After being diagnosed with a rare developmental disorder as a baby, it was the specialist care of a Children's Centre in Belfast which transformed little Lucy's life

  • After noticing a heart murmur in her daughter, Lauren Copeland took baby Lucy to a cardiologist where she was diagnosed with Williams Syndrome
  • Williams Syndrome is a rare developmental disorder, which affects roughly 1 in every 18,000 people in the UK
  • Lucy struggled greatly with her mobility and communication skills in early life
  • But thanks to the specialist help of Mencap's Children's Centre in Belfast, she is now walking and communicating better than ever before

Written by Samantha Lade for DonateToday

PUBLISHED: 16:28, 14th Sep 2017 | UPDATED: 09:28, 27th Sep 2017

A Rare Disorder

Lucy was diagnosed with the rare disorder of Williams syndrome not long before her first birthday

Having just turned four-years-old in May, Lucy is a chatty and talkative young girl. But when she was just nine months old, a crucial diagnosis was made when mother Laura Copeland noticed something wasn't quite right with her child. 

Baby Lucy wasn't feeding properly – and a heart murmur was later detected in the infant. When she was taken to a cardiologist to have this checked out, Lucy was diagnosed with Williams Syndrome.

A rare developmental disorder occurring randomly and only affecting around 1 in every 18,000 people in the UK, Williams Syndrome causes a range of learning difficulties and results in distinct facial characteristics, as well as leading to several physical and mental health issues.

'That week was the longest week of my life,' Laura, from Belfast, explains. 'Once we got the diagnosis for Lucy, I was worried and anxious and just didn’t know what the future was going to bring.'

An 'Amazing' Improvement

However, not long after Lucy's diagnosis, Laura was notified by a therapist about Mencap's Children Centre. A nursery for two-to-three year olds, the Centre provides a specialist leaning environment for children with a learning difficulty or developmental delay. 

The Centre also issues families with information, advice and support on their children's disabilities, as well as running several community projects – such as after school clubs and summer play schemes – to ensure that all children have the best start in life.

As soon as Lucy turned two in May of 2016, she enrolled at the Centre in Belfast. Laura says the improvements that she has seen in her daughter's development have been 'amazing'.

'When Lucy started at Mencap, her skills were limited,' explains Laura. 'All she could say was ‘Mummy’, ‘Daddy’ and ‘Hiya’. She also couldn’t walk. 

'After a year at Mencap’s nursery, however, Lucy is an absolute chatterbox and can walk freely on her own. She made great friends at the nursery and forged a strong bond with her key worker, Lynsey.'

"'When Lucy started at Mencap, her skills were limited. All she could say was ‘Mummy’, ‘Daddy’ and ‘Hiya’."

- Laura, Lucy's mother

A New Friendship

As well as developing life-skills and a sense of independence, another key goal that the Centre holds for the children attending is to ensure that they form good friendships. This is something that Lucy has had no problem with.

'Communicating is a huge barrier for children with a learning disability – some are still very introverted and shy or have no real awareness of other children around them,' explains Lucy's key worker, Lynsey Dempster.

'The biggest changes in the children since they started at the Mencap Children's Centre are their communication and mobility skills.

Mencap's Children Centre provide an Early Years Service, where each child in assessed and receives a 'key worker'

'Lucy was only crawling when she started and then used a walking aid, which made all the difference as she could then go over to her friend Daisy whenever she wanted. Now they can both run to each other and play more.

'The girls have really started to come out of their shells and interact with others. Having a friend gives you that confidence to go on to new schools and meet new people.'

"Having a friend gives you that confidence to go on to new schools and meet new people."

- Lynsey, Lucy's key worker

Moving Forward

Although Lucy is now too old to attend the Mencap Centre, Laura believes that the time the infant spent in their care has been completely life-changing for the whole family.

'Lucy is now at a different school, but the year she spent at Mencap was vital,' she says. 'It was crucial for my husband and me as well. The Mencap team advised us on any problems we shared and they introduced us to other parents of children with a learning disability.

'The team at Mencap is excellent and their work with Lucy transformed her life, and ours. Lucy can now communicate ‘I love you, Mummy. I can’t thank Mencap enough for believing in Lucy and knowing what she was capable of.'

Please note that names may have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved. Images are used for illustrative purposes only and, unless specified, persons included in images are posed models, not the persons mentioned in the article.