“When I think back … and consider if Ziska would be where she is now without David Lewis? I doubt that very much”.

Birgit, Ziska’s mum.

Franziska, known as Ziska, lives with us at David Lewis. Here, her mum tells us about their early family life and her David Lewis journey.

“Ziska was diagnosed with epilepsy and brain injury when she was a toddler. Due to her diagnosis, change is really tough for Ziska to deal with and from the start she displayed behaviours that made family life challenging. So we had a strict timetable at home and tried to keep life as calm and routine filled as we could. Some of her behaviour was severe, and she could harm herself, so her room was specially adapted to help keep her safe, with thick carpets and padding.

We’d fought to place Ziska at a local specialist school that was initially a good placement for her. But as time when on they were constantly struggling to meet her needs, especially as she got bigger and her behaviour got more challenging. When it was time to start thinking about secondary schools we recognised that we needed somewhere quite specialised, that could give Ziska the expert care she needed.

David Lewis was one of the few places nationally that could meet her needs. We live in Surrey, so it was a huge step for us as parents to contemplate her being so far away. We visited the school and were really impressed with how much there was on offer. It especially appealed because as a family we’ve always spent a lot of time outdoors and Ziska loves nature. So whilst it was a big move, the rural setting and sense of space helped us to feel that she’d settle there”.

Aged 11, Ziska moved to David Lewis as a residential school pupil. Birgit tells us,

“We replicated her room from home initially. That helped her to feel safe and manage the transition. I won’t say it was a straight road but as time passed and she settled, she began to thrive. The team that Ziska had around her – speech therapists, occupational therapists, behavioural experts and specialist teachers, was fantastic. Having all these people in one place, all talking to each other, really helped her progress and helped us to feel confident we’d made the right decision.

Over the years Ziska has moved up through school, attended David Lewis College and now lives in one of our on-site homes. With each move and over time, she’s managed to cope with small adaptions to her room. Now, aged 27, she has a standard room you’d expect of any young woman her age. Although there have been challenges along the way, she is happily settled and more able to manage her behaviours”.

Nowadays, Ziska lives close to the David Lewis farm where she spends much of her free time. Three days a week Ziska visits ‘Top Farm’ to tend to the animals and spend shared time with staff and other people with complex needs that she feels safe with. On other days she’ll swim in the pool or drop in to our weekly sing and sign classes. Birgit regularly visits and the two go walking and shopping locally or cook together.

“David Lewis is 100% the best thing that’s happened to us as a family. Ziska’s happy, and whilst I don’t like to think about the future too much, it’s a relief to know that this is her forever home”.