, on Thursday March 26, helped mark the start of World Autism Awareness Week, which runs from March 27-April 2.
But what made the feat all the more impressive is that Michael – a pupil at Options Kinsale school, in Holywell – cannot read or write and has limited speech due to severe autism.
Staff at Options Kinsale recognised Michael’s climbing ability soon after he joined in July last year. The school, owned by Options, caters for a diverse range of young people who have autistic spectrum conditions and complex needs.
Mark Williams, head of service at Options Kinsale, said: “When he first started with us, Michael used to try to climb various things around the school. We soon realised if we could channel his enthusiasm for climbing, it could be a positive and safe way for him to follow his enthusiasm for climbing.”
Through Options Kinsale’s outdoor education programme, Michael was soon given the opportunity to try climbing lessons at The Boardroom Climbing centre, in Rectors Lane, Queensferry.
“The staff at the climbing wall have been really supportive – they’re brilliant,” said Mr Williams. “With his parents’ permission, we’ve even installed a mini climbing wall in his bedroom for him to use. He just loves climbing.
“Michael still has to be closely supervised and still needs a high level of support but he seems much more content. He is much calmer and his communication skills are improving,” added Mr Williams.
Since attending The Boardroom, Michael’s climbing skills have improved so much that he is on track to complete the National Indoor Climbing Award Scheme Level 1.
His dad, Michael Findlay, from Liverpool, said that since his son had attended the school and had been having the regular climbing lessons, he had seen a change in his behaviour.
“His improvement has been incredible,” said Mr Findlay. “All of the Options Kinsale staff are very good with him because they’re so experienced. They know how to bring the best out in him. He’s got a good routine and he seems a much calmer and happier person.”
Mr Findlay, who was in the navy for 25 years and now works for Jaguar Land Rover, said his son had always had a passion for climbing.
“Ever since he’s been little, I’ve taken him out with a rope and we’ve tied knots together and climbed things at the local park,” said Mr Findlay. “It’s great that he’s now working towards a qualification doing something that he loves.
“He makes me proud every day. His climbing challenge is a massive thing to us. He’s my son and he’s special – not just special needs. I wouldn’t change him for the world.”
Michael’s mum, Sandra Findlay, who lives in Wirral, said: “Michael has come on leaps and bounds since he started at Options Kinsale – it’s brilliant and he’s really, really happy there. He’s very loving, a much calmer person.”
Sandra, who is a full time carer within the community, added: “He’s always loved climbing, it’s always been his thing, so it’s great that he got to do this charity climb event. Me and his sister, Lauren, are very proud of him.”
The Boardroom Climbing instructor, Fred Smith, said it was a pleasure to teach Michael.
Mr Smith, who used to work with people with special needs before he joined The Boardroom, said: “Michael has an incredible attention to detail and his enthusiasm is admirable. He’s able to pick up some things very quickly, and he’s starting to learn things just by watching me, in addition to the things I teach him.
“It’s very rewarding that I’m able to help him do something he’s really passionate about, and it’s fantastic to see him enjoying himself so much.”