A University Degree Against the Odds

Four years ago I shared a story on Facebook about my youngest son Aidan, on the day of his college exam results. You can read the original post here: FACEBOOK POST but to recap, Aidan has autism, ADHD, Dyslexia and Tourette’s syndrome, all of which were undiagnosed for years, so he had a dreadful time at primary school and when he started secondary school he had a reading age of five and an absolutely shattered sense of self-confidence.
Naturally I was told he would never amount to anything; that he was naughty and lazy and that he was totally unsuitable for an academic environment, opinions which were, without exception, completely wrong.

Aidan on Exam Results Day

Thanks to some outstanding support from his secondary school and college SEN teams and lots of hard work on his part, these are the results he achieved that day: Performing Arts: A*, Politics: B and Film Studies: B! He was then on his way to university to study Film Production, and this is my promised update about his university journey.

As much as I’d love this to be a post about how he sailed through it all, it is, in fact, a very different story indeed.

Aidan studied his chosen subject at Portsmouth and got off to a flying start. He joined several groups and societies, made some great friends, stood up for his beliefs in the Political Union, and even tried his hand at stand-up comedy – all things I could only have dreamed he’d do a few years ago.

Everything was going incredibly well, when out of the blue he was struck down with a case of ulcerative colitis which was so severe that the doctors said it was ‘literally as bad as it gets’. There was no warning at all, so we were extremely shocked when he came home for the holidays looking like a shell of his former self after having suffered the symptoms in silence for a whole term.

He was rushed to hospital after my GP took me aside and told me he was so ill that he wouldn’t last another week, and so began the most dreadful years of his life, as he became progressively more house bound, suffered excruciating pain, and spent weeks in hospital, where he couldn’t even retain a sip of water as the condition flared over and over again, taking a devastating toll on his body.

As if this wasn’t enough to deal with, lockdown then happened, and despite our very best efforts, Aidan went down with Covid 19 at a time before there was any vaccine, and we almost lost him.
It was utterly terrifying, but after many weeks in hospital, years on drugs that didn’t work, and one very heated discussion between myself and his specialist, where I explained the terrible effect this situation was having on Aidan’s mental health (plus the fact that I wasn’t leaving his office unless he agreed to try a different drug) we finally found something that worked, and could tentatively start looking towards his future again.

Despite everything he’d been going through, Aidan had kept up with his studies as best he could from home, but inevitably he missed the majority of his second year. He had the option of giving up at that point and no-one would have blamed him, but in true Aidan style he continued on, steadily repeating his missed courses.

With another year added to his studies when he returned to university, the friends he’d made at the start had already moved on, so he had to work from scratch to build new friendships, one of the things he struggled with the most when he was younger. He took it all in his stride though, and made some wonderful friends, attending socials and joining even more clubs than before.

Aidan and his Friends

He worked really hard and did everything from playing an extra on set in his friends’ films to being an assistant cameraman, a boom mic operator and even a director. He was so successful that the film he worked on as his main project was chosen for a special screening at a cinema in London, something which once again made us all very proud.

Aidan at the Cinema Screening

Eventually his degree course was complete, and on the hottest day of the year we gathered at Portsmouth Guildhall to see him receive his degree.

Portsmouth Guildhall

Aidan’s eldest brother Chris was on his honeymoon at the time, and was really upset that he’d missed the ceremony, so his dad stood in for him in the group shot with a mask of his face on a stick – we called him ‘Cardboard Chris’!

Aidan’s Dad Standing in for Chris

Aidan scored a high 2:2 with honours, which is a superb result, and really shows what he’s made of.
Naturally I was extremely emotional, to the point where the first time I saw him in his robes, which happened to be in an underground car park, I insisted on standing in front of oncoming traffic to have a picture taken, so I could always remember that feeling of unadulterated pride and awe at what he’d achieved against so very many odds.

Aidan and Me Stopping the Traffic!

During his years at university Aidan discovered a love of script writing which is something he’s now working towards as a career, with the same down to earth approach as always.
Meanwhile, I’ve finally been able to hang all three of my sons’ degree portraits in the hallway, which was another very proud moment for me after all the years of uncertainty.
You can read about each of them, and the struggles they’ve all faced and overcome, in my Facebook album ‘Never Tell Me the Odds‘.

Degree Portraits of All Three of my Sons

Please join me in congratulating my incredible, unstoppable son, written off at such an early age, yet still a shining example to us all. Aidan is a real life example of the fact that no matter what kind of hand life deals you, all that really matters in the end is the way you play it.


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