Defying the odds!

24th July 2015

Life opportunities for children with learning disabilities were bleak fifty years ago – this family was determined to change things.
Blog by Keith Goffe

Malcolm was born in 1969 at home, in Petersfield, in the bedroom that is his bedroom still. It has been changed several times since then, but has recently been completely refurbished, right down to a new Dad’s Army wall clock, which he loves.

He was our fourth child, we had three sons already. It was a week before I said to the doctor that we were worried about Malcolm because he seemed quite different to the others. He agreed saying, “I am rather concerned myself Mr Goffe, let me get an appointment with a paediatrician”. We had the appointment and all he did was open up Malcolm’s hand and he said “I’m afraid to tell you he has mongolism”.

We didn’t really know anything about this, we’d seen it, but never thought about it. He didn’t give us any advice, except that things would be difficult and Malcolm would probably only live to 18 to 20; particularly as they also discovered he had three holes in his heart. It was devastating to hear, but we made the most of it. We just thought we had to do the best that we could.

As time went by, we realised there were no play groups we could take him to because they couldn’t handle him. Then, Ann, my wife, by chance met someone in Woolworths with a child the same age as Malcolm, with Spina Bifida. And that was the beginning of something very special.

We decided that we’d get something going. We put out notices all around the town and local villages – asking anybody with a disabled child, relative, or friend, to join our meeting in Petersfield, and we had a great response, about 60 odd people came. From that we set up regular groups with volunteer helpers so the parents could have a break. The Petersfield Society for Special Needs was born. Looking back at how far we have come over the years, it is wonderful to see so much enthusiasm for the group still. We now have over 200 members, a monthly disco, theatre trips, boat trips, and more.  

All it takes is a bit of enthusiasm and some wonderful volunteers. Volunteers like Carole Patrick who has been the back bone of the society ever since. She organises brilliantly, as well as giving people with disabilities a voice on Hampshire County Council. I hope that small groups like ours will carry on in the future as they provide so much for people with disabilities and their families.

Malcolm is now 45, outliving all the doctors’ predictions and defying the odds!