Meet Joe

Mum Amy tells us about her son Joe, who discovered a new-found confidence through attending Challengers virtual sessions.

For many disabled children, social interaction can be stressful and difficult. My son Joe is 13 and has autism, learning disabilities, global development delay and anxiety, which means he struggles to interact with others outside of his sessions at Challengers.

When the UK was plunged into lockdown in 2020 due to COVID-19, I was desperately worried about the impact this would have on Joe. Despite our best efforts, he spent the most of the lockdown on his own and not interacting with anyone. He was absolutely gutted that he couldn’t go to Challengers and became increasingly isolated.

He doesn’t enjoy playing games, and struggles with being the focus of attention. We were getting to our wits end worrying, then we saw that Challengers were offering free Virtual Sessions. We didn’t think he would take part as he’s never been able to engage with other phone or video calls, but we had nothing to lose so we gave it a go anyway…

When he first joined he was highly anxious, visibly stiff and silent, but the Youth workers were so welcoming and didn’t put any pressure on him to speak. Much to my surprise, after a short while Joe started to relax, smile and even laugh!

Joe with a card from one of our Youth workers, sent during lockdown

Joe is now a dedicated attendee of the Virtual Sessions, and we’ve seen such a transformation in his behaviour. He joins in with games and conversations, and spends most of the sessions laughing – a sound we rarely hear otherwise.

Maybe it’s the knowledge that he is safe at home, and can walk away or shut the screen if he feels uncomfortable. All I know is Joe absolutely loves Challengers’ virtual sessions, and we love to see the sheer joy and beaming smiles on his face too.

When Joe is at Challengers it means we get some respite, something which is especially important for his younger siblings, and we can go to places that would normally be a no-go due to Joe’s needs. Challengers has been so vital to Joe’s wellbeing, and ours as a family, so we wanted to do something to give back to the charity.

In Summer 2021, Joe and his two siblings Charlie and Isla took part in ‘At Home Superheroes: Superheroes on Vacation’ – a virtual fundraising activity hosted by Marvel, involving over 3,000 disabled young people across the UK. Under the name ‘Team Tornado’, they set themselves the challenge they set themselves was to scale the Avengers Tower and back (688m) 10 times each, per week. They hoped by the end of the challenge to reach a combined distance of 82,560m (the equivalent of scaling the Avengers Tower 120 times), but smashed their goal out of the park, finishing the challenge with a combined distance of 369.938km which equates to them scaling the Avengers Tower a whopping 537 times!

With lockdown over, Joe’s happy to be attending Challengers in person again, but he still loves the virtual sessions just as much – they’ve really helped him to become more confident. When he’s at Challengers, he gets to be around his friends and have the opportunity to just be him, while in a safe environment.